I’m a little giddy about this blog post. Here’s some context: I watched the brilliant Apple+ docuseries, HOME, with Jordan and the girls. Each episode tells the story of an individual, family, or business that is redefining the conventional understanding of what a home is. If you haven’t watched, it’s a must see.
One episode in particular took my breath away. It focused on a small group of millennials teaming up to create a community of homes for people living in makeshift dwellings in an impoverished town in Mexico, using 3D printing technology. New Story, the innovative non-profit organization founded by those visionary young people, has a mission to end global homelessness, one home at a time.
The printed homes provide a safer and more secure foundation for families that have been perpetually living in survival mode, and are therefore more susceptible to illness and other safety threats. The families interviewed for the series spoke about the impact this singular change would have on every single aspect of their lives. Let’s just say that as I watched I was crying so hard that my children made fun of me.
My work, helping thousands of people all over the world declutter and organize their homes, has made me acutely aware of the disparity between people who own more than they can manage, and others who have neither a home, nor stuff to fill it with.
The episode stayed with me for months. I couldn’t stop thinking about the importance of having a home, a privilege I share with all of my clients and most people in my online community. I also couldn’t stop thinking about the young founders who had the passion and purpose to figure out how to use emergent technology and modern building techniques to address a global crisis. The co-founders of New Story were named as Forbes 30 under 30 Entrepreneurs, and Goldman Sachs called them one of the Top 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.
I felt moved to reach out to see if there was a way I could help support New Story’s ambitious and innovative mission, and I was thrilled that they were eager to connect and partner with me. More HERE.
CEO and co-founder, Brett Hagler, also agreed to talk with me about dreaming big, taking risks, and making an impact. Our Q and A, straight ahead!
What inspired you to start New Story?
The inspiration for New Story came while I was down on a mission trip to Haiti. I was in my early twenties, and I was longing for a bigger purpose and a more meaningful life. I had a for-profit start-up, and we were giving a portion of our profits to a non-profit working in Haiti. I went to visit the work there, and what I saw had a profound impact on me.
It was just a couple of years after the 2010 earthquake, it was my first time going to the developing world, and I could not believe what I saw. I met families that were living in tents for years. I met kids sleeping restlessly on a dirt floor with no protection. It was my first exposure to anything like this, and it struck me to my core.
I was still super young. I was only 24 at the time, and I had no experience with the nonprofit world. I had no experience at all. But I had an overwhelming conviction that something needed to be done, specifically that I needed to do something. That conviction would drive me to give up my for-profit start-up and do anything and everything to help those families most in need.
So, it was after re-capturing my faith, combined with seeing the situation in Haiti, that my mind started shifting. A few months after returning from that trip, I shut down my eCommerce business to start focusing on making a difference. My focus was on two things: impact and innovation.
In my search, I noticed the nonprofit sector was outdated in one way or another. Whether it’s a lack of transparency, non-emphasis on innovation, or an archaic organizational structure, nonprofits tend to feel a little stuck in the past. What I wanted was a non-profit that operated like a tech startup. So I created a non-profit made to do things differently. We became New Story – not only to create new stories in the families we serve but also to create a new story for how the world thinks about social impact work.
Q. How do you avoid getting overwhelmed when you have such a massive global mission?
Dream big, start small. It has kind of become a mantra of New Story. If you look at the global issue of homelessness, there are 1.6+ billion people who lack safe shelter across the world. Then you look at all of the obstacles you’d need to overcome to begin to house them, and you start thinking about the government partnerships you need to secure…that would paralyze anybody. Trying to tackle the problem all at once could keep anyone from getting started because you can come up with a million examples of why you aren’t able to do it.
So, instead, you say, let’s start with building one house, and I’m going to do it in this unique and innovative way that I’ve constructed in my mind. Any ambitious and resourceful person could do that. Then it’s just a choice. There are no excuses why you can’t build one house. So, we start small, and we do for one what we wish we could do for everybody.
Q. What do you do when you fall victim to self doubt or imposter syndrome?
Come back to my faith to center myself and get perspective on the big picture. I then prepare as much as I can to gain more confidence.
The most imposter syndrome I’ve ever felt was when my co-founders and I first arrived at Y-Combinator back in 2015. Y-Combinator brings in the best of the best startups, and we were one of the first non-profits ever accepted. People say that it is harder to get into y-combinator than Harvard, Stanford, and the Navy Seals combined. So, I felt like I had minimal qualifications to be there. I graduated from Florida State and had a failed startup, nothing very impressive. I, along with my Co-founders, developed an underdog mentality, and we leaned into it hard. I learned my strengths, I focused on work ethic & discipline, and I developed the boldness and courage to do things and take risks that my peers weren’t doing.
Q. How do you take the first step when you’re scared?
The first step is the most difficult. The first thing I do is pray about it. I pray for clarity and direction. That first step takes the most courage, and it has to be the most deliberate step. Once you build some positive momentum, operating is much easier, so you try to manufacture that momentum with routine. You have to be bold, and I try to make boldness a habit. Not meaning that I’m less scared, but by being bold, by being courageous, I’m empowered to take more first steps.
