Startup Stories Ep 5.
Sam Johnson - Student Volunteer Army

Social Enterprise Startup

In this episode we talk to Sam Johnson, CEO and co-founder of the Student Volunteer Army, which came to fame after the Christchurch earthquakes.

After being invited to 'Earthquake After Parties' as a student Sam thought this is the one time we shouldn't be having parties and should do something useful. He created a Facebook group that went a bit crazy. "I didn't come up with the name, I called it 'the UC student base for earthquake clean up'. Awful, but that's why you have a good team.

I got super famous out of the earthquakes for being the poster kid who started the thing. But it was radical collaboration of about 70 of us who led SVA after the February Earthquake with 11,000 volunteers. It was probably more pied piper than I was in charge. No one really was in charge, I just sort of gave the permission."

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Be criminally selfish with your time.

I recommend not trying to do everything yourself. You have to create the projects and help other people to do them with you. If you do it all yourself it never grows and you don't give others the opportunity.

Your team is critical.

You need someone who thinks differently than you. You have to have someone who has the idea and product, someone who can manage the money and someone who can sell. And no one person can generally do all three.

Talk to the guy at the back.

When you enter a room talk to the guy who is standing by themselves.
a) you can see everyone in the room and b) chances are they know something about what's going on.

Your business model is important.

I wish we'd created a better commercial model 10 years ago and got better advice. We are trying to build a better foundation so it's not so stressful trying to rely on the grants.

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