In Pursuit of Growth and Capital

By sharing a company’s story of growth with its community, and most importantly, by sharing with one’s community an intention for a specific kind of growth, pathways open up for the flow of all kinds of capital.

Let’s start by asking a question: do businesses need to grow? I’ll cast my vote to say “Yes.” Actually, I will say “Absolutely.” Yet, there are many kinds of growth. We can grow up, we can grow out, and we can also grow wise. So let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing.

The economy we know today is pretty attached to a classic growth paradigm that demands growth, and mostly growth that manifests itself in growing revenue or profit or, in its largest sense, GDP. At the micro level, I witness this paradigm in action every time I hear the question, “How are you going to grow this business?” It’s a call you can’t ignore: grow or die.

I’m not about to dispute the value of focusing on growth. It has created tons of progress in certain sectors of our society. But I think it’s worth noting that the kind of growth we have collectively experienced has not treated all parties equally. It might be worth exploring other kinds of growth as well.

People grow in many ways. Children focus on physical growth. The strength and capabilities that come with “growing up” are certainly useful. (Me, I topped out at out at about six feet tall and growing out is… we’ll just say, no longer productive.) Physical growth quickly becomes less important and we move on to emotional and intellectual growth. We grow our capacity for empathy. We grow closer to those around us. We grow wise.

Could business (and even our economy?) aspire to recognize similar limits to physical growth and shift aspirations to another kind of growth?

When we talk about the capital we put together at Community Sourced Capital, we often describe the process of connecting businesses directly to their community as “turning an enterprise’s social capital into financial capital.” The social part looks a lot like trust and strong relationships, and the financial part looks a lot like money. Businesses need financial capital for all sorts of things — including physical growth — and those things change as a business faces new challenges and evolves to fit a dynamic environment. Sometimes, we find businesses looking for growth in terms of product lines or financial maturity. Or, perhaps most exciting, growing in terms of connections to their community. That’s when the social capital part (trust and relationships) comes in.

By sharing a company’s story of growth with its community, and most importantly, by sharing with one’s community an intention for a specific kind of growth, pathways open up for the flow of all kinds of capital: intellectual capital, human capital, social capital. A company that realizes its potential to access all sources of capital will find endless growth.

So, what would you like to grow this year?

Practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters quote

“Practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous.”

“Practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous.” – Seth Godin

Willapa Hills Cheese: one year in

On a cold northwest morning, I spent 30 minutes on the phone catching up with Stephen Hueffed from Willapa Hills Cheese. Stephen is half of the husband and wife team who took an idea for a handcrafted cheese company from a dinner conversation to a growing business in southern Washington. Stephen spoke with me while waiting in the car for his other half, Amy, who was purchasing milk from a supplier they drove to that morning.

On a cold northwest morning, I spent 30 minutes on the phone catching up with Stephen Hueffed from Willapa Hills Cheese. Stephen is half of the husband and wife team who took an idea for a handcrafted cheese company from a dinner conversation to a growing business in Southwest Washington. Stephen spoke with me while waiting in the car for his other half, Amy, who was purchasing milk from a supplier they drove to that morning.

Growing their business has not been easy, and they haven’t tried to go it alone. Their $15,000 loan from 75 Squareholders financed additional cheese-making equipment last year, which helped them increase their production so they could say “yes” when buyers asked for larger orders. That infrastructure loan, coupled with other financing from our local finance partner, Craft3, provided working capital to buy more milk for delicious cheese.

“Prior to these rounds of funding, we would have to decline–or really, stress–about the potential to fulfill those orders,” Stephen told me. When I asked for the secret to his success, he tells it like it is, “Number One, you’re lucky. And two, you’re just stubborn enough to stay with it.”

Amy was recently invited as one of just nine Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Recipients to share their products and story with company leadership at a national gathering in Austin. Perhaps it’s a result of Willapa’s ability to grow with opportunity. With those bigger orders comes more responsibility. “We’re in the middle of some of the most rigorous food safety audits we’ve ever been apart of, and that’s just to start selling to a new retailer.” If everything goes well, that rigorous testing will result in one of their biggest orders ever.

