Mark Gavin – Co-founder of Ecojot

[quote style=”boxed”]You really do need to keep reinventing your brand to show that your product and/or service remains relevant. It’s hard when you are busy, but I’ve seen so many successful business fail as they haven’t been innovative enough.[/quote]

Mark Gavin was born and raised in apartheid era South Africa. The country was racially polarized and although poverty was literally on his family’s doorstep, it could have been a million miles away as very few white people ever ventured out of their communities. With this in mind Mark realized that poverty needs to be seen to be really understood. In 1990 he and his family emigrated to Toronto, Canada to build a new life and in 2007 he created ecojot as a new brand of beautifully designed 100% post-consumer recycled paper products. In 2010 he launched the “buy 1, give 1’ program to donate books based on the sales of certain ecojot items. As of 2012, ecojot has donated around 200,000 school workbooks to schools in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Niger, Ghana and Haiti. Mark travelled to Haiti in 2011 where he helped deliver these as well as other school supplies to kids in over 35 different schools in and around Port-Au-Prince. Being that the poverty was by far the worst that he’d seen, ecojot has made a commitment to designate most of their school workbook donations to Haiti. The idea being that literacy and education is a vital component in lifting people from extreme poverty. Plans are currently under way for a September 2012 Haiti trip.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on perpetuating the idea that ecojot products are responsible for positive social change. Our “buy 1, give 1” program was launched with the idea of donating school workbooks to kids in need based on the sales of certain ecojot items and to date we have delivered close to 200,000 of these items into schools in some of the most impoverished areas on the globe. I believe that business should have a long term goal in trying to better the world.

Where did the idea for ecojot come from?

We’ve manufactured paper products since 2001 and in 2007 we decided to change our raw materials to 100% recycled paper and rename our brand to ecojot. We brought beautiful design to recycled paper products! In 2010 we launched our “buy 1, give program” giving our company a deeper purpose.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m normally in the office at 8:30 and check all my emails and other communication. As the director of Sales and Marketing, I am constantly finding ways communicate our core values to our clients (and new potential clients). There is a lot of trial and error and the main activities are communication, sending samples and meetings and diligent follow up. I do this every day and try hard to stay focused on the most important work. Being that most people have not travelled to areas of extreme poverty, it’s not always easy to convince people that ecojot is changing the world 1 notebook at a time, but we are committed to this idea and slowly but surely we are making progress. I normally leave the office at 5:00 and head to the gym and spend evenings with my wife, 2 kids and dog.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We meet weekly and discuss new and exciting projects. Being that we do our own manufacturing, we can design a product and have it to market in less than 1 month. We also work closely with many of our larger customers and are able to translate their feedback into product ideas really quickly.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The idea of being a certified B Corporation. B Corporations are companies that exemplify the idea of conscious capitalism and this is exactly what we want for ecojot – showing how business can be profitable and change the world

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

In the 1980’s whilst traveling Europe, I worked in a London restaurant for 3 pounds/hour. If I finished late, I’d miss the last train and spend my earnings on a taxi home, so I would run to the subway in order to make that last train.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Probably pay more attention to internet based marketing to communicate our core values. I’m on it now!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

You really do need to keep reinventing your brand to show that your product and/or service remains relevant. It’s hard when you are busy, but I’ve seen so many successful business fail as they haven’t been innovative enough.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The fickle nature of the marketplace is very hard to understand. When we launched ecojot in 2007, we had incredible success until the financial fallout in late 2008. Of course I could not have predicted that, but it was a crazy time and we had to rethink everything we were doing in order to survive. The business climate of today is very challenging and requires total commitment.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

No-one owes you anything.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I think that people should  travel to countries where the locals often have no idea if they are going to eat when they get up in the morning. You will soon realize how lucky we all are, but you’ll also notice that poor people are often very happy with the little that they have. I think the key is not to judge others by your standards.

Tell us a secret.

My father’ family lived in Havana, Cuba in the 1920’s and 30ss. They lived in a building in the very old part of Havana and I’ve walked on that street and tried to relive their experiences.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

1. As a guitar player I find that YouTube is a brilliant resource for guitar instruction. I use it almost every day.

2. iTunes – as a music addict, its hard to resist!

3.  We use all the social media tools – Facebook, Twitter, email and online video to keep in touch with our customers

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I read a book called “Dead Aid” by Dambiso Moyo, an African born economist living in the US. It shows that living conditions in Africa have not improved with all the aid money and donations that have been given.. The premise is that people become dependent on charity and are not motivated to help themselves. An example is that of a small mosquito net manufacturer whose business was destroyed by a foundation who made a large donation of these items to help with malaria prevention.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Erin Schrode @erinschrode is our partner for our Haiti school work and is a young woman with so much life experience and positive energy.

Jeff Golfman is an interesting and caring person who has spent over 10 years researching how to utilize wheat straw to make paper. He’s also a serious vegetarian and blogs new food ideas @coolvegetarian.

Design Sponge – a great resource for great design happenings around the globe.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Last night I had a monthly poker date with a group of friends, but the card playing is just a reason to have lots of fun and laughter.

Who is your hero?

Nelson Mandela who was in jail while I was growing up. What an incredible person.

How can are you happy with work life being that business is so difficult?

For me it’s the knowledge that our donations of school workbooks are helping kids learn to read and write. I know that some of them will eventually become educated and help contribute to the betterment of their communities.

How do you relax?

Gardening, playing guitar and spending time with my wonderful wife and kids.