A Mission-Driven Culture Drives Growth with Ben Harrison at Jonas Paul Eyewear

There is an extraordinary power when a company has a story behind it that pulls at your heart. Many mission-driven cultures have stories that drive their success. It does take more than just a mission to grow fast. My guest today is Ben Harrison, CEO of Jonas Paul Eyewear. His company was ranked #166 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. We talk about forming a mission-driven culture from the beginning. We look at the benefits of this type of culture. Ben shares his experience with leading a mission-driven culture. I love what I do, and this is a story I love sharing with you.

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Ben Harrison: The Transcript

Target Audience: Ben Harrison is the Founder & CEO of Jonas Paul Eyewear. Jonas Paul Eyewear, an innovative startup focusing on helping children feel beautiful in their glasses and preventing childhood blindness in the developing world.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Ben Harrison
If you’re successful, you should share that success. You know, whether it’s through your like, corporate social responsibility or whether it’s like a direct, more like a one to one like Tom’s kind of originated. I really do feel like it. There’s kind of a shift and I think it’s especially true in like, the bleeding edge GenX’ers, which is me, and then like millennials and Gen Z, I think even more so down the road for employers to find the right employees, I think you have to show that you care about whatever the causes and that cause resonates with employees.

Intro [0:37]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:55]
Leaders always want more employee alignment. They want to have people that are engaged in the work that they’re doing, they want them to be moved together as a team. Now, a lot of people think that mission is something only reserved for those at the philanthropic level. Today, we’re going to talk about one of those companies. But I will tell you that when you actually find a mission that aligns the people, and it aligns you and gives you a vision and gives you something more than just money. You have something special inside your culture. And if you skip this opportunity, you’re missing something big. What we’re going to talk about today is mission-driven companies, and how do you use that? And you know, where do you kind of dig into it? Our guest today is co-founder of Paul Paul Eyewear, and with Ben Harrison. And we’re going to really dive into some of the core elements of why mission matters. And what I like most about this is the story behind it. We all could be telling better stories around our brands. This is so clear that the story is powerful childhood born blind, many surgeries, no, you know, stylish eyewear. And then all of a sudden, Mom and Dad go, what if we created the company? Now it makes total sense to have a mission-based company around something like that. But you can actually learn from today’s interview because you can pull from the power of mission and find it for your team. You don’t have to wait. You don’t have to, you know, write this off as something that you can’t do. Because you’re so far along with your business, you can actually create this alignment. And then if you do, you have a better chance to have the kind of culture you want a competitive advantage culture.

Commercial [2:44]
Thanks for tuning in here to Grow Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run. I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 quarters principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to genehammett.com/worksheet. So you can get the 12 principles, and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episode. When you subscribe to Grow Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this. But you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. Now, here’s the interview with Ben.

Gene Hammett [3:29]
Hey, Ben, how are you?

Ben Harrison [3:30]
Doing well, Gene, thanks for having me.

Gene Hammett [3:33]
I’m excited to have you on the podcast.

Ben Harrison [3:35]
Yes, thank you very much. It’s an honor to be here.

Gene Hammett [3:38]
I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you as a leader, but I haven’t told them much about the Jonas Paul Eyewear. So give us the background story. Because I think is what’s really interesting and it really goes in alignment with what we’re going to talk about today, which is a mission. So go back to what you told me a couple of weeks ago.

Ben Harrison [3:58]
Yes, definitely. And I’ll try to keep those little more concise because it’s a long story. But my wife and I, we were kind of always entrepreneurial through graduate school, had a few different businesses and life was pretty comfortable. And then we waited seven years to have our first child and, you know, normal pregnancy, no expectations of anything out of the norm. And fast forward to the actual birth of our son. You know, I there’s obviously that joyous moment when you hold your son for the first time and I held him over to Laura. And the first thing she said was, does he have pupils?

Ben Harrison [4:35]
And it was definitely not, you know, something you expect to happen or a common question right after your first son is born. And I think at that moment, we kind of brushed it under the rug, you know, childbirth is traumatic, so let’s give them a minute let it you know, everything settle and sure enough, pediatric ophthalmologist came through later and confirmed kind of our worst fears that he had a really Unique condition she hadn’t seen before, but it didn’t look good. And you know, I remember Laura just like screaming in tears like is he blind and the doctor just kind of suck the oxygen from the room when she told us I don’t know, but it doesn’t look promising. And so anyways, that sent us on this kind of medical Odyssey.

