As part of ASC Action Sports + Culture, Oli Russell-Cowan spoke with Justin Wilkenfeld the CEO and Co-Founder of Kindhumans.
They go in-depth about Wilkenfelds career at GoPro (starting as their 4th employee and later becoming VP of Brand Integrity), his personal mission to create positive social and environmental impact, and the formation of Kindhumans. Their mission is to promote and elevate kindness, conscious consumption and always giving back by building a media company and marketplace focused on sustainable, eco-friendly, and purpose-driven products.
Oli Russell-Cowan: What did you do after GoPro?
Justin Wilkenfeld: I started to work with some non-profits on my own and doing a little bit of consulting and learning about the very large marketing gap that exists in the world of non-profits. And then simultaneously, you know, this kind of dovetailed into Kindhumans in that my wife, Suzi was really focusing a lot of her energy on building our family.
We had some health issues with our oldest daughter, Quinn who had some allergies and food issues. As well as finding out that we had some toxicity in the water supply that was giving her a rash.
So we started to learn about things along those lines. And whether it was a house filter for your water supply, or learning about organic foods vs processed foods and just starting to be more aware of what we’re putting in and on our bodies, like sunscreens etc. Soon she started to become a resource for her friends and family. I’m seeing it from the outside kind of looking in, I’m like, man, you’ve got to start putting a website together or a blog or something, because she would keep having to go back and answer questions.
I’m like you just need to be able to send something to your friends, so you’re not having to redo this every time.
As a new parent, you are motivated to try to figure out how to keep your children alive. It’s pretty important. She started to do the research on her own. She started to find some resources, that provided a lot of great content, like Environmental Working Group, EWG, for example who rate the toxicity in a ton of products out there, I mean, hundreds of 1000s of products even. They’re non-profit, and they do a good job of peeking your curiosity, if you will, to start to understand more about the products that you’re consuming.
For me I just started to see that the industry was up and coming. There are a lot of great organizations coming out. But they’re small. They have to battle with these big brands, these big companies, and just the landscape of marketing these days is a challenge. So for me as a sales and marketing oriented person, I started to see opportunities to fill that gap and fill that void.
Kindhumans was born out of my desire to do some philanthropic work, combined with my wife’s research into products and our mutual desire to elevate and amplify that and just participate in it.
I mean, we don’t plan to be the one and only source for these things by any means. But we certainly feel like we’ve got an opportunity to help amplify and hopefully accelerate what we see as a growing movement of kind humans that are trying to make the difference and trying to improve the solutions that are being offered to consumers.
Russell-Cowan: What was the initial business idea around Kindhumans? Was it meant to be a marketplace and community and has that goal changed?
Wilkenfeld: Yeah, it’s evolved a bit. I’d say the business idea, the original website name that I had in mind was lesstoxiclife.com. And it was very straightforward, I believe in deliberate marketing, to a large extent, but I was also trying to come up with an LLC name, as I was trying to create my own consulting business for nonprofits and things like that.
Ironically Suzi said something one day after meeting with some new neighbors when we moved back from Northern California to San Diego. There was a big conversation around schools for our kids and where we should put our kids and there were several opinions. While it’s important, we’re also talking about four and six year olds. For me, it’s like okay, well, it’s clean, safe, healthy environment. I’m not super worried about the Scholastic merits of preschool. And so Suzi came back and we’re talking about it. She’s like,
I don’t really care if our kids are the smartest, fastest, that they win everything. I just hope they’re kind humans.
And that sparked in my head. I was like Kind Humans has a nice ring to it. I looked it up and Kindhumans.com and.org are both available. And while I didn’t know exactly how this was going to start to play out, I felt It was prudent to swoop up those websites. That’s really how it started with the brand. And I’m a brand guy, I mean, GoPro was so much about building a brand. I mean, we had great products and the camera companies still producing amazing products.
What stood out was we built a brand
People were excited to promote the brand and put their stickers in the shop or rock the shirts or the hats and things like that. So that’s where my brain kind of gravitates towards. It’s kind of a nice yin and yang with Suzi, because she’s all about the product. And really has spent a tremendous amount of time researching it.
I think the business was about lesstoxiclife.com, and really trying to reinforce the solutions that brands were coming up with, that were less toxic for your body and health, also thinking about the health of the environment around us. And so the marketplace idea really came to fruition because I saw the gap.
There’s this report that our water supply was bad. There’s a couple ways you can approach it, you could definitely fight policy. And I’m so glad people are fighting policy and trying to clean up water supplies and things like that. But that’s political and a major uphill climb. I’m looking at this opportunity. If you sell water filters, there’s a report saying the water is bad. And there’s a customer that could use that product. And so why are more people going door to door trying to sell these things, and really push these solutions that can help you live a healthier life.
That’s how it started to progress. And even when you think about the name Kindhumans, it’s not about us building this brand. So much as the fact that,
There’s a growing movement of people trying to produce products and innovate and provide solutions to their fellow humans
As well as just the non-profit side. So there’s this big community out there that exists. I think it’s underserved in terms of having a share of voice or the attention of the broader population. So that’s really our goal is to help amplify and accelerate what we see as a growing movement.
You see it happening all around us with sustainability conversations and whatnot. But you know, with the background of GoPro, I feel like the people that we have on our team and around us, there’s a big opportunity to help pull these themes into more of a mainstream culture. By amplifying that and doing it the way we know best, which is working with influential people that have amazing platforms and talents, and they use them for good.
Russell-Cowan: It’s about raising the awareness right?
Wilkenfeld: Totally, yeah. There’s a lot of noise out there. And it’s very challenging actually to navigate the sea of information for anything these days. I mean, look at how hard it is to find truth. Not that we have the end all be all answers to everything. But one thing that we have done is really try to focus on curation.
We’ve got a little over 1000 products on our website now. They’ve all been carefully curated. We have a high set of standards and our Kindhumans credo in terms of toxicity, ingredients sourcing, how things are made. We are trying to identify brands that are trying to do things the right way. And it’s not greenwashing, hopefully, you know, and we’re only as good as the research is able to do, but we do spend a lot of thoughtful consideration on all of these different elements. We’re trying to hold a high standard, because we believe that,
It is going to matter for the long term health of humanity.
If we can help set the table and participate in shifting our culture towards really being more mindful of what we put in and on our bodies, the impact on our environment, the impact on communities, and identifying those brands and companies that are really trying to push those agendas forward. That’s the change.
I think that’s what we’re really hoping to initiate and move forward. Like I said earlier, peak people’s curiosity to ask more questions. Then we’re trying to shorten the distance by offering a set of solutions that tackles your basic lifestyle needs, from your home, to your travel, personal stuff that you use each and every day, and being more thoughtful about and not just accepting that these big brands, that the FDA and things like that actually have our back.
I think part of the challenge is that in the world of profit, it’s a challenge for any business to really balance, profit vs impact. I think that we’re trying to set the table the right way. We’re a B Corp, we’re 1% for the planet, we’re Climate Neutral. We are trying to make sure that our culture of our business maintains a level of integrity, that can stand the test of time, and that we don’t succumb to profits over people in the planet.
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