Change Maker - Dylan Husted

October 25, 2017

Change Maker - Dylan Husted

We're changing gears a bit here but we wanted to share with everyone an interview we conducted with Dylan Husted.  Dylan is a friend and colleague of ours who is working on an awe-inspiring and truly transformational start-up called Save Ohno.  Dylan is a dynamic talent and we're always in touch bouncing ideas off of each other and collaborating in any way possible, so it seemed only natural to share a bit about his incredible mission. 

We'll let Dylan do most of the explaining, but essentially Save Ohno's mission is to make it easy and fun to help drive positive change in the world around us and for generations to come.  In this wide ranging piece, Dylan shares a bit about Save Ohno, while also giving tips for aspiring entrepeneurs and change makers everywhere. We're really proud to be able to share this piece with you and hope that you will join Dylan and Save Ohno or set out to create something of your own!    

So, we gave a really brief intro but we thought it would be awesome to start by having you explain what Save Ohno is and the model you work with - I've personally seen you pitch this so I'm excited for you to share with everyone! 

SaveOhno is an online platform for anyone to take action on environmental issues in a fun and engaging way. Ohno is a character that represents your future grandchild, and they need you to make issues like climate change a part of your life today so their world can continue to thrive tomorrow.

On SaveOhno, you can sign petitions, volunteer for impactful nonprofits, and revolutionize your own life to be more sustainable. All of these actions are taken in groups, and each one earns you Ohno Points to keep track of your impact and earn prizes from environmental brands, if you're in a live competition.

Right now we strategically focus on running these competitions on college campuses, where we can plug into Greek organizations, student clubs, and sports teams to reach a wide, diverse audience. We've run programs at Babson College, Wellesley College, Harvard Extension School, Middlebury College, Bucknell University, and Brandeis University. We're also gearing up for a pilot at NC State University this November. To date, we've reached thousands of users who have generated over fifteen thousand actions from hundreds of thousands of page-views on our platform. 

That gives us a great place to start - it's really such an incredible idea and mission! What was the inspiration behind starting Save Ohno? Where did the idea come from?

The idea actually came to me in a class at Babson in my freshman year. It was focused on climate change, and it was a really brutal, depressing three hours each week. But that's it - just three hours each week. So we'd all come in, learn about nearly irrefutable science with major global consequences and minor global action, and then walk away and readjust to just being a college student. It was surreal leaving every class, but incredibly concerning. I felt like there was so much information and potential danger that inaction was a solid defense mechanism as a reaction to it. Brushing the issue aside and moving on with life actually felt comfortable, and that struck me as a huge problem.

When I learned more about gamification, I realized it had the potential to reshape how the issue is presented, and therefore could spur a monumental increase in personal action. It could put people in a context where they're not alone and depressed about an issue that's largely far in the future and someone else's problem, but their fault. It could put them in a group they're already in (student orgs), and bring the issue closer to them with a character like Ohno, and then offer immediate digital rewards for action.

Instead of drowning individuals in information, we could give them just enough to spur them into group action. This is how habits are formed, and that struck me as the most important thing we can do outside of global policy: shift attitudes and behaviors from the ground up.

Those are some incredible insights and its awesome to see the change that you've already been able to make! We know that our time at Babson was incredibly important to our business as well and definitely gave us the tools to create a company. What is one lesson that you took away from studying entrepreneurship that you wouldn’t have known/understood otherwise?

Babson really taught me how to promote myself. I've always been the type of guy that speaks with action, and as an entrepreneur I felt that if my business was crushing it then the numbers would speak for themselves. That's really not the case. Without networking, and honestly just outright bragging, SaveOhno would have missed a lot of opportunities that were big for us like MassChallenge, Hello Tomorrow, Babson's Social Venture Program, news articles, TV interviews, as well as relationships formed with high profile entrepreneurs and investors.

Entrepreneurship in general has really taught me how much control you can take over your life, and how far a random idea can go if you care enough about it.

Gamification is at the core of what Save Ohno does.  Why do you think gamification is so important in this day in age and what does it say about the changing role of technology in the modern world?

It's still underutilized as a strategy, but it really has huge potential. With the rise of mobile apps, gaming became a common, widespread activity. Most people are shocked, and disbelieving, when they hear the numbers. For example, there are actually more middle aged female gamers than male teens. It's not about mountain dew and doritos anymore - everyone plays video games in one way or another. Most people also don't realize how how many gamiified platforms they already use. Fantasy Football is a gamified platform. Facebook, reddit, and twitter are all gamified to some extent. 

Gamification is important because what it really boils down to is engagement. The art (and through that, the power) of capturing the attention and action of millions of people. In our current digital society, the question is where will that power ultimately lie? Social activism? Cat gifs? Trump? 

Another big key to gamification is the collaborative aspect - engaging with others to drive innovation. How do you think collaboration can be utilized to drive positive change? How does Save Ohno promote collaboration?

On a statistical level, widespread, coordinated action can create tangible reductions in carbon emissions.

On a less statistical level, but I'd argue even more important, coordinated action from the ground up lands certain values on a generation's identity and zeitgeist. You can see this looking back through time at WWII and its cultural impacts on its generation, and then the war in Vietnam and its impacts on that generation. Two very different groups with opposing viewpoints and values, and those differences can be traced back to action on the ground at home. The bootstraps of 1940s young adults versus the sign posts of 1960s college students.

Making climate change part of the identity and pride of Gen Y and Z strikes me as one of the most powerful and important ways to drive positive change for the future. The climate issue boils down to human actions, and gamification is a proven way to motivate those actions. Through the coordinated efforts people take in the game, we can actually reshape cultural identity to incorporate sustainability. That is, if we have hundreds of millions of people playing the game...