Ben Harrison [5:20]
He ended up going through 21 eye surgeries at the University of Michigan was born with a rare condition called Peters anomaly where his corneas were cloudy at birth. And through that process, fortunately, we were able to actually provide him with some potential for sight. So he has low vision now walks with a cane but amazes us every day with what he can accomplish. And early on the doctor at the University of Michigan mentioned that sometimes kids with Peters anomaly did have the potential for sight. And that kind of lit I guess, a little fire in me to find, you know, the perfect pair of glasses because I was confident that we were going to give him sight. You know, eternal optimist, and so started looking at options for kids and felt like they were lacking. They were cartoon driven, or athletic, but there really wasn’t anything on par with adult eyewear. So we always joke like you do you know, you just start your own children’s eyewear company.

Ben Harrison [6:15]
So, yeah, so we did that ended up launching it in December of 2013, the same year that Jonas was born and felt like it was just kind of speaking on mission felt like it was this kind of creative outlet or this purpose that maybe we had that also just helped us process what was happening, kind of in the real world and just the challenges we face because it was, obviously a total one ad in our life. And so that was, yeah, the beginning of Jonah’s follower.

Gene Hammett [6:45]
I think those listening in here could probably feel for you is, you know, yeah, what do you went through was pretty dramatic, but an opportunity came out of it where you wanted to serve Him and you probably saw other kids as you’re going through similar doctors. and whatnot going, Wow, there really is an opportunity here. When you decided to create the first set of glasses, was it a business opportunity? Or was it just something you thought we just need to do for him?

Ben Harrison [7:14]
Yes, that’s a great question. Because I feel like it was more than that kind of speaking to my feeling at the moment. It was, you know, one, you know, I, you called it out perfectly. So many parents just even the feedback we’ve gotten from other parents, like, Why are kids glasses still embarrassing? Like, why is there a stigma when pretty much all adults wear glasses, and a lot of them were on whether they need them or not just as fashion accessories.

Ben Harrison [7:39]
So what is it about the children’s eyewear space that kids are still getting picked on? Like, they should be excited about them, they should have multiple pairs and be excited to pair it with outfits and all of that. So anyway, so one aspect of it was just the confidence factor. You know, we felt like, you know, self-esteem is established at such a young age, and we all remember that Those moments in elementary school, you know, like, I’m almost 40 years old, why do I remember that kid that picked on me in fourth grade. And it’s just because that’s when you’re trying to, like, find your way in the world and your place in the world and who your friends are going to be and all of that.

Ben Harrison [8:14]
So feeling like, if we can increase their confidence and prevent them from getting picked on for glasses because they’re actually excited about them. You know, we feel like that could make long term self-esteem impacts just and who knows what the ripple effect could be of that. And then the other side of it was more just like the literal impact side of it was more just in the childhood blindness prevention. You know, we felt we kind of had a moment early on where we had to kind of, I guess, check ourselves so to speak and say, you know, this is a horrible situation, very challenging situation that we’re going through. But we are very fortunate that we can drive to ours and have, you know, some of the best eye care you know, in the United States for Sure, you know, University of Michigan, and even though and just have the resources to, you know, insurance to cover it and all of these things.

Ben Harrison [9:07]
So we kind of had that moment where we felt almost like just, we’re blessed. And we’re fortunate to have Jonas born, where he was with the parents he was, and all of that and just thinking of others in the developing world, where you’re a parent of a child who’s going blind or is blind, and you literally can’t do anything, and just how challenging that must be as a parent because we all want what’s best for our kids. And just the thought of not having the means to provide sight for our child just felt like a really big burden to carry. And so I think that was a big part of it to the driving force was, you know, obviously, we can impact Jonas and give him great classes. But in the beginning, we always wanted it to be our story is the beginning. And then you know, Susie’s story is the next story and Billy story or whatever, you know, we wanted it to be like, Hey, this is the reason why we exist, but in the end, it’s not just started. story. It’s all these, you know, thousands of stories across the US and then now hundreds of thousands across the world so…

Gene Hammett [10:06]
Well, this is the real advantage of having a mission-driven company. Is that, yes, maybe it was started because of Jonas Paul, that was your son’s name, right?

