A Guide to Building a Business That Matters
Gerald Chertavian is the CEO and Founder of Year Up, a non-profit organization that provides intensive professional education to urban young adults. His organization was recently recognized by Fast Company and The Monitor Group as one of the top 25 organizations in the nation using business excellence to engineer social change. Prior to starting Year Up, Chertavian co-founded Conduit Communications and served as the head of marketing at Transnational Financial Services in London. He has been an active member of the Big Brother mentoring program since 1985, and was awarded New York’s outstanding member in 1989. He was also awarded the 2003 Social Entrepreneurship Award by the Manhattan Institute and the 2005 Freedom House Archie R. Williams, Jr. Technology Award. A graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Business School, Chertavian was born and raised in Lowell, MA.
Question: What challenges did you face in raising funds for your company?
Gerald Chertavian: I had lived for ten years abroad, in London, where my private company was. We sold that and moved back to America. So I left America when I was twenty-five and came back when I was thirty-five. I didn't have a heck of a network when I came back, and so had to, from scratch, find people who believed in the business plan I wrote and believed in the conviction in my voice, to say I will walk you around to meet the right people. So I remember back to when I was just myself and a phone, the people who said, we'll take a chance on this; we'll introduce you to the right people; we'll get you in front of the CEOs -- so those early champions -- I think of people like Craig Underwood, Tim Dibble -- they actually believed in us when there was nothing. And they had no right to believe in us per se. I mean, it was just me. So the challenge was -- you know, it's also an inspiration to me -- yes, it's a challenge to find those people, but it's inspiring to me to think that those people out there exist. Both of those gentlemen worked in the private sector and said, we'll actually give you a hand to try to do this.
So I think establishing a network took a lot of effort early on. Asking people for money is all about how you think about it. You know, I don't -- I think I'm -- I'm providing people with an opportunity to invest in something which works really well. You know, I'm providing people an opportunity to release the trapped energy in their money. I mean, money's only trapped energy, and you can untrap it a lot of different ways. But we're going to give you a way to invest in something that works. And you can see the results; you can see someone get a job, someone do well, someone get a college education. That's a great opportunity. If you are blessed enough to have capital that you can give away, you want to give it to the highest return, where it does the most good. Well, I'm fortunate in that Year Up is a great return on investment that is very demonstrable. So I think raising money can be hard if you think about it the wrong way. I think you have to think about it and what it is: is you're providing people with a beautiful opportunity, and you're brokering their desire to help and their desire to create change, with something that actually creates positive change and is very outcomes-driven and verifiable. So I think that, in terms of raising money, is not so hard.
I'll be honest with you: the only thing that I've found hard in the last ten years -- and I mean this sincerely, because no other part of Year Up I've found difficult in terms of what keeps me up at night. You know, these are little -- you know, how to grow a business is a problem; you manage around it. How to hire people -- well, you work hard and you find great people. They're business problems. If there weren't problems, you wouldn't have managers, right? What's hard for me -- the only thing that's hard for me -- is when one of our students gets hurt, or, God forbid, killed. Those are the only days when I feel like someone really hit me hard in the stomach, is when one of our students is physically or deeply emotionally damaged by the kind of wanton acts of others. So that's the one thing I find hard; nothing else, you know -- if you find those things hard you shouldn't be in business; that's just part of being in business, is you solve problems, and that's just the way it is.
Question: How does working for a non-profit differ from working in the corporate world?
Gerald Chertavian: The way in which we're treated, it's different in some respects in terms of who we're speaking with. So in the for-profit sector we tend to talk to the chief executive officer of an organization. So we'll work really hard to get that thirty minutes with someone like Jamie Dimon or Ken Chenault, someone who's really significant. And what I've found is, many of those leaders have a deep understanding of the social responsibility that they carry being leaders of large organizations. So for us, if we can get to the right individual, I've been very, very impressed with, one, the amount of time they've taken, the care and the thought they've put into thinking about can we pilot something like a Year Up in our companies, and also their willingness to champion it when it's the first time through the organization. So I think they also sense a genuineness in the work we do and a lot of demonstrated success from many of the corporations around America.
Whereas in the private sector, when I was working in technology -- it was the early days of technology -- and so there was a lot of stumbling, learning. There was motivated buying from, I'd say, fear -- where if I don't do this thing called the Internet, that might hurt my company, or by greed -- if I do it I'm going to get rich. But it was very early days when we were first getting into the Internet, and there was a lot more confusion, a lot less clarity. And certainly I don't think we ever had a proven model that we could offer to someone that we now have in Year Up, where it is a proven model. It's worked for thousands of young people, and we know we can look a senior executive in the eye and say, we can provide you with a long-term successful pipeline of talent to help fuel your need for skilled workers, and to know that we've done that for thousands of young people across hundreds of organizations.
