By Benjamin Stegman - Cincinnati Country Day School - NextGenVest Global Business Leader - Cincinnati, Ohio
During NexGenVest's Fall 2014 Global Business Leaders Summit, students had the opportunity to speak with professionals in a range of fields. We spoke with Rachel Cook, Founder and CEO of Seeds.Rachel Cook, an alumni of Duke University and Founder/CEO of Seeds Incorporated, began her startup on an idea: microfinance. While working as a Eurodollar futures trader, Cook read a New York Times article detailing how providing microloans to women in the developing world can bring about economic change in impoverished communities.
Inspired by this idea, Cook began work on The Microlending Film Project, a feature documentary film to further explore and share with the world this important phenomenon. Determined to create a film as compelling as these women’s stories, Cook started out big; recruiting a Director of Photography who had worked on Fargo and other well-known Hollywood movies, in addition to prominent film editors and music composers.For filming, the group traveled to Paraguay, India, Kenya and Detroit, lower income areas with struggling residents. It was while filming in Kenya that this former trader found a surprisingly vibrant tech scene. She discovered that Kenyans were using a “mobile money transfer infrastructure” which allowed the citizens to buy groceries and other commodities through phone transactions.
In 2005, this integration of tech and banking was years ahead of the United States. With the idea to incorporate what she saw in Kenya with the cell-phone gaming industry back in America sparked, Cook created Seeds Inc.
Unlike trading, Seeds created something that made a difference and helped entrepreneurs get a steady financial base to grow their company, an initiative Cook was passionate to grow.
At first, Seeds Inc. had little revenue so Cook turned to non-traditional ways of making money: selling Bitcoins, and renting her apartment using Airbnb. Hopes were high, but when the company launched their first app, they soon found out that the video gaming industry is either a hit or miss. The game, on its own, proved to not be as huge a success as they had hoped. However, this setback ended up opening another path: partnering with already existing games.
Rather than personally taking on the risk of making their own games, Seeds Inc. could partner with well-known and popular games as an integrated function.
The basis of Seeds Inc. now is to allow a gamer to spend real money on a game’s virtual feature with a portion of that money being transferred to various microcredit institutions. Not only are users gaining these virtual objects, but they are also contributing to making microloans possible for those in the best position to enact real change in their community. Doing good has never been easier.
Seeds found that this unique model is not only desirable to the user but also to the gaming company, creating good PR for the company (not to mention a tax write-off) and a win-win situation for everyone Seeds partners with.Asking this entrepreneur, “What is the most important piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to branch out on their own?” elicited a similar reaction that Nike would have had: “Just do it.” She’s observed “a lot of people have these ideas that they are passionate about and they just talk themselves out of trying it.” She puts it plainly: You can’t be scared to take risks. Not knowing the future may be scary but it is worth it for yourself, and for the idea you are hoping to realize."
Cook admits happily that she has learned so much through taking on this challenging venture but is also so much more motivated than working a typical job. Not all decisions have been a gainful, however. Interested in what she would have done different financially, Cook quickly admitted that she tried to deal with the financial details for far too long.
She advises that entrepreneurs should “have a teammate that can take care of those financial details” that require a full-time approach. Entrepreneurs like Ms. Cook need to focus their time and energy on the “big” picture to get a startup off the ground, makes it hard to keep an eye on smaller scale details, which are just as important.
Cook is in a great place to observe changes in gaming and predict the direction this huge industry. She shared that she is beginning to see new norms emerging, due to influence from businesses like hers, and she predicts that soon all games will contain platforms like Seeds, incorporating some form of social good into their model. The benefit and consumer response from this type of integration is undeniable, and she expects businesses across industries to follow suit and adopt this same philosophy.