Ben Harrison [10:18]

Gene Hammett [10:20]
We named the company after that makes total sense. When you think about this, you know, it starts with this one concept and mission-oriented companies, and it gets much bigger. The stories are very individual. Everyone’s got a Suzy story. And, you know, I’ve got a story about something else, not eyeglasses, I had to wear those special shoes.

Ben Harrison [10:42]

Gene Hammett [10:43]
And they made a Nike version in 19, like 82, or whatever it was, when I was we were buying these shoes. My family couldn’t afford the shoes because my dad was like, you’re going to outgrow them and we’re going to spend 100 bucks on a pair of shoes. You know, what, 40 years ago. So when you think about a mission-driven company, I want to step back a little bit like, what are the advantages to really having mission as a core context to how you hire lead and create this opportunity for yourself?

Ben Harrison [11:14]
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And I, I kind of feel like I know our story is very unique, but I feel I really do feel confident that like the culture, just the cultural mindset in general about companies and impact or about business, the combination of business and impact is changing. I think it’s no longer just like a nice to have, or like a feel-good proposition.

Ben Harrison [11:42]
I think that, like in general, consumers, as well as employees almost now have an expectation that the company is going to have some sort of impact or some kind of a sense of responsibility. And if you’re successful, you should share that success. Whether it’s through your like, corporate social responsibility or whether it’s like a direct, more like a one to one like Tom’s kind of originated, I really do feel like it. There’s kind of a shift and I think it’s especially true in like, the bleeding edge Gen Xers, which is me. And then like millennials and Gen Z, I think even more so down the road for employees or for employers to find the right employees, I think you have to show that you care about whatever the cause is and that that cause resonates with employees because I think more and more and as we’ve, in general, our team is younger as a whole. But we found that we’ve really attracted like great people.

Ben Harrison [12:44]
And I think that’s obviously the core of you know, our story of why we exist is compelling and they want to be a part of that movement. But then also obviously the literal like Bice like gifts like program knowing that their work doesn’t make a difference and I can’t tell you how many of our employees have been like, yeah, I’m okay with the pay, you could probably pay me less just because I want to work for a company that makes a difference. And like, it’s not just about the pay. And I know in some situations that maybe it’s just their situation and responsibility of that, or like the I don’t know, just the position they’re in, because obviously pay is a very important part of it. But I do find that we’ve attracted the right people. And there’s, yeah, there’s just like, a different passion about what they’re doing, where it isn’t just always this clock in clock out mindset.

Commercial [13:34]
Now, hold on for a second. Ben just talked about the cultural mindset and the impact that has across the organization. Why is it important to you, a company has a traditional product or service, well, you’ve got to go beyond money. People don’t feel the need to just give you money because you’re trying to make money. But you can actually create this mission-driven culture where people are aligned to something bigger The money and even the customers inside it servicing individuals one by one. When you do that, you have a chance to create more ownership across the company. There are many other elements to it. But this is a really powerful area. When I do research around companies, the companies that do this will have an impact beyond the ones who ignore it. So, so you’ve been warned about the interview with Ben?

Gene Hammett [14:25]
Well, let’s dive into that a little bit. Because I think a lot of people listening in here probably don’t have a mission story that is clear as yours. Right there. It’s not. We’re saving our child from childhood blindness and giving them you know, stylish lenses to be able to be proud of, but there is a chance for you to really concentrate on that mission. I just had an interview with a dental SaaS application. And their whole concept wasn’t really about, you know, the dental industry, but it was really just helping people grow. That was the mission. And, and people have 150 employees completely around lined around this concept. When you think about it when you’re hiring these talented people, obviously you have. They’re just they feel like connected to the mission. When you go through the interview process. How are you kind of feeling that out?

Ben Harrison [15:21]
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think to your point, we, since we are so explicit with our mission and what we stand for, and our story behind, a lot of times, obviously, they come in with that kind of already that knowledge base to where it doesn’t take a lot in the interview to get to that point of like the impact site of the company. But I think Yeah, as you said to…

Ben Harrison [15:45]
I think when it comes to impact, it’s very broad. As you said, I think there’s obviously a lot of companies that exist. Yeah, and it literally is more for the employees where it’s more obviously building them up. Making sure that they’re financially stable and all these things and like, obviously the growth mindset of continuing to whether it’s their education or, you know, getting involved in, you know, volunteer stuff, and all of that.

