Written by Patty Rasmussen Tuesday, June 19 2012
Snapshot: Annalea Krebs, CEO & founder of ethicalDeal.com
Canadian entrepreneur Annalea Krebs is on a mission to advance the green movement city by city across North America. Now she’s doing it one ‘daily deal’ at a time through her company ethicalDeal.com, founded in November 2010 and based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Using the ‘daily deal’ coupon model and harnessing the power of group buying, ethicalDeal offers consumers deep discounts — 50 to 90 percent — on thoroughly vetted green products and local services in five cities in Canada, and through their online Marketplace in cities both in Canada and the U.S.
Krebs conservatively estimates that they have a reach of 100,000-plus consumers. They have already worked with over 750 green companies. In addition to offering fantastic deals on green products and services, ethicalDeal is creating a community of like-minded individuals actively engaged in community service and development projects. The company maintains a lively presence, interacting with followers and fans on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and through an informative blog, which covers topics from health care to recipes to fashion.
Krebs admits that her intensity sometimes results in taking herself too seriously. To combat that character trait she dubbed herself the company’s “Chief Ambassador” in addition to CEO. “We have all sorts of titles in the company,” she says, laughing, “Everything from Office Ninja to Marketing Maven.” Who says promoting green business can’t be fun?
Womenetics: You’ve said you believed the top three barriers to people buying green products or services are that they think the products/services are too expensive, they don't know where to find them, and they don't know what to trust. How does ethicalDeal answer those three concerns?
Annalea Krebs: At ethicalDeal we are positioning ourselves to be the consumer’s trusted guide to discovering new green products and services, many of which will be local to them. We’re doing the legwork for consumers. Our goal is to make it easy for the consumer to say, ‘Hm. That sounds interesting.’ We educate through the copy, explain why the product/service is better for them. We give them a great deal, 50 percent off or more, and we’re confident that once they experience their purchase they’ll realize the benefits and make that shift, either continuing to purchase that brand or at least be open to other alternatives.
I also find that with the green consumer movement there are a lot of scare tactics that have been used to market products and educate consumers about making a better choice. We are trying to take a lighter approach while still being consistent with our criteria and screening. We don’t go light on that.
Womenetics: How do you vet or source the products/services/companies?
Krebs: We have a team that scours the cities across the country for the best green businesses. We also rely on something I refer to as “trust providers,” where we look to third-party organizations—often they’re nonprofits or certifying bodies, such as the Organic Certifying Body or Ocean Wise Certifying Body. Some trust providers are green business networks that are reputable and established, like Green America. And we have our own criteria that we look for: Do [the businesses] take care of the planet, respect animal rights? Do they benefit the community and do they promote wellness? They don’t have to meet all four [criteria], but we’re looking for at least two, and if there’s a certifying stamp if it’s a product, that’s even better. We showcase all of that.
Womenetics: How did ethicalDeal get its start?
Krebs: Prior to ethicalDeal I started a website called TheChange.com. It was a local green business directory founded on principles of being engaging, transparent and creating a community. We took a local approach, creating a local green business directory for Vancouver and Victoria and were going to expand beyond that, on a city-by-city basis across North America. That was the vision – promoting good companies doing good things in this world and inviting people to follow them and start conversations, kind of a Facebook-type experience. I launched TheChange in May 2010 after working on it for about a year. We had a strong launch and got good media attention. The first three months were a trial period for the 100 businesses on the site; they participated without having to pay the subscription fee I planned to charge. When it got to the “Will you pay for this?” talk, the businesses participating said, “We want this to relate back to our bottom line. Can you bring an e-commerce component into the platform?” At that point we were sending people to their profile pages, but we couldn’t tell what action was being taken. How did it translate into customers and sales?
We brainstormed as a team and paid attention to the key words from the focus groups of participating companies -- words like ‘e-commerce,’ ‘wanting something measurable,’ and ‘benefits of exposure.’ At this point Groupon was becoming popular in Vancouver and really caught my attention. It answered the needs of the businesses we worked with; measurable, cost-effective—no upfront cost, you only pay for results, and it got customers to their doors. That model became ethicalDeal.
Womenetics: What was the best lesson you learned in the process of building ethicalDeal?