The goal isn’t necessarily to get as big as possible. “It’s all relative,” Stephen says. “But the bottom line is that we can’t pay the electric bill based on what we sell to one small retailer. Most small producers top out really quick.” Willapa loves its local stores too, though. They’re entering more local natural foods stores soon. Not all small natural stores like the larger chains. Willapa has to balance those relationships every month–on top of everything else.

Amy returns to the car. Time to get back to work. No rest for these determined entrepreneurs. Stephen ends our call with the same encouraging tone he brings to every corner of his business: “You know, we love it. That’s the core to the whole bloody thing. If we didn’t care, and we didn’t love it, we would have turned back 100 times. And maybe that’s the deal. We’re not lucky. We’re just stubborn.”

Starvation Alley Farms: one year in

Starvation Alley Farms hasn’t stopped moving since we first worked with them a year ago to raise $12,000 for an industrial juicer. In fact, Starvation Alley Farms fueled the very first Square through our lending system.

As the first organic cranberry producers in Washington State, the farm needed a new market to sell their berries. Selling juice to cocktail bars instead of berries on the commodity market revolutionized their revenue model. Instead of traveling from Long Beach to Portland week after week to juice their berries, they were able to buy an industrial juicer to keep at home in Long Beach.

2013 was a year of expanding their juice sales to cocktail bars in Seattle, farmers markets, and even an experimental CSA program to deliver juice directly to people! Recently, their expansion to Portland has found them in a few new locations, and perhaps most exciting, in a great spread from Portland Monthly. You’ve got to see these pictures.

Perhaps the most exciting news from Starvation Alley has been the impact on their own industry. Seasoned farmers have asked SAF to help convert their berries to organic, too. Thanks to the scientific and business expertise the farm has been developing over the last few years, bringing on the second organic farm should be a little easier. To help them finance this next stage, our friends at Craft3, a local CDFI lender, have stepped up with some serious financial support.

People often ask about the story of their name: Starvation Alley. “Starvation Alley,” as deemed during the Great Depression, was the road on the Long Beach Peninsula that housed many hard working migrant farmers. Now, it’s home and work for these cranberry farmers. Though the road is now officially named Birch Street, the locals still call it Starvation Alley. They kept the name as an ode to those that came before and to honor everyone still working hard for food (and drinks).

A&R Solar: One year in

It’s been nearly a year since we first sat down with Seattle solar company A&R Solar to talk about a big project they had in mind for their company.

It’s been nearly a year since we first sat down with Seattle solar company A&R Solar to talk about a big project they had in mind for their company. They were running out of room in a small office in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood and had their eyes on a new location down the street. It would be a game-changer for the business by adding five times as much office space, plus a warehouse.

A&R Solar was the third company to use Squares to raise money for the business. They hit go on a campaign on an afternoon in February to raise $20,000, and a month later, they had $25,000 in Squares accumulated from dozens of people in their community, including family, friends, customers, and even a few “competitors” in the solar industry. Nearly 200 people came together to lend a little money and move a growing company forward.

“Using CSC to raise money put us in a very vulnerable position of asking for money. The outpouring of positive support from people we knew was incredibly energizing. It gave us a confidence makeover.”

“It gave us a confidence makeover.”
    –Co-founder Reeves Clippard

Two weeks after their campaign wrapped up, they had a check in their hands. They got to work immediately building out the new office. In May, they made their first payment on their loan, and then in June, they encouraged their Squareholders to take part in a new loan through CSC to fund a solar hot water installation for the Adrift Hotel on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Several thousand dollars in repayments from A&R Solar went back to work for a loan to the hotel, and A&R carried out the project. In September, A&R threw a party for their Squareholders to check out the new Seattle office. In October, another party to show off the solar hot water project with the Adrift Hotel, and by the time November came around, A&R’s loan was paid off in full.

Besides the Adrift, several Squareholders have kept their money in the CSC system by using repayments to make loans to other companies running campaigns with CSC. Here’s one example from a Squareholder:

One year later, A&R has been named one of the 100 fastest growing private companies in the Puget Sound by the Puget Sound Business Journal. And it’s no wonder, they’re in one of the hottest industries in town — and it’s an industry that happens to be doing a lot of good for the world. You decide if that’s a coincidence.

CSC and PCC Farmland Trust host Funding Farmers Creative Session

Of the many cool things we get to do when working on finance, collaborating with other local finance groups is at the top of our list of favorite things.