Ohno is definitely on the cutting edge of social activism at the moment - how do you see the future of socially conscious activism? What role do you want Save Ohno to play?

I feel very good about the future of activism. I think we have reached a breaking point in America where citizens feel they can no longer just come out to vote every 2 or 4 years, and then let the people in office steer the ship. In addition, the upcoming generations have never before been more apt to take control. Record high levels of higher education, coupled with the connective power of the internet and its experienced Gen Y and Z users, who also happen to care a lot about social issues, more so than their parents did at their age. There's a lot of room for positivity when you look at that combination.

SaveOhno has a very specific role. I did not create it to be the technology platform for people who are already active and green, although that could have been a smart business move. I created it to engage the hundreds of millions who care and want to be active, but are not right now for any number of reasons: busy, shy, never really been asked, not part of their identity, intimidated by a lack of subject knowledge, frozen in fear, and more. 

Building off of some of those points, do you think change comes top down or bottom up? How do you think we can get more people involved in social activism?

It can definitely come from both. However, I do believe that any major change that comes from the top down in modern, first world society, only came about because there was an existing propensity (or at least willingness) for it from the bottom up. Minor changes largely come from the top down, and are ignored because they are minor and 'the bottom' can only focus on and care about so much.

The only way to get more people involved in activism is by making it a positive, rewarding experience. The person or group preaching down to inactive potential supporters can only gain them if they're coming from a place of patience, friendliness, and encouragement. Adults do not respond well to being preached at or belittled, and unfortunately that's an initial reaction for many people who have educated themselves on important issues more so than the average person.

At VitalFit, we are constantly trying to find ways to educate in a fun and engaging way.  Obviously with Save Ohno, a big part of your mission is educating, how do you do that both in and out of the platform.

Slowly. One of the biggest mistakes I see from groups who try to educate is drowning the audience in one full swoop. We live in the era of over-information, and info needs to be byte sized to filter through the mess. More importantly, think back on any major change you've made in your life and ask yourself how it came about. Did you get blitzed with a ton of info and revolutionize your life over night, or did you slowly pick up points and tips, and then grow a new aspect of your life? I'd bet the house on the ladder. 

We try to start people with a small amount of info for them to chew on for a day or so, and then have them take another step up the staircase to more complicated info, and then another step, and then another... and THEN the full take on climate - covering every problem, every myth, and every true unknown. Don't give people the lay of the land before they have learned how to walk.

All of the little steps are taken on the platform, and then the full presentation is given in person by a reputable speaker. My COO and I are both trained by Al Gore through his Climate Reality Project leadership training, and we also try to bring in climate scientists, behavioral economists, and college professors.

What was the experience like of being in Mass Challenge? Did you find the experience valuable and if so, what did you like most?

It was a dream come true for me. When I finished my first year at Babson, I felt like an amateur entrepreneur that looked up to the people in MC as far in the future idols of mine. By the end of my junior year, I was that 'far in the future' version of myself. It was surreal, and really gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to promote and market my ideas. MC was not our first accelerator, so a lot of the programs and curriculum were things we had already learned about or done. We gained a lot from the other aspects of the program though: being in a huge community of entrepreneurs, networking with new visitors every day, and of course the free office space. I wouldn't have been able to keep SaveOhno in Boston that summer if it wasn't for that. It also pays dividends to be an MC finalist. It's an immediate attention-grabber and adds credibility to your company in the eyes of investors.

 

What are the next big goals for Save Ohno? Where do you see the business a year from now, five years from now?

We have absolutely proven our model of engaging college students on environmental issues. Now, we need to find the customer that wants to make that happen at colleges all over the nation. We started by pitching directly to colleges as a vendor, and we had some success, but now we are focused on landing corporate sponsors so we can scale faster.

A year from now, I see us having our first major corporate sponsor funding our program at 10-20 colleges. In 5 years, I see us firmly grown past our college roots and one-off competitions, and now a platform used by tens of millions of people regularly.

As two growing startups in the Boston community, we’ve obviously worked to build our networks and utilize all of the entrepreneurial tools possible. What tips do you want to give to aspiring entrepeneurs in Boston? What could you have done better? 

I think it's important to start slow, and cheap. Don't quit your job just yet. Focus in on a problem small enough to tackle on a small budget, but with gigantic financial room to grow in. Something like a subset of a problem in a big industry. Meet that need better than anyone else, and do so without spending a lot of money. If the results of this test were strong, then it makes sense to go full time on it and grow to other areas of the industry, or bigger problems with established competition. 

As a tech entrepreneur I'm speaking primarily for that type of entrepreneurship. While in MC I mistakenly tried to raise capital too early. Because of MC I had all the connections, but my company was not ready because 2016 was a transitional year for tech investors, particularly in Boston. From that year onward, gone are the days of raising millions on ideas without financial proof. Yik Yak could not have raised money today, for example. In the 90s you just needed an idea. In the 2000s you just needed traction on an idea. Now, you need an idea with traction that is already making money with a strong model in a huge market. That is insanely difficult to do if you have 6-10 months of runway before you need a seed round to come through.

My advice for tech entrepreneurs is to start with a small problem you can service part time on a small budget, delight those users/customers, and then bring that technology you've built to other use cases with bigger markets. Raise money as needed for each new problem you service, proportional to the size of the problem's market but always have a consistent vision you're building towards.

I'll leave the non-tech entrepreneurship advice to you Alfred!

We think that is a perfect place to conclude our interview with Dylan Husted of Save Ohno! If you are interested in learning more about Save Ohno, head over to their site saveohno.org or shoot Dylan an email - dylan@saveohno.org. We're excited to see what's in store for Save Ohno and to continue collaborating with Dylan in the future! 


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