Connecting with Jesus Salazar on Building a Social Impact Business


What if you could make a living and a positive impact on the world at the same time? Jesus Salazar is building that dream with his company Prosono and reveals how he develops his approach to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through his social impact business.  Episode notes and bio at uncoverthehuman.wearesiamo.com

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

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Transcript

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:00] AC: Welcome to Uncover the Human, where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives. 

[00:00:06] CA: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves. 

[00:00:09] AC: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

[00:00:12] CA: This is Cristina Amigoni. 

[00:00:13] AC: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.

[00:00:15] CA: Let’s dive in. 

[00:00:18] GROUP: Authenticity means freedom. 

Authenticity means going with your gut.

Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you. 

Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself. 

It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.

Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be. 

It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

[INTERVIEW]

[00:00:56] AC: Well, hello, and welcome back to another episode of Uncover the Human. We are here joined today with our guest, Jesus Salazar, who is a staple of the Denver community. He started a social impact company called Prosono, and he's here to talk with us a little bit about the journey getting into that. Welcome to the podcast Jesus.

[00:01:11] JS: Thanks, Alex. Great to be here. 

[00:01:14] AC: So, since you started Prosono, what is it three, four years ago now? 

[00:01:18] JS: We will have our fifth-year anniversary here in June.

[00:01:21] AC: Five years. Well, congratulations. That's a big milestone.

[00:01:24] CA: It is. 

[00:01:25] AC: You want to talk to us a little bit about the journey getting into Prosono and what made you start it?

[00:01:30] JS: Sure. Yeah, I think that at the highest level, about five years ago, I started seeing some really interesting macro trends around social impact. This is before it really hit the mainstream. But started seeing a surge in impact investing, which is sort of this concept that was traditionally in investment markets, but investing in companies that are either environmentally or socially responsible, and focused more on sustainability. And then looking at some larger consumer trends, you started seeing this thing called CEO activism and consumer activism, consumer activism being people voting with their dollars in their purchasing decisions.

I had done a lot of nonprofit volunteer work, leading up to that, previously worked in technology, and IT, a lot of custom software development, and kind of working in a corporate world all my life, but being heavily involved in the nonprofit world, just really realizing that there's this giant chasm between the two. For-profits really struggle to make the difference that they want to, and oftentimes, they're forced to contribute negligible amounts of money relative to, if you look at their overall expense and outsource, their impact to nonprofits, which employees don't really like. They would rather make the difference themselves if they could that works meaningful.

And then on the other side, on the nonprofit side, because you know, a lot of nonprofits, kind of struggling with one being forced to give very prescriptive rigid plans and how they're going to make a difference. When really, if we knew how to make a difference, we would have made it already. That's really driven by how money and grants are given out and then just kind of – some of the struggles they were facing on how to activate volunteerism and skills volunteerism, it's easy to get 100 employees from company X to go plant trees for a day or read to children in classrooms, which is all good. Why aren't these nonprofits using data scientists and engineers in these companies and like skilled resources?

So, it’s really an interesting problem, and those big macro trends kind of convinced me, they say, when you're in a startup company, you need to make sure you're riding a wave and although the wave wasn't there yet, decided it'd be interesting to take what I did all of my career that basically the 20 years previous, around rapid prototyping, iterative product development, kind of spent a lot less time really thinking and more learning by doing and experimenting, and testing until you find something that works and something that people will use. Really kind of taking that ethos into the world of social impact. And then kind of well, all at the same time, trying to pull the world of for-profit and nonprofit together to work in innovative ways.

So, that was the idea of five years ago, the way we started. I said, I'm going to hire a bunch of folks like me that have done really crazy death march on expert companies, on the tech side and understand what it takes to hit these crazy deadlines and things like that. And then I'm going to go hire a bunch of nonprofit and social impact leaders, so people who have actually made really incredible differences in the world, but have also had to have an entrepreneurial mindset and own their own P&L. I'm going to put them in a pressure cooker. Because it really was – we started coming up like oil and water, so you kind of had the for-profit side wondering how we're going to drive a sustainable business, and then the nonprofit folks wondering why we're making all these decisions, which look very Greek versus making a difference.

I'm like, “Well, we have to do both if we're going to survive. So, we've got to figure it out.” So, yeah, fast forward to now, we once started the year in 2019, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, we’re Best for Denver nominee or Best for Colorado nominee where Governor Polis handed out that award to us through the Alliance Center. And then we were last year named one of Colorado's top 50 most civic minded companies, which was really fun. So, it's been a fun ride.

[00:06:01] AC: That's awesome.

[00:06:02] CA: That is awesome.

[00:06:03] AC: Both Cristina and I come from the death march background in the consulting industry, that's actually where I met Jesus, originally. I was working with Jesus in a consulting company. But this really interesting conglomeration of things in a very narrow Venn diagram between that nonprofit side and the for-profit side where you get to like, try and live both sides of the coin. That's a very interesting model.

