Behind the Platform: Q&A with seedership Co-Founders Jennifer and Ray Smithberger

Behind the Platform: Q&A with seedership Co-Founders Jennifer and Ray Smithberger

Team seedership
July 23, 2020

seedership is a digital sharing platform designed for small businesses unlike any marketing tool you may have come across. seedership started with the ambitious goal to elevate the visibility of all the good small businesses across the country do to inspire customers to support them and help them grow. It was designed, built, and developed to be the first online platform for small businesses to use the good they do for their communities to connect with customers, employees, and partners so that everyone can grow from kindness.

This is because we understand the role that small businesses have in their communities. According to an analysis by the U.S. Small Business Association, small businesses employ 47.3% of the private workforce across the United States; in 2014, small businesses generated $5.9 trillion in GDP; small businesses are often the center of the community, giving many neighborhoods a distinctive culture and personality.

At seedership, we believe that the growth and development of our communities are intertwined with the successes of the small businesses operating within them. This realization helped the seedership co-founders, Jennifer and Ray Smithberger, give our one-of-a-kind small business platform life. We sat down with the Smithbergers to discuss the concepts behind seedership, why community matters now more than ever, and how small businesses can use kindness to lead to business growth.

How did the idea for seedership come to you?

Ray: The idea came from my upbringing on my family’s farm and connecting growth with planting seeds. Growing up on a farm, I learned that in order to get the largest harvest possible, you need to consider everything about the environment in which you are planting your crops. So first before planting, the soil must be cultivated to be fertile enough for the seeds to germinate. Once the seeds start to sprout through the soil, it needs enough light, water, and nutrients to fully develop into a healthy harvest. Then during harvest season, farmers gather together to celebrate the collective success of their individual harvests with the community.

So, we related these principles to small businesses because they do so much for their communities, and they are actually planting seeds of kindness in their community. With the support of their customers, the good they do can help to serve them grow their business and together share in making their community a better place.

What needs did you see from small businesses that inspired it?

Jennifer: We noticed that small businesses were already doing good. Giving back is ingrained in who they are and what they do. They naturally want to support and show appreciation for those that have enabled their dream of launching and having a successful business a reality. When they give back they are showing they care for their employees, clients, suppliers, neighbors.

We know that when small businesses give back, it’s authentic. They genuinely want to make a meaningful difference in the communities where they operate, live and work – and being so connected to their neighbors, they understand their communities’ needs. They have also shared with us that they get asked to give back a lot, and many times didn’t keep track of everything they did. Small business owners are often stretched for time and have limited resources, so while they made the time to give back, sharing and promoting the good to help inform customers of how their support is being used to give back to the community took a backseat.

When they shared their stories of giving back we also noticed how passionate they were about their community, it’s authentic to who they are. We saw the opportunity to help them visualize, organize, digitize, and share their community story. These emotionally resonant stories are not something that should be kept hidden on the shelf, your costumes are seeking these stories and want to know that you are using your business to serve the community as well.

Why does it matter now, in the current climate we’re living in?

Many small businesses are struggling to be relevant in the midst of the global health crisis. They’re also struggling to quickly transition into having a digital online presence or expanding on what they have, as many relied on foot traffic for their brick and mortar businesses. With stay-at-home mandates, social distancing, and economic uncertainty slowing consumer spending, businesses are having to operate at partial capacity and more of their customers are opting to stay at home.

Given this climate, having a digital presence now is even more important for all businesses to stay operational. They need to stay connected to customers and continue to attract new ones. The attention around COVID-19 has elevated the social impact of every business and brought to light their humanity, and how they supported their communities. We created something that allows them to take the good that they do in their community and make it visual for their customers. When customers are able to see behind a company’s purpose and the good they do, they are more likely to support this business. So, through goodness, businesses and communities are able to grow alongside one another.

It’s also important because customers are now seeking to help support those businesses that have been there for their community. They are looking for reasons to support a business with their purchasing dollars, but they need to know who those small businesses are, what they are doing, and how these small businesses can help them give back to their community. These customers want to help ensure that their community perseveres through this period. They want to know who are the small businesses they can support, so together they can strengthen their community.

What is the urgency and why should small businesses be looking to use this software?

Today’s customers—especially among Millennials and Generation Z consumers who are entering their prime spending years—want their dollars to mean more than just a product or service. Consumers still expect all the usual things like quality, price, choice, and service, but they also want to help make a positive impact in their community or towards causes they care about. They are seeking businesses that give them these opportunities. So, when businesses are visible about what causes they support and what they do for their communities, they have the chance to form deeper connections with their customers and to share values around causes/issues they are passionate about, which can foster greater loyalty and trust.

The number one way businesses share what they do is through word of mouth, which is not sustainable and doesn’t put control in their hands of how their story is articulated. Many of the popular review sites and platforms today put the power in the customer’s hands to tell the story, seedership puts the power back in the small businesses’ hands to help craft their community stories and manage their reputations.

