How This Nonprofit Built A $3.7M Book Business (With More Than Words' Leanne Goff & Shaun Newell)

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This is a podcast episode titled, How This Nonprofit Built A $3.7M Book Business (With More Than Words' Leanne Goff & Shaun Newell). The summary for this episode is: In this episode, we’re not looking under the hood of another tech company that just got a splashy round of funding or delving into the finer nuances of SaaS metrics. Instead, we're going inside Boston-based nonprofit More Than Words. More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business, specifically a book business. Our guests, Leanne Goff and Shaun Newell, are going to take us inside their $3.7M book business. We’ll break down how the journey of a single donated book eventually leads to 2,000 books being shipped out of their warehouse every day, and why, despite a global pandemic, More Than Words is still on pace to hit its revenue targets this year and keep 100% of its staff employed. Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean and More Than Words on Twitter @Seany_Biz @mtwyouth @HYPERGROWTH_pod.

Shaun Newell: Leanne and I were there, and we were sitting in this construction zone in Boston 10 years ago together. I remember, she was the first person hired. It was pretty great.

Leanne Goff: Interesting. crosstalk So, we've come a long way.

Sean Lane: All right, so should we start there then? Should we start with where this whole thing started? Hey, everyone, welcome to Operations. And this is the part where I usually say the show where we look under the hood of companies and hyper- growth. But on today's episode, we're doing something a little different. Today, we're not looking under the hood of a tech company that just got some splashy round of funding or delving into the finer nuances of SaaS metrics. And I honestly think that by the end of this episode, you'll be glad we didn't. Instead, today, we're going inside More Than Words, a Boston- based nonprofit organization. More Than Words is a social enterprise that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, court- involved, homeless or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business, specifically a book business. And our guests today are Leanne Goff, More Than Words Site Director; and Shaun Newell, their Chief of Social Enterprise, both of whom have been helping to build More Than Words for nearly 10 years of the nonprofit's 16 year history. And if you're thinking that the operations of a nonprofit aren't worth your attention, think again. Even if you're just thinking from a purely business perspective, More Than Words will blow you away. On today's episode, Leanne and Shaun are going to take you inside their$ 3. 7 million book business. We're going to break down the journey of a single donated book and see how that eventually leads to the 2, 000 books a day that are being shipped out of their warehouse. And we're going to look at why despite a global pandemic, More Than Words is still on pace to hit their revenue targets for this year and keep 100% of their staff employed. And like I said, that's just the business side. So, to kick things off it's important to learn more, not just about the business, but about the mission behind More Than Words and the incredible work the organization does in its community.

Shaun Newell: Well, first, the mission's been relatively the same. We deviate to do more extensive work and advocacy work as we've gone, but the mission's been pretty much the same the entire time, which is supporting young people to move their lives forward through a vehicle, which is selling books online and our bookstores. And so I think Leanne can go in more detail about the program. But I started almost 10 years ago, which is absolutely crazy. And when I started, we were just a little bookstore in Waltham. We had, I think, eight employees total. And so we have a little tiny brick- and- mortar store in Waltham. You go downstairs, and there was this dingy basement down there that no one really wanted to work in. But it was the only way we could make space. So we had this little online business in the basement. I was hired up specifically to help replicate the Boston. So we were opening a warehouse location in Boston in what was deemed at the time," a developing neighborhood." When we moved in, the Herald behind us was still there. We got in on the second floor of this... Yeah, the old warehouse- type building that was one of the only buildings in that area that was still inhabitable besides Pine St, which is right across the street. So, I didn't have any real development experience. I had some logistics experience. So they said," Sure, we'll give this guy a shot." So I came down, saw what they were doing, and it was... Yeah, it was the most amazing thing I've ever been part of. I had no background in direct social service work. I had all background in social enterprise work, which I worked for another organization at Roxbury right before More Than Words. And they were like," Here, can you give us enough books to house this gigantic space?" And so for four or five years we were going along really, really strong on that second floor. Well, three and a half years ago, our landlord said that the tenant in the base of the building, which was the Medieval Manor which a lot of people know, was closing up shop and they were going to leave the first floor. And he wanted us to move to the first floor. And he wanted to rent out our second floor. And our CEO is like," Nah, we'll take both floors." We went through a big capital campaign a few years ago to get enough money to do a big build- out downstairs. And we built a 4, 000 square foot retail and events space two years ago that we finished and then a huge 2, 000- plus square foot warehouse space next to it. So, now we have two floors right in the South End since we moved in, which was again almost 10 years ago now. Whole Foods popped up behind us. All of Ink Block popped up. AC Hotel went in. Every building that didn't exist, where they're before vacant lot, all kind of sprouted up. And so now, right next to us, which... Where inaudible was, another building popped up. And so from that time, when we started... I think Leanne and I, we were serving around 25 young people in Boston when we started. I think this year we'll... And at any one time, there'll be 84. Leanne could speak better to the program piece of it than I can. But as far as business, when we started in Boston, I think we were scheduled that first year to do around 250, 000 total business between Boston and Waltham. This year, we'll probably pass 3. 7 million from all of our businesses. So it's really incredible. The work will speak for itself if you're ever in the building. And I'll let Leanne speak to her experience in the program side.