This fall saw us hosting a creative session to discuss finance for farmers, so it was a good thing we had groups in the room like PCC Farmland Trust, Slow Money Northwest, One PacificCoast Bank, UbrLocal and Rooted In. All together, over a dozen farmers and food network stakeholders came together to identify creative ways to raise capital for sustainable farms and to discuss shared goals and values for our regional food systems.

Shared values and concerns

During the course of the evening our discussion revealed some shared values and concerns:

  • Sustainable Stewardship of the land and soil
  • The importance of farmer’s livelihoods and access to land ownership
  • The need to reflect the true value of the services of farms to society and the environment
  • The desire for good food for all
  • Figuring this out inside the existing market (not waiting for some other economy to emerge)
  • Making farms financially viable

The evening came to several conclusions, but above all else, it’s clear that there is both plenty of work to do and the energy, commitment and expertise to do it is right here in our community.

So let’s get back to work.

A visit to CSC Roanoke

Traveling to Roanoke VA last week was a study in beauty and hospitality. I visited Brent Cochran, CSC co-founder and our SouthEast lead where he and his wife Meghan welcomed me into their home and showed me around the city. The folks in Roanoke are as inspiring as the autumn in the Blue Ridge mountains. There’s a lot to get excited about in this town. And I think the people there are ready to add Community Sourced Capital’s special version of finance to the mix.

Traveling to Roanoke VA last week was a study in beauty and hospitality. I visited Brent Cochran, CSC co-founder and our SouthEast lead where he and his wife Meghan welcomed me into their home and showed me around the city. The folks in Roanoke are as inspiring as the autumn in the Blue Ridge mountains. There’s a lot to get excited about in this town. And I think the people there are ready to add Community Sourced Capital’s special version of finance to the mix.

Brent grew up in Roanoke and has been bringing his vision of great community to all he does. After graduating from college, hiking the full length of the Appalachian Trail and leading kayaking tours in Hawaii, Brent and Meghan settled back into their hometown. Upon returning to Roanoke Brent noticed two things: a few empty parking lots and too little farm fresh food. In response, Brent founded a non-profit, LEAP for Local Food, which hosts several farmer’s markets and brought those empty lots back to life while launching a sustainable local food system in the greater Roanoke region.

After successfully establishing LEAP, Brent now puts his energy into other sustainable development projects in Roanoke. He has been vital in the success of CityWorks (X)po, a gathering of urban leaders sharing big ideas for better cities. But Brent is just one of many people making Roanoke an exciting place to be.

While I was down there Brent introduced me to some of the folks making things happen in Roanoke. I met the owners of a great Grandin Village coffee shop, the manager of a local radio station, an artist and a wonderful banker who works in community development at a local credit union. Brent and I had a great time pitching the CSC concept to a large group of folks who I’m sure will be some of our first Virginia Squareholders!

Measuring Impact with Love

The businesses we work with impact their communities with love. So sometimes their measurements might be a little outside the norm.

Maybe impact is just another way to measure love. The businesses CSC works with impact their communities with love. So sometimes their measurements might be a little outside the norm. Continue reading “Measuring Impact with Love”

Off-the-Grid Investing: Perspectives and voices of a transforming financial system (cross blog)

Guest blog from RSF Social Finance President and CEO Don Shaffer about finding new and emerging methods of finance.

This article was originally published in the GreenMoney e-Journal (Fall 2013 issue). It is published here on the CSC Blog with permission from Green Money. For more information on sustainable investing and business, visit www.GreenMoney.com.

RSF Off-the-Grid

When you are looking for the new or emergent, you usually have to look off-the-grid. In many ways as RSF Social Finance has grown, we too have had to go off-the-grid to develop our unique approach to finance.

In 1984, a school burned down in New Hampshire. RSF organized a group of investors to rebuild it. Since then, we have made over $275 million in direct loans to social enterprises. Our track record has been excellent, with just 2 percent in cumulative loan losses over 29 years, and a 100 percent repayment rate to investors.

The key: bringing investors and borrowers closer together. We have found that if the individual investors who are providing capital and the social entrepreneurs who are borrowing capital can be more visible to each other – if they can understand each others’ needs and intentions, and sustain a personal connection whenever possible – then risk decreases and fulfillment increases.

Participants in a transaction become participants in a relationship. We believe this is nothing less than the antidote to modern finance, and can be applied on a substantial scale. It is the opposite of high frequency trading.