Question: Why do you think your company has thrived?
Gerald Chertavian: So Year Up is successful largely because we're able to provide value to a business. And the way in which our model works is, our corporations contribute quite a lot of money to us for the benefit of having access to this talent pool, to develop that talent pool, to find sources of talent out into the future. It's priced in such a way that no one would do it for charitable purposes alone. And that was very conscious. So it's -- I would say 80 to 85 percent of what we do is down to providing businesses with valuable employees for our pipeline of talent, and I think they would pay a premium to do this of probably fifteen to twenty percent more than they may work with a company that wasn't serving this population because it has good value for the community, it has value for the sense of responsibility for the organization itself, and really we've measured the satisfaction level of employees who work with our students, and it's been demonstrably higher. So I think there's an internal motivation that this creates happy employees, it gives opportunity to young people in our community, and ultimately we as business people know that you cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy community.
Recorded on: October 29, 2009
Returning to America after 10 years abroad, the founder of Year Up found himself alone and with nothing but a big idea. Here he explains how he turned this situation into one of the most renowned non-profits around today, sharing his strategies on everything from fund-raising to ensuring employee satisfaction.
Physicists create quantum entanglement, making two distant objects behave as one.
We're in an era of 'megafires'.
A headline that reads 'The Worst Year in History for Wildfires' should be a shocking and dramatic statement. Instead, it's in danger of becoming a cliché, a well-worn phrase, an annual event.
Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.
90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.
What does sports fandom look like in the new normal?
- With the masses huddled at home and glued to our screens, the last several months of frozen competition provided an opportunity for sports franchises to experiment with creative modes of fan engagement, often involving multiple media channels.
- On another level, this is a challenge that wasn't prompted by COVID-19 and won't go away when COVID-19 does.
- Franchise marketers are accelerating their digital transformation processes, finding innovative ways to connect with fans online, with VR, community building and repackaging classic content.
Head back to the stadium – virtually<p>After months of deprivation, fans are panting to see their favorite teams. For the moment, they are so eager to return to live sports that they are ecstatic over any live game broadcast. On July 5, some 5.7 million people tuned in to the Southampton v. Manchester City match, making it the Premier League's most-watched match ever. </p><p>But as time goes by, the shine of live sports will wear off. An empty stadium is disappointing both for viewers at home and for players. The NFL's "virtual draft" event in April drew a larger audience (15.6 million) than Monday Night Football did last weekend (14 million), even though the former was little more than a televised Zoom call while the latter was a marquee matchup between two of the hottest teams in the league, the Chiefs and the Ravens.</p><p>The time has come for the sports industry to find creative ways to harness technology for the next generation of fan engagement. What can we learn about the future based on what worked best during the pandemic?</p>
Breathe new life into regurgitated content<p>Filling up gaps in the programming schedule with reruns of classic games worked well at first, but returns are diminishing. Success requires networks to put more work into their content choices.</p><p>Tommy Stimson, managing director at Qualitative Insights, <a href="https://marumatchbox.com/4-actions-fan-engagement-sports-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">points out</a> that fans aren't very interested in games from the last 10-12 years. Footage from these games is already widely available online, plus "The known outcome and familiarity with the content makes the reruns less-than-satisfying." Instead, Stimson recommends showing iconic, historical sports moments that most of today's fans haven't seen or experienced. </p><p>Fans appreciate reruns far more when the footage is interspersed with new analysis and commentary, either from current players or from the athletes who were playing at the time. One of the darlings of Netflix's pandemic-era programming lineup, Michael Jordan's <em>The Last Dance </em>documentary, which followed the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls on their title run, drew an average of 5.6 million viewers for each of its ten episodes.</p><p>Many teams hosted social media-integrated "watch parties," where former players shared their personal memories and fielded questions from fans while streaming classic games, and fans were delighted with the multi-screen experience, which dovetailed perfectly with game rerun telecasts. <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-sports-with-empty-stadiums-means-millions-of-americans-will-be-engaging-from-home-301094037.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">One poll</a> found that 76 percent of U.S. fans want more watch party-style viewing options moving forward.</p>
