I’ve been on a mission for close to half my life — to figure out how best to steer individuals toward more socially mindful daily life choices. Because really, from the coffee you brew in the morning to the way you get to work, your everyday decisions have an impact — on the environment, on people and on you.

Two years back, when David Sand and I first started musing about PIPs, our just-launched ‘positive impact points’ virtual currency program, we thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to be recognized and rewarded for making better choices — for choosing the most energy-efficient laptop, considering where and how your clothes were made, or investing in a community-scale solar project?

David, a classmate at Princeton, is a socially responsible investor.  I have been part of the conscious consumer movement, going back to the late ‘80s when I co-founded Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet with Meryl Streep – a nonprofit that encouraged consumers to buy safe and sustainable products. Mothers & Others’ Green Guide, acquired in 2007 by National Geographic, was the go-to resource for the busy mom looking for the smartest, healthiest, most socially responsible choices for her family and home.

We all know the power of rewards; who doesn’t love their frequent flyer miles? Companies love them too, as customer spending is 46% higher with companies offering rewards programs. Hundreds of millions of Americans participate in rewards programs, and spending on rewards exceeds $50 billion annually. [1]

But could we leverage the incredible market power of rewards to incentivize ‘positive impact’ behaviors?  The timing seemed right.

There is a very clear ‘spend shift’ happening, with America’s 80 million Millennials leading the way. Eighty-four percent of Millennials (representing $1T in buying power) consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what to buy and where to shop. Overall, fifty-four percent of Americans bought “positive impact” products in 2012. [2]

Also we had considered the very important fact that “soon enough”, with smartphone technology, the most quotidian of behaviors – walking, driving responsibly, etc. – could be digitally measured and meaningfully rewarded.  And with social media, all of this data could be easily shared.

We also enjoyed a degree of “second-mover” advantage, and have learned from previous efforts.  One, to focus first and foremost on the user experience (UX), and two, to avoid the “eco” niche. To that end we would design the PIPs platform for multiple action opportunities that delivered a variety of positive impacts, including but not limited to the environment — such as personal health and fitness, community, and social good.

Feeling somewhat encouraged by the trends, we talked to everyone we knew, and everyone they knew about rewards.  But we also talked to folks about other stuff, like games.  PIPs might one day grow in popularity to become the ‘go to click’ for all positive impact actions, we reasoned, but to really transform our daily behavior, it had to be “super social” and fun.

To build the PIPs engagement platform, we brought on a founding CTO, Yaniv Eyny, who came armed with an irresistible resume: a behavioral expert with a background in neuroscience and some experience running a dopamine research lab. Yaniv knows the real power of a little reward — that shot of dopamine — to cut through the noise of our busy lives and focus us on better choices.

We launched the beta platform — pipsrewards.com — in early April 2014. Yaniv and his partner, Evan Sable, have embedded it with great game features. You can earn badges, unlock mystery rewards, and get more PIPs for referring friends and answering quiz questions. Soon we’ll be introducing contests, so that PIPsters can not only cash in their PIPs (a PIP is worth one cent) for great positive impact products, donate their PIPs to great causes, or “micro-invest” their PIPs in community solar projects, but be rewarded for their actions with chances to win great prizes too — tickets to events and unique experiences.

And as with all our ‘earn’ options, PIPs will feature only redemption options from partnering brands that are making positive improvements in their operations and products.  To provide ‘360 degrees of good,’ has been our vision from the start.

Our First Pivot

By the beginning of 2014, we had built a great platform, with a fun UX, but the perennial question was hard upon us: “will they come?”

Our user growth strategy is multi-pronged, but its foundation has always been based on building a powerful partner network of like-minded companies, big and small, that have the financial and CSR motivation to incentivize select positive impact behaviors among their customers or employees.

This remains the case, but to attract those early partners, we needed to show them that we could indeed create a catalog of really unique, high quality positive impact earn-and-redeem options.

We did so by setting up affiliate merchant programs with partners, which fortunately for us included the likes of Zipcar, Gazelle, Solar City, VineMarket, Quirky, iTunes and others offering products and services delivering the sort of positive impact we sought.

Our “Earn” catalog now contains a couple dozen or so really great options for earning PIPs.  We share the payout we receive with users taking the PIPs worthy action. They receive PIPs, which they can closely track on their tally page – how did they earn them, how did they spend them, what badges they have earned, etc. We will also eventually provide users a tally of their impact.

Pips Earn page courtesy of Wendy Gordon

Pips Earn page courtesy of Wendy Gordon

The “Use” or redemption catalog is also growing. It too contains great products and services but also a neat tool that allows members to pledge your future earned PIPs to a charity or maybe a community scale solar project. You don’t need to have earned any PIPs to make a pledge.

With the affiliate marketplace set up and growing, we are working in earnest to bring on preferred partners that award PIPs directly to their customers taking actions they wish to encourage. The sweet spot we’re finding is among companies that don’t have a dedicated rewards program and appreciate the value proposition of PIPs’ efficient, lower-cost social good rewards solution.

Examples of companies in our preferred partner pipeline include KOR Water, MadeClose, Zady, SparkBox Toys, Dash, Global Goods Partners, ioby, Music Givz and Faherty.

But we are also finding PIPs can appeal to other companies, including those with a highly developed rewards program. A bank for instance may someday award PIPs to customers converting to paperless billing.  And small shops that use payment gateways like Shopify, Intuit, etc., can easily integrate with our platform to award PIPs to shoppers who opt for e-receipts rather than a paper version.  Imagine our reach when thousands of shop owners are awarding PIPs for customers choosing e-receipts.

We also provide premium partners with customized content for white label programs, cause marketing, special events, contests, games, etc.  For example, we’re developing a PIPs-powered cause marketing campaign with KOR Water.

Fun, Social and Mobile

A second big driver of user growth is our app, which we plan to launch later this year that will enable users to geo-locate and earn PIPs offline — in stores, restaurants, or at events. This should lower the friction and up the fun of engaging with PIPs.

Finally, we’re working to brand PIPs as the “Go-to Guide” for consumers to which wanting to better themselves and the world, but faced with data overload and often confusing or conflicting messages, aren’t sure how to make their choices count. PIPs, as Yaniv likes to say, can “clean up the mess in our heads” – or cut through all the noise – by curating our daily life choices and reward us for our positive impact actions.

To this end, PIPs is rolling out a content and social media marketing strategy that involves creating and curating daily content — blogs, storytelling, interviews and “humble bragging” about partners, pioneers, change-makers, brands, causes, etc.  We will also implement sharing initiatives and user-generated content, host regular competitions and contests with prizes to incentivize social, and roll out targeted digital advertising efforts to key communities.

If the timing is right, PIPs is poised to be the ‘Points with Purpose’ program that takes off. The platform is lithe, flexible and easily adapted to enhance both partner and user experiences. The founding team is awesome — seriously good listeners, eager learners and creative implementers, both strategic and tactical. Hopefully, we will know opportunities when they are before us, and pivot when it’s best.

About one thing we can be certain: As a benefit corporation, we are bound and determined to “do good while doing well.” That’s PIP’n good, right?  No, it’s PIP’n awesome.

Wendy Gordon is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of 3P Partners, a benefit corporation based in New York.


[1] McKinsey & Co. Loyalty: Is it really working for you. March 2012.