Sean Lane: Yeah, I mean, the growth itself is absolutely incredible. And Leanne, a lot of the work that you do focuses on the young people that are actually going through the program, right?

Leanne Goff: Yeah. That's right. So, back when I started about eight years ago... It'll be eight years I think next week. So when I first came with, when Boston had just opened. And I think going back a little bit, as we've replicated and grown how many young people and how we serve them has grown, so it's really been kind of one- on- one. When the business grows, the young people have more opportunities. So when I first started, kind of the youth development side of things was still really just being flushed out. Way back in the day, the kids only worked, right, and then they'd have nowhere to go. They wouldn't have someone helping them with budget and savings. They didn't know how to make resumes. They weren't finishing school. And our CEO was like, they need more than just to work. They need that kind of case management piece. So when I started that's when things were just starting to get developed and really figured out. So when I started, there was only two of us in that department really just figuring out what do we need to do to get young people the skills that they're really just lacking, the supports that they're lacking? That team now has grown to a team of... I think across sites, there's like eight or nine of them. We have a huge Career Services team that focuses on pathways and partnerships when they leave. And like Shaun said, when I came to Boston, we probably had 25 young people on the team. And I think as of today, we have 79 and we go up to 84. So in terms of growth, it's really... On my end, the way I look at it, we've done all this great work to make all this money, and we've turned all this revenue. But it's really the young people that they have skin in the game. They feel like they're a part of something. They feel like they matter every day. They come to work and they learn things that people don't really take the time to give the opportunity young people to learn. I mean, they know the business better than me. I mean, that's why Shaun's here to speak to the business stuff that I'm just not as articulate. But our young people could be on this call and say all the exact same things that we're saying right now. And they've helped kind of develop the mold and the model to make it work. But we have the business side, we have the youth development side. And there's this healthy grapple all the time of, they're late for work. They're not performing. Well, they just got kicked out of their foster homes. There's this healthy kind of back and forth that we have to kind of figure out and grapple with all the time. We have our business training managers with really serious tangible goals. If we don't hit our business goals, we can't serve as many young people, right? But if our young people continue to struggle, they can't come to work every day. The support they're getting from both ends is needed, but then kind of the needs of each department is different. So it's a really cool but complex model that we have here, but one that I think when someone comes to go on an interview at More Than Words, they walk out the door, like" Please give me this job. Please let me work there." Because it's just... It really is. I mean, a kid gave me a tour, and I didn't even go into the interview yet. And I was like," Oh my God! I can't not work here. I have to nail this interview. I can't miss up because I was just so impressed about what I saw." People come in, and they're blown away with how smart our kids are, how professional they are, how articulate and just the work that they put in day out. And they're the ones turning that$ 3. 7 million. It's absolutely not the managers doing that work.

Sean Lane: Let me rattle off some of those numbers again for you. A$ 3. 7 million book business up from$ 250, 000. 84 young people employed at once, up from 25; all of this humming through a 2, 000 square foot warehouse along with a 4, 000 square foot event space. It's amazing. And to Leanne's point, it's even more amazing that the young people inside of More Than Words are the ones handling the lion's share of running this$ 3. 7 million business. And those are, to be honest, just the headlines. So I wanted to go deeper for those of us learning about More Than Words for the first time, I asked Shaun to give me some more details on what the program entails.

