Starting a business with a social and B Corp mindset - Activate World

Starting a business with a social and B Corp mindset

entrepreneurs social impact

Mia Levesque and Tracy Levesque, Co-President and Co-Founders of Yikes, Inc.

Mia Levesque is co-owner and co-founder of YIKES, Inc. Mia works as a Digital Project Manager and Technical Production Editor, managing several large scale websites and web application integrations. She has been working with the Internet and web since 1992 and has expertise in content integration, multiple Content Management Systems, HTML/CSS, MySQL data management, WordPress, and other web technologies. Mia is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program.

Tracy Levesque is co-owner and co-founder of YIKES, Inc.  Tracy has been designing websites since Mosiac was used to browse the web. She has expertise in front-end design and development. At YIKES you can find her managing projects, running discovery meetings and working on business development with Mia. Tracy still loves to code — day-to-day she works on building WordPress themes and plugins.

Tracy also loves to teach and present on all things WordPress. She has spoken at WordCamp US, as well as WordCamps Philly, New York, Montreal, San Francisco, San Diego and Lancaster. She was also a contributor to multiple versions of WordPress. As a Girl Develop It instructor, Tracy developed and teaches the WordPress curriculum for GDI Philly.

When not behind a computer, Tracy loves to drink coffee, ride her bike, play drums, hang out with her daughter and take pictures of abandoned buildings.

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Season 1, Bonus Episode

Starting a business is always a challenge. Starting one with a conscious mindset adds motivation and a place to enjoy the work. Business can do good, and Yikes started with this ideal. Through their work, organizational culture, and community, Yikes is a solid example of a Benefit Corporation and Certified B Corp who enliven their work by what they do within their company, sustainability in their Philadelphia community and eliminating bias in our society. Be inspired by these entrepreneurs and their work!

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Starting a Business with a Social and B Corp Mindset

Mia Levesque and Tracy Levesque, Co-President and Co-Founders of Yikes, Inc.

Season 1, Bonus Episode

Jon Mertz:          00:02          Welcome to the Activate World Podcast, a series on how business leaders have more power to solve societal issues than any elected official. We explore business activism with substance and depth of thought.

Jon Mertz:          00:18          From time to time we do bonus episodes and joining us today are Mia and Tracy, co-founders and partners of the Yikes Web Development Firm. Mia and Tracy, please introduce yourselves.

Mia L.:             00:29          Hi, my name is Mia Levesque. I’m co-founder and co-owner of Yikes Inc. We’re web design and development agency located in Philadelphia.

Tracy L.:          00:37          And I’m Tracy Levesque co-founder and co-owner number two.

Jon Mertz:          00:40          It’s wonderful that you could join us today. I’m very excited to have you on Activate World. We’ve been working together for the past three years or so. You’ve helped design both the Thin Difference website as well as Activate World. I enjoy the work that you and your team do, just excellent work. I really want to dive in and explore how you got started and how you evolved your business through the years.

Mia L.:             01:00          Well, you know we were young and naïve when we started our business and we basically wanted to start a business that we wanted to work for. Back in 1996 there weren’t really any … there was no words for what we were doing. We were just kind of doing what we thought would be, provide a great environment.

Tracy L.:          01:21          Yeah back in the day there wasn’t any terms like ‘triple bottom line’ or ‘sustainable business practices’, the only businesses we knew of were businesses like Ben and Jerry’s and we called ourselves socially responsible business.

Jon Mertz:          01:38          And what sparked the idea to start your own firm?

Tracy L.:          01:40          No, we’re just hobbyists. We both did internet stuff and it was so early there wasn’t even a graphical interface yet to the web, so we just did computer stuff as a hobby and then we met another woman named Vicky, and the three of us would make websites for non-profit organizations that we were involved in and do stuff like emailing, get on things like Usenet, and then after a while we were like “hey, we do this for free all the time, we should charge people money for it.”

Mia L.:             02:11          And we also, we were excited about this technology. We were all coming from non-profit organizations and doing work in political activism and here was this amazing communications tool that we felt everyone should know about. So we wanted to spread the word and really provide people with the information about this new technology.

Tracy L.:          02:37          Right, so the three of us started this together and Vicky was with us, she made a commitment of five years and then she left to become a massage therapist.

Jon Mertz:          02:46          Okay, exciting times right? New technology, new business model and then as the years unfolded, this idea known as the benefit corporation and B Corp certification came around, how did you discover it and what inspired you to get involved in that movement?

Tracy L.:          02:59          So years before B Corp was a thing, we discovered the sustainable business network in Philadelphia and I remember going to that first conference and feeling like we finally found our people because we had joined other business, chambers of commerce and those are so conservative and not, people just did not have the same ideals that we did when it came to business. Because, unfortunately, ethical decisions are often put in the hands of corporations, and through the SBN is how we learned about B Corp.

Mia L.:             03:33          Yeah, so we are lucky to be in Philadelphia. Judy Wicks lives here in Philadelphia, she’s a –

Tracy L.:          03:38          A pioneer.

