Some people find inspiration in the shower. Others — like Jay Bernstein, the founder of Long Island, N.Y.-based Win-Win Solutions Group — find it on the Fourth of July … which is why it feels especially appropriate to tell you his story today.
Five years ago, Bernstein was heading to a pre-fireworks date with his wife and daughter. On his way to meet them, he said he looked in dismay at the number of empty properties, big box stores and failing businesses on every road he took.
He was already exhausted by his own garden and landscape business, which was slowing daily because of the economy.
And he started to wonder if there was a better way… a way American business owners could fix the challenges they face.
"How can small businesses really thrive when they have to compete on price, extend hours, maintain skyrocketing overhead, all while slashing expenses? How can property owners maximize tenancy and keep spaces filled? How can a medium business expand without overextending? How can a large business keep jobs and growth within the US rather than being forced to connect overseas to manage labor and manufacturing costs?" he asked himself.
Inspired by the success of social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, he decided to develop a business community "based on a viable business model that would solve business problems."
He decided to name it WinWin.
And then he watched the fireworks.
Right in My Own Backyard
I’ve been writing this column for a year now, interviewing interesting people from all facets of business in every place from the United States and Canada to England and the Netherlands. But Bernstein was right in my own backyard, less than an hour from Midtown Manhattan.
Sobel: How did you capitalize on your entrepreneurial skills to build Win-Win?
Bernstein: I founded both Basics Landscaping Co. and Hewlynn Home and Garden Center after graduating from Binghamton University. I was eager to apply my undergraduate training and the skills I developed throughout my life as an entrepreneur.
The genesis of the idea that became WinWin occurred in July 2010. I began outlining this idea, brought on key partners and completed an initial seed round of financing. The manifestation of that original idea, WinWinUSA.com.
Sobel: Can you share the inspiration behind WinWin?
Bernstein: It came to me that we continuously look for solutions outside of our community, the local business community.
Where we needed to turn is inward, towards this American business community, which is ripe with creativity and ingenuity. The question: How do we tap into the assets of this community and facilitate the collaboration and communication that spawns real, lasting solutions?
The answer was to harness the power of social media. By taking social to the next level, I felt we had the ability to create a platform that is both efficient and effective for businesses and organizations.
I wanted to create a way for businesses to engage with each other as organizations, not individuals, within a focused framework encouraging fewer costs, higher revenues and the tangible collaborative opportunities.
Sobel: You claim “the time has come for businesses to stop thinking of each other only as competitors, and to start thinking about collaboration.” Can give us some examples?
Bernstein: The “neighbor principle” is fundamentally about collaboration. You borrow milk or an egg from your neighbor if you run out, and your neighbor may borrow your lawnmower when hers breaks.
The borrowing examples are illustrating collaboration in its most basic form, but serves as a bridge to our elaborate world of collaboration at WinWin.
In the world of WinWin, a non-profit from Chicago may connect with an artisan spice maker in Manhattan for spice gift baskets for the non-profit’s largest donors.
As part of this simple transaction both organizations can agree to promote each other. The spice business may include the non-profit in its newsletters and the non-profit can share information about the spice business in its communications and marketing channels. This is just one facet of collaboration opportunities on WinWin.
Imagine a shipping company allied with both the non-profit and the spice business, and because of this relationship offers very competitive shipping or a percentage of referred business to the non-profit.
Then imagine a gift basket supplier is part of this network and a spice ingredient supplier and a catalog/internet retailer and on and on.
The only limits to the collaboration opportunities are the creativity of our members. Our members are the source of infinite ideas if we simply harness and apply them. All this touches on a phenomenon called, “The Adjacent Possible,” which we often refer to internally.
It is a fascinating and prevalent thing.
Sobel: Can you elaborate more on your concept of collaboration?
Bernstein: Businesses and non-profits expend many resources on competitive endeavors. Beat the competitor to market. Solicit for our fundraiser before a competing non-profit begins its own campaign. Have our print ad overshadow our competitor’s ad …
Competition, like battles, chews up valuable resources.
What a few forward thinking organizations realized is that there are many opportunities to collaborate with existing or would be competitors. For example, imagine a handful of microbreweries in business in the same town or neighboring towns.
Instead of each coming up with their own events and advertising, consider the increased impact, cost savings and revenue opportunities of them banding together for collaborative events and marketing.
The benefits of collaboration are not exclusive to competitors. The same benefits can be realized with non-competing and/or complementary businesses like, a potato chip brand co-marketing with a soda brand.
As straight forward as all this sounds, it is remarkably absent in any notable form in the market. Why? Because the market has not had a useful vehicle to facilitate the ongoing communications necessary to foster these collaborative endeavors.
Social media addressed individual, personal collaboration via Facebook and Twitter and individual, professional collaboration developed through LinkedIn. But WinWin is the first social media channel designed for professional organization-level collaboration, with organizations being the collaborative touch-points, thus addressing the missing piece to social media: B2B.
Sobel: You say “WinWin is a company driven by an inspired group of creative entrepreneurial personalities who truly believe that by connecting and collaborating” Can provide some suggestions for our readers?
Bernstein: At WinWin we frequently meet to discuss ideas about what kind of disparate organizations can connect and collaborate, and why and how that would work.
We do this because everyone on our team is passionate about the potential of this platform for organizations from every industry and size across America.
We also do this to increase our creative travel through the Adjacent Possible, which we use to help guide our members whenever possible. Ultimately, this is how it works.
Businesses, non-profits and government agencies communicate, collaborate and share their ideas and successes on WinWin. This starts with simple and more straightforward ideas.
However, there will be some businesses that post an idea that is at the outer limits of current imagination. It’s this kind of creative, seemingly out there idea that will open doors to the next adjacent possible, where brand new ideas or combinations become plausible, and the cycle repeats and expands the field of possibilities.