What are some of the most important features of the platform?

Ray: My favorite seedership feature is the real-time aggregator dashboard. I have a few sayings that I live by, “you measure what you value,” and “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Our aggregator dashboard displays the total investment of our users’ kindness. It tracks and measures what you give and what it’s worth—every dollar, every minute and in-kind product/service—so you have an inventory and a monetary amount for every charitable act. Our dashboard aggregates all of the things you donated and displays a TKI (Total Kindness Impact) score combining the value of your charity.

From our discussions with small business owners and data we discovered in our 2020 Spring Into Kindness Small Business Study, we found that when small businesses are analyzing their charitable giving activities, they overlook some key metrics that impact the true value of the good they do for their communities. seedership is able to fill in some of the gaps to help your customers understand the actual value of what you are doing for the community.

Small businesses undervalue what they give back. They usually don’t track everything that goes into an act of charity—not just the dollars given, but those raised, the in-kind services and products or time donated. When you add all this up, it represents a significant investment back into their community. Our aggregator helps address this problem and can give business owners a clear insight into the true value their charitable acts bring to their communities.

Jennifer: One of my favorite features is the storytelling component of seedership. It gives our users a visual overview of all their combined community stories, not just one page at a time, the whole story, so they can sort through all the kindness they have shared with their communities. While we were developing the seedership platform, we wanted to make sharing and amplifying these stories seamless for business owners, so we took extra consideration with this feature.

We make it possible for users to share the stories of their kindness directly to their businesses’ social media accounts, so fans and customers can see the good these businesses do in the places they most interact with them the most. And our sharing features aren’t limited to social media channels either. I like how you can export your community stories for use on your website, in email newsletters, or wherever else you connect with your customers. I think visibility is the key factor in helping businesses grow from the good they do.

When customers and employees are able to see and find the community-giving stories small businesses are involved with, there are more opportunities to reach new customers and employees, and to give current customers and employees the information they need to feel good about supporting businesses with a purpose. With our storytelling features, sharing these stories, and expanding your reach is possible with a click of a button.

What tips do you have for small businesses on sharing the good they're doing and making it visible to customers?

You want to help people understand why you give as well as what you give. Authenticity, visibility, and transparency are what help create emotional connections between the good you do and your customers, clients, employees, and partners. While you are creating your community-giving stories, give your audience some insight on why you choose that organization or cause you are supporting and let them know the story behind your giving. Being open and visible about what you are doing and why shows that your business has more behind its purpose gives room for your audience to create real and emotional bonds with your business.  It’s about building a deeper human/emotional connections with your customers.

How did you come up with the “plant, grow, share” model? Why is it important?

While we were coming up with the idea for the seedership platform, we drew from Ray’s upbringing and applied the “plant, grow, share” model for small businesses that are passionate about their communities. Planting is the act of goodness that small businesses do for their neighborhoods. Sharing the stories about these acts is like the water and nutrients that help turn them into something that takes root within the community. Finally, with enough nourishment and exposure to sunlight, these seeds of kindness are able to grow in plants that bear fruit for everyone in the community to enjoy.  

What do you think is necessary for a small business to grow and flourish?

Jennifer: Being authentic about your purpose and why you give back, providing customers the transparency they need to know about what you are giving back, and visibility about how and when you are giving back are all vital for community and business growth. So, to summarize, being authentic, transparent, and visible about what your business does for the community can a catalyst for growth. Why? According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, 86% of American consumers expect businesses to make a positive impact on society, and 87% of American consumers say they would buy from a company that advocates for causes they care about.

Given these statistics, more and more customers today are looking closely at a business’ overall purpose, and are expecting them to be involved in helping make the world a better place. When they are able to see your business’ community-giving stories, they feel good about spending their purchasing with you because they feel like they have a stake in the good your business is doing for the community. And from this, it can create a loyal customer base, increased brand exposure, positive reputation management, improved employee morale, and so much more that is crucial for business growth.

Why is the relationship between small businesses and their community so crucial?

Our 2020 Spring Into Small Business Study really shined a light on how intertwined small businesses are with their communities. We found that the vast majority (99%) of the small businesses we studied had given back to their communities at least once within the past year. Moreover, 70% of these businesses told us that they give back continuously throughout the year.

Small businesses are big givers when it comes to their communities, and the members of the community are small business customers, employees, and partners. The relationship between small businesses and the communities in which they operate are intertwined at the root. This is why we believe that if small businesses are visible about the good they do for the community, it can lead to greater customer and employee support, which allows the business to grow so they can give more back. It’s like a cycle of kindness that is paid back at every step of the way that can help everyone involved grow.

Interested in learning more about what seedership can do for your business and community? Start your 30-day free trial now!

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