John Gornik and Greg Elias started Bead Relief to help non-profits raise awareness and donations for their causes.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
Bead Relief, an LA-based social enterprise, sells beaded bracelets that are designed in collaboration with charity partners to uniquely represent their respective causes – from environmental campaigns to humanitarian pursuits. The organisation then donates 25% of every sale to the specific charity involved.
INKLINE talks with co-founder John Gornik to learn more about the company, from its inception back in 2013 to currently working with more than 80 different charity partners and raising over $75,000 in contributions.
INKLINE: How did you and your co-founder Greg Elias come up with Bead Relief?
John: I had a job in software and telecommunications and that’s where I met my partner and co-founder, Greg. We worked there for a year, but the one thing we didn’t like about the company was how everyone’s motivation was entirely towards commission and making money.
I was always very entrepreneurial and so was Greg, and that’s where the idea came about. We were getting coffee one morning and I wore these beaded bracelets I used to make for my friends, kind of similar to the ones we make now. I always thought it was cool how people would put their own bead patterns, and use their favourite colours.
I thought that’s a cool concept; that you can make these bracelets for different causes or companies using their colour. Greg had shown the bracelets to his family and friends who liked them, one thing led to another and we thought why don’t we do it together.
I: An idea is one thing, and executing it is another. Could you take us through how you put things into motion and how difficult it was?
J: It was a difficult process, it still is to this day. Every day there’s always new challenges, we are a small team after all. When we started, we quit our jobs, which probably wasn’t the smartest idea as a start-up. You barely have any money to live on and most of the money you make, you are putting back into the company so it was two hard years of doing that, a lot of hard work and a lot of cold calling. It was tough but it was fun.
We started with one local partner in LA and they kind of gave us the go-ahead to start working with them. We came up with the concept to use their social media following to cross-promote, so we advertised our bracelets on their site that we donated 25% to them. It was really a win-win for everyone.
I: You guys directly went into online sales, why was that?
J: We did online sales at first because with our model of cross-promoting with charities online, we thought that would be the best way to start. But, it’s really hard to get online sales when you are a company that no one knows.
Along with online, we really took a grassroots approach too. When we started off in the first year, we would set up a little booth at a local fair or street festival. Greg and I would man the booth and try to sell as many bracelets as possible and that was one way to get our company out there.
And now we get e-mails from different people years later saying, ‘I met you guys two, three years ago, at the US Open of surfing and am still wearing your bracelet’. It’s pretty cool that we did that and currently, we are selling at around 250 retail locations too. That’s another way that we were able to be sustainable because these stores help our brand and we also get bigger orders from those kinds of accounts than online and festival sales.
I: What was one specific moment when you realised that you had achieved something great with Bead Relief?
J: Every time we do a bracelet making class with our charity partners, those are amazing. We have done them in rough urban areas in LA, like in South Central, and when you work with the kids in those areas and they’ve never done something like make bracelets just for fun, it’s really cool to see their reactions.
A lot of the kids we volunteer with live in California and they’ve never been to the beach because their parents maybe don’t have a car to have a day trip. We’ve done volunteer trips where we take classes of kids to the beach with one of our charity partners. Working with our charity partners is by far the most rewarding thing we do and that’s why we started our company.
I: Most of your charity partners are based in LA or the States, do you have any plans of collaborating with other charities worldwide?
J: Yes, a 100%. We do have a few charities that work internationally, like Action Against Hunger and Water.org, but they are based in the States. We recently did research on our website and pulled reports based off what our customer’s feedback was on what new charity partners we should add.
We always support small organisations, but in the new year, one of our big plans is to partner with more recognisable charities that can impact more people. Everyone knows what UNICEF is, so we are going to try and partner with UNICEF.
I: What is the next step for the company?
J: When we started, there were fewer bracelet companies that were doing what we were doing. It’s kind of interesting to see how now it’s become such a big trend. We have some huge plans in the new year to really take the whole company to the next level, retail-wise, online-wise and collaboration-wise.
Right now, we are working with our first actual celebrity. I can’t say who it is but in the next few months you will see the whole campaign launch and I think people will be quite impressed. The celebrity has designed their own bracelet and is donating 50% of every sale rather than 25% to their charity of choice.
The Tyler Knott campaign was really successful for us as he has an awesome following! The celebrity we are working with now has 10, 20 times bigger following than him, and that’s pretty exciting.
I: Finally, from your experience with Bead Relief, what would be your advice to the young entrepreneurs out there?
J: I think when you start a company, you really shouldn’t be afraid to fail. You should see failure as something that makes you stronger, like you are a soldier and you have a purple heart. If you are afraid of creating a company and your only thing is that ‘I want to make it a success’, then you are never going to start that company.
I remember when we did our very first retail show, we had never even been to one before, and we just kind of grabbed the bull by the horns and went for it and that’s what we do most of the time. We are not really afraid to do things.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases; an engineer who realised the world of words to be his home. He is currently working as the Content Editor & Writer at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.