[00:06:25] JS: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, more on the social impact side, as I said, it's particularly oftentimes foundation when they dole out grants to nonprofits. They want to know, what model are you following, you're taking something has to be proven before and there's not all that many more, it's not enough. They're willing to unshackled nonprofits and let them really take on this entrepreneurial mindset of like, let's just try it out and really just literally chip away at it, which Alex, as you know, in our previous career, that's what we paid to do.

[00:07:04] CA: Yeah.

[00:07:05] AC: And Try it out.

[00:07:06] CA: Keep trying. If it doesn't work, try again.

[00:07:10] JS: Yeah, right. Yeah. It's working really, really well. I think a couple of – I would like to – not unintended consequences, but we were probably smart enough to realize this would actually happen and it did. But what happened is, nonprofits really just embraced that kind of how do you actually do it. It sounds great, right? Everybody says, “Oh, we want to be an agile organization.” But once you kind of start showing them what it looks like, they’re like, “This sucks.” There are all these roles out, but once you kind of see you're actually getting out in the field and testing and doing things that really resonates. But the really cool thing was, that approach makes so much more sense on the corporate side and the for-profit side, though, instill a lot of confidence in trying more things and being more involved, which is really cool to see.

[00:08:02] AC: That's a good idea. I mean, the idea of just spending time. We've all heard of nonprofits, but you rarely hear about a nonprofit that's the size of Google or something, or it has an impact. So, to marry those two is an interesting idea.

[00:08:13] JS: Yeah, there's this huge, huge trend out there around collective impact. You just get really robust partnerships to focus on a single cause and every contributes on what they do. It's kind of like the mega version of multidisciplinary teams, which is the new trend within organizations. So, there's kind of this thing we're like, “Let's get 7 to 10 very different organizations that bring all these different things to the table to go tackle really meaningful things.” So, all of that stuff is that we've all been doing kind of in our consulting careers for – it’s funny, it used to be just pigeon holed into software in tech. But it's kind of leaked out across industries and other verticals. It’s really exciting.

[00:08:55] CA: That is very exciting. It's fascinating to see the change that's happening. I bet the last year or so has made that wave a little bit bigger than it was five years ago.

[00:09:06] JS: Yeah, absolutely. They say when you're going to start a company, make sure you're riding a wave, and not going against it. We definitely felt like the first three years, this is before last year. We were going against it or there at least was no waves or no winds, so we were just kind of floating in the water trying to get some momentum.  

But last year between the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, it really just completely shifted how the world thinks about social impact, and really galvanized people there. You could argue, there are still tons of disagreement in how it should be approached and maybe what we should focus on and there's definitely a huge polarization, but what you can’t argue is that there's not passion towards, towards issues. That definitely last year, I would say, the wave came and picked us up. The good news, I think, sort of looking at the glass is half full, I think the first three and a half years of Prosono, it kind of felt like we were doing some really heavy resistance training, like working so hard to try and figure out, “Okay, this is a really defined market.” Social impact, when we started, there's no such thing as a Chief Impact Officer and things like that. Just barely anything, and you're struggling and struggling. And then last year, it's like, all the weights came off the machine and feel like we got shot out of the cannon. So, funny year. 

[00:10:42] AC: It's interesting, the Black Lives Matter idea, too, because that was one of the first times – I mean, everybody wanted to kind of – there was a lot of companies jumping on board and having various social media posts and there's a lot of disagreement, of course about like, whether those are particularly impactful. But it was the first time that I had seen that bulk of companies jump on board, a social trend, which is an interesting point to what you're trying to do. I mean, suddenly you have big brands like Nike, or like every brand had their own version of it. Actually, trying to say something outward about this. And then now, I think there's even more accountability to be like, “Okay, well, you said those things. What are we doing about that?”

[00:11:18] JS: Yeah, absolutely. I think consumers are expecting companies to draw a line in the sand, right? And say, “This is what we stand for.” Because they know that consumers vote with their dollars and their value. So, what a lot of companies are doing is, they look at all these issues, and they look at at their board and their leadership and their employees and their current customers and their target customers, and they're trying to find what resonates and what's out there and get penalized for not taking that stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Certainly, there's a lot of posts out there and shortly after that followed a ton of pressure on. Yeah, talk is cheap. We've heard that before. But there's a lot of really interesting data. I mean, record, record number of thoughtful DEI initiatives launched by companies. I think I heard a stat, like 40% of Fortune 500 launched DEI initiatives last year, and those are ones that didn't have – there were a lot of Fortune 500 that already had things in place and we're doing it. Certainly, if you look at what companies are doing, it's certainly not lip service. It's hard. It’s not perfect.

But you see companies, they're no longer trying to be perfect externally, they're more focused on being authentic and transparent and showing you that they are trying. Similar to this point about social impact being product driven and iterative and continuous improvement and trying to iterate your way to success, companies are taking a lot of pride in just showing that and sharing that externally with their customers and employees. So, it's an exciting time.

