By: Gillian Marks
I was steered to Kickstarter.com by an entrepreneurial minded friend. While browsing the site I happened upon an interesting story.
Danny Jacobs, now 30, grew up in southern California, the son of a father who stressed that financial and business success were the true measure of a man. Thus, after graduating from a prestigious university, he launched a series of highly successful projects, making his parents proud and him a wealthy man. Danny hoped his fourth endeavor would be his crowning achievement – a philanthropic venture that had good financial prospects and would give back (a criterion that had grown increasingly important to him). Although the business helped thousands of people worldwide, it wasn’t able to get a third financing round and so became a victim of the global recession.
Danny used to measure his worth by financial gain and material success. Although his world view had changed, all Danny could see was that he had failed to make the business flourish and he was therefore a failure himself. As I listened, I realized that his story had elements of fear, desolation, courage, discovery and dedication. I had intended to interview Danny for only fifteen minutes, but, two hours later, I knew I had a story to report.
Following the demise of his last project, Danny grew ill, suffering from intense migraine headaches. He felt empty. Lost. He lacked a sense of purpose. In his words, he lacked “heart and spirit.” He decided in a cathartic moment to give away almost all of his material posessions and begin a journey that would last almost two years. The journey started with a trip to Spain where he slept in a cave and meditated in an effort to “find peace and understand [his] mind/body pain”. He wanted to focus on ridding himself of his old definitions of success and failure.
After some time in Spain, Danny worked his way through Scotland, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile and Peru. He worked in an orphanage in Guatemala, did farm work in Argentina, and wrote a book beside gallery artists in Chile. Near the end of his travels he realized that he had never felt happier, healthier, and more content. The work he did had become the reward in itself.
After writing in Santiago for a few weeks, Danny decided to take a 48 hour bus ride to Peru. On that somewhat precarious trip, he struck up a conversation with a young woman who, seven months later, became his fiancée. Sitting with that woman, in a little house in Cuzco Peru, Danny realized the simple joy and peace he had found on his journey was something he wanted to offer to the world. He imagined that he could use chocolate to do it. Thus was born “The Placebo Chocolate Project”!
The idea for the project was simple: Make it easier for people to share love, joy, and peace using chocolate. To do that, the project uses only organic ingredients and practice fair trade (the project pays an even higher fair living wage than offered by many other fair-trade organizations). The project also creates artisan engraved chocolate bars that feature the words LOVE, INSPIRE, and JOY. In addition, every time someone gives back to the community, a nutritious meal and some chocolate are given to a child in need. The success of the organization is defined by simple criteria: If it brings love, joy, and inspiration into the world – and does so sustainably, it’s successful. These are the values Danny learned on his journey, and the values he lives by today.
My conversation with Danny left me thinking about my own perceptions of sustainability and success from a bigger world view. I have to agree that the financial success of the enterprise is not the ultimate goal, but rather it is the process of creating something sustainable that affects every one of us. We share these ideas over time and eventually the information becomes ingrained in our culture so that we move away from solely the creation of financial wealth and move instead toward well-being, good health and a strong psyche. These concepts can be woven into any business. They are incorporated into the principles of sustainability often summarized as Environment, Economy and Equality.
Danny Jacobs provides us with a living example of what it means to change one’s social constructs from financial reward alone, and to focus as well on the human element. That may be the key to our own personal success—any way we define it. By the way, as a project backer, I received chocolate as a bonus.
If you want some chocolate with a meaningful story you can pick some up at www.placeboeffect.com!