Cameron Houser, Given Goods, Woman Entrepreneur
I can't remember if I was introduced to Cameron from my friend Brad Feld or Cameron reached out to me and Brad gave her the thumbs up. Regardless I like what Cameron has built and continues to build, Given Goods. Given Goods is a marketplace to buy products that give back a percentage to non-profit organizations around the globe. Giving back is one of the best American mantras. I see it in the education system when something happens the students are the first ones to create a bake sale or something to raise money for a cause. I see it at Catch-a-Fire a skills based marketplace that marries volunteers with non-profit organizations that have specific needs (jobs) posted. It is especially important to the 20+ generation and will continue to be an important part of their lives. Good for everyone.
Carmen grew up outside of Boston in Essex, MA. Her father is a commercial real estate lawyer and her mom is an artist, an art teacher and a jack of all trades. Cameron grew up playing lacrosse and that sport made an impact throughout her life. She worked every summer. Entrepreneurial from the beginning she started a boat washing business on the Essex river. The boats would pull in from that super muddy river and she would wash them down for a cost. She also started a lobster pot business with her girlfriend. They put out 100 pots into the water near Glouster. They'd go and check the pots a few times a week and go get their lobsters and sell them. Pretty bold taking a bit of that marketshare from that local lobstermen. She finished up high school at Deerfield where her Mom taught. Strange at first having her Mom there but she wanted to be on a ski team and that was the place to go.
Cameron graduated high school and went off to Dartmouth to not only go to school but play Division One Lacrosse. She ended up getting hurt her first year and that changed everything. She began to do different things her sophomore year because of her injury. She got involved with volunteering. Sports is so consuming so this was a new angle. She was never able to return to the level of play that she was at so she returned to lacrosse through coaching. She also began a club team which was much more social. Cameron studied Geography and Government theory at Dartmouth.
After graduation she moved to Boston. Her junior summer she had worked for Parthenon and was hired there for the following year. She was an associate for a year and then realized this was not for her. She was just not ready to be told what her next decade was going to look like. She felt suffocated.
Carmeron picked up her life, got into a car and drove to Colorado. She figured she would get a job in the corporate world of the ski industry and merge two things that she loved; business and skiing. She landed at Steamboat Springs as the National Sales Manager. It was an incredible job. She learned a lot about how the ski industry worked. She also learned it was not a place to be innovative. After two seasons she moved to Boulder to work as a consultant. The firm she worked at specialized in strategy work leading to product and innovation development. Very quantitative. The other half of that firm was an ad agency where she was able to crunch data, talk to the consumer and then take a product to market. She stayed for 18 months.
Cameron liked the brands she was working with and the impact that many of them were making around the globe. She conducted a focus group with women and the products that they buy. She was having a hard time getting emotionally excited about salty snacks. What she did realize was that she gravitated towards brands that were making an impact in the world. She wondered why nobody had built a company that could aggregate these brands under one roof to make a big impact for the greater good.
Cameron began to do research but could not find what she was looking for. Given Goods was born. She had zero ecommerce or retail experience but she had always figured it out. She began the business with her boyfriend (now x-boyfriend and much better for both of them). She is more of a visionary and he is the nuts and bolts operator.
They began by bootstrapping the organization begging vendors to jump on board and drop ship the products for them. They did not buy any products until they partnered with Quirky last season. They are working on acquiring discerning customers who want to buy interesting products. They have stumbled on many who have the same values as they do. The site is heavily curated (aka a lot of great stuff!). They have decided to move to SF to raise money and move the business onward and upward.
Cameron is impressive. She cares passionately about what she built. There is no doubt we will see much more of this in our future. Giving back while making purchases works for all of us.