Krebs: Through good discussions with my team and advisory board I learned the power of focus. That’s why we decided to strip down to (a) what our customers want and (b) really focusing our brand and experience around that. That’s why we didn’t add ethicalDeal.com onto TheChange.com. They are not the same. However, our background with TheChange.com gave us a really strong start because we already had companies who said this is what they wanted. Those companies gave us our first three months of deals. We also built a newsletter community with TheChange.com, which gave us an additional subscriber base. We had some social media following. Those factors combined to give us a good launch and smooth transition. That was a huge lesson learned in terms of focusing and really listening to what your customers want and not getting all dreamy. At the end of the day, those changes were actually getting me closer to that vision of advancing the green movement on a city-by-city basis across North America and connecting more and more people to companies that are doing good.
Womenetics: How many folks are signed up for ethicalDeal?
Krebs: Our reach is 100,000-plus. You can subscribe to our daily email. That’s one way of following us. There are people who choose not to subscribe but to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Then there are people who subscribe to aggregator services (companies that combine links to several different daily deal websites). That’s how I get the 100,000-plus figure because we’re reaching people through multiple channels.
Womenetics: How does ethicalDeal work in the U.S.?
Krebs: We’re local in our operations in five cities in Canada; our headquarters are located in Vancouver. What it means for us to be local is that we’re working with local businesses (in that city), having a local sales team, and attending and sponsoring local events. We are not yet local in the states. What our U.S. customers see are our Marketplace deals, which are across North America.
We launched Marketplace deals last fall, and it’s been very popular. Whether someone lives in a rural area or somewhere that isn’t a city center in Canada or in the U.S., they can still participate in the community and take advantage of the online Marketplace. But if you subscribe in Philadelphia, for example, as that community grows, we might decide to go local in Philadelphia. Our intent is to go local across North America.
Womenetics: When you were in college studying commerce (business) what was your objective? Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Krebs: Yes, I already had a vision for what I wanted to do by the time I began working on my commerce degree. Getting my degree gave me the opportunity to develop a business plan and receive feedback and support from faculty. The university I attended had an incubator; I was accepted into that. I ended up winning the competition, which gave me my first capital to start my business. I graduated from university with $25,000 in funding that I won, and I had a business plan.
Womenetics: Not every entrepreneur comes out of college wanting to develop a socially conscious business. How did that side of your personality develop?
Krebs: I grew up in a fairly socially active family. From the time I was in high school, and younger still, I was always active in the community, from cleaning stuff off the beach to soup kitchens to making sandwiches for the homeless. As I got older I still wanted to participate in my community, so I’d volunteer to be on the board of directors for volunteer organizations or AIDS societies. It feels very natural for me to approach business this way. It’s a natural extension of who I am - my lifestyle and my interests.
When I was younger, I always looked to the nonprofit sector for this type of doing good. I saw a line between the business world and nonprofit world. I just assumed I’d do good things with nonprofit work and then go to my day job and not necessarily do ‘bad’ but not get the same fulfillment in my corporate life. Gradually, I became aware that there were companies, especially in the States, who blended business with doing good; profit with a purpose. I had role models that inspired me, and I sought out people who inspired me. I would go to events or look through the paper and find something interesting and call them up and ask them to coffee. The green movement began taking off. The media began talking about green jobs and the green economy. I saw I wouldn’t need to have this division between my career and my extracurricular volunteer activities. That’s when I began looking for companies who were doing good.
The idea for TheChange.com came about because there wasn’t an online resource where you could find that information. My business was very much a part of my own journey to find companies that are doing good in the world and my interest in working for a company like that or starting my own.
Womenetics: What makes you laugh out loud?
Krebs: When people don’t take themselves too seriously. I laugh and smile a lot but tend to be on the serious side so when others poke fun at that or show me the lighter side of life that’s good. There are lots of jokesters in our office, and I’m thankful for that.
Womenetics: I heard you do salsa dancing. How is that going?
Krebs: Awesome. What’s that show, “So You Think You Can Dance?” I’m not quite to that level yet, but yeah, I’m doing it. It’s so important because entrepreneurs are so passionate about what they do that they don’t feel there’s a line between work and life. But I do try to make time for stuff like that. I do my salsa dancing, play some beach volleyball and get outside as much as I can when I’m not in front of the computer. Finding that balance is important.
Read on for more articles on the growing green movement in businesses, homes and corporate offices nationwide:
“Going green,” usually refers to things like the foods we buy, carpooling and switching out our fluorescent light bulbs . But what about starting a green construction company? Learn how Julie Savitt is incorporating green principles into her business.
Ever heard of “green collar” jobs? Learn how eco-consciousness is expanding its reach from homes, neighborhoods and communities to the economy.
The Sabos family take green living to the next level by growing their own fresh produce, buying meats locally and even getting milk from their own cows. See how they manage to only buy 5 percent of their food commercially.
Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD and Blue Ridge Country.