Shaun Newell: Young people are in our Core Social Enterprise Program for six to 12 months. And so they come in as a trainee. They earn promotions through the program, so much like a hierarchy at any company, how you earn your way up. You earn. You start as a manager, maybe become a senior manager. In our program, we're structured much the same. So, the longevity you are there, and if you hit certain milestones, you get a promotion. So you come in as a trainee, you start in our base book business, which is our online business. Our online business is our largest business. So in that business, you're learning customer service, inventory management, shipping and receiving. Our online business this year will do around$2. 9 million. And that's the largest training program we have. So predominantly, the largest percentage of the team predominantly work in that online business on and off through their entire program, but that's the core of where they start. Once they're there, once they start to learn the model... The actual introductory training model of More Than Words, they'll start to move up the businesses. So the five major businesses that we have are online retail events. We have pop- up shops and wholesale. Since COVID, we've flattened a few of those, but those are our largest training programs. Like I said, online makes up around$ 2. 9 million, so that's the core job training program. But then they'll move into the... Our retail locations. So front- facing customer service, more inventory management, understanding how to catalog books and categorize books, alphabetizing books. And then, they'll move into our events- based business, which is more customer- facing, more schedule tracking, doing contracts. They'll move into our business development department, which is actually physically out on the trucks, picking up books, acquisitions, pushing out wholesale products. And also our pop- up shops, like I was saying. So they'll be out in major corporations, communities, farmer's markets selling books in real time out in those communities. So all that combined, the four other businesses turn lower revenues, but our major training model is the online business.

Sean Lane: This operation is staggering. In addition to the inspiring impact that More Than Words is making in the community, the logistics of their business are inspiring as well. Shaun rattled off a bunch of those components, but let's focus on the$ 2. 9 million online book business. I wanted to follow the journey of a single book through the More Than Words machine. Okay. Shaun, take it away.

Shaun Newell: I guess, I would explain it the best in the position of a book. So you can call me Three Cups of Tea, if you can license it out. You can call me whatever book you want. Jack took me off his shelf in Downtown Boston and decided to take me over to More Than Words. I'm coming in. Jack rings a bell because he wants to give me to the More Than Words employee. A young person comes and looks at Jack and says," Thank you for your donation," peels through this box and finds me. I'm waiting for him. I'm ready to be listed. And so, he takes that book out, says," Wow," scans it through our software and says," This one's going to be accepted to our online inventory." That's where my destination's going to be. So he says," This one's going to be accepted to our online inventory." He takes me upstairs. He puts me on the shelf. He gives it to his colleague who says," This one's ready to be listed." I go, and I'm entered into a software system. I've got a tag printed. They open me up. They put that tag in me, and then they go and put me on the shelf. So that designated shelf, I sit there. And then, you know what, someone... I'll say, Shaun... Shaun in Boston comes, and he's looking for books online, and he finds me. He really wants to buy me. He hits Purchase. Oh, cool. More Than Words came up. This really cool organization I'm buying from. Awesome. You buy me. That order comes back into our inventory management platform. Leanne goes and says," Oh, wow, this book's going to Shaun." Leanne comes and picks me up, takes me back to the shipping station, says... Scans my pack sheet and sends it off to Shaun. When Shaun receives me, he receives me with a pack sheet that says where it came from and he gets his book, and hopefully, in the best condition that Jack dropped it off in the beginning.

Leanne Goff: And they do that with tens of thousands of books a day,

Shaun Newell: We're shipping at least 15,000 to 2, 000 orders a day of those.

Sean Lane: I have to say, like, I've gone through the process of... On the purchasing side. It's mot like," Oh, Amazon comes in a few days, and then More Than Words is coming like three weeks later." The turnaround is incredible.

Shaun Newell: Yeah, I mean, I agree.

Leanne Goff: Yeah, we take orders every day.

Shaun Newell: So then we have a 24 hour fulfillment policy in all our marketplaces. So we're selling across platforms. So we're selling in five major markets, which is Amazon, Alibris, AbeBooks, Amazon, Canada and Biblio. And so all of those platforms have a 24- hour fulfillment policy. So we have to have our order out within 24 hours every time someone purchases. Usually it's within 12 because we have orders going out both AM and PM, but it can be no longer than 24 hours.

Sean Lane: And so how many students are working on that fulfillment process at any given time?

Shaun Newell: Yeah. So in a day, we have six young people on those shifts working upstairs and downstairs. So it used to be 12. We've changed some operational systems, so it's probably going to be around 10 young people at any one time working on the order fulfillment process. But that's both AM and PM, so we're working around the clock. So you maybe got 10 kids in the AM, 10 kids at the PM, just cranking orders and cranking books constantly. I mean, we pull in... Last year, we received 4 million book donations. And so for those 4 million books all have to be pushed through that system. So it's a circular motion. That story, I just told you, that's one book going to online. So if it didn't get deviated to online, maybe that same book, maybe I ended up in our retail location, so it's a very circular motion. So either it goes to our store, goes online or it gets shipped downstream in wholesale. We don't take any donations in and recycle in- house. So everything gets resold to support our program.

