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Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: The Right Investors

As you might have noticed, I've been thinking a lot about money recently. It sort of goes with the territory of trying to start a social...


As you might have noticed, I've been thinking a lot about money recently. It sort of goes with the territory of trying to start a social venture. But as much as we're all focused on finding the next big check, it's also important to make sure you're taking the right money. To get to the heart of this, I spoke with Robbie Vitrano.I've known Vitrano for a little over a year. He's the kind of guy who makes you want to go out and get things done. And as the Chairman of Trumpet Ventures and the Chief Brand Designer for NAKEDpizza, he's doing some pretty great things himself. Here's what he had to say about the importance of finding the perfect financial partners and building a better world by building a better pizza:What is NAKEDpizza trying do?The ultimate mission is to change the nutritional profile of fast food. The way that we're doing that, essentially, is that we've kind of hacked pizza. We've reskinned the $30 billion pizza industry and its proven take-out and delivery model with a social mission and healthy pizzaThe focus really is to move the fast food industry-an industry that's using its millions of touch points to deliver a product that is nutritionally bankrupt, out of balance with human physiology, and contributing to the epidemic of everything from obesity and diabetes to hundred-fold increases in Crohn's disease and many cancers. We want to shift it from that to something that actually provides people with real healthy food and information that allows people to make good choices about the food they eat but also about the policies, systems, and businesses that govern their access to food.You've landed high-profile investments from the Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan and the Kraft Group. What were those negotiations like?Our business model is based on scale. We are unapologetic about the fact that we want thousands of nodes on the landscape. This idea works by having access to lots of people, so there was always the intention to franchise, to grow through partnerships. So the nature of the initial conversation was saying "Look, let's get together on this and let's kick this off so we can start to bring in the sort of partners that we need to actually create an impact."The note needs to be made that the first thing that Mark Cuban as well as the Kraft Group had to listen to was the depth and intensity of the mission around this company. It was important that they understand and agree to support that before we even got into making the business case, which is equally important obviously. We're not going to save the whales unless we can afford to buy the boat. Has that mission-first approach impacted your dealings with other potential investors?We've said no to a lot of people as well. Our focus is on the fundamental mission of the company. People that either wanted to cut to the chase or wanted to tell us how we were making X and Y mistakes or how we had to do it didn't get far. If all it is is an efficiency play or how to game the system to make a lot of money by reselling a lot of product to people through a commissary system, then those conversations are relatively short.Has anything in the process surprised you? The positive thing, conversely, is that people-especially those who've come through blogs and some of the mainstream media articles like the one in The New York Times-often lead with a very personal story. What's been tremendous is that these are people who are of significant accomplishment who come into the conversation talking about their own journey with health or a loved one or child that has type II diabetes. They have a burning desire to put their accomplishment and their expertise to work in a business that has a social benefit. It's been very touching and satisfying to sit down with people and to have the conversation have a very personal nature to it. I think it sets the table for some really powerful partnerships with people that have the means to do good things, but also have the heart and the intention to do good things. The Takeaway: Clearly, money plays a massive role in launching a business. But not all money is created equal-especially with a social venture. If an investor isn't as dedicated to your mission as you are, as hard as it might be, the right move might be to walk away. Or, in this case: If you're going to change the face of pizza, you're going to need the right kind of dough.
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