[00:13:14] AC: I love what you said about it being consumers voting with their dollars. You have a choice to do this. You want to support the companies that are doing initiatives that you care about and you feel connected to. You have a choice based on where you shop, and you can create community organized boycotts, whatever it is, if you don't like what that's going or you can try and support the companies that do. I always think that's entertaining, because the pushback tends to be like, “Well, let's get the politics out of this. Let the free market decide.” And this is, in my opinion, the free market deciding. The free market is people standing up and saying, “No, I get to choose this. I'm going to buy x sneakers instead of y sneakers.” That's the trend. It's the power.

[00:13:51] JS: Yeah, it's kind of funny. This is sort of a nerdy, nuance and bone to pick in the social impact sector, but you're hearing so much people saying capitalism, bad. There's this new thing. It's stakeholder capitalism, or conscious capitalism, and it's kind of pitting capitalism bad. There's this new thing that needs to be better. But at the end of the day, you have some of the world's foremost authorities on capitalism like Jamie Dimon and others that are really pushing this agenda for corporate citizenship. They wouldn't do this if they didn't believe it was ultimately going to result in shareholder value, right?

Shareholder value and what is valuable, it's kind of in the eye of the consumer. So, the value system of tomorrow's investor because of this rise in impact investing, is they're changing what they value. So, it's actually still capitalism, it’s capital value, the shareholder mindset is shifting and a lot of that goes to those macro trends, and I was talking about or mentioned or referred to earlier, is this great wealth transfer. There's about $30 trillion of wealth that is going to transfer from baby boomers down to their descendants in subsequent generations. Every generation has a baby boomer, I don’t want to say socially minded, but if you look at what they base their decisions off of, they care a lot more about this type of stuff.

So, you see Larry Fink from BlackRock saying, “Okay, CEOs, we're only investing in companies that think this way and do that.” And I'm like, “He's not gone soft. He sees a $30 trillion football in the air. He wants to position BlackRock perfectly for that.” So, it's sort of a soapbox long rant, but just saying it's still capitalism and capitalism, we know, the equation of what value is has shifted.

[00:15:55] AC: Yeah, and it's just an equation people don't necessarily always – some people don't want to get behind, but it is an interesting way of looking at it. Because the two are not opposing forces in this. The two exist, it's just you have to change the cultural mindset. The corporate mindset, it tends to be a couple years behind the cultural mindset. So, you get that lag time where there's a lot more pent up energy for it and then you hit something like this year, like you were talking about, the wave suddenly came. Suddenly, there's enough energy for it. So, I'm curious, what kind of lessons you've learned over the last years.  What kind of things have you guys gotten to do? I mean, any stories around what this year has meant for you? What the wave catching beginning feels like?

[00:16:30] JS: Yeah, I think one of the hardest parts of starting a new business, is figuring out why people aren’t ripping your products or services out of your hands. You’re like, “What is the problem?” For us, I think one of the most valuable things we learned, and we kind of saw this pretty early, but how to solve it was a little bit of a challenge, and this kind of gets to why companies would, as I said, give relatively negligible amounts of money away. And towards social impact, it's usually a smaller budget, it goes into corporate social responsibility. But it's often treated like a questionable marketing budget, right? If it doesn't make a significant difference, not going to really hurt them. I'm sure there's accountability in the jobs and everything.

But in a perfect world for us, we would love to find opportunities and social impact initiatives that make business sense. I think in order to do that, they almost have to be packaged similar to capital investments. So, when we have a board and a set of executives trying to figure out where they're going to place their big bets for the next year, it could be, “Do I go into this new market? Do we acquire this company? Do we want a new office? Or do we try and do this really innovative social impact project?” The problem is on that social impact side, it's hard to measure what you get out of that. Again, it's a questionable marketing budget.

So, you can't really compare it apples to apples, so it never really makes the cut. So, our vision is, these big ideas are getting surfaced and packaged at that level. To do that, you have to be able to measure the difference you're making and have a concrete way to know what in social impact is working, what's not? How do we get better? How do we iterate on it? These are things that are relatively easy to do in software, because you have this thing called defects and bugs. You have all the metrics tied well and well-defined metrics to do it.

However, when you're trying to solve for gender equality in developing countries, how do you do that? And so, for us that resulted, it was so hard, it resulted in us buying that company last year, spent it to valuation. That specifically does this. We evaluate social impact initiatives and nonprofit programs and help them understand if it is working. Is it not working? What are you learning? What is the next best thing to try? And how do you get better at it? So, for us, if we can integrate that into when we do strategy and how we do this actual building of these programs, and we have that wired in, we believe that could be just foundational and changing how companies, just have more confidence in testing these big ideas. This is a really long answer. You comment a really nerdy question. So, I'll do the second one shorter.  

[00:19:25] AC: That’s what we're trying to do.