Sean Lane: And Leanne, you mentioned before that a huge portion of both... Not just the execution of this, but also the planning and improvement around this operation is coming from the kids themselves. And so I'm curious... And I think about our business at Drift and how we have to, bring people in and onboard them, and train them and get them up to speed on how the business works. You're doing that in real time, but it's also young people bringing them their own peers in. Can you take me through what it looks like for someone who's new to the program or new to the store operation, and how that works?

Leanne Goff: Sure. Yeah. So user at the center of everything we do, so not just with training each other and coming in, but if I was going out in a presentation... And I mean, you've seen pop- ups at Drift, I'm sure, before in a corporate lobby, there are young people with us. When our CEO goes out to an event, she never goes without a young person standing next to her at the microphone. When we received awards... When we got eBay's Small Business award, Shaun got to fly to Vegas and a young person flew out with him for the entire week, and sat on podcasts and did interviews all week long about More Than Words. So there's nothing we do that doesn't have a youth at the core of it because it's about the work and shining a light on them. But when a young person comes to More Than Words, so typically they're referred by a friend, a family member, a social worker, a case manager, et cetera. But they go through a very strenuous kind of interview and intake process, much more strenuous than our interviews with most of our jobs, to be quite honest, because we want to know everything about them and their motivation to be it More Than Words to really better themselves. It's not as much about meeting any sort of job experience, but just being bought in to kind of move your life forward in some way, shape or form. So when they start, they have a whole month that's kind of a probationary period. So they get the opportunity. Like Shaun said, they start with the basic, the basic building blocks in the online business. So that's where they're going to rotate around kind of our shipping, and receiving and scanning. And you'll get trained on something one day, and then you practice that skill for a four to six- hour shift. So there's tons of repetition. And it's actually a young person paired with a manager that's training you. So senior young people on the team train the newest young people on the team. They meet with me on their first day to go over things like protocols, policies of the building, how many times can you be late, things to sign off on contracts like an employee handbook just like you would at any job. And there's a young person kind of walking them through tips and tricks to be really successful throughout their time. So their peers are the ones that are training them. I mean, even when they come to just check out More Than Words and fill out an application, a young person gives them a tour. A young person's the one that's telling them," This is what it's like to be here. This is what you're going to experience. This is what's great about it. And this is what is really hard about it." We want to be really transparent, but also have our young people be the faces of More Than Words because they're the ones actually doing the work. So their first month is just a lot of training like you would have at any job. It's repetition. It's being introduced to all the different tasks and then being able to really build on that. Once they get all those kind of basic skills in the online business, that's where, like what Shaun mentioned, they start going to the train in the retail business, the business development team, pop- up, retail and events. They start getting to move around. And what's really cool is you see that youth find their niche. They find what they really are passionate about or what they like. There are some young people that are like," I want to be on the truck, in the warehouse, moving all day, scanning books." There are some young people that really want to be in the store. It's a quiet, chill environment. They like talking to customers. Some love hosting events and being the guy greeting people. And some are like," I want to be online. I don't want to talk to customers. I don't want to be down moving in the warehouse on the truck doing physical labor, going in people's houses, hauling 10,000 books down the steps. I want to sit here and scan my book." So all of the youth kind of find what they're connected to. And even now, as we're preparing to go back on site, they're all like," Leanne, can I work this shift? I want to work that shift," because they're all excited to kind of get back to what they like doing and with the managers they like working with. So it's pretty cool.

Sean Lane: I was checking out your annual report. It seems like that job part in the store or as some function of the book operation is like six to 12 months?

