Always be looking outside your own industry for inspiration and fresh ideas: Trust me, some of your best ideas will come when learning from organizations that are nothing like your own.
In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacee Matheson.
Stacee Matheson is the founder and CEO of EcoBranders, an e-commerce company that provides eco-conscious organizations with eco-friendly custom branded merch. She founded the company in 2007 after spending many years in the corporate world. EcoBranders was one of the first companies in the U.S. to bring a comprehensive line of sustainable promotional products to the marketing community. Since then, it has become a favorite resource of marketers across the U.S. and Canada.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up primarily in western Washington. I spent a lot of time playing outdoors as a kid, which I’m so grateful for. For several years, we lived directly across the street from an entrance to the Olympic National Park, one of the lushest, most awe-inspiring forests you can imagine. My brother and I would disappear into the forest for hours at a time and just play amongst the creeks, trails, and moss-covered fallen trees. It was magical and safe to do back then. We also spent a lot of time at the ocean, which I loved every moment. Growing up like this is where my respect and love for nature comes from, and it’s why I’m so dedicated to doing my part to protect it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I recently had something very interesting happen. I reached a point where I could hire someone for a specific and crucial role, and I was concerned that finding an exceptional person would take months. Thanks to the top-notch training I completed in the past year, which taught me a different approach to hiring, I not only found one but three amazing individuals to join the EcoBranders team through a single job posting. It’s incredible! I was initially hired for the original role and ended up hiring for two additional positions. Although this wasn’t my initial plan, I had already clearly defined the various roles I intended to fill over the next year. This allowed me to recognize the perfect fit for each role as these individuals came my way. Learning how to recruit in a way that aligns with the type of person you want on your team demands extra effort upfront but pays off significantly in the end.
We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
I learned the hard way not to disregard the advice of seasoned professionals within one’s industry during a crisis. When the economy plummeted in 2008, I ignored the cautionary calls from experienced individuals in the promotional products industry to ‘batten down the hatches.’ Unlike me, these professionals had decades of experience and had weathered similar (albeit less catastrophic) situations before. Instead of learning from their insights to navigate the crisis more effectively, I chose to ignore them and painted a rosier picture for myself and my company, lacking a realistic game plan to create a different outcome than others. Consequently, I subjected myself to unnecessary emotional and financial hardships. Needless to say, I learned my lesson!
As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?
My guiding principles are to be kind, honest, and dependable. I also strongly believe in treating others exactly how I want to be treated. I strive to uphold these principles every day, as they are the qualities I admire most in other people. I always aim to be the type of person that I respect. It makes for a much better life when you can hold your head high, knowing that you may not be perfect, but you are a positive contribution to the world and to those you love.
What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?
I’ve always been the type of person who wants to help out, whether it’s for a meaningful cause or someone in need. I feel the urge to assist whenever I’m in a position to do so. In my twenties and thirties, I didn’t have much money, but I volunteered my time to contribute. When I decided to start a business at the age of 40, I believed it would be a perfect way for me to truly make a difference. I envisioned using a portion of the profits to do good in the world. Combined with my love for nature, this idea led to the creation of EcoBranders.
Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?
My day-to-day work is far more rewarding because of the ‘why’ behind it. I also love that we naturally attract many eco-conscious customers to our business due to our messaging and shared values. It’s such an honor to collaborate with other values-led individuals and organizations. Lastly, I believe it’s important to remember that the positive impact you can make with a company, small or large, is limited only by your imagination, and that’s exciting!
How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?
It would be very difficult for me to measure the impact on our success using metrics because it’s not something we shifted to in the middle; we’ve been a purpose-driven company since the beginning. I will say this, though: becoming very focused on who we are and who we want to serve allowed us to narrow down our niche early on, setting us apart from the over 30,000 other promotional product companies in the country. That has been a massive win for us in more ways than one.
Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?
Our company is making a difference both socially and environmentally, and it’s all important to me personally. Still, I have to say that the tree-hugger in me loves to occasionally take a peek at the tree-planting tally on our website and try to envision what all those magical trees will look like and what it means for the health of our planet. That gives me the warm fuzzies every time.
Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability of your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or had to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on your finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?
As more and better eco-friendly products have been introduced into the promotional industry, we’ve been able to continually refine our criteria for product selection, raising the bar each time. Whenever this happens, it generally means saying goodbye to several products that have sold really well for us up until that point — they just no longer make the cut. Every time this happens, it’s a bit concerning financially. Times like these are when you really have to remember who you are and why you do what you do. I believe that doing the right thing is never the wrong thing, and I have a lot of faith that things will work out one way or another.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know in Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”
I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?
I have a small but mighty remote team of people who are passionate about nature and protecting the planet. As a result, they’re enthusiastic about what EcoBranders is doing as a company. It’s invaluable to hire people whose values align with your company’s when creating and nurturing a culture of individuals excited about your mission. Regarding motivation, I believe people show up as their best selves when they understand the big picture and how their work directly affects the company’s overall success. People want to know that what they do day-to-day matters.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
Two years from now, I want to have an even larger team of people who are just as impressive as my current team. I’d like to increase the sustainability-focused portion of our customer base by a minimum of 35%. Of course, we need to have healthy revenue growth as well. And I’d like to bring my entire team together in person for an annual retreat somewhere amazing.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could inspire a worldwide movement to benefit the most people, it would be to have everyone, old and young, take up a daily meditation practice. If this were to happen, literally everyone would be healthier mentally and physically, and this world would be so much more peaceful, respectful, and loving. Meditation is that powerful.
How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?
The best place to start is on our website, which is ecobranders.com, and you can also find us on most social platforms at @ecobranders (Instagram is our favorite).
This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!
About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is a successful entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience as a successful founder and CEO. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc. a third-party collection agency, out of his apartment while going to The Ohio State University. He grew the business nationwide and represented more than 10,000 clients before he sold the company on his 25th anniversary. Chad’s second venture [re]start is a career development platform that helps people find new jobs, launched in 2013 as a division inside his agency. [re]start was a catalyst to Chad’s team becoming an industry outlier after connecting thousands of people sent to collections with new career opportunities so they could afford to pay their bills and get out of debt. His team was nationally recognized for their social impact, while twice being ranked the #1 business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023 and is now a writer and thought leader for Authority Magazine’s Entrepreneur and Sports Editorials. He also offers an exclusive executive leadership program inside his online community at Authentic Authority.