The first time I heard about sustainability in business was during a lecture at business school in 2002 – and it was not what I expected to hear.
The professor told us: “Environmentally responsible companies are just well-run companies. They use their resources wisely. They discourage wastefulness and consider their impact beyond their boundaries.”
I was blown away by how obvious this was.
So why aren’t more businesses operating in this way?
I wanted to find out for myself. So in 2019, I co-founded my own responsible business xigxag – audiobooks, but better – with no subscriptions and lower prices the more you listen. Our xigxag x-books combine the magic of human narration with brilliant illustrations and the ability to refer to the text so that users can understand and appreciate the book in the way the author intended.
It was the solution we wanted to see in the market: an engaging user experience, better pricing, and a more human approach to business – with sustainability built in.
Our audiobooks only have 0.21% of the carbon footprint of a paperback – we don’t use any trees in our production or send anything to landfill. Now, we’re the first audiobook platform in the world to become B Corp Certified, joining a global community that uses business as a force for good.
What did it take to get here?
I’ll start with the inevitable bumps in the road.
When we first took our product to market, we only tried to solve the problem ourselves. We hadn’t considered the needs of visually impaired people or those who struggle with traditional reading – and we received helpful criticism from those communities because we weren’t serving them well enough.
It seems obvious with the information we have now.
So, we listened. Then we incorporated accessibility into every step, broadening our audience and gaining resilience as a result.
How did we do this?
In short, we had a small, high-performing team to get the job done. Because of our size, we have so much flexibility to do things differently, better, and faster on almost every dimension.
Communication lines are shorter, people are more comfortable and excited about working on tasks beyond their job description.
To create a high-performing team, first you need to hire the right people
Seeking out people with different backgrounds helped us to represent a broader range of customers and make more thoughtful decisions. Our ideas are so much richer for having diverse perspectives.
When you have your diverse team, create an environment that serves their needs
Allow people to fit their contribution around their life. We’re a fully remote business, and key members of our leadership team don’t work a regular 9am-5pm.
Big companies tend to focus too much on inputs (like working hours or the number of meetings). Instead, try focusing on the outputs (the business goals you’re trying to achieve) and how you want your team to contribute to that success.
They will be far more engaged, much less likely to suffer burnout, and spend every minute of their working time focused on the goal.
And another thing – stay close to your customer
My co-founder and I still answer customer support emails. Why? Because it helps us understand what matters most to our customers, their biggest pain points, and respond with a humanity that our big tech rivals can’t match.
Plus, customers really appreciate the ability to communicate directly with another human being. We can show empathy, understanding and take responsibility when something goes wrong, unlike the automated response robots – so common in customer service today – that never quite solve the customer’s problem.
When we started out, ‘better’ described the customer experience. But now, it signals our sustainable, responsible and human approach to business, which gives us the confidence to take on our global competitors – and win.