Sevenly Founder Dale Partridge
Leading A Generation for Generosity: Sevenly Founder Dale Partridge
Written by Samantha Baer
It started in a living room with a discussion about dreams and two years later, it’s creating quite a stir. An organization with a unique business model, Sevenly, was recently described by Forbes Magazine as “Changing the world $7 at a time.” Founder Dale Partridge had a vision to create a company based on the philosophy of “What if Jesus owned a business?” With a core business model of people matter, Risen sat down with Partridge to talk about how the company selects charities, its organizational obstacles, and their unique “complaining” room.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: How did Sevenly come about?
Dale Partridge: Sevenly was a brainchild of my previous company. Because I’m a serial entrepreneur, I wanted to start something that incorporated my faith with business in a blend that functions well with the next generation. I wanted to do it in a manner that the generation would sense is practical; where it is just a really authentic version and not “super Christian,” like if Jesus owned a business. We recognized that companies are shifting and offering emblems of truth to rebuild the trust that was lost. Companies are trying to prove to the world that they care about more than just profit. I’m actually in the middle of writing a book called, People Over Profit. I wanted to create a business that valued people over profit. Because there are so many charities out there and so many causes, we wanted to figure out a way to bring awareness and funding to what they are doing. We love how TOMS shoes started, but they have only done the same thing every week – they give shoes away, which is really great, because they conquered one cause, but we wanted to try to focus on multiple causes. We started a concept where every week we partner with a new charity and we create a limited-edition product line; every time someone buys a product we give that charity seven dollars.
It was me and my partner Aaron Chavez at the time, which started Sevenly. Aaron is now working on another company where he is a co-founder, but still a silent shareholder for us at this point. There was also our current COO (Chief Operating Officer), Brett Skinner, and a couple others that were just volunteering at the time who helped us launch. We really started with just three people. In our first week we ended up selling over 700 products. We literally went into business overnight! So we shifted all the priorities in our lives – Brett was finishing his degree in civil engineering and now he is COO with our company; I had another branding agency at the time, and now some of the staff from that company work here at Sevenly – because were growing pretty rapidly. Now we are at the point where we are currently a team of 50 employees, and have raised over $2.4 million in $7 donations.
Risen Magazine: That is a unique business model. How does it work?
Dale Partridge: We started with the motto: “Seven Days, Seven Dollars.” Now, I can see us shifting towards: “Every product you buy at Sevenly gives $7 to a cause.” That is really the bedrock foundation. Each week we partner with a new charity, and we give $7 from whatever products you buy at Sevenly that week, back to that same charity. We are trying to figure out a way to partner with more charities per week because we have a huge demand of charities, like 50 to 60 applications per week.
The reason why we chose to be clear about the $7, is because some companies say, “We give 10 percent,” or “We give away all of the profit,” but no one can tell you what that number is; I mean what does “giving away all of the profit” really mean? So $7 is a way that we can afford to give, but still stay in business. I would say that the core of our business is giving, and then there are two other things that drive our company. First, we believe that people matter. And that is literally the foundation and belief of our company; the employees and the people outside our office matter. Second, we are leading a generation for generosity. Now what does it mean to be a company that is trying to be a generous company? Well, last year we gave away five times more than our net profit. That is super rare and super crazy for a company.
When a company says, “Our net profit was $50,000 last year” and we ask, “How much did you give away to charity?” They say, “We gave away $5,000 to charity.” A company like ours would say, “We net profited $50,000 last year,” and when asked, “How much did you give away?” We’d say, “We gave away a quarter of a million dollars.” We are really trying to set the bar for companies to give more.
The name Sevenly really was driven from it being a play on the word “heavenly.” Heaven is really defined as a world without need, and the number seven has always been a Biblical representation of completion. So we tried to tie those together as completing a world without need. So there’s a little bit of history and story behind that name that brings a little more vibrant feel to this.
Our goal is to give away $1 million a week.
Risen Magazine: Who designs your shirts and what does the process look like?
Dale Partridge: We mostly do it all in-house. We are currently carrying around 60 products, with shirts making up about 70 percent. We are shifting away from that and are now carrying jewelry, bags, scarves, beanies, hats, and whatever else, even dog leashes, dog bowls, kids clothing, etc. The designs for our printed collections are created mostly in-house. We have a really great creative team, but we do outsource to a few freelancers that are retained by Sevenly, and those are some of the best artists in the world. Everything we do is hand-drawn.