Q. What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur and why?
The more I have been in the startup industry, and surrounded by the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the more I truly believe that the top skills come from an underdog mindset.
One of the top skills is humility. When you’re humble, you don’t carry a huge ego, and you don’t think you are the best already. You are willing to listen, and you’re always looking to learn. You work harder. You’re willing and eager to do things differently and in a way that many of your peers are unwilling to do. You think more creatively, and you don’t back down in the face of adversity because you come at it from a place where everything you have done was once something you had to overcome.
Boldness is another top skill. If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be bold. Bold ideas attract bold people. You need to be bold in getting your message out to investors, donors, partners, everybody. Nobody will believe in you and what you’re doing if you don’t boldly believe in yourself and your work.
The last is resilience. To be an entrepreneur, you’re signing up to receive some rejections. You’re signing up to live through some failures. But you need to have grit. You need to know that another no just puts you closer to your next yes. You have to be willing to continuously get up every time and go at it the next time with things you’ve learned. Over time you build confidence, and if your vision is good, you’ll make it happen.
Q. How do you recover from setbacks as an entrepreneur?
Take them as an opportunity to learn and get better. Not all setbacks that come are bad, and they can often propel you towards something you weren’t even aware of.
I shared my story with a newer mentor of mine, particularly about my setbacks throughout my life. I had cancer at 18, I’ve had a few start-up failures prior to New Story, I was rejected from what I thought was my dream job, the list goes on. He shared something that I will never forget. He smiled and said, “Brett, not all storms come to disrupt your life. Some come to clear your path.” My setbacks were all things meant to catalyze New Story.
Every time I get a setback, I get down on my knees, saying a simple prayer. I have no clue how or why this is happening; it makes no sense to me. But I’m just going to trust that something bigger and potentially better will come out of this. I’m going to trust that You are going to make my path clear. Then I keep moving forward.
Q. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I love investing in other founders. I do small angel investments into entrepreneurs I believe in.
Q. What does “home” mean to you?
A home is a place where you feel you belong. Home means safety; it’s one of life’s basic human needs. A home is a shelter from any storm. Home is a place to invite your friends, and it’s a comfortable environment for family dinners. Home is a place to study, and, especially on the heels of the pandemic, it means a place to do business. A home is the foundation every family needs to thrive.
Q. What is your actual morning routine?
Keeping to a morning routine is something entirely in my control and a deliberate action every day that jumpstarts my discipline and motivation the rest of the day.
I remember listening to Kobe Bryant speak about why he wakes up at 4 am. He wanted to make a point about what it takes to accomplish a big dream. You have to fall in love with doing things that others won’t so that you can accomplish what others can’t.
I wake up between 4:30-5am. I leave my phone on airplane mode until I pray and read the bible. I then have espresso and workout. I listen to a book or podcast during my workout. I write down on a piece of paper my top goals for the day, which align with my top goals for the week, which align with my top goals for the quarter, and so on. I usually start work around 7am.
Q. Best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is that one thing you can control is effort. What I love about this is that it’s 100% your choice. You can decide every day how much effort you put into chasing your dream. You can choose to put in about as much effort as everyone else (an equation to stay more in the average), or you can put in more effort than others. Some might call you obsessed, too determined, not normal — and they’re right because you’ve chosen to invest in a dream. When you do this daily, over time, your return on that effort compounds in extraordinary ways.
Q. What’s next for you and New Story?
New Story is laser-focused on housing 1M people in LATAM for less than $1k per person housed. That is our big hairy audacious goal, and we need to hit huge numbers to make it happen. But we’re thinking big, we’ve broken it down, and we know that it’s possible. All that’s left is to execute. And that means execution every step of the way, every single day, to reach our goal.
Thank you so much, Brett. I know I’ve been inspired by the passion and purpose behind New Story, and I’m honored to be part of the New Story community and fundraising effort. I have committed to donating a portion of my program and book sales to helping the organization to provide houses to people in need of safe and permanent shelter. You can join along and help me reach my first fundraising goal right here.
Today is the 9th anniversary of my father’s death. I inherited a lot of my favorite parts of myself from him – my love of travel and adventure, my humor, my drive and hunger for personal and professional growth. Another trait I link directly to my dad is my awareness of, and gratitude for, the luck of being born into the life I was, and the privilege it has afforded, and continues to afford, me in this world.
My father was raised in poverty in Brooklyn, served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria, taught math in public schools in economically depressed neighborhoods, became a forensic psychologist and an advocate for mental health services for people in the prison system. For most of his life, and certainly for my entire life, he volunteered his time and donated his resources to help people in need.
I am dedicating my donation efforts to my father to honor his memory, and his legacy of activism and generosity. Click Here to donate directly to my campaign with New Story.
P.S. I will be donating 100% of all of today’s program sales to New Story Charity. If you’ve been thinking about trying one of the online programs – today’s the day! Click here to sign up and have every penny of your registration fee go towards building a home for a family in need.
Image Credits: New Story