Screenshot of New England Patriots re-watch party ad
Credit: Facebook<p>Networks would also do well to tap into the <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/money-sports-success" target="_self">deeper reasons</a> why people follow sports, by sharing narratives about how teams come together as a unit, or times when players overcame adversity. Viewers are eager for behind-the-scenes content that reveals how players stay in shape, how managers set strategies, or the motivating factors behind decisions to trade, draft, and otherwise acquire talent.</p><p>As brands collect more viewer data, they can also deliver more personalized content experiences that engage fans more deeply. </p>
Invite fans to vote for in-game elements<p>Giving fans ways to have a real effect on in-game elements is another winner for the sports industry. Juventus has long been a trail-blazer for digital transformation, so it's no big surprise to see the storied soccer franchise leading the way again.</p><p><span></span>Juventus <a href="https://www.socios.com/new-goal-celebration-song-for-juventus-is-revealed/" target="_blank">invited fans to vote</a> for its new in-stadium goal celebration song using Socios, a token-based voting and rewards platform, to ensure that the results wouldn't be sabotaged by rival fans or manipulated by hackers.</p>
Credit: Twitter<p>Fans overwhelmingly chose Blur's "Song 2," and were rewarded by <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-7868543/Juventus-fans-chose-iconic-Blur-track-goal-anthem-pioneering-blockchain-vote.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hearing the song four times</a> in the first back-to-business game between Juventus and Cagliari. </p> <p>Socios has been doing some interesting work in the digital fan engagement realm beyond the Juventus example. Its parent company, Chiliz, partners with teams to issue blockchain-based, franchise-branded coins. Apollon Limassol FC decided to put on a head-to-head skills challenge between players, with <a href="https://medium.com/chiliz/apollon-fc-apl-fan-token-sells-out-in-6-minutes-generating-100k-f3bc6a98e75d" target="_blank">fans using tokens to vote</a> on the matchups. In esports, itself a social distancing-friendly concept, fans of Spanish team Heretics were able to vote on which players would go head to head in Fortnite death-matches.</p>
Encourage fans to connect together at home<p>Part of the beauty of sports is that it forges relationships. Season ticket holders connect with neighboring seatmates in the stadium; families bond over a shared love for their teams; friends come together to watch the big match and analyze it ceaselessly during and after the game.</p> <p>It's difficult to translate this to a situation where even private socializing is frowned upon, but it's not impossible. </p> <p>To build hype as the NFL season neared, Pepsi <a href="https://www.marketingdive.com/news/pepsi-delivers-tailgate-in-a-box-to-football-fans-hankering-for-game-day/584016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tapped into this demand</a> with a "Tailgate-in-a-box" kit that includes an outdoor projector and a range of Pepsi products. The kit is valued at $5,000 and was delivered to sweepstake winners, so it's unclear how this will translate into the general market, but the opportunity is clear. Pepsi is also experimenting with a "tailgate tour" that brings live music and outdoor games to fans viewing from home. </p> <p>The <a href="https://www.sportbusiness.com/2020/09/nba-leverages-microsoft-partnership-to-revolutionize-virtual-fan-experience/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NBA led the way recently</a> by offering 320 fans the opportunity to "attend" games in the Orlando bubble. At-home viewers logged in through Microsoft Teams, and their streamed likenesses were beamed onto 17-foot video boards set up around the courts. The tech made it look like viewers were sitting next to each other, plus participants could interact with each other and see and hear their reactions in real time. The NBA has other plans to allow fans to chat during games, display a real-time statistical overlay, and introduce gaming elements as well. </p>
Credit: Instagram<p>Technological advances, including <a href="https://bigthink.com/what-would-it-take-to-create-a-fully-immersive-virtual-reality" target="_self">virtual reality</a> (VR) and augmented reality (AR), offer teams new ways to offer virtual fan experiences.</p> <p>Another option that could become very popular is <a href="https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/05/27/virtual-reality-sports-fans-broadcasts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">audio AR</a>. Powerful recording equipment picks up the minutiae of sounds that make up the audio backdrop of in-stadium viewing, and then broadcasts it to at-home viewers. AR allows the noise to grow louder or fainter as viewers "move" closer to or further away from the action. Brands can even add crowd sounds, like gasps at a near miss or the shouts of vendors, to enhance the experience. </p> <p>In Japan, an app called Remote Cheerer allowed fans to capture their real-time reactions to on-field action and actually play triggered sounds in the stadium, instead of the canned crowd noise we've hearing in our MLB, NFL and NHL telecasts. This type of solution keeps fans at home more engaged and makes even the passive TV watching experience more authentic.</p>