Ben Harrison [16:13]
So anyway, I think the impact is very broad. And it’s not always as like, literally as terrorists tangible maybe as what we have, but, but as you said, I think it. I think there’s just kind of this trickle-down effect, again, from the leadership, whatever your impact is, if you’re passionate about it, and you do a good job of articulating that and communicating it to your employees and to the team. It’s contagious. You know, I think people in general just want to be part of something in something more than just themselves. And I think it all kind of boils back to that.

Gene Hammett [16:50]
Let me ask you to bet on that. Are you doing anything specifically around philanthropic aspects, giving back you know, I research is a part of this.

Ben Harrison [17:02]
Yeah, so we have a by sight gift a program. So for every frame we sell, we make donations to our partner. It’s CBM International. And they our passion is in childhood blindness prevention. So we specifically earmark our, our donations towards that and that looks, it looks different in whatever country you’re working in, whatever the need is, but we do things from vitamin A supplementation to make design treatments to like river blindness prevention to I mean, General, pans sanitation, hygiene, water, as well as like trachoma prevention. So there’s a lot of different aspects, but we kind of focus on there’s things called neglected tropical diseases that cause blindness. And there are things that we don’t even deal with in the developed world where it’s a major issue in the developing world where there’s a lot of blindness that’s preventable by pretty simple means.

Gene Hammett [18:01]
Well, I want to go a step further from a leadership perspective, are you doing anything unique inside of your culture to make sure people are aligned to the mission or stay aligned? As you know, you’re growing a company? If you got, what, 15 employees, it’s sometimes it gets hard. How are you keeping them on that mission?

Ben Harrison [18:20]
Yes, great question. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily unique, per se, as we’re still learning on how to, you know, try to keep people engaged with that. But I think a lot of it goes back to I mean, things that you’ve even shared on your podcast about leadership, in general, is just like that consistent, deliberate communication, and just continuing to share the vision and the mission and what you’re doing. And also, I mean, I think another aspect that may be potential could be a little more unique would be I think, numbers as they get bigger and bigger, start to lose like that personal account. And you know where it’s like, now we’ve impacted 220,000 children and families, but it just feels like a big number.

Ben Harrison [19:06]
So I think what I try to do intentionally with the are giving back is to be engaged with our nonprofit partner in what are the specific areas that we’re working in? Or what are the like, you know, q3 q4, last year, we focused on trachoma prevention. So as a more specific area that we were trying to impact. And I think being able to articulate it down to more like individual or regional stories, I think also just helps, you know, give language around what you’re doing and give the employees a way to share with their friends like, Oh, it’s cool, you know, the company I worked for, we were able to focus on trachoma prevention in these areas of the country and like, this is what it looks like and here’s what you know, the differences are potential difference in their life looks like that kind of thing.

Ben Harrison [19:54]
So I think, yeah, I think it’s that because I think we get Yeah, again, I think you can get kind of bogged down by numbers, and it feels overwhelming. And like there’s no connection. But I think is meant as much as a personal connection you can make, the better. And I think that’s like our long term goal is to actually and we’re actually getting to that point now where we want to actually open up, you know, or open it up for our employees to actually get involved in the missional aspects. So trying to find ways that we can actually serve alongside our nonprofit partner because I think that’s really the best way to obviously to, you know, have to make that fire around the mission spread and the office is to actually, you know, be able to participate it and firsthand see the people here.

