John and Mark X. Cronin | John’s Crazy Socks and Strategies for Building a Social Enterprise

Mark Cronin 11:25

But you know, there are ways one of our pillars is we’re going to make this personal. And once you believe in that, once you have that value, then it becomes manifests in everything you do. So yeah, we still do. The thank you note and the candy. It turns out John can’t write that many thank you notes. So you photocopy. Yeah. And you’ve learned some things along the way, like, what candy did we start with Hershey kisses. And they melt into chocolate, until you get the email from a woman in Florida. So now it’s Skittles and Sour Patch Kids. But, you know, it’s, it’s small things and big thing. If you call here, you never get voicemail.

Someone’s going to answer the phone and have a conversation, we have no scripts, we don’t listen in on phone calls, you’re going to have an actual human conversation. We, we want people to know their people, you. So on our packing slips, you’re going to see the picture in the name of the person who packed your order. Because you as a customer are helping us hire people with different abilities. And we want you to see that. And you can find other ways. So you know, many you’re in your audience now, you know, one of your most valuable assets is your email list. And one of the things you can do with the head, you know, you want to segmented and, you know, make things personal to folks. Well, here, here’s the way we approach that. If you’re a business, particularly e-commerce business, every time you send out an email, you’re gonna get a blip in sales. So it’s really tempting to send a lot of emails. Here’s some businesses, I get four emails a day. Who the hell wants four emails a day from anybody? Yeah. So we do total week. And one of them is drones, Friday email, no sales at all. It’s just John, sharing what John is up to. Because we’re building a relationship. And we we have over 250,000 email addresses. But we don’t send it to everybody. We only send it to people open emails. If you’re not opening it, we don’t want to bother you. Yeah, then you can extend that. So we do our own fulfillment. We run our own pick and pack warehouse, because we’re looking to create jobs, and also to personalize and we get to do some special things in our package. Well, we segment our fulfillment. So we have five different base packages. If this is your first order, you get one package. If it’s your second order, you get a different package. Because we want to give you an experience each

John Corcoran 14:32

time to like the candy is different or the note is different. Those different

Mark Cronin 14:35

you know, you’re still gonna get candy and a note, but the ingredients will be a little bit different. Because we’re not tracing transaction. Yeah, you’re looking for that relationship or go to community.

John Corcoran 14:51

And that’s easy to say we’re going to do that. But that’s implementation that can be really challenging. Just tracking that. Okay, have they ordered before? Is it the same email? Maybe it’s a different Email Address, same address, same home address.

Mark Cronin 15:02

So you figure it out. And everybody here works on that mean, here’s an example. Just paying attention to details. So we sell socks for diabetics. One day one of our happiness packers comes and says, you know, we send in socks to diabetics, and we’re sending them candy. That’s right, that picture. Yeah. All right. So now we have a supply of sugar free candy. And we have a different package. If it’s going to a military base. It doesn’t take much. What you got to do is really believe in it. And look for ways to make things happen.

John Corcoran 15:42

Yeah, I want to ask you about you’ve said that it, you shouldn’t just hire people with differing abilities out of charity, but it actually makes good business sense. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? Sure.

Mark Cronin 15:57

There are lots of ways of measuring it. But companies that make a commitment to hire people with different abilities or with disabilities. They have higher profit margins, right out of the gate, but I’ll give you tangible examples. So we run a pick and pack warehouse and we’re on Long Island outside New York City. Pre pandemic. And now once again, this are growing labor shortage. companies all the time will tell you, I am from business, I can find no people. Well, you know what? We have no trouble finding people. We have a surplus of folks. And it’s not because we do anybody favors. It’s just because we’re willing to hire people with different abilities. So you know, here’s concrete, here’s our experience. Our entry level are starting wage for a picker in our pick and pack warehouse. And what do we call our pickers to African soccer anglers. This is $30 an hour. We draw primarily from three labor pools. People with different abilities, moms, you get some dads in there, because it’s not heavy lifting. To me, we do things in four hour shifts. So you can put your kid on the bus in the morning, and then pick them up in the afternoon. And then laborers who are looking for a $15 an hour drop. By far, the best labor pool for us are people with different abilities. They want to be here, they’re enthusiastic, they’re energetic, they pay attention, they show up on time. They do great work. So but but here are other examples. You know, small, small technology company up in Redmond, Washington, you’ve probably heard of them many times. So they’re in fierce competition with other tech companies to get enough good technical workers. Where they pick their heads up and say, you know, a lot of people on the autism spectrum can do great programming at work. How can we are in hiring them? Well, that’s an easy one to answer. Because they probably couldn’t get through the interview process. Because that person may not look you in the eye or give you a firm handshake. Yeah, well, we got some smart folks there at Microsoft. And they say, We, that’s our problem, we should change them. So now they hire people in droves that have Norio neuro diverse workforce that gives them a competitive advantage. Or take this one. Ey Ernst and Young right, they change her name de EY to make things clearer. So they have 250,000 people worldwide. They have a 20% annual turnover rate. So to stay even higher 50,000 people a year wow. So let’s go to their office in Dublin, Ireland. They set up a program with Trinity College and they hire people with autism once they added folks with autism to their office their retention rates skyrocket. Why do you think that is? Because it’s more engaging because they’re offering something more than just we’re gonna go make money imagine a play that to the whole company and they’re doing things like that. Right? So you know, our our lineup is you know, it’s not it’s don’t hire people. Because you it’s going to make you feel good. I’m gonna do well and don’t hire because when you go to church or the synagogue, or the mosque, that you’re going to feel better you will ever because it’s good business with you to get to know On obey, you’d find out the disk drawn here is a very nice guy. I am not. If you’re going to work for us you’re going to produce. But guess what? That’s part of the dignity. Everybody who works here knows they earned that job. They deserve to be here.