[00:19:27] CA: Yeah, exactly. The least we talked the better it goes.

[00:19:30] JS: I think the second one for us, is so many organizations, they're kind of forced into this, but they have to focus on the direct provider to consumer relationship and social impact. So, for instance, if you're working on hunger issues, if you're a for-profit, your best thing is to invest in nonprofits that feed families directly. Unfortunately, because that's where all the photo ops in the marketing opportunities are and that's where all the stories are. Because if that's where the money is gravitating to, oftentimes, nonprofits end up working in that space. But these social issues are so complex. There are these massive ecosystems surrounding them, right? You have influencers, you have subject matter experts, you have evaluators, you have kind of service providers in the middle letter, stitching it all together. There are all of these roles. And most of the big, big bottlenecks are upstream.

So, there's so there's just not that much attention applied, where it's needed. So, for us, one of the things that we do is we can look at a social issue, say it is financial empowerment, or financial literacy. We can map out that entire ecosystem, to really show where those bottlenecks are, ensure they're not going into classrooms and teaching kids how to use Bitcoin, that's probably not very financial – but it's fixing those crux bottlenecks upstream that will unlock value and unlock impact. They're way more impactful, they're maybe not as sexy.

But to the previous point, if you can't understand why that bottleneck is important, and then you don't have the tools to measure, I think that's going to make a difference in how you're going to tell that that's actually resulting in a net pretty catalytic impact. Why are you going to invest significantly in that? And so, those are probably the two of the biggest learnings that I'm really excited about. Trying to stitch a solution together for it.

[00:21:41] CA: That's really fascinating. So, one of the things that I keep wondering about is, especially since you started, as you said, start a business when you can ride a wave, and the wave wasn't quite there yet. And clearly, or maybe you did, you couldn't predict 2020. What happened? What makes you keep going? Because clearly, it's passion of wanting to make a difference, of wanting to actually find solutions to help the world.

[00:22:10] JS: I think a lot of it, you talk to anyone here at Prosono, they're just super, super driven. They want to make a difference. So, part of it is, and they've all worked on social impact in one form or another and have felt a ton of frustration in why aren't we able to sell things. What we've done here at Prosono is we've kind of been very honest, and we don't know, either. But we're going to treat this as a research project, in a lot of ways. This is where you're going to have license, and we're going to collectively, and humbly, just try things. We’re going to iterate it as fast as we can. What we found out is, this is very different from putting phantom features on an ecommerce website and seeing that people learn. You're like, “We’ll see three years from now, if that –” It’s a slower process. 

So, for us, the endeavor of just trying to tighten those feedback loops is a worthwhile endeavor as it is. But to us, there's just so much opportunity there. It just feels so untapped where you could say, we're in search of that big, big lever. So, I think just the idea of stumbling onto that at some point is really exciting for us.

[00:23:33] AC: That makes sense.

[00:23:34] CA: Yeah. It’s refreshing, actually. Because while I have worked in consulting, I think I was in the resistance training room with the people side of things, which is also very hard to measure when you do people and change management consulting, whether it's working or not. You're constantly working against the resistance of wanting to do it, and accepting it adopted. Besides the resistance of people adopting change and buying into it, you also have the lack of the financial and investment support most of the times, but the way I see what Alex and I are doing as well is this: we believe that humanizing the workplace is absolutely necessary. It's not negotiable. So, we'll just keep going with the research project of getting there. Because when we get the ROI questions of how do I know this, whatever plans, training program, approach is going to work, show me the numbers, I'm like, “Well, talk to me in six months.” And then I can show you the numbers. I can show you when we're done. 

[00:24:38] JS: I really like the word that you're using, just humanizing, which insinuates you can't just say we're going to humanize your company. Like there's this end human state that it's going to be good, trust me. But it's more just, it's the process. It's more about the journey than the destination on top of all things. Which is so important. I think the world definitely is changing. I think it used to be. That was an old, I think, old school thinking, which is, where are the numbers, where's the destination? How long is it going to take and what I get for it? And you are seeing a lot of these scenarios. It's more about going on the journey, even corporate DEI initiatives. To say, we're going to do these five steps and then be perfect. I’ll be like, “No, this is a journey we're going to go down. That's all there is, is the journey.”

[00:25:30] AC: It's one of those things where if it goes right, people aren't necessarily saying it. It's not like you get that five-star Amazon review. It's not like giving a point to look at our hockey stick chart where the sales went off the charts this year. It’s just great. When it works, well, everybody just feels better. Things just are better, and you don't – you’re just working on whatever the next problem is. They can be glad that it worked. But there is not necessarily the feedback loop of like total success. That's one of the things that I think people maybe get, like a bit of a dopamine rush off of, but it doesn't happen for something that is. Like you're saying a process. It's something that you've learned, something you're experimenting with and it's something that just takes a journey to go through. 

