What are the best ways for brands to make a difference during times of crisis? Connect customers with solutions to their problems.
Today’s guest is Richard Lau, founder of Logo and executive director at Water School. Richard discusses how to build a business and brand. Find the right balance between being genuinely helpful and useful while driving sales and revenue.
Ben: Hi, Richard. Welcome to the show.
Richard: Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Before we get too far along, would you mind introducing yourself to our audience and explain what you do over at logo.com?
Richard: Sure. I have been in the domain name business for going on 20 years. As part of that, I had a lot of buying and selling of high-end domains. Occasionally, I'm able to snag one and bring it into my own inventory instead of having it across my desk.
I've had domains like face.com, rides.com, hockey.com, resume.com, and logo.com. With each of these ones, there's something that I'm like oh, I could build a business here. I did that successfully with Resume, exited to Indeed, and now we're doing the same thing with Logo where we're like we know people want to be able to build a logo when they go to logo.com. That's what we're building. We've got a local team and we're taking the aspect of building a logo from upwards of 15 days down to 20 minutes.
Ben: Cool, very cool. I also understand that you're the executive director of WaterSchool. Would you mind taking a moment to explain what that organization is all about and what your role in it is as well?
Richard: Certainly. WaterSchool is at waterschool.com and it focuses on clean water projects in Uganda. I started as a couch donor, just writing a check back in 2007. Slowly, over the years I've gotten more and more involved. Now I'm the executive director so a lot of that is just overseeing the fundraising that happens in North America and making sure as much of that as possible goes to the projects in Uganda.
As a board, we only have board members that are giving up their time, their money, or their network. The board personally covers all expenditures in North America so that donors know that 100% of what they'd give goes to cover project costs in Uganda. We're very tight with what is spent in North America in terms of marketing and fundraising and all those costs. Generally, we're just covering them out of our own pockets.
It's raising awareness. I started a conference that sole purpose was to raise money for WaterSchool and that was in the domain name business, it was called NamesCon, which is now part of the GoDaddy family. Over the span of three or four years, we raised over half a million dollars for WaterSchool just from that conference alone.
We've got all kinds of partnerships that we do but it's an exciting work that they do where we use the sun as the main focus. The sun is what disinfects the water rather than using chlorine or wood. There's a whole lot, I can talk for an hour just about WaterSchool but there's a ton that we're doing there. It's a women and girls focus because they're the ones that are burdened with getting clean water.
Ben: Very, very cool stuff. I understand you've gone through some very difficult experiences in your life, including a cancer diagnosis. I'm curious were there any specific things you feel you learned from that experience both about life and business? I'm sure that when you go through any kind of experience like that, it's going to leave you a different person than you were before and it's going to have different ways of maybe altering your perspective on things. I'm just curious when you came out the other side of that experience, how did that change the way that you approached really anything but business in particular?
Richard: I'm 50 now, I was 30 when I was diagnosed with colon cancer, told that I wouldn't leave the hospital to get my affairs in order. To be able to actually leave the hospital, come out of it, that was life-changing in itself. But it was a process, definitely a process coming out of that. I would've been a workaholic, working seven days a week from the time I was 20 until I was diagnosed and went to the hospital. When I came out, I was under doctor's orders to roll back my work, so I rolled it back to 40 hours a week and that honestly felt like a vacation, I merged my company over with someone else.
But in terms of life goals and lifestyle, I think it was a godsend. From the time I was 30 until now, that to me has felt like borrowed time or gifted time. There's this saying that life is about relationships, it's not about money. Your money buys you a nice place to park your boat, it doesn't buy you the happiness, right? What you're going to get out of life is your relationships. In terms of business, I treat all of our team members like they're humans.
When I was 20, I had terrible bosses. I had inhumane bosses. I had bosses that would swear at everyone, not just me, but swear at people and just cracking the whip and I'm like you know what? Life's too short to work for a bad boss and I don't want to be that. When I'm in that position, it really impresses me that hey, take a check. Not just with your family, but what relationship are you having with your coworkers, with your employees, with your contractors? I pay everyone, right? You pay your employees first, you never string them along. You pay your contractors what they're expecting, when they're expecting it.