Specifically, four years ago RSF adopted a new approach to loan pricing for our $100 million flagship senior-debt fund. Each quarter, we convene representatives from our staff, our investors, and our borrowers to decide what annualized return rate investors will receive the following quarter, and what interest rate borrowers will pay – a radical form of transparency.

We call it community-based pricing. The response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive – and our interest rate, referred to as RSF Prime, has been very stable. We are now off-the-grid of the global financial interest rate system and no longer directly affected by the vagaries of Wall Street.

But of course the vast majority of all 401(k) programs, pension funds, and endowments are tethered to Wall Street, so it is naïve to believe we are fully off-the-grid.

This circumstance leads to questions many of us in the social finance field think about:

  • What is it going to take for the number of socially and environmentally-focused investors to grow substantially?
  • Can it happen fast enough for those of us who acknowledge the urgency of climate change and natural resource depletion?
  • Are there enough sound investment opportunities for investors who want to go off-the-grid?
  • How will we address the perennial issues of risk, return, and liquidity when there are so few established intermediaries in which to place funds?
  • What are the long-term implications for those of us who anticipate needing funds for retirement and who want to embrace off-the-grid investing?

A Generational Voice

I believe the very definition of wealth will change in my lifetime (I’m 44), where measures like GDP evolve to measures of well-being. These indicators will put spiritual, community, and ecological health at the center of the human experience and pull us toward an economy and supporting financial system that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships.

A growing recognition that we are all interconnected will inform how people make economic choices, how rewards and incentives are structured, and how legal systems evolve.

In fact, we are witnessing this shift already. New sectors of the economy are growing steadily:

  • The sharing economy, in which people acknowledge that they don’t necessarily need to own a car or lawnmower, and they can connect with each other online to find homes to stay in while traveling.
  • The DIY (do-it-yourself) economy, in which websites like Etsy connect hundreds of thousands of artisans and craftspeople with those who want unique homemade products.
  • The local food economy, in which more and more consumers want to connect with the people who grow and process their food.

I could also mention the potential of crowd-funding, though it is still early on. Time will tell, but I believe these are trends, not fads—trends toward aligning one’s money and values, more personal connection through emerging economies, and mutually beneficial economic exchanges. Even though they are evident today primarily in more affluent communities like Brooklyn, Berkeley and Boulder, this is changing too. Many observers agree: networks engaged in small-to-small trade will continue to replace centralized corporate incumbents in many categories.

Yes, there will continue to be demand for airplane engines, pharmaceuticals, and semiconductors – examples of products that require more centralized R&D and manufacturing, and large-scale capital markets. I hope ESG Funds will continue to refine their methodologies and raise the bar for “what’s good”; and I hope experts in shareholder advocacy of publicly traded companies will continue to be effective.

But in my direct association with Gen Xers and Millennials (especially) in the U.S. over the past few years, I am coming into contact with people who want to consume less and save more; expect lower financial returns while having an extraordinarily high bar for “impact” from their investments; plan to hold less personal debt and have more free time to enjoy arts and culture. Many are anxious about the future. Many want to have a closer connection to their investments. Many are completely disillusioned with big banks, financial advisors, and the stock market.

Though most have not described it in these terms exactly, they have an intuitive and visceral sense that the existing paradigms and assumptions about investing and markets no longer work. In my meetings, these individuals essentially echo the key findings of Leslie Christian’s 2011 paper entitled “A New Foundation for Portfolio Management”.

  • They recognize that ecological risk should be a primary consideration in every investment decision.
  • They believe we may have entered an extended “new normal” period where economic growth rates are much lower than in the post-WWII era.
  • They want to form their own personal investment thesis based on their unique vision for the world.

A Practical Story

For example, I know a woman who is quietly engaged in a radical act. She is a cashed-out tech entrepreneur, and has begun a journey to learn how she can best align 100% of her money with her heart, mind, soul, and values. No small undertaking.

It is not important that you know all the details of her story, but here is a brief summary: She is an engineer who came to Silicon Valley by way of Texas and Tennessee in the late 1970’s, started a software company with her husband in the late 1980’s, raised a family and grew the business in the 1990’s (with no outside capital), and sold it in 2000 for a lot of money.

