Our new executive director Dan Kershaw has range. And plenty of it. From completing an MBA to combating the Y2K bug for Nortel to managing operations for multiple start-ups, Dan has enjoyed a wide range of challenges in his career and achieved at every level. Now thrown into the world of social enterprise through our organization, Dan has quickly discovered that there are more parallels that exist between the start-up and not-for profit worlds than one might think.
Volunteer Cam Gordon recently sat down with Dan for a chat about his career arch, his strengths in the workforce and how he plans on optimize (and ultimately upsize) Furniture Bank’s business model.
You’ve had many different experiences and job titles during your career. What has been your general approach to managing your career?
Career-wise, I’ve had the benefit of realizing what really makes me tick and ultimately, my goal is to help individuals. When you look at my career, I never really filtered so my resume is a bit of a “hodge podge.” For example, at University of Waterloo, I studied Geography because it was cool and I really loved it. I eventually did an MBA and that gave me lots of letters after my name. Once I entered the workforce, a common theme became using emerging technology–either to do new things that had never been done before or doing existing things bigger and better.
One of your high profile gigs was working with Nortel during the tech boom of the late 1990s. What was that experience like?
Back in 1999, there was the looming threat of the Y2K bug. I was working on the enterprise line at the time and Nortel had 34,000 switches in North America that were going to stop working. They didn’t really know how to reach their customers to inform them and a big panic set in. I got pulled onto a task force and that’s where I got a deep exposure to database marketing. From that point on, a career theme became finding better, more efficient ways of executing database marketing. I spent the next seven years in the start-up space and recognized the importance of innovation, creativity and problem solving. It’s the heart of any company in terms of how you actually manage the business.
What were some of the other notable stops in your career, in terms of exposure and learning experiences?
At the end of the dot-com days, I helped make some shareholders very rich but the employees who helped make that money were let go or rewards drastically altered. So I left for LavaLife where I helped scale their Mobile business unit introducing a “better, faster, cheaper” approach to teas and next to Netfirms, who I helped reorganize their business to be in a position to sell their business. Once that happened, I worked with Spreed Inc. and their revolutionary mobile publishing platform but ultimately I decided it was time to stop only making other people money so I broke off and started to freelance.
What would you consider your primary strengths as a business leader?
It helps that I can sit on both sides of the table because I can be the nerdiest business person you’ll ever meet and yet to tech guys, they think I’m just a straight-up “business guy”. Marketing automation and sales automation has become a particular specialty of mine in the last few years. Ultimately, I was looking to find a home with more permanence where I could feel as if these skills were wanted and where I could do some good.
Before you were hired, what did you know about Furniture Bank as an organization?
Truthfully, I had never heard of them but I was introduced to the organization through a recruiter I had worked with in past. She thought Furniture Bank would be a good fit both based on my moral needs and my aptitudes. I looked at the job description and very quickly, I could see that it seemed like a good match. And four months in, so far, so good.
Have you found there to be an adjustment work-wise moving to a social enterprise from the start-up world?
There was a recent article on Mashable that nicely drew parallels between the culture of a start-up and the culture of a not-for-profit. Both are resource-constrained and both, in their own way, are trying to do good: start-ups, good for themselves and not-for-profit, good for populations in need. There are other similarities in terms of needing to be flexibility and adaptable and watching cash flow and chasing investors. In terms of the dance, the moves are very similar. I’m gently introducing the type of things you’d see in a typical start-up to Furniture Bank so we can all work better together. We’re also trying to think outside the box with some new partnerships. Our trucking operation, for example. We’d never looked at that before but there wasn’t any reason not to at least explore it and see if it made sense from a cost savings and an efficiency perspective. Furthermore, we’ve been mining the customer data we’ve collected, which is important because we’ve never consistently attempted to build demand for people to donate furniture. From the data, we saw that people who had donated in the past would not only be more liable to donate again but they’d also be more liable to become donors in terms of time or money. It’s an example of the kind of things we’re doing to try and be more pragmatic overall.
You’re very keen on taking advantage of other contemporary marketing techniques such as inbound marketing and seeing how those can pay benefits for our organization. How do you see that rolling out?
Inbound marketing is about providing educational or insightful content that is going make people laugh, educate, inspire or elicit some kind of reaction. If you do it regularly enough, content will start showing up in Google searches for everything related to your cause. Ultimately, the goal is to be in the mix when people go to Google and ask the question about what they should do with their used furniture. 74 per cent of all clicks on the Internet are for those first three organic positions in any Google search. If you’re in there, it’s basically free marketing. With some of our early activity, our organic ratings are improving plus we’re starting to use email properly and we’ve really ramped up on social media. We’ve also gone to services like Google Grants to get some advertising credits, since we never had in the past. Ultimately, a lot of the things that a charity or not-for-profit wants to achieve can be reached by adopting a start-up methodology at its core.