If you're running a small business and there's eight people working for you, that's eight families, that's eight families that are relying on you. If you string them along by oh, things are tight. I need to delay payroll. No. Do whatever it takes to pay your people because that is a thank you, right? Money, in that instance, isn't just money, it's a thank you for your time. If you don't appreciate their time, then don't have them coming in.
When we had a Resume Christmas Party, it was right near the exit and people just started speaking about their time over the past year. Some people got emotional because they're like I came into this company, I just thought it would be a job but really I feel like part of the family. To me, it was the biggest compliment, that creating a culture where everyone feels like more than just a paycheck, that there's security in there, and that they're going to be paid when they expected, and there's significance. They're recognized and they're valued as human beings.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's fantastic stuff and just really everything you have to say in that area, I think that's great. It's really refreshing in a lot of ways. I feel like I've personally been fortunate to work for a lot of really great companies but not everybody certainly is. That's awesome stuff.
Something that I've gleaned from everything that you shared, I think that making sure that you are treating people well, making sure that you're nurturing relationships properly and authentically, and all these things are things that evidently are very important to you. Giving back, and leaving the world and people's lives better than they were when you found them.
I think as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, and it's just been this thing that's just been with us for as long as it has been and as long as it's going to be. I think from a business perspective, I think that companies, organizations, brands, a lot have been searching for ways that they can better serve the customers, better serve the employees, how do they manage people working from home, and things like that. As is the case with anything, some of those companies are more successful than others.
But I think also in that, anytime that there's a crisis, there's also opportunities. There's opportunities to find ways to meet those challenges maybe in creative ways. You could take this question I think in a lot of different directions but if a company, or a marketing department, or just somebody at a company right now is looking for opportunities to be as genuinely helpful as they can, whether that's for their customers, for their employees, for their community, whatever it might be, how would you recommend that person starts to look to identify what those opportunities might be in their specific instance?
Richard: That's a great question and it's not an easy answer. I think that if you have a faith-based spirituality, you could pray, you can pray about it. You can ask God to bring something into your life. If not, you can be reaching out. What triggers me in a good way about a particular project or a particular need, what do you relate to? There's so much need.
For me, clean water was what I was passionate about. But since then, we've also done a project on keeping girls in school. Where you think that it's going to take you down this pathway, and now the focus for keeping girls in school is actual menstrual health. It's just like never in a million years would I think that I would be talking with fellow guys about hey, we need to talk about menstrual health education in Uganda. Talk to me three years ago, I never would've connected the dots but that is how you keep girls in school, how you show that they're valued, and keep them from being married off at 13, 14 years old.
Just be open and explore. What you're not wanting to do is go in with an attitude of a transaction. It's not hey, we have this company. How are we going to get the most bang for our charitable buck? Because then you’re just looking at a transaction and you're not getting that—for lack of a better word—good karma out of it. What you're going to get out of it is a tit for tat, and this applies for building your own network.
Go in and see how you can help somebody. If you get something out of it, that's publicity, fine, but that's not at all the goal. The goal is, how do you help other people and in what way are you going to help other people? The real challenge in your question is what method? There's so many different needs out there. It's like which one are you going to choose to go alongside people, pick up the shovel, and be like you know what? We're here to help.
There's so many needs. If people want to help, there's just so much out there where you can help, so it's just a matter of determining where do you fit in the social good, and where does your company fit in that social good? From talking to a lot of companies, the leaderships of the companies are looking for people in their company who are passionate about a cause.
They may be the CEO, their calendars may be chock-a-block full, but if someone from the customer service department says hey, you know what? I'm really passionate about this. What do you think about having the company do this or give in this way or in this manner? And I'm going to do this myself, blah, blah, blah. The CEO's going to be like yeah, sounds great. Not only because they want to support you, but because they're like hey, I get to do no work, I get to look good, and this is going to make the company look good.
There's so many positives that just if you have something that you're passionate about, even if you're not running a large company, just ask and the support you would get will be usually beyond your expectation.