[00:26:10] JS: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think one of the really powerful ways of looking at this, this type of work, whether it be social impact, or humanizing a company, is it's like these concentric circles. So, at the end of the day, we're going to set you on a path of continuous improvement and just kind of build it to where it's sort of an automatic habit. That's what you're getting, is this permanent curiosity on how we tried before together, and I think that's when you've arrived.

For us, we're not just, “Let us do all the impact and hand it back to you and you get the credit for it. It is very cool.” We'll kind of get that across place and kind of show you how you keep doing this. For us, some of the most rewarding times are when clients end up running with it on their own, and the light bulbs are going off and you feel you take your hand off the wheel. And this company is going to continue to drive more impact forever. That's what we want and try to move on to the next one. For us, that's how we are going to achieve our mission, just accelerating the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We're not going to be able to be in every company forever. We’re going to do one short project and squeeze all the impact value out of them and run to the next one and set them on a path.

[00:27:32] CA: Yes.

[00:27:33] AC: Well, it fits really well with your guys’ strengths. If you guys are coming from a lot of like consulting in for-profit backgrounds and adrift, really excited about doing the deathmatch type of work. It fits really well just to do those short sprints with companies. It's not that you want to necessarily live the long haul with every single company, but you want to set them on the right foot and then get to do the same thing in the next context and learn the next thing. It's a great fitting of the strength of the team you're building.

[00:27:58] JS: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

[00:28:01] AC: You used like three words in your last answer that really just tickled my brain. I love habit and permanent curiosity. I think those are really key phrases when it comes to anytime you learn more about, like what works in social impact, what works in trying to change things that are long term systemic and difficult. Those are the things that come up time and time again. There's the permanent curiosity of what you feel internally. There's just being, I want to get better at this. I want to learn more about this, and then there's the habit. Just trying to learn the habits of how do I keep this going, going forward, not just some weekend retreat where you do, like all of the last 15 years, which is like we're heading to diversity training. It will be one weekend, and then we're done. Well, I'll be diverse all year until the next year.

[00:28:43] CA: And everybody feels included. We're all set.

[00:28:46] JS: Yeah, totally. I mean, it ties to these searches, broader trends, right? This fourth industrial revolution and the right thing is for us is more or less going to be put on autopilot. So, I think it's important that these types of things to me when something is a habit, it's on autopilot, so you can focus on the next thing. Simple things just having perfect curiosity on how you're going to tackle poverty or hunger, I think just that pursuit is going to be so so important. Once you kind of have that muscle memory that frees you up then to use all of your brainpower for innovative, new, more creative to try. As I said, if you take this new future where AI, machine learning, software, and advanced manufacturing, so much we're going to be able to do, like run crazy advanced experiments with all of that technology. The big bottleneck will be what we can creatively come up with to solve this problem, right? We're going to another metal level above that.

[00:29:55] CA: The next wave.

[00:29:56] AC: Yeah, I love that metaphor of the machine learning too. It's kind of we delve to a certain point, we had the boom of technology in the ‘90s. We had some growing technology, lots of SaaS innovations in the last 20 years. We're reaching, I wouldn't say, a plateau, there's still plenty of innovation happening. But there's not necessarily as much there. So, that's starting to feel a little bit more habitual. Now, if we can get social impact to be like a big wave, and then that becomes more habitual, then you can go find the next efficiency, go find the next avenue to explore. Now you've got companies that have the social impact are working on sustainability, and then catch whatever our next wave that is going to be coming in, hopefully not a pandemic wave.

[00:30:34] JS: Yeah, exactly. As you kind of said that Alex, one thing that struck me and like maybe just the habit, making social impact a habit is an old person's game, because I think he took any kid coming out of college right now. It is what they care about. The problem they're trying to solve. They already have it on automatic. I think they're just waiting for old farts like me to catch up, maybe.

[00:30:58] CA: It sounds like you've already caught up.

[00:31:00] JS: Trying to keep up, I guess.

[00:31:03] CA: Don't give up. Just keep trying.

[00:31:05] JS: I'll tell you, it's been really fun doing a lot of college recruiting right now. You just see students coming out of college, and they have org design and psychology majors and social impact minor, where they're learning about the United Nations sustainable development goals, and Human Centered Design and all of these things. And they're like, “I'm going to use this to solve a world problem. I want to go work for a place that does that. I also went to school at Vanderbilt, so I need to pay for that. So, I need to get a job that does that. You know any?”

I’m like, “Is this really interesting?” Like I said, I think they’re going to the companies that figure out that model that can sustain or they're going to turn existing companies from the inside out. It is fascinating, if you look at companies today, they have this impact investing pressure, Jamie Dimon. Larry Fink saying, “We are changing how we enqueue and how we invest. So, you either are investable or not.” We have employees saying, “I want a job that I can directly connect to a community around. I need to be able to connect those dots or I'm going to find someplace else to work.” Then you have the customers that are are saying, “Okay, I have two shampoos that perform reasonably fully, which company do I like better?” And so, you think about the pressure companies have. I mean, it's coming from all sides.

