A message from Morgan:
I wrote this letter as much for myself and for my team, as I did for our clients, our investors, and the impact community at large. For the last almost five years MilkCrate has been on a journey much like most young startups. We have been going through risky experiments, utter failures, epic wins, and everything in between. At this critical juncture, we have learned somethings about ourselves and the art of building a company. I wanted to share where we are at because it will help us help the world and with the massive shift in public thought about social media apps we are felt the timing couldn’t be more right. So here we go.
To begin with let’s get one thing clear: MilkCrate has always been about tying values with actions. While our business model and our product have evolved several times (we call them pivots) the core of what we do and why we do it has stayed strong.
When we launched our focus was to help large companies do good through their employee engagement. And that is exactly what we did! Our corporate clients have had great success using their own MilkCrate made app to engage their employees in volunteering, sustainability, and wellness.
But then something unexpected and wonderful happened. We started getting all sorts of other types of clients - like ivy league universities, high schools, local grocery stores, membership organizations, martial arts gyms, wellness clubs, charter schools, and nonprofits. We were excited and overwhelmed. We were left wondering what did this mean? Who were we now that the clients we were serving and the types of apps we were launching had expanded so greatly? We realized it was the perfect opportunity to explore what kind of company we want to be and who we best serve as still relatively young but evolving company.
At the most basic level, what our platform does is quickly launch highly customizable apps with an underlying gamification experience for users to complete challenges in a group setting. Clients then have their own app to upload their own content where they engage their members in activities and track their metrics over time. They do this so they can have more efficient lines of communication with their members as well as fulfill mission promises like “This year we will get 5,000 more students to go to museums” or “Last quarter we doubled the number of members checking in at our park events around the city”. That’s the “what”. We as a Certified B Corp and gaggle of values-driven humans had to figure out was our “why”. What emerged from all these disparate clients was a consistent but at first hard to distinguish message- that what makes us special as a company and a product is that MilkCrate is and always will be focused on helping mission driven organizations advance their social and environmental impact goals.
After over two years of exploration with these different clients we have come up with the answer of not just what we are but why we are.
How we came to this answer lay in one very simple question: Who can we help the most? The answer to this has come through many many client and potential client meetings, and we’ve distilled them into a comprehensive list that we use when evaluating who we should work with now. The clients we could help the most, the organizations that were most excited and grateful for our platform were the ones that had several things in common:
First and most simply, the perfect client for a MilkCrate app has existing relationships with a large group of people - let’s call them members.
Second, our clients all want to engage with their members for the long term even if the relationship might start off short term
Crucially - the implementation of a customized app had to fill a very specific need - one that would benefit the end user. So replacing an antiquated paper ID check-in system with gps enabled maps on the app was a epic win.
And most importantly the client had to want the data - to need the data of what their users were doing. From these data driven leaders we learned that there was an opportunity to help even more: with reporting and fundraising.
Can we help the organization meet their financial needs? We are very firm believers in business as a force for good and we recognize that some organizations for various reasons need to be nonprofit - but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you generate revenue for the value you create.
What’s more amazing is what came after figuring out our why. It was the “when” in a way - the reason all of this matters so much right now in 2018 - nearly ??? into the new reality where social media platforms are the way we connect and at least some of the time try and rally others to do good in the world. As those of you working in the communications, engagement and marketing departments of nonprofits know it’s the norm to try and recruit as many social media and newsletter followers as possible - this has traditionally been the way to engage your audience in your mission. However this comes at a steep price on many levels. Unless you pay to “promote this post” on a regular basis to promote your article, fundraiser, membership drive etc. - only a small fraction of your followers will actually see your content on their feed. And between the (greek tragedy name here??) goal of inbox zero and the increasingly ruthless spam filter algorithms - most newsletters are not being opened by the intended recipients. So unless you are prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month on social media ads, most organizations have a hard time sharing their message and mission with their members. And that’s only half the goal. Once you share the message, how can you track if it resonated? If it was acted upon? And how is this supposed to be a financially sustainable model?
What we realized is that we can help nonprofits flip the equation - upend the broken model - and reach their users in a more direct, engaging, and trackable way. Now, instead of a facebook post beseeching followers to read an article that maybe 2% see and .01% read - you can send a direct push notification to your members phones that can lead to 20-50% open rates. And even better, if you want someone to actually go to a place? They can check in and you can track that they went there. We are always building new features that allow for more seamless and verified ways to track mission-aligned behavior for clients. The map has been one of the most powerful to date.
But it is not enough for us to hold our clients to a higher standard, we are also holding ourselves to a new set of standards.
We are committed to measuring success not by numbers like ‘monthly active users’ - a metric that for too long has signaled ‘success’ but what it really means is how addictive is your product? We as designers are not going to play that game. What we will do is make the path of least resistance between you and your members to accomplish the mission. Like a conscientious food coop- we aren’t going to try and wrack up a higher bills with garbage at the checkout line. We want our users in and out as fast as possible, doing good, getting the job done. That’s it. We are also changing how we think about gamification. Every MilkCrate client app is customizable but there are core mechanics in each like earning points for completing challenges. We are moving away from having the emphasis be on the individuals’ points earned but rather the goal set for the whole user base and your contribution to the collective success.
And then there’s the issue of money. All those dollars spent on social media company ads. How about instead of charging nonprofits for the privilege of speaking to their followers and engaging them in their mission critical work - nonprofits get paid by companies to share their mission aligned content?
Nonprofits work hard to earn the trust and attention of their members - why should they then have to pay to speak to them? Let alone share the data and privacy with who knows who?
Now nonprofits can have one digital location where they summon their members to meet their mission.
This list has actually become our criteria of who we will and will not work with at this stage. It is our intention to build a platform so robust and intuitive that eventually any mission driven organization will be able to set up and administer their app with out ever writing a line of code or having to speak with a MilkCrate team member (unless they want to of course!). Until then, if you are a member of or work for an organization that is making the world a better place then we want to make your job easier. We offer regular 45 minute sessions to demo how other clients are using their MilkCrate apps through a video chat where you can tell us what you need and how we can help make your impact real.
Let MilkCrate move your members to meet your mission.