She has begun to explore the idea of integrating her investments and philanthropy around the theme of soil health. She is a gardener and rancher herself, so she has firsthand experience in this area.

Plus, she challenges the assumption that investors should always seek the highest possible financial return. She wants to invest in the appreciation of real value of an underlying asset; not speculate on price appreciation of that asset.

A Reflective Voice

I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s essay, “The Whole Horse,” as I reflect on what this woman is setting out to do because she is taking control of her investing in a way that I haven’t seen many people do yet, flipping many conventions around to suit her personal vision. She is reimagining and transforming the activity we call investing to fit her “agrarian mind”:

“The fundamental difference between industrialism and agrarianism is this: Whereas industrialism is a way of thought based on monetary capital and technology, agrarianism is a way of thought based on land.”

“…An agrarian economy rises up from the fields, woods, and streams – from the complex of soils, slopes, weathers, connections, influences, and exchanges that we mean when we speak, for example, of the local community or the local watershed. The agrarian mind is therefore not national, let alone global, but local. It must know on intimate terms the local plants and animals and local soils; it must know local possibilities and impossibilities, opportunities and hazards. It depends and insists on knowing very particular local histories and biographies.”

“Because a mind so placed meets again and again the necessity for work to be good, the agrarian mind is less interested in abstract quantities than in particular qualities. It feels threatened and sickened when it hears people and creatures and places spoken of as labor, management, capital, and raw material. It is not at all impressed by the industrial legendry of gross national products, or of the numbers sold and dollars earned by gigantic corporations. It is interested – and forever fascinated – by questions leading toward accomplishment of good work: What is the best location for a particular building or fence? What is the best way to plow this field? What is the best course for a skid road in this woodland? Should this tree be cut or spared? What are the best breeds and types of livestock for this farm? – questions which cannot be answered in the abstract, and which yearn not toward quantity but toward elegance. Agrarianism can never become abstract because it has to be practiced in order to exist.”

Systemic change is happening from the ground-up in small concentric ripples – one person, one investment at a time. More and more investors like the woman described above feel a calling to practice their deepest values through their money. As a financial professional, I too am called. I am called to support and facilitate, in myself and others, a thoughtful understanding of risk and return, full integration of self and money, and personal empowerment to question convention and insist upon alignment. I know that it’s time to create new frameworks for investment decision-making, new networks of support for the pioneers who are questioning conventional doctrine, and new ways of sharing stories to inspire each other.

It’s time to ask openly and wholeheartedly: what does the agrarian mind mean for the world of finance?

Article By Don Shaffer, President & CEO, RSF Social Finance. For more information about RSF Social Finance, visit www.rsfsocialfinance.org. This article was originally published in the GreenMoney e-Journal (Fall 2013 issue). It is published here on the CSC Blog with permission from Green Money. For more information on sustainable investing and business, visit www.GreenMoney.com.

Twelve months in

Twelve months ago, our little company Community Sourced Capital was born with the audacious goal of creating innovative financial systems.

Twelve months ago, our little company Community Sourced Capital was born with the audacious goal of creating innovative financial systems. It’s a unique challenge to change how people think about finance, especially if most of us aren’t thinking about it in the first place. That is, unless finance is bad to us. Then we think about it all the time.

We believe finance can be good. It can be good to people, it can be good to businesses, and it can be good to communities. Like when finance enables 183 people to fund a $20,000 loan for an independent hotel to install a solar hot water system on their roof. Examples like this demonstrate the potential for finance to embody qualities that form our generally accepted definitions of “good”, like “community” or “sharing” or “love”.

And here’s the “good” news: because money is a human invention, the purpose it carries is ours to invent as well.

Here at CSC, we’re twelve months into giving money a purpose in our local economies. This is where we’re at:

8 funded campaigns raised $125,000 in loans for community business

Dozens of campaigns in the pipeline

Our very own B Corp certification

New city pages to help us see our work wherever we go

8 amazing team members

900+ card-carrying Squareholders

And as if we couldn’t imagine this journey getting any better, these last few weeks of summer have provided time to reflect on our progress over the last few months–but then our eyes stare right back on the prize: innovative financial systems that work for communities.

Some people see that prize way up in the clouds, and they wonder how a small company could ever make a difference in the big, bad world of finance. They’re probably correct. The solutions aren’t up in the clouds. They’re down here on the ground making a difference in communities right this very second.