[00:32:39] CA: That's how change is going to happen, though. Change doesn't happen if you're not disturbed. 

[00:32:44] AC: So, it's interesting, I don't mean to ask about your secret sauce or anything with Prosono, but what are metrics do you like to measure against? What are the things you're looking for in the future? What's the next year looking like?

[00:32:56] JS: A lot of it is, obviously nerdy stuff. But obviously, basic financial stuff, trying to predict our pipeline shifts to and how that translates to revenue at the end of the day. Because of my background, I mean, we measure everything. We measure every meeting and how we can make it. We do like net promoter score for every meeting, and how do you – it’s a little maddening, sometimes. It's kind of everywhere.

But on the impact side, for us, one of the things that's a really exciting challenge, we have this goal, that sort of that big lever, how do we know if we found that big lever on social impact. We have a goal that for every dollar of revenue we bring in, we can point to five times that in social return on investment. So, that means like the economic value of the good that our work did, or the system put in places. Again, humbly, we don't know how to do that. When you work across all of the SDGs, you're dealing with environmental issues, social. There’s just so much diversity in the causes. So, how do you get a common denominator and get that down to a dollar?

So, for us, this is also one of the reasons we're really excited at the opportunity to buy Vantage last year. I think there are a secret puzzle piece to unlocking that. We have a pretty good theory on how you do that. You can get to some pretty strong output metrics on how many families you fed or how many folks experiencing homelessness, we're able to get them in a housing situation. But then, finding an anchor, economic study that sort of talks about what is the ultimate net economic benefit to society, sort of using that and then, extrapolating the impact and those numbers you'll get and discounted down to net present value and you can kind of get to, “Okay, this is what the social return on investment is this project.”

So, for us the way we kind of look at it, we have in our charter, we have to hit both. We have to hit these revenue targets and the social return on investment targets by a certain date. And so, what that forces us to do is, we'll look at a project, and this is kind of where we want to get, we want to be able to get a project and say, “Well, very, very high social return on investment. We can take a pretty big hit from a revenue standpoint on this one.” We get another one we're like, “No, it's not quite the lever we're looking for, therefore, our rates will correspond to this and we'll use one to sort of balance out the other and sort of play that shell game.”

[00:35:38] AC: That's cool.

[00:35:39] CA: That’s very cool.

[00:35:41] JS: It’s a pretty unique one to what we're doing. I think, the other one, this is super unique, but it has just been – it’s worked better than I had ever, ever hoped. There’s very, very commonly used net promoter score for customer satisfaction, but in a small B2B business like us. I mean, it doesn't really – net promoter score is great when you can get hundreds of thousands or thousands of data point every week and do all that. But when you only do 120 projects in five years, it's a little harder to get that format of data.

In consulting for us, we basically were 100%. I mean, we were getting 9s and 10s the whole time. So, for us, one of the really cool metrics, or things we did was we made it a process. So, we have big things. So, when we do a project, we ask every two weeks with our main stakeholder, on a scale of 1 to 10, would you recommend us for this type of work? What would it tend to look like? I look at that data weekly across our project.

So, I look at two things. That sort of average net promoter, it's not a hundred, it's an average. So, it will be like 9.4 out of 10, which I'm like, “Great. We 9s and 10s, generally.” But they have another which is NPS aging, which is basically I want to know which project has gone the longest without asking this question. Because what you find is, there might be a client where we haven't asked that question for six weeks. There's sometimes a reason why that hasn't been asked. There’s some pitching or something. Then, we can look at. What’s the client? What’s the project? Let's go have that conversation and go get it.

I said, our average right now is about 9.4 out of 10 since inception of our company. We've been able to, everyone says, we're a 9 or a 10, by the end of the project. Because it's formative every two weeks, even if we're working with you for three years, worked really, really well for us. 

[00:37:40] CA: That's wonderful.

[00:37:41] AC: Yeah, that's really cool. This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I do not really know a lot of the UN SDGs, the United Nations social sustainability development goals. Do you have some those top of mind that you guys are working on?

[00:37:54] JS: Yeah, so I don't have all 17 of them memorized. But it starts with no poverty, zero hunger, there's good health, wellbeing and quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy and goes on to reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, climate action. There's a ton of them. We have worked across most of them. And often what happens is a project does tie into three or four of them. The great thing that the United Nations member countries did was they said, “These are 17 goals, but there's about 170 targets in there. There are deep metrics tied to them.” Some of them are like country level economic numbers.

But for us, we try to tie every project we do to at least identify the SDG and potentially the metric that it could or could not impact even if it's a drop in the bucket. If it's a very small nonprofit, in Ohio, or something, we still try to say, “Well, this is at least relevant to that.” But you could probably say we worked across all of them at one point, because there was a really cool project, where it’s called The Solution Summit, where this is part of the folks that helped sort of drive the the UN SDGs forward, found all these amazing entrepreneurs from all over the world that were directly solving UN SDG challenge.