Ben: One key thing about helping to drive the organizational change necessary to get your coworkers or to get your supervisors to buy into the cause or the mission that you're trying to build up support for is to ensure that you're inviting people to join into something that's bigger than themselves. Rather than treating it or presenting it like an obligation, or an exchange where they do something and then they immediately expect something back, or something where maybe there's some amount of guilt-tripping involved where you're maybe just trying to make them feel bad for not seeing the value of whatever it is that you're trying to do. Those things obviously will not work so well.
Really appealing to people's desire to be a part of something. If you just invite people to just do something interesting, I think that you might be surprised by how easy it can be to really get people to rally behind you and behind something that is meaningful. That's really the root of success here. If you really want to drive an impact, in the matters that Richard describes, you need to get the support of other people and to get them as committed and as bought in as you are. Back to Richard.
Let's say I'm a listener to the show and I work for a company, or I participate with some organization in some way that maybe I feel like maybe I personally am not doing enough or maybe there's more that the company could be doing. Just like you said, there's so much need just all over the place. Maybe more now than ever, but there always has been and there always will be, certainly. How would you recommend that the listener approach the conversation internally in order to effectively motivate that organization to take on some of those opportunities?
I imagine, generally, if you're going to your boss or whoever saying that you want to do something good, who's going to say no in a lot of instances? But at the same time, I would imagine that any time you're asking people to do something that's going to take their time, it's going to take their energy, you might need to apply some gentle persuasion to maybe get people past identifying, yes, that's a really good idea and you should do it. To actually themselves want to be a part of that thing as well. If someone's in that position, how would you recommend they go about that conversation?
Richard: That's a great way because a lot of times, people would go and they'll approach the conversation as in hey, can you give... It just puts the person on the back foot or back step. Really, what you want to do is you want to ask them to join you. You can start small, you can have this I want the end goal that my company is giving $10,000 a year to the organization that I want to support. Well, let's roll that back.
Don't just walk into your boss' office and say hey, can you cut me a check for $10,000? Roll that back and be like I'm doing this walk to support this charity. Do you mind if I put up the notice in the lunchroom? Or, do you mind if I include it in the company newsletter? Or, I'm doing a fundraiser. I'm going to do a walk or a ride and I'm raising $2500. Would you consider having the company do some matching funds? I'm going to put in the first 500. Would you guys mind matching that and whatever else people in the office do? You're asking them to come alongside you, you're not asking them to just write a check. You grow the relationship over time so that over time, they feel like they're growing in the support for that organization with you.
You start with a walk, you start with a flyer, you start with something new, and maybe you draw two or three other people in your team to support it as well. That way, it becomes a company support of the organization. It's not just hey, there's Richard again going around for his bike ride asking everyone to give. No, no, I'm asking everyone to join me.
Your first invitation is always to join, and your second invitation is asking them to match funds or to consider giving. But the first thing should not be just hey, can you open your checkbook? The first thing is hey, can you join me? Can we give back sometime? What could we do to support an organization? That conversation is not about writing a check. It could be about hey, what if we did a roundup on our shopping cart? What if we donated a dollar of this particular products queue that we sold or from this online course?
Whatever it is you're doing, you're like okay, when we go into Starbucks and you buy that Ethos Water, $0.05 cents from the $2.75 goes towards a clean water project which is a miniscule amount but it adds up to millions of dollars. Starbucks is asking their customers to join them in supporting clean water.
It's the same thing where you're asking or you're providing an opportunity to your company and just say hey, how can we do the right corporate thing that you see Starbucks doing, you see other people doing? And they're doing it in a small way so it doesn't have to be huge, it doesn't have to be painful, it doesn't have to be 50% of that product price. It can be $1, $2, 5%, 1%. One drop, I think they designate 1% of their gross profit to charitable causes. That's a great way to do it.
Have a brainstorming session, just bring it up in a staff meeting and it's not something that's instantaneous, it's something that you plant a seed and you're just like over the next year, I hope to grow our company from giving zero to having three people participating and the company doing matching funds. Something like that.
Ben: I think when you lay it out that way, it really does sound pretty straight forward. But it also sounds like really where everything starts with is offering an invitation to people to be a part of something rather than leading with hey, this is really important. Will you get your credit card out right now? Yeah, for sure.
When it comes to companies doing—I don't know what you would call it—but I guess maybe any corporate philanthropy, or any giving back program, or anything generally along those lines, are there any common mistakes that you see that get made? And if so, do you have any advice on how those mistakes could perhaps be avoided?
