Credit Harry Campbell
If you think starting a social network business is hard, try selling lemonade.
This was one of the many things I learned while catching up with Eric Harr and his attempts to turn his daughter Vivienneâs social media stardom into a social purpose, for-profit business.
Iâve written about the Harrs story over the years. It began when Vivienne â then 8 â started a lemonade stand with the goal of raising money to end modern childhood slavery. She quickly raised $ 100,000 and was picked to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the day of Twitterâs initial public offering, something she did in a blue princess dress.
Her equally irrepressible father then got involved, and together they started Make a Stand, raising almost $ 1 million in seed financing. Make a Stand would be about making a profit but also about social purpose. Five percent of the proceeds would go toward ending child slavery.
Make a Standâs for-profit orientation raised interesting issues about the intersection of a for-profit company and charity. Was it O.K. for a company to have a charitable purpose and also to profit? Here, Make a Stand was building on new thinking put forth in a popular TED talk by Dan Pallotta, founder of the AIDS Ride âthat the nonprofit world was starving itself, and instead should encourage innovation and development, and, yes, even profit.
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Whatever your opinion of their idea, Mr. Harr and Vivienne exuded optimism and energy in those early days. They were going to change the world, an âincredible journeyâ as Mr. Harr put it.
A year would pass before I caught up with the Harrs, and their enthusiasm remained. Vivienne was still the showpiece, still wearing princess dresses and, as Mr. Harr said, still his boss. She had met the Dalai Lama and traveled the country for her cause, writing a childrenâs book for good measure.
By then, the Bay Area-based Harrs had turned from lemonade to Silicon Valley. Mr. Harr had started a separate company to create a social purpose app that would enable crowdfunding for charitable causes. The company, also known as Make a Stand, would allow anyone to crowdfund for their favorite charities simply by posting a picture. This new company would also be for-profit but intended to encourage charity. And now Mr. Harr and Vivienne had attracted a number of big-name funders including Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter. The lemonade company was still in business and expanding, but Mr. Harr had turned it over to professional overseers.
Fast-forward a year later to today. I wanted to catch up with Eric Harr. Before I did, I looked online. The website for the lemonade business was dark and the Facebook page had stopped being updated in December.
Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
The app business seemed to have taken a hiatus. It had begun in fall 2014 but then quickly went silent. However, it was started this year for another round of beta testing. The company had now been renamed simply Stand (stand.tc).
I downloaded the app. There seemed to be a measure of activity, with people creating new stands, as they were called, crowdfunding for animals and other social causes. There was no huge explosion of posts, though, and only a steady flow of a few stands every day.
Vivienne was still involved, was part of the Clinton Global Initiative and speaking at events on behalf of the business. Vivienneâs 6-year-old brother had even helped out, starting a $ 6,500 stand for âHeforshe,â the United Nationsâ push to support women.
There were some other signs that all was not well. I looked up Mr. Harrâs Twitter feed, and between his nonstop promotion of new stands were phrases that entrepreneurs rely upon, like this one from the other week: âFounders: as you go through the @bhorowitz âstruggleâ â and you will â the key is to find your sense of grace and composure and lean into it.â A Not Eric Harr account had popped up on Twitter, attacking him and Stand at every opportunity.
So I contacted Mr. Harr and got the update. Stand continued to prosper, he said, raising close to $ 3 million in funding and growing to a team of 12 employees. Mr. Stone had even agreed to be chairman of the board.
Mr. Harr was still filled with enthusiasm, but there was some weariness in his voice and a frankness I had not seen before. There had been some âreally dark timesâ and âdeep challengesâ as the product had not become an instant hit. Attracting users remained challenging because fund-raising apps are âa dime a dozen.â Mr. Happ put his best face on it: They had validated their concept, had hosted over a thousand âstandsâ and had raised thousands of dollars for charity.
The lemonade business appeared to be doing much worse. When I asked about the nonfunctioning website, Mr. Harr told me the business was on hiatus, seeking funds. He hadnât been involved in over two years. He had handed off the business to âfolks we trustedâ with âexperienceâ but âhired guns may not have been the best thingâ over a founder. It seemed that distribution was a problem and that although the lemonade now had four flavors, the social cause of donating 5 percent of revenue to end slavery had not propelled it to success.
Mr. Harr simply seemed to have found more comfort in the app world. As he put it, the âthick neck beverage folks feel like bulliesâ while the web developers like Mr. Stone were the âbullied.â He preferred the âkind and gentle.â Vivienne was still involved but primarily for big rollouts. She is a sixth-grader now, he said.
Mr. Harr acknowledged that the app was still trying to find a foothold. Stand was going to try again with a reboot, this time with a focus on what he termed âGeneration Z.â Standâs research and initial apps had discerned that this younger generation had empathy but also wanted fun and rewards. In addition, the Stand app was âtoo Instagram and not enough Tinder.â The new version of the Stand app, coming in a few weeks, would be for millennials to achieve rewards for altruism and sharing.
Mr. Harr gave the example of sourcing your social friends to clean a beach. Stand had teamed with Toms Shoes and others, so once you completed your cause, you would then take a photo and get free Toms shoes and other prizes for your social entrepreneurship. The idea was to have young people compete and everyone would win. The new version of the Stand app would be about making compassion more fun.
Mr. Harrâs story is ultimately about venture capital and entrepreneurship. The Facebooks and Ubers are what you talk about, but day in and day out are thousands of other businesses, struggling through âdark timesâ for a model that can scale up often in a competitive environment where everyone is trying to mimic their ideas. They try and then if they donât get things right, they try again or run out of cash. And sometimes it works. Twitter, after all, took three years to get off the ground. Other businesses have crashed and burned as they ran out of time. And this is in the Internet world with its low costs and easy scalability. In the real world of selling lemonade, it is even harder to depend on mercurial things like finding a distribution outlet for your product.
In the case of Stand, all of this is complicated by the idea of trying to do good while also making a profit. But even the space for giving is crowded with names like Chuffed and Plumfund.
The search for success continues for Stand. I wish the Harrs, who seem so sincere in wanting to do good, the best of luck and whatever magical fairy dust is needed to succeed in the roller coaster world of entrepreneurship.