Let’s give a special SCN thanks to today’s guest blogger, Cayla Mackey. Cayla is the founder of Unicorn Goods, check it out to find the world’s largest catalogue of vegan clothing, shoes, body products and more for men and women: https://unicorngoods.com/
My journey as a social entrepreneur began before I knew what a social entrepreneur was. When I was in high school, I started supporting myself. Since the age of 17 I learned how to make my own way in the world, and how to do for myself what I knew would not be done for me, weaving in social good along the way.
I was fortunate to complete my education by way of merit scholarships. At one point, I was working three part-time jobs as a full-time student to be able to support myself through college. I graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree that did not directly set me up to be a social entrepreneur, majoring in “Music, Language and Culture” through a self-designed interdisciplinary degree.
Upon graduation, I did not immediately embrace being a social entrepreneur. I wanted to be a musician. Being heavily involved in music, I chose the music scene of Nashville for college. Towards the end, I became very interested in music journalism as a way to pay bills while trying to make it as a full-time musician. I started writing for the Nashville Scene through an internship and loved it, which led to my involvement in the first company I was a part of, Native.
Native is a print magazine for Nashville’s creative class that I started with Dave, Jon, and Angelique Pittman, as well as Taylor Raboin, Mackenzie Moore, and Josh Sirchio. In the beginning, I served as one of two salespeople, the Managing Editor, and the lead writer. I also planned and coordinated our team of 20+ interns, the three monthly launch parties that allowed us to grow our support base, and our distribution system. Native is the first magazine in the world to be distributed by bicycle. After three months, we broke even and I moved over to do sales full time so that we could grow the company.
After two years at Native, I left my day-to-day role to try to figure out what to do next. I was confused. There I was, a musician selling ads. How did that happen? Not only was I not playing music anymore, but I wasn’t even listening to music. I was tired. I had gone so fast that I forgot who I was. I couldn’t list a single interest, and I didn’t do anything for fun anymore. That’s when I knew I needed to make a change. I took a sabbatical and tried to figure out who I was and what my interest were. Sometimes in the journey to where we are supposed to be, this type of rest is needed, especially for on-the-go social entrepreneurs like myself. What I found surprised me.
I became very interested in organic farming and spent some time working with organic farms in the area. Being in the open air, the sunshine, and in the dirt was therapeutic and clarifying. I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to be active and outside, but, more importantly, something that improved the world. I Kickstarted Taco Bike to prove that healthy, organic fast food could be done in a cost-effective way. I taught myself how to cook, and sourced certified organic ingredients to make vegetarian tacos.
When Taco Bike closed up for the winter (it was a seasonal business model) I thought again about what I wanted to do next. I experienced a difficult time finding a pair of non-leather shoes as a vegetarian, and thought that fixing that problem could be my next project. But it was my cofounder, Dave, who pushed me to make the idea public. That’s when our current venture, Unicorn Goods, was born.
I’m now working on Unicorn Goods full time. We are a Public Benefit Corporation with a mission to reduce animal suffering by selling and promoting animal-free products. Unicorn Goods started as a personal project, while working at Native and on my sabbatical, I started trying to buy less leather. The first time I looked, it took me six months to find a suitable pair of shoes that didn’t use animal leather or by-products. I scoured malls, poured over online stores, called manufactures, and read vegan blogs and articles. To keep track of the options I found, I created a spreadsheet that became, Unicorn Goods.
My partner, Dave, realized that other people must have the same desire to buy ethical products, but few had the energy and time to do the research. We decided to share the results and turned the spreadsheet into the first publicly facing website called Good Goods. We’ve been through many phases, but recently incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation and rebranded as Unicorn Goods. Our mission is to reduce animal suffering by selling and promoting animal-free products.
The path here was anything but usual, and anything but straight. Along the way, I started a creative coworking space with my Native cofounders called Moonbase, which initiated the consortium of coworking spaces in Nashville, Nashville Coworks. I also built and sold a plan for a design store. I had tried doing music again and played a wedding. I helped open and manage a chocolate shop (longtime fantasy of mine) and also tried working at a nonprofit that supports social entrepreneurs. Through all of these various experiences I have learned that in whatever I do, the three constants are interesting, challenging, and rewarding. I always want to be learning.
With Unicorn Goods, I’m continuing my struggle to improve the world through creative, innovative means. Whether it be through empowerment, food systems or animal rights, the issues I choose to work with are complex and difficult; it’s what makes my work hard, but also fun.
The biggest thing I’ve learned recently is that you can’t bring about change alone. In 2016, I participated in the Global Social Impact House through the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy. On the week-long retreat at an eco lodge in Costa Rica, we did an exercise where everyone was blindfolded and handed a string. We were told to follow the string out of the maze, and to raise our hands if we needed help. I had the feeling like I was going in circles, and when I reluctantly raised my hand I saw that the maze was actually a closed loop. It was impossible to get out of the maze without asking for help.
This exercise made me see that I didn’t get to where I am today without help, and I wouldn’t get anywhere without help, either.
For social entrepreneurs, we often feel like we have to go it alone, like the only way to bring about change is to go against the current – alone. While this is partially true, you can get upstream faster in a school of fish than as a lone salmon. This is why the services of groups like Social Change Nation are so important. We social entrepreneurs need to find each other so that we can go farther, faster. It’s way more fun when you have someone to laugh and cry with you, and celebrate success as well as failure along the way.
Don’t go it alone. Find your school of fish to bring you upstream.