The Lean Think + Do Tank – A Lean Startup Interview With GatherWell

An interview with Cynthia Jaggi, Founder of GatherWell.

Tell us a little about GatherWell. How did you get the idea?

In 2009 I walked into an antique shop and saw an old wooden well bucket. Seeing it caused a click inside. The well is the traditional gathering place for people in a community to come together, share their experiences, and be refreshed and nourished. It’s the perfect symbol for what I wanted to create. That was the birth of GatherWell – the think + do tank for Practical Idealists. GatherWell aims to support Practical Idealists in creating well-being in their own lives and in the world.

I believe the opportunity of this era is to find a way to use our modern tools – technology + entrepreneurship chief among them – to do deep good. To capitalize on that opportunity, GatherWell is growing a network of likeminded organizations working with practical idealists that includes social enterprises, academic institutions and bloggers.

GatherWell is passionate about cultivating millions of leaders for good who have the inner resilience and the entrepreneurial skill set to make change happen. The program is designed to disrupt the leadership development field, increasing accessibility to a global scale while keeping human relationships at its core.

How are you using Lean Startup methods with your team?

We infuse lean startup principles both in our curriculum and in our approach to developing GatherWell. Every week we send out experiments in leadership and life – simple ways people can shift their perspective or increase their impact. Each one is a mini-test in itself. What resonates most with Practical Idealists? What really helps them increase their impact? We’ve learned a lot about the kinds of solutions that are appealing.

We also love “failure” aka learning. Our guiding question is “How might we empower Practical Idealists in their work and life?” If we try something and discover it doesn’t serve that aim, we want to stop it as soon as possible. This attitude helps us fail, and succeed, faster.

What is one example of your organization using a minimum viable product?

Our awesome network of uncommon allies – between academic institutions, non-profits, for-profits and media organizations working for good! We knew we wanted to experiment with making these kinds of connections. The application process showed that there was tremendous interest, and we started it with an incredible group of inaugural members – which includes organizations and businesses like SunFunder, Brands for the People and Wesleyan University’s Patricilli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Now we have lots of questions: How can this network add uber-value for the members? What kinds of things will really help them increase their impact? We’re exploring possibilities, and welcome input!!

Who were GatherWell’s early adopters? How did you connect with them and gather feedback?

I think it almost always starts with personal relationships. Since I’m a Practical Idealists and have worked with many Practical Idealists in both the for- and non-profit sector I started there. I’ve done lots of different types of feedback collection – conversations, surveys, e-mails. It depends a lot on the kind of feedback you are looking for, but conversations give really rich contextualized feedback.

What do you think is keeping social good organizations from incorporating Lean Startup principles? What’s the biggest challenge?

Inertia. For many organizations, especially older and larger ones, there is a “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude. It’s a cultural issue. What’s needed? Internal change makers who push the envelope in a way that gets traction. Programs like the one our Institute for Leadership and Well-being offers creates these change makers.

Another big barrier is fear. The internal voice that asks: “How will I really be viewed if I try a project and it fails?” We need to work with Practical Idealists and organizational culture to make sure these fears don’t stop us from creating tremendous, and needed, impact.

How does GatherWell measure its impact in the community?

We’re working on a meta-level – supporting Practical Idealists to increase their impact (though we’d love to have an incubator down the line). For now, that means we measure in terms of the results the organizations in our Network and those who go through our program achieve. We work with three top level metrics: Depth of impact (however the individual or organization measures this), Scale of impact (how many reached) and financial robustness (how likely it is that Practical Idealists will maintain their impact after working with us). Of course, feedback and new ideas on those measures is always welcome!

Have you ever had to pivot? How did you know it was the right time?

YES!! The biggest pivot (and there have been many) was recognizing that Practical Idealists are our tribe. We tried other ways of framing who we aim to serve. There just wasn’t the right resonance. As soon as we started using the term Practical Idealist it was clear that we were attracting those we wanted to work with – from a variety of backgrounds. The “Ah-ha” moment was when I was reading about Ghandi. I read that he didn’t like labels and refused almost all of them. The one label he was willing to use was that of Practical Idealist.

What online tools does GatherWell that best support your Lean Startup initiatives?

I love Streak, the google apps integrated CRM. It gives you a totally customizable ability to create the flow that is right for your organization and track relationships through it. Other great tools include WordPress and MailChimp but those are better known. Streak is new and pretty awesome.

If you could give one piece of advice to a nonprofit or social good start-up, what would it be and why?

Let your passion for your cause embolden you to find simple ways to test new ideas. That’s what a risk looks like. Risk doesn’t have to be scary or resource intensive. It can even be really fun!!

Want to learn more? Visit us here.


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