Leanne Goff: Yeah. They're just here in general for six to 12 months. So while they're learning, all of the things we're talking about them doing is done in conjunction with them having a youth development manager that is ensuring they are enrolled in school and just balancing their personal life outside the building because we get to see them at their best selves. They come to work. They're excited. They feel safe here. They feel like they matter. They love their managers. We care about them. They walk out and all the same challenges they faced before they walked in are still there. So our youth development team is really focusing with them on building out networks of support, making sure that they're moving forward in education plan, whether that's finishing high school or your HiSET or GED going on to post- secondary ed; whether all the way from an internship to four- year college, to trade school, to different things like that. Really making sure that they have an ID, a bank account, direct deposit set up, a resume, interview skills. We're working on all of that while they're in the building, at the same time that they're learning how to run this enormous business. And so that's all in six to 12 months that this happens. Some youth leave. And it's like anywhere, you can lose your job, you can get suspended, you can get a warning. If youth lose their job and they don't get to complete the program, they're able to reapply and come back, pick up where they left off, which is really nice. Gives us an opportunity to work with them, to reset and figure out what was challenging before? How can we make sure you're successful this time around? And then, when they successfully complete More Than Words after that six to 12 months, we do have a two- year graduate wraparound support program. So we have dedicated managers that reach out to our grads every month and still do kind of the education, employment, job coaching and working on making sure that they still have their life essentials in place. Whether it's," I'm looking for housing now. I'm looking for a new job. Need to fix up my resume. Now, I'm applying to college or trade school. I need my FAFSA done." So there's still dedicated staff to make sure that all the things they learn at More Than Words... The outcomes really come later, so that's the team that really makes sure that they're pushing them towards that.

Sean Lane: Leanne points out here that all the skills that the youth learn at More Than Words are really put into practice after they leave the program or as they say on their website for their graduates, that's when the rubber meets the road. They take the skills and habits they learned in the program and apply them at their next job or in advancing their education or some combination of both. And the results, they speak for themselves in 2019, 93% of More Than Words of graduates were on track to graduate from high school versus a comparison of 50% of foster youth that achieved their diploma by age 18. And 49% of More Than Words graduates pursued post- secondary education versus 27% of foster youth. Along with these amazing young people, Leanne, Shaun, and the entire team at More Than Words are the ones making this happen. Now let's put this operation into the context of today's reality in the midst of COVID- 19. Like many nonprofits, the team More Than Words relies not just on book donations, but on financial ones as well. And we talked about, they have that 4, 000 square foot physical event space that I told you about. This would be a pretty daunting reality for most, but unsurprisingly, Shaun and Leanne, and their team viewed this as an opportunity, an opportunity to engage with their young people in fresh new ways. And from a business perspective, an opportunity to stare down a global pandemic and take it in stride.

Shaun Newell: Well, it's, A, been exciting. I think I could go through... We've closed the March 13th. I'll just take you back. We closed on March 13th. We made a tough call to say, we're just going to shut down. We're going to close all of our forward- facing storefront. That was a Friday. I think we announced to the staff that we're closing on Friday. Had no real... Didn't have a plan until that weekend kind of came. How are we going to move forward? How are we going to keep this thing running? And so we said," All right, we're going to transition everything right now to online. We're going to bring some skeletal crews in, and say, of adult staff and see if we can keep this business running. We set on that very Friday that we're going to pay our young people, the average of their last three paychecks for the next couple of weeks until we figure this out. And so we moved all young people out of the building. We moved probably 75% of our staff out of the building and took small, very skeletal crews and just went in and just started shipping and fulfilling orders and hopefully adding a little bit of inventory. By the end of that next week, we had every single program staff... Leanne's a big part of this and she can talk about it... Had already started to develop an entire remote program outside the building with the other 75% and all the young people. And so I would say, by the end of maybe March 20th, we had already started building the infrastructure that have an entire remote program. And so we said, we would continue to try to run a little bit of the online business while we're doing this. At the end of that second week, Leanne had already had a full schedule of remote workshops ready to go for young people. We had one payroll that had gone through,. They've built an entire pay structure around young people being able to attend these remote workshops, both elective and the curriculum- based model that we'd already built inside the building. And then in- house, we said," You know what, if we're going to be able to remain open, we're going to try to get as much money and funding into this organization as possible." And so through that last week of March and then into April, we just started cranking. So all of those adult crews that were sitting there just started going gangbusters on trying to get as much funding into the business and the model as possible. And so 50% of our entire funding model was covered by the$3. 7 million that I was telling you about. So our total budget is around$ 8 million. So about 50% of that comes from selling books. When we started to rebudget, inaudible COVID was going to happen, thought we'd face a full shutdown before Governor Baker put out his stipulations on what business could stay open. We thought we're going to have to flat line our businesses. When you're pulling in 50% of your budget from your businesses and you have to flat line them, you start to think about some really difficult decisions that you're going to have to make. We thought about adjusting adult resources, whether we're going to continue to pay young people. But you know what we said," Let's take a day- by- day, let's figure this out. And then through the month of April, we almost doubled our usual online revenue. And then May was much of the same. We will finish this year on pace to hit the original revenue target that we set up before COVID happened. We were awarded quite a bit of money from PPP to cover our staff salaries. But through all of COVID, and now coming on the backside of COVID, we did not have to lay a single person off. We kept our full staff intact. And we shut down three and a half businesses really online. And we continued to pay every single young person and continue to bring on new young people in the process. The hybrid model gave us some flexibility. I say hybrid model because we run half of it with business and donations, and grants and corporate dollars. With that hybrid model, we were able to get a little more entrepreneurial and flexible and try to continue to keep this engine running. And so, yeah, I think we're in a good cash position when this started, and then we've weathered the storm. I think we're going to have to. But I think FY 2021, our fiscal year starts in July, and we've talked a lot about being very thrifty in FY 2021 to continue to figure this out, but we're staying committed to not laying any staff off and keeping our youth employed and paid.

