Christine Langdon on living and giving well

Last year, Christine quit her job to spend a year living more mindfully. Her days of yoga, journaling, and relaxing on a beach quickly turned into working 70+ hour weeks over three hectic months to launch a new gift-giving social enterprise just in time for Christmas.

Christine reflects on her journey thus far; the payoffs of leaving her comfort zone, the enormous task of inspiring a culture-shift around giving, and the challenge of balancing her personal wellbeing with the demands of the startup world.

What is The Good Registry?

Our purpose is to simplify giving, help good causes, and reduce waste; our vision is a world where every gift counts. Through our website, people can encourage their friends and family to make a charitable donation on their behalf instead of giving them gifts. It’s for any kind of special occasion; Christmas, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers, farewells, public speaking…any time that people want to celebrate while also doing good, by redirecting the money that would have been spent on gifts towards a good cause.

How did you come up with the idea?

I wanted to inspire more generosity in the world, and I thought that the trick might be finding the sweet spot where you’re doing something good without having to give something up.

I landed on gift-giving because while I was trying to minimise and declutter my house, I kept finding old gifts in my cupboards that had been there for a long time. I somehow felt compelled to hold onto them for a while before taking them to the Salvation Army or landfill, or because I thought that just maybe I might use them one day. But when you say to people that you don’t want or need anything for an occasion, they’ll go and find something that you probably don’t want anyway because you haven’t given them a clue.

So I could see the often unintended waste in gift-giving, I could see that gift-giving was part of our everyday lives, and I could see an opportunity to take that waste and turn it into something good. Rather than saying ‘don’t buy me anything’, it’s suggesting something that your loved ones can do.

What was the hardest part of starting up a social enterprise in only three months?

The PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign to help fund our launch was one of the hardest things we did; I never could have imagined how uncomfortable it would be for me to go out and ask our supporters for something. Although I’m always happy to be asked for help, I have a real awkwardness around asking for help when I need it myself. And not only were we asking people to ‘please give us money’ and ‘please tell your friends and family’, but we were having to go back to ask again and again to ensure we reached our target.

That really put me out of my comfort zone, but I also learnt how beneficial it is to ask. Because it took so long for us to reach our crowdfunding goal, we had to keep on making noise for a straight month — and as uncomfortable as it was — people heard about us. Everywhere we went, people knew what we were doing. It meant that instead of just 10 really generous people getting us to the goal amount, we had 150 people who are now backing us as ‘shareholders’ — they have put money behind us and they care about our success. I learnt that often when things don’t go your way, there’s a really good reason and you’ll be thankful for it in the end.

You’re also asking people to change their behavior to create a culture shift around gift-giving. Did you realise how big that ask might be?

The challenge is probably bigger than we thought it would be.

So we knew that people wouldn’t automatically see the opportunity of foregoing gifts, and although we have made some baby steps, we’ve got a massive job ahead of us to build that movement and help people believe that it’s normal to give a donation to a charity instead of a gift.

Part of it is in the messaging so people know that when they make a registry and only one person donates, it’s still amazing because that’s $30 that’s going to charity instead of being spent on something you didn’t want. If everyone gave an extra $30 to charity this year, imagine the difference that could make!

The other part is to make The Good Registry easy and enjoyable for people to use. We didn’t get it 100% right for day one and we didn’t expect to. But we are listening to our users, learning fast and evolving fast too — so, for example, we’ve just added charitable gift vouchers as another way people can give. With the vouchers, you can buy someone a voucher for The Good Registry, and then they get to choose from our 50 charities how they ‘spend’ that donation.

Why did you quit your job?

Through my career I’d done a lot of social good work, but I knew that I also wanted to be the creator of something. I had lots of ideas around potential social enterprises that I could set up, but I kept saying to myself, ‘yeah, later. I’ll do that later’. I learnt that, as I make myself busy and my glass gets too full, I can’t create the space to grow those ideas. I was too comfortable and needed to push myself out of my comfort zone to create more space in the glass, and the only thing that I could see to tip out was my job. So I tipped out the job and went, ‘Right! Now what am I going to do?’ I planned to have a year of living more slowly and blogging about my experience, but six weeks after leaving my job it became clear that I wanted to do something to inspire more generosity in the world. I had the idea for The Good Registry, and a couple of days later I had two co-founders and we got straight into creating it.

Has the startup life been what you hoped for?

Last year in that really intensive period when there was so much to do, I was working 70–80 hour weeks. Although I’m really resilient and I’m used to working hard, I’d never experienced anything like that. I was getting myself through by saying ‘it’s only for three months, it will be ok’. But as hard as I was working, I was learning heaps and doing what I wanted to be doing. There were days when I just wanted to go for a bike ride in the middle of the day so I did.

Having said that, continuing at that rate for longer than three months wouldn’t be good for anyone — and my co-founders Tracey Bridges and Sue McCabe were concerned for my wellbeing that it wouldn’t quieten down after those first three months. It did take a while, but the workload is more manageable now.

How do you look after yourself during those hectic times that seem to be inevitable when starting an enterprise?

For me, I need to exercise everyday — even if it’s just for half an hour. When I finished work, the plan was that I was going to do a year of living mindfully — I had a schedule of how I was going to spend my time each day, but that all went to custard. I was surprised to find myself so unable to sustain what I knew what was important; I left work because I didn’t want to juggle and rush these things, and there I was, back to juggling and rushing them! There have been times when I have felt exhausted but I’m back in a good place now — I definitely needed the break over Christmas to create the space to start again.

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to start a social enterprise?

Get great co-founders alongside you who care about the mission as much as you do, who will both challenge and support you. Make sure you’re resilient before you start; know that at times it will feel really hard and maybe even feel like you’re even failing, but be willing to embrace it — somewhere in there is an opportunity which is probably better than what you were expecting.

When have you felt really proud of what you’ve achieved?

The coolest thing that I’ve seen is the six children who have donated their birthdays. At the end of the day if all we ever did was change the life of one of those six children, because she always remembers that birthday where she gave to the SPCA instead of getting gifts for herself, that’s a good outcome! No matter how much money gets raised at that birthday, that’s a child who has had an experience of giving and a life lesson that she might not have had otherwise. Even if the scale of the impact you have looks small to start with, if you can take it down to that individual level and appreciate the difference that you’re making for even one person, that’s enough to hold on to and to keep building from.

To hear more about Christine’s journey thus far, check out her ‘Twice’ podcast interview here.