Commercial [20:40]
Now, hold on for a second, consistent communication. What that means as a leader is that you are consistently taking a message so that people do not just hear it, but they’re receiving it, they’re acting upon it, their behaviors are shifting, because you’re doing it in a consistent way. A lot of leaders expect Expect it when they set it once that everyone’s gotten it. But here’s the reality, we’ve got to keep saying the key messages we got to keep, you know, creating that alignment across them, they’ve got to receive the messages in a way that you know that they’re getting it, and so that they’re moving forward together as a team. consistent communication is your job as a leader. And if you’re missing out on some communication elements, you have to really look back at the mirror and say, Are you being consistent enough? Is the message clear? If you have those things, you have a very good chance to shift the organization and get them to go at the speed you want. And you really have a chance to really create the growth that you want inside the organization and outside the back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [21:45]
I like that progression of this you know, having a charity is great giving money impacting families, but actually creating space for employees to be a part of it will probably only increase your loyalty across the board. Yeah, you, you have a chance to talk to a CEO or founder that’s like, I wish I had something like this a great story to tell where we’re impacting and maybe even give him back. What would you tell that founder about, you know, really developing a mission that people can align around? And really market the company position, the company around that mission? And I think about this for companies that are like, you know, we’re a technology company, and we provide this level of service. So we may not be doing something, you know, eyeglasses for childhood blindness. What would you say to that founder?

Ben Harrison [22:37]
I mean, I think in general, people have all sorts of different passions and things that they’re passionate about out. So I think it’s almost kind of that like, soul research, so to speak, of saying like, Hey, what are things that you’re passionate about and maybe even like putting it out there for your employees as well, like, Hey, what are things that we’re, if we were to start, you know, having an impact focus to our company, like what would be areas that you would, you know, be passionate about? or thinking about, like the skill sets of your employees or your skill sets as well in ways that they could potentially add value?

Ben Harrison [23:13]
You know, in the technology side, in particular, I mean, you think about, like, the wealth of knowledge they have and are their ways for them to get involved with nonprofits, even on a small scale and, you know, share some of that brainpower at an affordable cost or what, uh, you know, what I mean, to like, help with the sustainability of other things they’re passionate about, or it’s even just down to, what are things you can do for your employees to like, help them out and make them feel valued, you know because that has obviously a ripple effect as well, you know, and their families and all of that.

Ben Harrison [23:44]
So just trying to, I think there’s a lot of different directions you can take, I don’t think it always has to be external facing, like the impact side of it. I know a lot of great companies. You know, there’s one like Gordon food service here in town, or there’s like the chick fil a is and those companies where it’s like, you know, you don’t always know where they’re giving, because there’s a lot of anonymous stuff, but you like to talk to employees, and they care about their employees, and there’s profit sharing. And there are all these things. And I’m sure there are just these countless stories of like the impact is internal with their own employees, but who knows, like how they’ve impacted people just by being so generous and focused on like developing their people and taking care of them as well.

Gene Hammett [24:27]
One thing I would add here makes me think of, I’ve had Dee Ann Turner, who is retired now from chick fil a, but she is head of corporate responsibility. And so she was looking at all the places that they’re giving. And I know they get a lot of flack from some of their giving, but the idea behind it is yes, employees are more engaged when they know that what they’re doing, even if it’s selling chicken sandwiches, is adding something to this world, and especially those younger audiences that which you talked about that.

Gene Hammett [25:00]
he millennials and the Gen Z’s really do feel connected to companies that are rising levels of service across the country across the world. So Ben, thank you for being here and telling us the story of Jonas Paul Eyewear. really powerful to see you guys get through all I’m sure it wasn’t easy to be able to create this company. You’re smiling as I know that’s never easy. But really, we just want to congratulate you for you know, sticking through it, making this happened making this something that is making an impact, and for hiring all of the people that are doing this, I expect that you’ll see a lot more of Jonas Paul Eyewear, just because of the mission.

Ben Harrison [25:49]
Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much. It was an honor to be here.

Gene Hammett [25:52]
Wow, what a powerful interview. I love this story, because it’s a story that I could tell over and over again, I could tell about the company and that’s what you want. You want a story that is repeatable. You want to be able to have a story about your own company, and for you to tell it for your employees to tell it for your strategic partners to tell that story and see them light up. That is such a really important element to aligning people together to the deeper issues beyond just money and beyond just even the work. You’re getting something done in the world.

Gene Hammett [26:26]
Now, I know not everyone’s going to find their mission-driven company. But if you want to look at some of the other elements of your growth, and what could really align people to take a deeper sense of ownership, make sure you reach out to me, [email protected]. That’s my email. I’d love to help you as a founder or your leadership team. Find those elements of growth that you can take advantage of and move forward with clarity and confidence and courage. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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