Sean Lane: And Leanne, you kind of alluded to this idea of like coming back, right? And I would imagine... You said something before that caught my attention. The youth you work with are at their best when they're in the building with you, right? And I imagine, that is a goal to try to bring people back in the safest and best way possible that makes sense, right, which is just a hard thing to do. So it how are you thinking about that? How are you piloting or experimenting with what's going to look like to bring back some version of normalcy?

Leanne Goff: Yeah. We're not thinking about it. It's happening. It's happening in two weeks. I mean, I think, like what Shaun was saying, we were able to shift to a remote world with our young people and engage them in really new and fresh ways. Not just like with implementing like More Than Words curriculum and programming, but thinking outside the box around what do our kids need right now? Even thinking around things like cooking workshops, right? Like health and wellness, like mental health workshops, financial literacy, in addition to our normal curriculum about employment skills, hard and soft skills, mock interviewing, right? So we've kind of meshed those worlds. And we've spent a lot of time over the past two or three weeks with adults and with our kids saying," What has been great about this? What are things we want to keep when we go into this kind of new normal, when we come back on site?" Because we don't want to lose that here has been some really... Some beauty to COVID for us. We've gotten to connect with our kids in just a deeper and different way. Our adult staff has taken a step back to figure out what should we be changing and discussing about changing in our model that we've been stuck to for a really long time. It's just work. Right now, we're piloting to have more adult staff, kind of still staggered, not quite a skeletal crew, but start to build people back onsite two or three days a week to essentially get that face to face with our young people. So, our adult staff will start returning the week of the 29th, kind of the core direct staff that runs the businesses and meet with youth. We'll kind of get into the swing of things. And then the week of July 6th, our young people are set to come back. It is going to look a little bit different. And I know Shaun can talk a little bit more about this, too. Instead of rotating around to all the different departments that will be happening on site, they're going to kind of stick in Boston at least because we're just... We're set up differently than Waltham. They're going to kind of focus on one thing. So we'll have an online team. We'll have a warehouse team. We'll have a business development team out in the community. And we're actually going to have a tech style team. And Shaun can talk about our hopes to really kind of blow out and grow a new business line in this next fiscal year. But youth will get face- to- face meetings with their youth development managers again. They'll get a team that they're coming in two or three days a week with, and really get to help build and grow new systems because the way we're doing things just has to be different. I think Shaun obviously mentioned a few times that we just had to get people in and just go really hard to keep our business alive and thriving. And we've also recognized that there is some different things that we've tried that have worked really well. And so we're going to have to train youth on kind of the new methods. So we're going to do like a pilot phase one for a couple of weeks, we're going to bring a set number of kids in we're going to have them focus on specific departments with specific managers. And then, we're going to identify what phase two looks like based on how phase one goes, with the hope being that everyone gets back on site even if it's on a rotating schedule for a while to try to just kind of test and learn what is the new More Than Words going to be look like? I mean, I said it a couple of minutes ago. And Shaun can speak to, it is totally in More Than Words style to say," Okay, we're going to go back on site." And instead of starting slow, we're going to actually blow out and build an entire new business line. And we're going to give it a shot. And we're going to attach a dollar goal to it. You know what I mean? And that's a very, More Than Words thing that we do. We find that something that's working and then we get an idea and say," Well, this could be good too." And it's like," Well, let's do both of the ideas then. And we're just going to see how it goes." Knock on wood, it worked out for us really well. So, in a year, if you do another podcast and we've made hundreds of thousands of dollars reselling people's clothes that get donated, then inaudible, it worked again.