Richard: Yeah. I think that the big mistake—and it's not even a big mistake, it's just like a faux pas, so to speak—is that I see companies, they do something good, and then they spend more in promoting the fact that they did that good than the actual good that they did, do you know what I mean? They might give $1000 and then they spend $5000 on the PR around the fact that they gave $1000. Really, you want it to be the other way around. You want the fact that you did this to be viral, you want it to be a soft sell.
There's a verse in the bible that talks about you want to give anonymously. If you're giving to a homeless person and you make a big show of it, you're like hey, I'm giving this. Look, look, look, what I'm doing here. You've had your reward, that's it. You've more than taken it. But over the next 10 years, you're quietly supporting the homeless shelter and it's just like, yeah, yeah, I give. It becomes a part of your fabric rather than a PR opportunity.
That's what I would encourage companies as well as people is that you're giving and your support is just a part of who you are rather than hey, this is what I'm doing. I got to tell every single person that I'm doing this or that I've done it because that's my reward. My reward isn't from actually doing the support, my reward is actually from the recognition I get for doing it. Gosh, if you're only doing something for the recognition that you're going to get, I don't want to say don't do it, because everyone needs that support, but it's not a healthy way to approach it.
Ben: I'm sure, too, that if you are approaching something that is aesthetically altruistic but is intrinsically self-motivated, you're not going to approach that thing in an effective manner anyway, so you're really failing both ways.
Richard: Yeah. I apply that to when I'm giving advice to young people about building their network. When they're talking to someone who they see as a mentor, as a senior person in their industry, don't approach them as like how can I glean something out of this relationship? You need to flip it around completely and be like I'm going to have a conversation with this person. I'm going to learn about where they are, where the company is. Whether it's in that conversation or whether it's later, over LinkedIn, or email, it's like hey, I came across this other opportunity that you might be able to benefit from.
As a senior person, you take a look at it from that other side. They were talking to someone who then two weeks later says hey, you might be able to get your product into this store. Whether or not that also includes a commission, you're like hey, that person remembered our conversation, did something whether it was a hustle or whether it was just something helpful, and that's going to leave a much bigger impact, an impression, in a very positive way than just having a conversation. It's like hey, can I have an hour of your time? Can we meet for coffee? Can you answer these questions? Where you're just like oh, every time I get an email from this person, it's them asking me for something. Whereas if you turn it around and you're being helpful to all your relationships and having that as your motivation, it will come back to you. It won't come back to you necessarily in every single relationship, but it will come back to you.
I’m not just talking about good karma feelings, I'm talking about opportunities. People will be like hey, you know what? Ben, I really want to work with you because we had a great conversation a year ago. I remember how helpful you were to me and I've got this position. And naturally have this feeling of hey, I want to be helpful to Ben. He was helpful to me.
Ben: I think that's such a great point because I think that I see this a lot in the marketing space where you see people just spanning their peers with very transactional type... In our industry, a lot of times, it's manifested itself as this very self-interested cold email, pitching, and things like that. But you see it in other ways, too, where a lot of things that are presented as "collaborations" or partnerships or things that are meant to be mutually beneficial, but really they're very one-sided and they're very transactional in nature.
For a lot of people in marketing, that is the way that they're taught to do marketing, and that's the way that they're taught to think about it, and to always hustle and grind and be focused on the results. It leads to this annoy the many to convert the few clichéd type strategy that ironically works much less effectively than taking approach like the one that you're describing, even if it's not in a terrible context just in general, I mean, that's really just the way that you should treat other people or other professionals in your industry.
This is taking us a little bit off of the focus of charitable giving and philanthropy and those types of things and really more toward just how do you be somebody that people like to work with? But if someone's listening to this show and they're thinking about their own work, or their own company, or their own approach to things, they're thinking like god, you know what? I really need to make some changes about the way that maybe I reach out to people, or the way that I relate to others, or maybe I shouldn't be treating everything like a transaction, so to speak, and actually treat things like an actual relationship.