Risen Magazine: How do you decide which charities to feature each week?
Dale Partridge: We have a pretty extensive charity vetting procedure. The application process includes interviews, legal matters, financial analysis, as well as if they fit with our market, and also what kind of commitment will they bring to the campaign. We don’t work with just big charities; sometimes we work with the smallest charities in the world. We work with anything and everything as long as they fit the model: “We make a great impact on what we do.” It’s really about impact. Sometimes the smallest charities can make impacts that the big ones can’t. They are agile, quick, passionate, and they haven’t gone to the bureaucratic level so they make great partners.
Risen Magazine: Recently you were featured in Forbes being described as “changing the world $7 at a time.” How do you advertise for the newest T-shirt design of the week?
Dale Partridge: We have been positioned mostly around our art, but now we are adding a new product almost every day, so it’s less about the campaign art, and it’s more about the story we are trying to tell each week. Whatever product you buy is going to benefit that story. So there is a specific component every week around a certain phrase, shirt, print, etc. I would say we are moving to being a socially good retailer in the sense that we carry products from other companies. Right now most of the products in our store that aren’t shirts, are not our products. We have become like a socially good retailer where whatever you buy gives $7 to the featured charity that week.
Anything that is “cause” specific or has a reference to that week’s charity is only there for a week. So there is a limited edition component to it and we have a quick-turn product cycle for the things that are on our website and we are always finding new products and curating new things that are coming out all the time. We are trying to figure out what the coolest things in the world are, and put them on our site, or things that you are already going to buy somewhere else, you might as well buy from us because you’re giving $7 to a charity. The margin that people are making elsewhere… we are giving part of that margin away and we are attracting customers because of it. Our goal is to give away $1 million a week. That is a big vision, and how we can get there is the conversation we are currently having as a team.
Risen Magazine: How open are you with Sevenly when it comes to being a faith-based company?
Dale Partridge: Probably very similar to Chick-fil-A, or In-N-Out Burger, we are founded on Christian principles and we don’t work with any politically charged campaigns or charities. We try to do things everyone can agree on like, when people are hungry, we feed them. We are not going to fall under an abortion campaign even though the founder’s belief is that we don’t believe in abortion. So as a company, we stay away from politically charged campaigns and that allows us to say, “We aren’t here to argue with people, we are just here to change the world.” So internally, the way we treat people is that we value people over profit and that all people matter. Not all our staff members are Christians, we’re pretty diverse, but we are living out the gospel in the way that we treat people.
Risen Magazine: What is this I’ve heard about your company having a “complaining room?”
Dale Partridge: [Laughter] We had a complaining room, but we got so big we had to turn it into an office! When you are in Orange County, one of the wealthiest places in the world, surrounded by blessings, the idea of a complaint in the face of what we do is really weird, and I think selfish. We created a room that when we heard people complain, we would say something like, “You know, I know traffic sucked this morning, but you can go in the complaining room and write it down in the book.” We had this room full of photos of children from other countries, and there was this book that people could write their complaints in. It was a room of perspective. And while it’s not here physically anymore, it’s still here in philosophy. We will be bringing it back next year when we move locations. But it became a joke, and a good reminder of first world problems. It helps to teach us to be grateful and thankful for what we have. A big philosophy of culture here in America is living out of abundance instead of scarcity; we recognize the abundance that we have and we try not to complain about scarcity. The homeless person in America is five times richer than most upper-class citizens of foreign countries; the homeless [here] still have running water and they usually eat every day.
Risen Magazine: What has been the biggest obstacle that has come your way since Sevenly began?
Dale Partridge: Shifting from a small company to a big company. There is not much education on that, and it happens so rarely that there are not many books written on it. There are not many people that know how to do it and there is a lot of faith in it. You kind of have to trust that you are going the right way. It’s like walking in the dark with a candle, you can see four feet in front of you; just enough light so you keep going that way. That was one obstacle, but the other is probably the idea that people matter and shifting that internally, “How do you fire someone when you believe people matter? What does that do to your processes? How do you pay people? How many benefits do you offer them? How do you live when you’re not generous to your own staff? How do you communicate with people in a company as you are trying to live out the philosophy that people matter?” Most companies have been built on profit over people, it’s hard to value people over profit. I have to stop and ask myself if we are valuing the person. We do a lot of things differently here which makes a very powerful team.
For more information visit: www.sevenly.org
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2013
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