Sean Lane: We'll have to have you back. That's the next business model? That's the new line of business that's coming up?

Shaun Newell: Yeah, that's what we're planning. We've already been taking clothing for a year now and just selling it wholesale. So we're going to get young people involved in listing it online, Poshmark, eBay, wherever else. And so they've got a little studio, they've retrofitted a studio in the back. And then you got a 4, 000 square foot retail space that's not open, you find some way to make money out of it. So, why not use something we already have?

Leanne Goff: It's going to be a really cool pilot though, because there's going to be a group of kids that are onsite part- time and remote part- time, kids that are just staying remote and then will come back. And then there's a group of kids that are just going to fully stay remote and we're going to transition them to other jobs. So we've kind of created these multiple pathways for our young people to feel like they're still connected and a part of us in some way, even if they're kind of end goal is little bit different.

Sean Lane: And what does that engagement look like, right, for the young people? You're saying, you guys found new and exciting, fresh ways to engage with them, both through different types of curriculum. But I'm curious more about the medium. How are you actually engaging with them? Is it through video? Is it through email? Is it through other platforms? How does that work?

Leanne Goff: Mm-hmm(affirmative). Everything's on Zoom. We all probably have Zoom exhaustion. But at the same time, it's really invigorating to be able to look into a young person's eyes. We run 40- person team meetings with them every single week. And it's always so exhausting right before, and then after, you're like," Oh, this is why I do it, because I get to see their faces and hear their excitement about all the things we're talking about." So, like Shaun mentioned, the first week that we went remote, we just kind of had to wrap our brains around we can't stop serving our young people. And if that means we have to use Zoom as the platform, then that's what we're going to do. Their engagement has been great, to be honest. I mean the 80 young people... We haven't lost any young people. There have been some that have fallen out of touch and Zoom's not their thing. We haven't completely gone and lost contact with any of our kids. The majority of them are still engaged, even if it's only logging into Zoom a couple of days a week or some that login 10 days a week. So we have a team meeting for every young person and every adult staff to kind of log in and be together once a week. Their youth development managers talk to them twice a week. And then they have a curriculum session once a week. And those are kind of like the four like baseline, mandatory thing we want them doing. But then all those other workshops I was talking about are offered on top of that, and so youth can log into as many as they want. So we have some youth that people are getting a face- to- face like Zoom and seeing them probably 10 to 15 times a week. And then there's some that are like two or three times a week and that's what they need. And that's what's been really for them. We're playing around right now and figuring out what's the balance when they come back on site. But overwhelmingly, I'd say, the majority of the youth team has been super engaged, love the platform, like being able to see different managers that normally they didn't always get to work with and just be able to talk things about things outside of just our business and the goal sometimes, being able to talk about your health and wellness. And they did like a music playlist together and just talked about how music made them feel. And those are connections you just don't get to make all the time when you're go, go, go at your job. So it's been a really cool platform to use and something that they like and that we're probably going to continue to do.

Sean Lane: Before we go, at the end of the show, we're going to ask each guest the same lightning round of questions. Ready? Here we go. Best book you've read in the last six months?

Shaun Newell: I read Just Mercy, I think in January, so I think that still counts.

Sean Lane: Totally.

Shaun Newell: So that's easily, easily the best book.

Sean Lane: I just saw the movie. I'm going to have read the book. crosstalk

Leanne Goff: The movie's incredible. Our staff went to see Bryan Stevenson speak recently. It was really cool. crosstalk

Shaun Newell: He's not fit for that role.

Sean Lane: My biggest problem was he always looked like he was in 2010 and everybody else was in two decades earlier. Every scene, I'm like,"He's a suit fits really well. I don't understand."

Leanne Goff: Yeah, right?

Shaun Newell: He's too handsome to live in that era. I mean, come on.

Leanne Goff: Yeah. I mean the best book I've read. I don't know. I mean, my book club, we just read American Dirt and there was so much controversy around it that... So it was just like interesting to read and then read all the reviews that came. But I will also say, my husband and I got my daughter a five- minute Star Wars book that tells each kind of episode in a five- minute series. And she's love Star Wars and had started to memorize who Anakin Skywalker is and what his story is. And now, he's Darth Vader. And so that I will say has been a favorite thing to review at night, but at bedtime for sure.

Shaun Newell: Oh, I should've said that because we just got Jabari Johnson. Even though his name is Jackson, his Js aren't that good, so he always goes Jabari Johnson. So it's literally the best it's like, this kid trying to get brave enough to jump off the high board, and it's awesome.

