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A little over five years ago, I left a dream job in corporate America to start Pencils of Promise. Money doesn’t always provide meaning, and like many professionals I quickly realized after I started working that my greatest aspirations were no longer rooted in finding success, but in discovering significance.

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In March 2012, my business partner Ross Lohr and I drove from Boston, Massachusetts to Morganton, North Carolina with a car full of t-shirts that we were planning to upcycle into t-shirt tote bags and circle scarves. Two years later, we have sold over 15,000 custom t-shirt quilts. How did we go from upcycling random t-shirts that we thought were ironic, into becoming an affordable way for people to preserve their t-shirt memories? We made a whole lot of mistakes, but we tried not to make the same mistake twice. In order to save other aspiring entrepreneurs some time, here are five things I wish I’d known back then:

Do your research: There is more than one place in the United States that does cut and sew.

Instead of doing our research and being resourceful, we drove across the country to find our manufacturer. On the one hand, we made a lifelong connection with the people at Opportunity Threads in western North Carolina; on the other: we did not have enough traction to justify a road trip. There are now also a lot more resources to find textile-manufacturing plants, and we should have done our homework.

Hearing that you have a ‘cool’ idea is different than people purchasing your product.

A lot of times in the social enterprise or for-profit world, people ask their friends and network if they would buy x if it existed. Most people say, “Yes, that’s a cool idea.” But when the product is actually presented, oftentimes it's too expensive or just not that good. During that first spring of trying to convince people to buy our totes, we asked a lot of people what they thought, and the typical response was that we had a nice concept. One night on the bus coming home, we asked a random passenger what she thought, and she said, “It looks like the first bag ever created—it’s not very good.” At the time, we felt she didn’t understand the “story,” but if we had stopped and really listened to an unbiased consumer reaction, we would have saved a lot of time and money.

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Awesome Member of the Week: Patrick McDonnell Encourages You to Define Your Own Success

GOOD is featuring interviews of devoted members each week on good.is. Patrick McDonnell is a civic hacker, urban designer, and all-around creative.

GOOD is featuring interviews of devoted members each week on good.is. Patrick McDonnell is a civic hacker, urban designer, and all-around creative.

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How I'm Living a Life By Design

I’m passionate about living a life by my design instead of someone else’s default. I’m passionate about living the good life, one built on the following pillars...

2010 was a tough year for me. That was the year I had a broken engagement and a mid-twenties crisis. But those were just symptoms of a deeper problem. My entire life (or as much as I can remember leading up until that tipping point) was about expectations: my own, other’s, and everything in between. I was living a life roadmap that I thought was expected of me, making all my choices to avoid failure, and valuing my achievements as the measuring stick of my personal worth.

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Six Things Tahrir Protesters Taught the World About Starting a Movement

Three years ago, an entire nation took to the streets to demand the fall of one of the longest-running dictators in the world. Egypt has not left the headlines since. Through its cycles of euphoria, bloodshed, cynicism, and hope, the Egyptian revolution continues to captivate the world.

Three years ago, an entire nation took to the streets to demand the fall of one of the longest-running dictators in the world. Egypt has not left the headlines since. Through its cycles of euphoria, bloodshed, cynicism, and hope, the Egyptian revolution continues to captivate the world.

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I found myself working at a company at the bottom of the totem pole in the midst of budget cuts. When I was laid off, I realized I wasn’t as upset as I would have been if I had loved my position. I immediately went back to applying for jobs that I would find meaningful and honestly couldn’t find an open, full-time position that fit my skillset at an organization I was really enthusiastic about. So, my husband told me it was time to pursue the idea that got me into graduate school- starting a cause-based marketing firm.

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