So, these were groups that were building a blockchain database to help with real estate transactions in Ghana or a company that had those really cool – they had some drones that they could arm with seed pods and fertilizer pods, and literally send army drones out to landscape the topography of landscape. I mean, they're like flagging the rocks and the cliffs and the water. And then you can send those drones back out armed with all these seed pods, and they're just shooting seed pods directly into the ground versus you drive over the helicopter, and it just sprays them all over and bouncing off the rocks and trees and half of them don't grow. I mean that the efficiencies are massive.

So, what we did, this in our early days. But we hit each SDG every day and we did a marketing campaign for each of those entrepreneurs and try to connect them with corporate partners. Because they're scrappy, they're underfunded, it's really cool ideas. We took some to google.org, to see if we can get Google to help with donating skilled resources to them, and so it was a really fun one.

[00:40:46] CA: That's a great one. Wow. I was looking at these actually on the website, and I see how most of them, if not all of them are connected to each other. They're not siloed. So, I can see how that would come up in projects as well.

[00:40:59] JS: Yeah, absolutely. I think most issues ties at least four of them together.

[00:41:05] AC: That's what I see. You've got like you got a framework of things you want to solve, you’re getting more and more metrics on how to solve them. You're helping lots of different businesses in different ways of doing this. Are you finding and going back and maybe going over post mortems, to figure out different frameworks that are useful in multiple scenarios? Does it feel like there's ties between them? Or does it feel like each project is more unique?

[00:41:26] JS: It is so, so vast and even a large nonprofit, it's hard to say like, they're really making a massive dent in zero hunger worldwide. So, you pick your box. And so, for us, and kind of the spirit of being ourselves a research company, those projects are all valuable learning for us. We are learning, how do you make sure you can, no matter what the challenge is, you can get to a positive outcome for everybody. I think a lot of the common things, are centered around how do you measure universally? That ecosystem concept was a big one. The big framework, where like, “Gosh, this is the problem.” Everyone's crowded around that provider consumer, and there are so many problems that are being overlooked. That's something we really need to tackle.

I think the other thing, too, that's sort of a challenge for us, or has been challenge for us is who – I'm not even sure what the scale for a company like us would need to be that, say we are truly accelerating the achievement of the SDGs in a meaningful way. So, part of this journey is also just getting a feel for that. But ideally, we're going to kind of hit that point where we have a pretty clear theory of action, of how we're going to do it, what we need to get there. I mean, at that point, I think that's where we'll go all in and really look to scale. I mean, it's just looking forward to getting to that point.

[00:42:58] AC: That's awesome.

[00:42:58] CA: Sounds like a great journey.

[00:43:00] JS: Yeah, it's been fun. It can be heartbreaking at times, working in impact state. I think there is a lot of romanticism tied to it. People that have worked, they just have that photo up side things, but I think they're the real changes. It's hard, and it's challenging. But when you do get some wins, it just feels so good. Definitely better than any when I had –

[00:43:25] CA: The death march? I'm sure you get to the point where you just want to hit people in the head and be like, “Why don't you get it? It's not that hard.”

[00:43:37] JS: Yeah, it is. I think probably one of the – we see a lot of people that do jump into this space. You might have been like that at some point very early, where you're like, “Oh, I've done all these cool things in the corporate side. I'm just going to take that and apply it here.” But then you realize social impact, it impacts communities, and it's just so intertwined. I mean, you have to have a very different mindset with it. Otherwise, society will literally reject your solution. I mean, have to do all of that groundwork. Other people don't really realize how hard that is.

It's really interesting, I think, in a lot of ways, when you're building a product in the corporate world, you do get to kind of choose who your target market is and what your things is. Social impact can't really change who your customer is. The customer is the customer and you have to meet them where they're at, is sort of the common thing that people say. It’s much harder than getting a product that people will use outright. There's just so many more dimensions to it, which requires that much more of an intensity on Human Centered Design and iteration and experimentation, your gain to outcomes.

[00:44:54] AC: That’s super interesting. Everything you guys are doing. So, for your listeners out there who want to know either how to join the space like this or find you or find your company, where they might start?

[00:45:04] JS: Yeah. Go to prosono.com is probably the best way. Our general contact info is info@prosono.com. Secret, it just goes to me and our president. So, this is good as you get. 

[00:45:17] CA: Direct access is the way to do it.

[00:45:22] JS: Those are probably the two best ways. You can find me on LinkedIn pretty easily. Pretty active on there. I'm always open to sharing cool projects and ideas. That's probably the best way.

[00:45:34] AC: That’s awesome.

[00:45:34] CA: We'll include this all in the show notes, for sure.

[00:45:36] AC: Thank you so much for joining us for this, Jesus. Any other questions while we got him, Cristina?

