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Making a Profit From a Worthy Cause: Greedy, Selfless or Both?

The Wall Street Journal / Blogs

By Kelly Spors

If you launch a public-awareness campaign about an important environmental cause – and then generate $6 million in sales from it — are you a greedy entrepreneur or a selfless environmentalist? Or both of the above?
That’s the question Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum are asking.

About 17 months ago, the New York entrepreneurs and marketing professionals launched, a Web site that tries to expose the environmental and potential health hazards of drinking from disposable plastic water bottles. The site includes links to news articles, studies, and online videos about how plastic water bottles are harmful to the environment and to consumers’ health. It also includes extra features, such as a database where users can find quality reports on tap water in their state.

Mssrs. DiMassimo and Yaverbaum claim they launched the campaign out of passion for the cause. But to cover the costs of the marketing campaign, they hoped to sell 39,000 reusable water bottles that they had made. They put a lime-green “Buy Now” button on the top of the Web site where site visitors could buy their bottles for $14.95 to $18.95 plus a $3 shipping fee.

But excitement for their viral campaign – and their water bottles – was beyond expectation. They sold 39,000 water bottles within two days and currently have sold more than 400,000 of them, reeling in $6 million in sales thus far. They received tons of media coverage and celebrities including Cameron Diaz were spotted sporting a Tappening bottle. More than 7 million people have visited the site.

In recent months, however, Mr. Yaverbaum says they’ve been criticized increasingly by consumers and media, such as talk radio hosts, for making so much money off what they were positioning as a cause. Mr. Yaverbaum denies they started Tappening to generate revenue, but says, even if they had, there’s nothing wrong with that. “If I was doing it for the money, would that be such a bad thing?” he said in a phone interview. “Wouldn’t that be a really good business model to create shareholder value while also doing good for society?”

He says they plan to continue growing Tappening and have thus far funneled all $6 million back into it, though still adhere to the original public-awareness mission. Tappening currently has about 30 employees.
To play off the criticism – and yes, generate even more publicity for their site — last week posted an online poll where visitors could vote on whether the businessmen are “Greedy Entrepreneurs,” “Selfless Environmentalists” or “Both.” Just under 50,000 people have voted so far. About 12,000 think they’re greedy, 13,000 think they’re selfless and 25,000 think they’re both.

Readers, how about you? Are they greedy, selfless or both? Or have they stumbled on a smart business model that more entrepreneurs could learn from?

Link: Original article…