John Corcoran 20:25

So let me ask you about you mentioned, one of the challenges, for example, with Microsoft was that their hiring process? excluded people. So if a company is listening to this now, and they want to design a hiring process that doesn’t exclude people that have autism or differing abilities, what advice would you have for them in order to create that hiring process,

Mark Cronin 20:47

focus on what you’re really hiring for. Focus on what it’s about. For us, maybe you’re out. This is an entry level spot. But this is our process for hiring people for our sock lambda role. You come John and I meet with you, we want to make sure you understand our mission and our values. And we want to make sure you want to be there that you want to stand, then we offer you training on how to do the job. To get the job, you have to pass the sock wrangler test, you got to pick six orders in 30 minutes or less. Nothing extraneous. We don’t care what your geometry skills are. Or if you speak French, we want to know can you do this job, you gotta pass that test, you pass that test you are in the job. A lot of times what we do in hiring is we look at, we focus on what people can do, instead of focus on what they can do. And we come up with test or criteria that have nothing to do with the job. And this has been a long term, challenge or problem for employers. If I want to hire the best possible people for the wages I can offer, I need to consider everybody. If I artificially exclude a population, I cannot get the best possible. So I’ll give you two parallel examples. One, the New York City Fire Department wanted to be able to hire women. No women could pass the test a physical test. Until they looked at it and they went to court over the test was testing people and things they would never have to do. It was ridiculous once they aligned the test with the job, guess what? Women firefighters, or take a page out of American history 1947 the Brooklyn Dodgers break the color barrier when they sign Jackie Roberts. The next two teams saints are great with the Cleveland Indians and the then new york baseball giants. Guess why they became the best three teams in baseball. Now think about those as businesses, which they were they said we’re not going to artificially exclude people because of the color of their skin. We’re just going to hire the best ball players that gave them an event. It’s the same thing of hiring people with different companies. What about

John Corcoran 23:38

how companies not yours, but think of other companies listening to this can where they can go to either advertise these types of positions or fine? Well, there are,

Mark Cronin 23:49

there are a growing number of services that will match you with people. But we work with social service agencies we work you know, they we host tours here on a regular basis. We host work groups. So they get to know us people get to see our environment. So when we have an opening, we shared among our community, you know, our employees and to our online community and through these social service agencies. So we get a lot of people

John Corcoran 24:25

Yeah, and it’s I imagined to search for it afterwards. But I imagine there are companies out there that serve that mission. Like there are there are a few websites that we’ve gone through that like help moms for example who who have time in their schedule and want to be able to work remote work so we actually have a lot of moms who work for us which is great for them right it’s remote work it’s it’s a fulfilling, but I I’ll just have to see what else is out there.

Mark Cronin 24:55

Yeah, there are. There’s a host of different online job networks that will connect people with their neuro diverse population, or disabled population with employers. Yeah.

John Corcoran 25:09

Well, I want to switch topics here. John, I want to bring you into the conversation here. What was it like for you guys to, you know, speak before Congress? Speak at the UN? What were those experiences like?

John Cronin 25:25

A good experience. I learned from everything that I see. And I think that Are you ready, willing and able to work? Because I think I was always saying, I go to DC, and see some other kid.

Mark Cronin 25:52

And like speaking up for people. Thank you. Hey, here’s one of the things we we’ve been incredibly fortunate that because of the business and a platform we have people will listen. So that creates an obligation on our part to speak up. Yeah. Right. And you’re quite good, aren’t you? Right. You know, the other day. I mentioned beforehand, we were up in Hyannis Port, with the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, and they now sponsor the lion forum, where they bring together companies that are developing services and products and lead tech companies, for people with a disability and they bring investors and policymakers together. Well, the first night I had dinner there. Tim Shriver hosted a dinner and he grabs drawn and the two of them go off and cook up something. And the next thing you know, you guys are up needing an exercise in leadership skills, right? Yeah. that you learned in the Special Olympics. You’re good. But I’ll share an anecdote you think you’ll get a kick out of this one. So we’re down in DC, on Capitol Hill, meeting with some representatives of we’re going to fall a call from a customer in Houston, called the office and you know, see Mark and John are down at the Capitol. My mother works there. And she’s a big fan of John’s, and would like to meet him. Do you think that’s possible? And I said, Sure, he is smart. So number, text them your mom’s contact information?

