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June 14, 2021

Why QED invested in Hello Alice

Once upon a time. Such a simple opening phrase. It’s a phrase that’s been used a countless number of times to introduce a countless number of stories that we all know and love. It transports the reader into a comfortably familiar (but not too-familiar) world that’s governed by a simple set of rules that define “good” and “bad” with crystal clarity. It creates anticipation for a cast of characters that will face challenges but ultimately be triumphant in the end. It conjures images of an elsewhere and an else when that the reader wishes were here and now. And the words fill the reader with a sense of happiness and wellbeing before the story has even begun.

So I find it interesting that “Once upon a time” statements are commonly invoked in narratives that surround the health and wellbeing of the typical small business in the typical town in today’s America. Once upon a time, small businesses were the lifeblood of our communities. Once upon a time, small businesses could compete successfully with big, national chains. Once upon a time, small businesses fueled innovation and set the standard for quality and value. The once upon a times go on and on and on.

But starting a story with “Once upon a time” implies that there’s the possibility of a hero’s journey that if navigated properly could create a better world. Righting wrongs and winning battles. Creating a future that’s better than the past. Ending with a happily ever after.

With this said, I’d like to tell you a “Once upon a time” story about the small business ecosystem, a wonderful company that’s fighting the good fight on behalf of small business owners, and the happily ever after outcome that should unfold with their success.

Once upon a time there were two travelers who spent their days walking from city to city, town to town and village to village. Carolyn was the first of the pair, and the road called to her because of the diverse and wonderful things she could find at each and every stop. No two destinations were the same and that excited her. In one town she could find unique pottery made by a local artisan and in another she could purchase finely tailored dresses made by a local seamstress.

Elizabeth was the other traveler, and the road called to her because of the diverse and wonderful people she could find at each and every stop. No two destinations were the same and that excited her. In one town she could find an expert equestrian willing to give her riding lessons and in another she could learn to cook a native dish from an expert local chef. And both travelers were happy.

One day, Carolyn and Elizabeth were on the open road and came across a fellow traveler. It was late and the sun was setting so they decided to make camp and share a meal. And over this meal, Carolyn and Elizabeth decided to share stories about all the amazing places they’d been and the amazing people they’d met. But, the traveler had been to many of these places recently and what he shared surprised and upset Carolyn and Elizabeth. The traveler shared the sad news that more than half the amazing places were no longer in business and half the amazing people were no longer practicing their skills and sharing their knowledge. The traveler was a wealth of knowledge, but not all of it was pleasant.

Carolyn wanted to know “How Many” and Elizabeth wanted to know “Why”. The traveler’s answers saddened them greatly.

“There are twenty-seven million small businesses across this land that generate half of all the goods and services that everyone uses. These businesses create jobs.  They spark innovation. And they provide opportunities for people of every race, religion and gender to achieve financial success and independence.  More than three quarters of the revenue generated by these businesses stays in their own city, town or village.”  

“But many businesses fail, and not all for good reasons. Some businesses fail because they aren’t at the end of a well-traveled road and they don’t know how to make use of merchants and caravans and the mystical interwebs to sell their goods in distant towns. Some businesses fail because their owners aren’t taught how to source raw materials at prices that allow their businesses to generate a nice profit. And some businesses fail because they aren’t recognized by the money lenders and don’t have access to the capital they need to survive and thrive.”

Carolyn and Elizabeth were confused. They knew that the local merchants were the lifeblood of their communities and their products and services were amazing. They knew that increasing awareness about these businesses was possible and would boost sales significantly. They knew that getting these businesses access to better and cheaper raw materials was possible and would result in better pricing and improved profit. They knew that the problems were solvable.

So Carolyn and Elizabeth decided to map out what a better world would look like.

They imagined a world in which small businesses had access to a library of knowledge and content that taught them best practices and helped them avoid common mistakes. Education could help small businesses grow and succeed.

They imagined a world in which a small business could search a list of vetted and trusted suppliers who were ready and willing to offer price breaks based on the buying power of the community vs. the buying power of an individual. Better pricing could help small businesses grow and succeed.

They imagined a world in which a “looking for help” request could easily be matched with “I have a solution” response within a community of small businesses across the land. Community support could help small businesses grow and succeed.

They imagined a world in which money lenders proactively sought out small businesses of all types and owners of all backgrounds. Capital availability could help small businesses grow and succeed.

They imagined a world in which grants and large contracts from organizations, enterprises and government agencies could be matched directly with qualifying small businesses. Awareness and support of small businesses from big buyers and well-funded benefactors could help small businesses grow and succeed.

And to Carolyn and Elizabeth, this imaginary world was good. It deserved to exist. It needed to exist. So they created Hello Alice.

The “brains” of Hello Alice power a dynamic truth file that contains information about small businesses throughout the land. Ownership, structure, stage, size, goals, products, services, and specialization. The truth file allows Hello Alice to unlock matches and reduce friction.

The “heart” of Hello Alice pumps life into small businesses through connections to organizations, enterprises and government agencies. Minority and locally owned small businesses can access the capital they need to build and grow their businesses. Large organizations, enterprises and government agencies can purchase goods and services from small businesses as well as sell them goods and services at great prices.

The “soul” of Hello Alice is a vibrant community of small business Owners that want to help each other. Owners buying from Owners. Owners sourcing solutions for Owners. Owners acting as mentors for Owners.

This is Hello Alice. It’s a small business oriented, mission-based company fighting the good fight. It’s what Carolyn and Elizabeth were destined to build. And it’s working.

Almost 500,000 small businesses have already become members on Hello Alice’s platform and a few million more will be onboarded over time. Tens of millions of dollars of grants have been administered and hundreds of millions if not billions will be administered in the coming years. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of educational content have been consumed and the team has a significant amount of additional content coming soon.

So while Hello Alice is still a work in progress, it’s definitely working. And while the story is still unfolding  and it isn’t time to declare “Happily Ever After” yet, it’s not difficult to imagine a world in which Hello Alice makes a difference and our cities, towns and villages are better off as a result. And the well-known statement “It takes a village” is all too true with respect to Hello Alice’s mission.  

If you care about helping small businesses succeed there are multiple ways to get involved. If you have any interest in sponsoring a grant you should reach out to me or Carolyn or Elizabeth or anyone at Hello Alice and we’ll be happy to help. If you have any interest in offering educational content to your small business customer base we can help. If you have any interest in buying from small businesses or offering discounted services to the small business community we can help. If you’re a small business owner and are looking for support of any kind we can help. And if you have any interest in working on the Hello Alice team we can help. Just spread the word.  The world might just get a little better if you do.