[00:45:42] CA: Well, our last question, which is our typical one is what does authenticity mean to you?

[00:45:48] JS: What does authenticity mean to me? I’ll say, it's when your actions and behaviors are in harmony with your purpose. I think in work, you probably talk about, they say when you hit your flow. I think to me, authenticity is probably like that natural state, whether you know what your purpose is or not, but sometimes you just do things that feel right and natural and they're sort of this consciousness to it.

[00:46:20] AC: That's a great and one of the most succinct answers. That's perfectly wrapts it.

[00:46:26] JS: I was going to keep going. I’m like, “Shut up, Jesus. Shut up.”

[00:46:30] CA: Well, clearly, it seems like you're living a very authentic life in your career by what you're doing.

[00:46:36] JS: Yeah. It's been fun. It's funny, I guess so many college students that are like, “How do you start a company and you're doing nothing but social impact, and you’re doing stuff? How do you do that?” It was kind of weird. I mean, I definitely – it’s getting a little hard to get out of bed every day and build a large complex tech solution. I did it for about 20 years and there really wasn't – definitely at a position in my life where I could try something new. I didn't really see anything where I got the freedom and flexibility to really try to do something really, really impactful.

I did not want to rely on external funding, from foundations and things like that. I want to build something that has a sustainable revenue model underneath it so that it can scale infinitely technically. It can scale as good as the solution is. And so, my impact will grow and we won't have to rely on outside funding. There wasn't really anything out there I could find that truly did that well, so I decided to start my own company to do it. It's been a been a dream.

I think my worst day at Prosono has been better than my best day during my professional career. So, it's been a really, really fun ride and look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

[00:47:57] AC: That's awesome. It's always fun to talk to people who get to live in their purpose and that's what this feels like. This feels like you've got a good connection here. Speaking of that, you want to give the listeners an Easter egg on where you came up with a name for Prosono and what it means?

[00:48:10] CA: Yes.

[00:48:11] JS: Sure. So, Prosono means loosely. It's a Latin mishmash of words, that means to let your purpose echo. So, prosium is self-identity being which he said that's close enough to purpose, and then sono means to echo or to resonate.

[00:48:32] CA: That's beautiful.

[00:48:32] AC: That's great. Love it.

[00:48:34] CA: How long did it take you to come up with that name?

[00:48:37] JS: It's funny. I came up with lots of great names, but anyway joked about this before, the domains are what really gets you because they're tons available. It didn’t take long. I just grabbed a bunch of Latin words. I start piecing them together until I found one that was reasonably to say. It looks good. And yeah, the domain was less than $20,000. So, I was like, “Sold. Let's do it.”

[00:49:04] CA: Much better than others.

[00:49:05] AC: So, Prosono is P-R-O-S-O-N-O, and we have talked to Jesus Salazar. Thank you so much for joining, Jesus. This is truly a fascinating conversation. Thanks for sharing everything with us.

[00:49:15] JS: Great. Thanks for having me. 

[00:49:16] CA: Thank you so much and thanks, everybody, for listening 

[00:49:20] AC: Thanks guys.

[OUTRO]

[00:49:21] CA: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast. 

[00:49:26] AC: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood. 

[00:49:31] CA: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. 

[00:49:39] AC: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast wearesiamo.com, or at our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.

[00:49:58] CA: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.

[END] 

Jesus Salazar Profile Photo

Jesus Salazar

Co-founder and CEO of Prosono

Jesus Salazar is a Colorado native and entrepreneur who loves bringing exceptional people together to do exceptional things. After spending 16 years leading and developing software for some of the largest companies in North America including Microsoft, Amgen, Yamaha and others, Jesus shifted his career toward entrepreneurship. He is the co-founder and CEO of Prosono, a company whose mission is to accelerate the achievement of the World 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They do this by unlocking the social impact potential of organizations throughout North America. Prosono was awarded 2019 Startup of the Year through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and was recently named one of the top 50 most civic-minded companies of Colorado.

Jesus Salazar has extensive board experience serving as the Chairman of Rocky Mountain Public Media, which includes Rocky Mountain PBS and two nationally acclaimed radio stations: KUVO JAZZ and the nation’s first public media R&B/Hip-Hop radio station “The Drop”. Jesus is also Chairman of Colorado Succeeds, an education policy and advocacy nonprofit organization representing the voice of the Colorado business community with members such as DaVita, Molson Coors, Xcel Energy, TTEC, OfficeScapes and others. He currently sits on the board of Pinnacol Assurance, a $3B workmans’ compensation insurance provider. He has had multiple Gubernatorial appointments including the Colorado School of Mines Board of Trustees and the Business Experiential Learning Commission.

Jesus graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 2001 with a BS in Math and Computer Science and a MS in Engineering and Technology Management.

Jesus and Prosono can be found at:
https://www.prosono.com/

Prosono can be reached via email at:
info@prosono.com

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be found at:
https://sdgs.un.org/goals