If someone's in that position and they're recognizing that themselves and assuming they're willing to be honest about that reality, how would you recommend that person maybe begin to start shifting their mindset? And then once you've shifted your mindset, obviously, the next thing is how do you adjust your tactics accordingly?
Richard: I think that's a really good thought. There was a short story I read when I was in grade 11 or grade 12 and basically it was about the definition of a hero. Basically that a hero is someone who never gets recognized for the work or the sacrifice that they did. I think in the modern times, we're just like a hero is someone who's just courageous in the face of danger. But a hero in the sense of not being recognized or not doing that sacrifice because of the recognition you're going to get. You're not going to jump out of the foxhole and go and drag your buddy back because of that purple star you're going to get, you're doing that because you're wanting to be altruistic.
How are you, each and every day, a hero in your own life? This is like how are you going to be helpful to someone else where that person won't recognize it? This is like how can you pay it forward where the person who's receiving it doesn't even know your name, or won't even have the opportunity or is not in a position to return the favor. If you're helpful to someone and you're like, oh, it's going to come back to me. They'll help me out when I need the help. I'm helping them out, they're going to help me out when I'm in need. No, that's transactional, that's a friend. When can you be a hero in someone else's where you're like this person will never be able to help me again.
There's the stranger in the street that used to live in London. They didn't have elevators and a woman would be at the bottom, folding up her stroller, you're just like let me help you. I'm never ever going to see this person again. You're living in a city of 10 million people. That act of helping cannot be repaid back to you, okay? You're not going to be recognized for that act of kindness unless you raise it, tooting your own horn.
It's like how can you be a hero in your life where you're doing acts of kindness or you're doing acts of service to someone else? And it's not just helping somebody with their stroller, it's like can you give a leg up to someone who needs a job? Can you do a recommendation to someone who needs help to get their product into a store? What ways can you help other people? It's not, at the end of the day, saying oh, man. I give to everyone. I give to everyone in my family and they're just walking all over me. It's not about being a doormat, okay? You have boundaries, et cetera.
It's about being helpful to people that cannot repay you. It's not about being helpful to people that should repay you and don't, it's about being helpful to people that cannot repay you. For me, that's doing clean water projects in Uganda. These people can never ever repay the effect that we're having on their lives and we don't want them to. That's not why we're in it. We're in it just because we know we can make a difference.
They can be tiny things or they can be big things, but identify something each day that you can do to, as you put it earlier, leave that person better than you found them. But don't only have that be the people that you interact with every day, go out and seek. How can I help that person? I got a neighbor two doors down, they're 90 years old. When it snows, I will be checking on them. Are they going to ever repay me? No. I'm not looking for it, I just want to make sure that they're okay. Just reach out and be helpful.
Ben: Very cool. I think that's fantastic advice and I think you really offered a lot of valuable insight that I hope our listeners will be able to take to heart. Before I let you go, do you have anything else that you want to add or any parting thoughts that you'd like to share?
Richard: Obviously, I'm here, I'm promoting logo.com but really it's a soft sell, right? We want to earn your business and that we want you to do a business with a company that is run by and staffed by people that you want to enjoy the fact that you're a part of. At logo.com, we're developing logos. It's an easy product to explain. You come in, you design a logo, and you leave with tremendous value. Our pricing is ridiculously low because we're trying to turn the industry on its head. $20 for a logo that you'd pay a hundred plus more for elsewhere and you're getting it done in 20 minutes.
I think that this is part of what we're doing in terms of going onto podcasts and talking about how to be helpful, how to grow your network, my personal experience with battling cancer, I got all kinds of messages, and stories, and just sharing because I want to help people out. Whether you are in a position to sell a product to that person, there's still other things. We're human, logo.com is like 20% of my life. The other 80% is relationships, and that's true for everyone. Even if you're working 9-5 and you're just like oh, can't get my head out of this. Life is what you make it, and no matter what position you're in, whether you got a good boss or a bad boss, life is what you make it and it's how you react.
Cancer was a punch in the face to me and it was like how do you react? Do I stay in bed or do we get up and get back on the horse and embrace life? That's why I say there's so many people that are worse off than you are, and that is true for everyone down the line. Just get up, be helpful, put a smile on your face, and there's no better remedy for self-motivation than for helping someone in need.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.