Meet Nathan

Behind the big idea of social enterprise Goodjoe—a community-based T-shirt company with a passion for doing good—Nathan Pham, GoodJoeis co-founder Nathan Pham.

Nathan’s path to social entrepreneurship started  in tech and marketing. He graduated from UC Davis in 2003 with a degree in computer science before going on to work as a sales engineer at a few different hi-tech firms.
For him, the idea for a social enterprise sparked when he came across a Life is Good store in Chicago in 2007. He began researching the tshirt industry and crowdsourcing and reconnected with college friend Jourdan Yeh.

Meet GoodJoe, a Social Enterprise for Crowdsourcing Design

Together they worked on the concept of creating a platform to sell t-shirts with social impact messaging by crowdsourcing design from professional and amateur designers. In their business model, they built-in avenues to support non-profits looking to use Goodjoe by providing the service free of charge and promoting the non-profit ‘stores’ on the website and through design contests.The concept gained momentum and Goodjoe officially launched at the end of 2008.
Goodjoe now carries thousands of products featuring the work of numerous designers, has hosted over 60 themed design contests, and has raised over $100,000 for artists and non-profits.

Read the Interview

Interview with Natham Pham, Co-Founder of Goodjoe.com

Innov8Social had a chance to catch up with Nathan to learn more about GoodJoe and his path to social entrepreneurship.

Q1 | Innov8Social:  What inspired you to start Goodjoe? Did you feel like something was missing in the online shopping experience—or did you have an innovative take on it?

A1 | Nathan Pham, Founder of GoodJoe:  It all started when I was on a business trip to the East Coast in 2007. I was caught in a snow storm and got stuck at the Chicago O’Hare airport for the night. When I was there bored and curious, I wandered around and saw a Life is Good store. I was instantly attracted by their smiley face logo. Then I went on to learn more about them. Then became inspired and obsessed and wanted to start a similar business.

After tons of research, in addition to me not knowing how to design, I applied my understanding of the crowdsourcing concept to launch goodjoe, in Dec’08, as a community-based company. By hosting contests, goodjoe utilizes the talent of the graphic designers community to help nonprofits spread their message and engage with their users.One key differentiation of goodjoe and a couple crowdsourcing t-shirt sites out there is that we zoom in and focus on working with nonprofits and using their causes as design themes. We believe that there is a huge need in helping nonprofits expose their cause, solicit and engage supporters, and to us t-shirt design competition is the solution.

As far as online shopping experience, in addition to offering cool and unique graphic t-shirts and products, we thrive to be transparent with the way we do business and how goodjoe operates. That way each person that interacts with goodjoe can see their impact either through a purchase, a vote for a design, or simply sharing a nonprofit that they’ve learned about on goodjoe to their peers.
Q2 | Innov8Social:   What is the mission of Goodjoe? What are your greatest hopes for it in the next 5 years?
A2 | Nathan:  The Goodjoe Mission: We strive to empower and creatively inspire individuals to contribute to our local and global communities.
To elaborate…our hope is that the goodjoe t-shirts and products become a conversation starter in local communities. Every design is intended to create conversation about its origin, the artist that created it and what is the inpsiration behind it. When this happens, the message of the nonprofit and the cause travel far and wide offline, to wherever their supporters might be.Our goal in the next 5 years is to be the online marketplace of choice for socially and environmentally aware customers. For every product purchased, they will be able to connect with the designers and the nonprofit, which are supposedly aligned with their interest and values.
Q3 | Innov8Social:  How did your team decide to monetize your social venture?
A3 | Nathan:  From day 1, when we brainstormed the idea and concept, we made sure the business model can generate revenue, and not depending on things such as ads. Our philoshophy has always been to create cool products that end customers would want to buy and support us, the artists and the causes. That way, we don’t have to do things that require us to charge the nonprofits for using our platform. The end goal is that when a customer buys something, everyone benefits.
Q4 | Innov8Social:   What were some of the unexpected challenges you faced in launching and growing GJ? What did you learn?
A4 | Nathan:  Oh man, where do I begin? ;O) Before and in the early days of launching, the biggest challenge was to understand the ins and outs of the t-shirs production and the industry. Prior to launching goodjoe, we never had any experience with the industry. So we had to everything from scratch. Up until now, the constant challenge is the catch-22 that all the internet social startups must solve. For us, the catch-22 problem is attracting quality graphic designers so that the nonprofits can be interested in signing up and working with us. And with the designers, we need to show that they will receive exposure and monetary benefits from nonprofits promoting the contests and designs, which indirectly promoting them.

Up to date, we have been learning a lot from working with nonprofits. We’ve learned that the needs and wants of each nonprofit are very dynamic. So it has been difficult to pinpoint a formula that capture the consistent needs so that we can do the next build to service more nonprofits. We are almost there though. Also, we’ve found out that nonprofits are quite behind with adapting new technology and new ways of doing things. Most of them are barely catching on with the whole social media. And so when we explain the goodjoe model, most of them do get overwhelmed. Base on these experiences, we have been able to figure out how to better articulate our model so that nonprofits can see the benefits.

Q5 | Innov8Social:   What are 3 tips you have for social entrepreneurs starting out in the online space?

A6 | Nathan:   (1) Find a sector that you are very passionate about making a difference in; (2) Do extensive research to validate that there is a business opportunity there; (3) Find a couple people that share the same values and passion to take on the challenge. And don’t give up until you’ve tried every angle you can possibly think of.

You can read more interviews with social entrepreneurs on Innov8Social as part of our ongoing efforts to profile individuals active in the field. You can also nominate a social entrepreneur.

Take Action: Submit a Design for Democracy Today

One of the ways Goodjoe engages with t-shirt designers across the country is through hosting various contests calling for design. Designers can submit a shirt design idea to a weekly or daily contest or to one of the themed contests.In honor of inauguration day, Goodjoe and GlobalGiving are launching design contest today.

The call is to “create a design that evokes the power and importance of programs around the world that ensure that all people can participate. Design for democracy.”

You have from today until February 8th to submit a design and vote on designs you love.

A Logo to Fit

A post about Goodjoe would be remiss without mention of its own logo design. It is a creative doodle that incorporates the letters G and J for Goodjoe in a fun, quirky ensemble evoking sense of wisdom and gentle happiness—not unlike the calm, kind, and passionate presence Nathan himself evokes.
It is unique, clever, and is a great fit for the goodjoe concept.

What should we write about next?

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