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The Else Story: How it All Began (Part II)

When my brother got home that day, his entire mood was different. He was warmer, uplifted. The energy between us changed, and that single action made us both more considerate of one another. When you perform a random act of kindness, you can’t do it expecting to get something back. But so often, you get it anyway. People naturally want to reciprocate.

I began looking for opportunities to do something nice on a daily basis. They were small, simple, and immediately actionable. I stopped myself from honking my horn at an obnoxious driver. I let someone who looked like they were rushed ahead of me in the grocery line. I took a spider outside instead of killing it. I threw a tiny beached fish back into the ocean. I began to feel more like the person I always wanted to be rather than the person I just said I wanted to be. These tiny acts of kindness made me live my values. They were strangely intoxicating, a natural high spawning an addictiveness that couldn’t be measured by any traditional means.

In order to stay motivated, I thought about logging my daily acts of kindness in a simple journal. Or how about a blog? I could post photos of the deeds in real time. And then I began to think…what if there were a technology out there, exclusively dedicated to this cause, allowing people to perform and share acts of kindness? It could become a movement, changing the world for the better in tiny increments. A good deed a day times enough people equates to…a different world.

Then a few months later, I was unexpectedly laid off from my job. I was only somewhat disappointed. I loved the creative aspect of digital marketing, but I didn’t have control over the projects I took on. My main client had been a television network whose flagship franchise was a popular reality series that promoted vile behavior and the silicone-laced downfall of society. Working late one night, I realized that by doing my job well, I was actually helping make the world a more depraved place.

As I searched for my next job, I vowed to find something meaningful. I also began thinking about how I could take a platform for random acts of kindness from an idealistic dream to a real successful business. I formulated a business plan, and had just pitched to my first potential investor when I landed two job offers in the same week. One of them was from Mozilla, a non-profit that had captured my heart long before the interviews began. The slogan on their career site read: Don’t work for the man. Work for mankind. Their mission: keeping the internet open, accessible, and safe for everyone. I didn’t even think about saying no.

Everything at Mozilla was about advocating for the user. I was quickly swept up with the thrilling chaos of my new job. I was traveling and working long hours and along the way, my own acts of kindness became more infrequent. I thought about my “kindness platform” often enough, but I couldn’t justify the risk when I already loved what I was doing. Still, I wondered if I’d have kept up my own good deeds had the platform existed.

Then a series of events shoved the idea back to the front of my mind. As numerous new social platforms gained popularity, so did the negativity associated with them. These technologies bred bullying, narcissism and artificiality, yet our society—younger generations in particular—grew addicted to them. Startup founders and venture capitalists were finding ways to exploit this. The industry was driven by money. Sky-high valuations were published at the same time as clinical research linking social media to decreased happiness and feelings of social isolation. And suddenly we were in a tech bubble…with no one advocating for the emotionally manipulated user. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned at Mozilla, it’s putting the user first.

I witnessed these events and realized I had an idea that might actually help these people, but fear was keeping me from trying. Eventually this idea transformed from dream to calling to moral obligation. In between the human craving for online sharing and recognition, the social platforms that currently exist, and the pervasive negativity that accompanies them, there is a real opportunity. An opportunity to create something that helps people do good…and feel good.

I’m not the first to have this idea – in fact, my original inspiration was already well documented in a book. The random acts of kindness concept is centuries old, and many well-intentioned people have tried to leverage technology to spawn a modern movement. But to date, none have successfully presided into the mainstream. It could be that the concept itself isn’t powerful enough, or the target audience isn’t big enough. Or, it might simply be a matter of nailing the execution.

The Else app will take a stab at the latter. I know the app economy. Which means I understand just how miniscule my chances for success are. But I have the support and partnership of some very smart people, and we believe we can create something huge.

 

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The Else Story: How it All Began (Part I)

Hi. I'm Sakina Groth, and I'm the founder of Else. There will be a lot more content coming about what the Else app actually does, but first, I'd like to share the story of how it all began.

Else was never meant to be an app or a business. In fact, my original motivation wasn't even about kindness - ironically, it was downright selfish:

Three years ago, I had it all. A great education, a great job, a great guy, and a 24-inch waist. My dog ran freely in the back yard of my sunny North Carolina home. We spent weekends sharing laughter and drinks on our neighbors’ front porches. Yet, I wasn’t happy.

I spent many a useless hour wandering through social media, zeroing in on those that seemed to have one-upped me: girls that were prettier; friends with more exhilarating social lives; the high school rival that got into a better business school than I did. And I let these things get to me despite my unusually keen awareness of two important truths: first, that the perfect lives others projected on social media probably weren’t so perfect; and second that this game of comparison wasn’t a winnable one. There would always be people both better looking and more successful than me, no matter what I did. Why couldn’t I just appreciate what I had?

I was a self-centered ingrate, and I knew it. So I drove to the local bookstore, and came home with a stack of self-help books on finding true contentment. I knew there was no magic potion for happiness, but if I could extract even a single kernel of wisdom from each of the books, I’d end up better off than I had started.

One of the authors—a happiness expert if you will—suggested this: do something nice for others, and it will make you feel happier. By this point, I’d had enough of this psychobabble. Write letters to people you haven’t spoken to in decades, make thank-you lists before bed each night, and now this? What was I, a five year old in Sunday school? How did this stuff make it to print? This last piece of advice seemed like such a baloney-infused, waste-of-time crock of shit I threw the book under my bed in frustration. I went to sleep that night thinking the money and time I had spent on those books had been desperate and an utter waste.

But when I awoke the next morning and saw the first rays of pale sunlight reflecting off the wooden floor, I thought, “What the hell. What do I have to lose?” My brother was an extended roommate at the time, and as I glanced around my kitchen, I felt minor annoyance at the mess he had left behind. OK. Instead of yelling at him about his mess first thing in the morning, I’m going to say something nice. No wait, I can do better than that. I can….surprise him with breakfast!

Unlike myself, my brother is not a morning person. He hated the cold and he hated his job. I heard him turn on the shower upstairs. Downstairs in the kitchen, I cracked open two eggs.

By the time he came rushing down, I had a warm breakfast wrap ready for him, all parceled up so he could take it to go (I knew he hadn’t factored in any time to eat). “It’s a breakfast burrito. Egg and sausage,” I said, handing him the fragrant package. His dark eyes lit up…while appearing confused at the same time. I rarely came out of my room to say two words to him in the mornings, much less hand him breakfast. What in the heck was going on? I told him I  loved him and just wanted to do something nice. He took my word for it, thanking me with a loving sincerity I hadn’t heard in a long time.

I stood in the bay window of my kitchen as he climbed into his car. Seeing me, he waved, warm burrito in his lap. I watched his white sedan pull out of the driveway and disappear down the street. And I stood there in the kitchen beaming.

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