Leanne Goff: Yeah. inaudible

Sean Lane: Favorite part about working at More Than Words?

Shaun Newell: That's... Come on, that's easy.

Leanne Goff: The kids. Like seeing their faces, seeing a kid come to work. And just over the month that they're with us, just develop into such articulate, confident young people. And then when they come back a year later and they're like wearing their work uniform, telling you, they just got their license, it's like your heart just soars. It's amazing.

Shaun Newell: There's some former young people on our staff that we're super tight with that we've seen growing up, so that's super, super special, I think probably for both of us, because we've seen them as kids. Not recently, in the last two years, we've dedicated ourselves to anti- racist work and social justice work. And so we've done a lot of like just internal focus, race equity, inclusion work. And that's some of the best stuff for me personally and professionally at best.

Sean Lane: All right, we'll split up these last two. Leann, someone who impacted you getting the job you have today?

Leanne Goff: So there's a young man named Curtis. He gave me my tour. He's the reason I work at More Than Words. And he was a full- time staff for a while, a junior manager for a while. So he is the reason I'm here and probably made one of the biggest impacts, for sure.

Sean Lane: All right, Shaun, last one for you. One piece of advice for someone who wants to have your job someday?

Shaun Newell: Wants to have my job someday? Oh, geez. That's a tough one. Piece of advice for someone who wants...

Sean Lane: Oh, that's a hard one.

Shaun Newell: I would say work hard, be honest and lead with your heart. I can think bang off numbers as much as I want. I can talk about how More Than Words is everything. And every business saying you can think of, I love money, all that stuff. But what's led me further in this organization and in my career is just being a heartfelt kind of person. And I think if I can tell anybody anything just lead with your heart and be kind. And good shit will happen.

Sean Lane: Thank you so much to Leanne Goff and Shaun Newell for joining us on this week's episode of Operations. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was truly inspiring to talk to both of you. Special shout out to Zarina from the Drift team for introducing me to the team at More Than Words. Thank you so much, Z. I hope the rest of you enjoyed this episode as well. Moving forward, my goal is going to be to focus at least one episode per quarter on a nonprofit organization. So, if you have a nonprofit or some type of organization that you're passionate about, send it my way. You can send it to me directly on LinkedIn. I'm Sean Lane on LinkedIn, or you can email me at slaneatdrift. com. This is also the part of the show where I would typically ask you to subscribe or leave us a six- star review. But instead this week, my ask of all of you is to support More Than Words. So, to wrap up this episode, I asked Shaun and Leanne to tell us exactly how we all can help to support the work that More Than Words does every single day,

Shaun Newell: You can do a lot of things. You can check us out online, which is... You can visit our website. We are on social media, but donate books. I'm going to make a plug, donate money. Support us in some of the hardest and most exciting times that we've been through as an organization. I think, like Leanne said, inaudible. Usually all the time, we're very entrepreneurial, very thrifty, very motivated organization. But I think COVID humbled a lot of us in a good way in understanding that we need to stay grounded, but we still need funding to support our young people. And we talked about COVID, we are in the midst of really difficult and exciting time in our nation that our young people are facing every single day and have faced for years. And so that support, it helps us grow and support the young people that are facing much of the hardest part of this process. And so, I think there's our website, donate books, and look how you get involved both money. We don't have very many volunteer opportunities right now because you can't physically be on the site, but yeah, donate anything you can, support us, shout us out. We are cranking.

Leanne Goff: Yeah. And I think just to add another plug too that I think we don't add enough is like hire our young people because when they leave us these skill sets that they develop are just beyond what they get working anywhere else. And they are so employable. and any job pathways that are like entry- level that could lead to more are what our kids deserve. So you should hire our kids.


In this episode, we’re not looking under the hood of another tech company that just got a splashy round of funding or delving into the finer nuances of SaaS metrics. Instead, we're going inside Boston-based nonprofit More Than Words. More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business, specifically a book business. Our guests, Leanne Goff and Shaun Newell, are going to take us inside their $3.7M book business. We’ll break down how the journey of a single donated book eventually leads to 2,000 books being shipped out of their warehouse every day, and why, despite a global pandemic, More Than Words is still on pace to hit its revenue targets this year and keep 100% of its staff employed. Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean and More Than Words on Twitter @Seany_Biz @mtwyouth @HYPERGROWTH_pod.