Mia L.:             03:40          A pioneer of this sustainable business movement and we were really lucky to find that as our first foray into this other minded world of business and the idea that businesses could do good and have a positive social impact.

Tracy L.:          03:58          And I have to be honest, when we first learned about, the first year that B Corps and B Corp certifications conception, we were a little skeptical and we were not ready to yet get on board. We were like “what is this exactly?”, there’s a fee to get certified, but then after the first year, and also being familiar to things like, LEED Platinum certification, which is the corp certification for buildings, we understood the value of actually being certified, so you know who is just dream washing and who is the real deal.

Jon Mertz:          04:34          Alright, so when you first went through the B Corp assessment, did you find it eye-opening in terms of how you looked at your business?

Mia L.:             04:41          Definitely, it’s a rigorous process which, when you’re going through it, you can grumble through and you’re getting documentation and it’s time consuming. It really is a rigorous test and I have to say, somethings we were already doing so many things and felt really great about it but the thing I liked about the assessment, is it actually opens your eyes to a whole different set of guidelines and metrics that you can look at to try to improve. So it’s always nice to find new positive ways that we can become a better business.

Jon Mertz:          05:20          Yeah and your scores are very impressive, I think they were a little over 93. Has that changed the way you work with people? Whether it’s customers or your team members, or people in the community, having gone through that assessment and taking on more of those elements within that model?

Tracy L.:          05:34          There are definitely some other sustainable businesses that choose to work with us because we are B Corp certified, and the same in exchange. For instance, Flying Fish Brewery, I don’t think they’re certified but, they have a lot of wonderful, sustainable business practices at their brewery. Like the way they reuse waste water and have solar panels, and it’s a really cool space if you’re ever near Jersey and you get a chance to go to their tasting room. But, they are attracted to us because we are B Corp certified.

Mia L.:             06:06          I also like to have the opportunity to tell people about B Corp, just saying “this is who we are, we’re very transparent, we care about these things. I know that maybe you might be unfamiliar with the tech we’re working with”, but, it kinda helps people understand our agency.

Jon Mertz:          06:27          Yeah, that was great and that’s exactly the way I found you three years ago, was through the B economy and wanting to work with firms that dedicated themselves to building a different kind of business. Do you think you can highlight some of the community efforts that you’re involved in, things that drive some of your passion, whether within the technology community or outside of it?

Tracy L.:          06:47          Well one thing that I’m most proud of, is I love Philadelphia, I love this city, I love the buildings in this city, and I would ride my bike round all neighborhoods and see buildings that were vacant and plighted but then you could see how they were once beautiful, right? And, in 2010, we decided that we were going to stop renting our office and look for a building to buy as the next step in our business, and I fell in love with these two completely run down, vacant, dangerous to be inside buildings, in the Fish Town neighborhood of Philadelphia. Through the help of different community organizations, and projects, we were able to do the first Leed Platinum, mixed use rehab in Pennsylvania.

Tracy L.:          07:40          So, we completely rehabbed these two buildings, and we occupy one of the storefronts and then we have a tenant next door in the other storefront and that’s what I’m most proud of, because we’re able to give back to Philadelphia, cause it really breaks my heart when I see a beautiful building that’s just ripped down and then they put up some new construction monstrosity in its place.

Jon Mertz:          08:05          That’s wonderful. How about you Mia?

Mia L.:             08:07          I would say even from the technology we use, we’ve been doing this for 22 years but over the past decade, we started using WordPress as the primary tool that we use to develop websites and as an open source platform, I think that, that also we’re also really involved in that community and helping to build the software, giving back so that, that kind of also became a very, in line with our agency. And, Tracy, especially over the last couple of years has been going into that community and other tech communities to talk about diversity and inclusion, which has become really important topic for us. Especially as a woman-owned business, LBGTQ-owned, operating in the tech industry, which has a horrific track record of diversity and inclusion. So, there’s a lot of ways that you can reach out and meet new people from different parts of the population that you may not know or if you’re looking to hire or just expand your BAB network, that there’s ways that you can do this that are fun and easy –

Tracy L.:          09:27          Yeah, I have a talk that I’ve been going round to different organizations and conferences and giving this talk and it just comes from a real place of positivity. Like, actually, getting to know people who aren’t like you, is a fun thing. It’s not scary, I mean it’s not something you should be afraid of, it’s not just something you should be wringing your hands over either and wondering, “why can’t we fix this?” The idea of really clear steps on how to make things better and so that’s the community piece that’s driving us right now.

Jon Mertz:          09:59          I noticed that you recently won some funding to help that initiative through a new WordPress plugin to try to eliminate bias. Can you talk a little about that?

Tracy L.:          10:07          Sure, the plugin is called Level Playing Field and I came up with this idea a few years ago because in the research I had done to give this talk on the lack of diversity in the tech community, a lot of it has to do with unconscious bias, that’s one piece of the puzzle as to why we’re in this situation we’re in.