John Cronin 27:38

Nancy Pelosi.

Mark Cronin 27:41

Nancy Pelosi. So we get to go in and we meet with Nancy Pelosi. And, you know, we’ve gotten to a bad place in his country, we vilify our elected officials, and forget their humanity. And forget what where you are in the political spectrum. Nancy Pelosi is an Italian grandmother, she greets John warmly, takes out pictures of socks that she had given to former President Bush Bush, the elder George HW Bush, because John’s somewhat famous,

John Corcoran 28:17

and a bit of a story, you have a connection with him as well. Right.

Mark Cronin 28:21

And that’s all warm and wonderful. But now that we have that opportunity, after the handshakes and the smiles and evokes it’s, but Miss Pelosi, we also have to talk to you about eliminating the sub minimum wage that allows upwards of 200,000 people in this country to be paid as little as 25 cents an hour. If we get that opportunity, and you love doing that, don’t do I love it. You like it in front of those crowds?

John Corcoran 28:49

Yes, that’s speaking truth to power.

Mark Cronin 28:53

And John is very convincing. That’s great.

John Corcoran 28:58

I’ll also I want to ask also about the EY Entrepreneur of the Year, that must be an amazing honor.

Mark Cronin 29:06

It was they one of their partners had reached out and suggested we apply and we didn’t, because I’m looking, they can come up with a knucklehead selling socks. But he be stayed afterwards. And we we submitted and you go through, you know, they come and they go through our finances. You go through multiple interview process, and it was. It was a nice reaffirmation for what we’re doing and what our colleagues accomplished here. We’re very fortunate to have a really good team of people

John Corcoran 29:49

and mind mindful of the clock, and I don’t want to run out of time before we ask about JCS champion. So this is a new initiative that you have that you’re actually launching next month. to provide training and help launch other micro businesses talk about it.

Mark Cronin 30:06

Well, we know how hard it is for people with different abilities to find work. And we’re big on entrepreneurship. And this is the opportunity John it, we want to share that with others. So GE JCS champions, will put people with a disability into their own business, by giving them a business and above and what we’re talking about as a micro business, they will be able to take our socks, our products, and go and sell them at a craft fair, or farmers markets or county fairs or maybe go into town and speak to a store and say, Can I set up my stand here, it will give people purpose and focus and ownership. And some, that’s what they’ll do, they’ll maintain a micro business, and that will be great for that. Others will take that as a boost, and then grow up much larger business around things. And what we’re gonna do for the enrollees in this is we’re going to provide them with six weeks of training, a partner celebrate edu is going to provide the training along with us. And then, when they’re done with that, we’re going to give them a business in a box, we’re going to give them selling standards, inventory, and signage and marketing materials as well as ongoing support, so that they can open their own business. We’re going to start with five people. That will be our pilot project, that our target is to create 1000 businesses over five years. We want to light up the country and show what people with different abilities can do.

John Corcoran 31:50

And it’s a way of scaling that personal touch that we were talking about earlier, the difficulty of scaling that but doing it in each community.

Mark Cronin 31:57

Right? It’s Yes. Will it help our business, we think in the long run it will because we’ll have 1000 Ambassadors will have our own kind of retail network that we hope set up. But this is part of our strategy. You know, our strategy is drive the mission. The more we can do for others, the better off we are. And the more we drive the mission, the more that asserts our brand, and then that leads to more sales and revenue. But it’s got to start with that mission. Yeah.

John Corcoran 32:35

John, Mark, it’s been such a pleasure talking with you. I want to thank you for your time here today. I know you’ve got lots of demands on your time. Where can people go to learn more about your crazy socks? John,

John Cronin 32:46

I would go to

Mark Cronin 32:52 where you can find us there and lots of information you come to John’s online dance party every Tuesday at eight o’clock Eastern time. We now have a podcast with Seth Cohen, we’re having a party, we try to put a smile on your face. We’re on all the social media platforms quite active.

John Corcoran 33:13

I must add. Yeah, you got to be building up your TikTok channels and everything.

Mark Cronin 33:18

You like the TikTok don’t you? I do dancing all the time. Yeah. You know, we, we get to have fun. And we’re very fortunate that That’s great. Thank you. Thank you both. Thank you.

Outro 33:33 

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