By: Ariadne Ellsworth
April 26, 2016
Allison Friedman was in the midst of trying to “green” a construction project years ago, when a sub-contractor ran out of the house yelling about the poor quality of the ecologically friendly paint she had provided. Hoping to find help, Friedman started looking online for more information on green building products and services. To her frustration there was very little information, and no reviews were available. At the time, Friedman was graduating business school after having spent ten years in the hospitality business, but her love of customer service persisted (if she could have any superpowers, Freidman says, she’d pick providing perfect customer service and successfully convening people to share information with each other and others) and as a disillusioned green product customer, she saw a potential business opportunity in solving this lack of information. “This is how a lot of social ventures start,” she explains, “I was standing there with this need for information myself, and I wanted to help other people who came after me to have an easier time. I just thought the world needed this resource.” Looking for a fresh start and hoping to fix the problem, Friedman started a social venture: Rate It Green.
Rate It Green is a green building directory, network and information resource designed to help consumers and industry professionals, manufacturers, and service providers connect and share information. Friedman describes the site as a “TripAdvisor for green building, where everyone who cares about the environment or might have sensitivities or allergies, or who wants to save money through energy efficiency and other measures, can connect with others and make a huge difference.” Rate It Green acts both as a directory for green building products and services and as a platform for community discussion, with groups and discussion threads where members can engage directly with each other. Today, Rate It Green has 2,970 users, of which close to 1,000 are registered companies; it also lists thousands of products and services, bringing the total number of companies it represents close to 5,000 (many of these are technically unregistered members on the site, meaning they only have a limited description as opposed to the fully registered companies. According to Friedman, an additional 100,000 unregistered listings are soon to be added to the site’s database.
Friedman launched a first rough version of the site’s directory as far back as November 2006. She had initially set aside six months for the project and a small budget, but eventually this passion grew into her full time job. “I never imagined that it would take this much time, and it’s interesting and fortunate this opportunity still exists,” says Friedman. The process hasn’t been without its challenges. Rate It Green is still pre-revenue, and Friedman describes facing the challenge of the web entrepreneur: “You spend a lot of time building and there’s a cliff that you’re standing at, and it’s a huge leap of faith just to jump.” That cliff is funding, and as a web and social entrepreneur who chose to build the pilot first, Friedman felt that she could not ask for money or sell anything until she was already confident in the core of her functionality.
It was the fundraising challenge in particular that brought Friedman to SEG. “The tough thing about being a social entrepreneur,” says Friedman, “is admitting that it’s ok not to be an expert on everything.” In the 2016 SEG Impact Accelerator, Friedman found a great cohort to talk to and share with, as well as mentors ready to help; “SEG got me excited about getting out there and talking to more real potential clients,” she explains. Through her time with the accelerator, Friedman has been building the confidence and perspective to approach fundraising and marketing without feeling like she’s abandoning the values of a social entrepreneur; today, Rate It Green is on the verge of launching the site’s first significant marketing and fundraising efforts. Friedman’s hope for Rate It Green is that the site will “push the leading edge of the market and also promote further growth.” Friedman notes, “Not only do I want people connecting and sharing green building information, I want to excite both buyers and sellers so that people and companies are excited and want to get the best products and services out on the market.” Friedman would also like to get back to green building herself, but she can’t do that until she’s finished building the very resource that she and others need to provide the information to everyone can build green more easily.
Despite this passion for community improvement that has driven Friedman all along, she didn’t always recognize herself as a social entrepreneur. In that sense, she feels new to the community, and she credits SEG with helping her “recognize that social entrepreneurs are not alone and that other people are going through the same thing.” This year will be Friedman’s first attending the SEEED summit, where she hopes to learn from other entrepreneurs and ventures who have built financially successful businesses with social impact. She’s particularly interested in the speakers and workshops revolving around funding, because “we’re all hoping to have the biggest impact we can, but there is a recognition that to achieve your impact you have to make your organization financially sustainable. That’s the challenge.” While she hopes to come away with more knowledge about fundraising for a social enterprise, Friedman is also attending for the newfound sense of community, “to meet people facing their own challenges, listen to their stories, and to see if there is anyone I can help as well, from my past experiences. Now I recognize I’m not alone — there are other people out there.”
Ariadne Ellsworth is a junior at Brown University studying Political Theory and English. She is interning in the journalism program under Crystal Rosatti. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she has previously worked in publishing and was the Editor In Chief of the Brown Political Review. She is using this opportunity to explore the junction between journalism and social entrepreneurship.