Tracy L.:          10:23          They’ve done studies where they’ll have identical resumes, half with an African-American sounding name and half with a white sounding name but they’re identical in every other way and made to be qualified for the jobs they’re applying for, but the resume with the white sounding name will outperform the other one, like 30% more. Even if they raised qualifications across the board, they still get more call-backs.

Tracy L.:          10:48          Also, the same thing with a woman’s name and a man’s name. The other study replied to help wanted ads in the Chicago Tribune, and this one was sent to STEM professors and they’re asked to evaluate, again fictitious resumes, half had the name ‘John’, half had the name ‘Jennifer’, that was the only difference between the two and they were more likely to hire ‘John’, and those who were willing to hire ‘Jennifer’, offered her a lower salary. So I’m like, “what can we do to fight bias in hiring and have a true meritocracy?”

Tracy L.:          11:21          Everybody thinks they have a meritocracy, everybody, if you ask folks, they would say “oh yeah, we look for qualified candidates, we hire the people who are best qualified for the job”, but these studies prove that that’s not true and I personally believe that it is mostly unconscious, there’s definitely conscious bias as well, but I think if, given the opportunity, people would want to be inclusive, if they knew it was happening.

Tracy L.:          11:47          So this plugin that we’re working on, will allow you to have job listings on your website, then as the job applications come in, it will anonymize the name, age, zip code and other things that would be a tell of who the person is, in regards to gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, ability, and other factors. So you were doing true, merit based hiring. You are hiring based on skills and qualifications, or at least getting people in the door. Our plugin can’t help you once the person’s in the door, but we want to do a turn key solution. You install this plugin, boom, you have anonymized job applications. And what some smaller companies that do know about this, and are doing this, they’re actually literally having somebody go in and whiteout the names.

Jon Mertz:          12:33          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Tracy L.:          12:36          And then handing it to the hiring manager. So, just make that super easy and quick to do.

Mia L.:             12:40          We’re looking for a solution that’s for small, medium size businesses and non-profits, that is a way for them to help –

Tracy L.:          12:48          Accomplish this.

Jon Mertz:          12:53          When do you expect that to be available?

Tracy L.:          12:53          This year.

Mia L.:             12:53          We’re working very hard to have an MVP by December. It’s something that we’ve been doing internally and boot strapping and trying to get done so we’re really honored to win our local IBA, Chamber and PNC Banks Business award to give us some capital to help push it a little further along, a little faster.

Tracy L.:          13:16          The IBA’s the Independence Business Alliance, they’re the LGBT Chamber of Commerce here in Philadelphia.

Jon Mertz:          13:22          Great, thanks for clarifying that, that’s wonderful. Just to wrap things up, what’s your best advice for leaders that really want to incorporate, in a meaningful way, the triple bottom line, the people, profit and planet?

Tracy L.:          13:33          I have to say, it’s always been easy for us to just, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. I think though, you have to do a little bit of self-care and realize that you’re running a business and not a non-profit organization. I think that, companies with a heart can sometimes give too much, but at the end of the day, that you are a business and our business doing well, empowers us to do more good in the world. And, also, to just by being successful, being a woman-owned business in tech and our success, is going to help progress move along.

Mia L.:             14:08          The important thing about it is the work. It’s people, planet, profits. So, they’re all important, they work together, but when you put profits first, you end up where we’ve always been. So I would tell people, to try to change their mindset and put people first. You can run a business where you treat your employees, your community, you help community efforts, you help your city and your local town, and you are giving back just by doing that.

Tracy L.:          14:42          You know how there’s benefit corporations as well, which is an actual legal entity in addition to B Corp certification. We have that here in Pennsylvania, we’re also a benefit corp. I wanted to make a happiness corporation, where happiness is another bottom line, right?

Jon Mertz:          14:59          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Tracy L.:          15:00          Because, I have to say, the one experience of doing business this way is people are happy, like we’re happy and the folks that work here are happy, because they’re treated well and given autonomy and there’s a lot of value in that. It’s more than just making lots of money.

Jon Mertz:          15:19          Right.

Tracy L.:          15:19          Making lots of money isn’t the key to happiness, so I think that’s another huge benefit of being a B Corp and having that model for business.

Jon Mertz:          15:30          Yeah and I think the byproduct of happiness may be fulfillment.

Jon Mertz:          15:34          Well thank you so much. Both have you have been just, like I said, inspirational in your good works, not only in your work with web design and technology, but just the example that you have set for other leaders and all the communities that you serve.

Tracy L.:          15:45          Thank you so much.

Mia L.:             15:46          Thanks so much Jon.

Jon Mertz:          15:49          Listeners, follow us on social media and keep up to date on our latest giveaways and news. Be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about the Activate World podcast.

Encourage them to subscribe, listen and share from their favorite podcast platform, Apple, Google, Spotify, and others. Let us know how we’re doing by leaving a review. Your reviews mean a lot to us.

Jon Mertz:          16:10          Follow us on social media and keep up to date on our latest giveaways and news.

Jon Mertz:          16:15          Activate World is a team endeavor. Special thanks to Kaela Waldstein and Kent Nutt. Music by Jason Goodyear. For Activate World, I’m Jon Mertz.