Port Washington, New York
When Patrick Bardsley met Stella Spanakos and Nicole Sugrue, both parents of children with autism, he was surprised to learn that individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities face a 70-90% unemployment rate in the U.S. He was motivated to make a difference. In 2011, the trio founded Spectrum Designs, a custom apparel business with a social mission: to help individuals with autism lead productive and meaningful lives through work. “It was founded out of necessity — the mother of all invention,” said Patrick. To be successful in a competitive market, the team knew that Spectrum Designs had to produce high-quality products and maintain good customer service. “Because we’re a nonprofit, people unfortunately have preconceived notions of what our abilities are,” said Patrick. “They don’t often see us as a real solution to their needs, but that’s just not the case.”
Looking to spread the word about its services and compete with others in the online space, Spectrum Designs applied for a Google Ads grant for nonprofit organizations. After being awarded free Google Ads spending, the team began crafting search ads with carefully selected keywords to stand out in the crowded market. “Everything was pointing toward millennials making more socially conscious purchase choices. We wanted to get on the crest of that wave and just put our company out there,” said Tim Howe, chief operating officer at Spectrum Designs. “The response that we got was overwhelming.” The ads led to more customers discovering the company and its mission, contributing to its impressive 80% year-over-year revenue growth. Today, Tim estimates that 50-60% of sales are driven by digital advertising. “Google Ads was really game-changing for us, and so was the tracking that we can do with Google Analytics,” said Tim. “We can go in and see how many people are coming in through the website, and we can use that information to evaluate previous marketing efforts.”
Today, Spectrum Designs is proud to report that all of its operating costs are covered by revenue, allowing it to continue creating worthwhile employment for individuals with disabilities. In fact, from 2017 to 2018, Spectrum Designs was able to double the hours its employees worked and expand its mission to make a difference for people with autism. It’s an accomplishment that puts into perspective just how far the company has come from its early days as a social enterprise. “You’re not looking at what people can’t do but what they can do,” said Patrick. “It’s worth it because you get a chance to make your own little change in the world.”
Propel Electric Bikes
Brooklyn, New York
Chris Nolte was transporting fuel in Iraq for the U.S. Army Reserves when he suffered a back injury and was forced to return home. As a disabled combat veteran, he found himself unable to do many of the activities that he used to enjoy. Determined to return to his active lifestyle, Chris did some research and ended up purchasing an electric bike. That got him thinking about all the ways electric bikes could transform transportation and promote sustainability. In 2011, he took out a small business loan, bought some inventory, and launched Long Island Electric Bikes. Given his experience in web design and marketing, Chris understood how important it was to establish his new business online. He started with some basic content marketing in the form of blog posts and began seeing success. From 2011 to 2014, Long Island Electric Bikes tripled in size, prompting Chris to move to a large industrial space in Brooklyn, where it became Propel Electric Bikes, a pedal- assisted electric bike retailer.
Chris also used Google tools to help market his business, and he increasingly relied on them as it grew. Early on, he managed everything through G Suite, using apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Drive to store and share information with his team. Today, the company uses Google My Business to boost visibility on Google Search and Maps, and it relies on Google Ads to get in front of potential customers.
Chris’ website typically attracts about 11,000 users from organic search and 2,500 users from paid search per month. He spends about 90% of his marketing budget on digital ads. He is also a proponent of Google Analytics. “Through Google Analytics, we’re able to track our ads, and I can feel more confident in spending more money because I know that we’re going to get it back,” Chris said.
Propel Electric Bikes recently opened a second location in Long Beach, California. For months, Chris was tasked with getting the new shop ready for launch while managing his growing Brooklyn store from afar. “I attribute my ability to successfully do that to a lot of Google products,” he said. Chris pays his success forward by donating bikes to kids in need and contributing to a charitable organization that helps veterans and active-duty service members. Moving ahead, Chris hopes to continue advocating for electric bikes as a transportation solution. “What gets me excited is being part of something that feels like I’m helping the world,” said Chris. “I see electric bikes as the future of our cities — it’s just a matter of getting the word out and building up infrastructure to support them.”
New York, New York
Jean Brownhill had years of experience in residential and commercial architecture. So when she decided to renovate her own townhouse in Brooklyn, she felt well prepared for the job. What she didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to find a great general contractor. "I thought to myself, 'This is really crazy,'" she recalls. "There had to be a better way." Experiencing what she calls "a classic entrepreneurial moment," Jean asked herself, "How can we bring high-quality construction resources to everyday people?" What began as a blog to educate homeowners eventually evolved into Sweeten (as in “home, sweet home”). “We’re essentially free renovation matchmakers,” explains Jean. Launched in 2011 with Co-founders Preeti Sriratana and Sherataun Nuss, Sweeten’s platform helps homeowners in New York City, Philadelphia, and surrounding counties find excellent contractors for their renovation projects.
As a business in a highly visual industry, Sweeten relies on their blog, social media, and video to catch customers’ eyes. In addition to sharing tips, before-and-after photos, and personal renovation stories, “we use YouTube to show clients that we’re real experts who care deeply about making our homeowners and general contractors happy,” explains Jean. “It helps capture the human element of our business and is a vehicle for building trust.” Sweeten also uses AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to attract clients looking for general contractors—about 40 percent of their commercial projects come through AdWords. And Google Analytics “is fundamental to understanding how customers find and interact with our website,” she adds. “It gives us the data to optimize our content marketing, resulting in a 60 percent increase in organic sessions in the past year alone.”
With an annual growth rate of over 300 percent, Sweeten is seeing growth on every front, from the size of the projects coming through their platform to the sheer volume of postings. The average project value today tops $100,000—up from $1,500 when they started. They currently have about 1,000 general contractors in their network and nearly $900 million in construction work in the pipeline. In 2017, Sweeten expanded to commercial projects, doing build-outs for restaurants, retail spaces, offices, and more. And in the coming years, they plan to branch out into other cities and states. “We want to make the renovation process less daunting for homeowners and businesses everywhere,” Jean says. “We’re definitely on our way.”
Queens, New York
Inclusion’s courses are 100 percent free
Saeed Jabbar emigrated from Guyana to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. A love for video games soon led him to discover coding, a skill that he describes would change his life. “I remember feeling empowered,” Saeed shares. “Coding helped me realize the importance of digital skills, but it also opened my eyes to the digital divide in New York City. I saw the disparity within my own community in Queens, and I knew I needed to do something about it.” In 2016, Saeed founded Inclusion to equip unemployed and underemployed young adults with skills like coding, design thinking, and project management. Since their first year, the nonprofit has grown from a single 20-student class to an in-person and online program that reaches over 3,000 participants nationwide.
Inclusion not only teaches the power of the web, they live it. The nonprofit is built on web-based tools, including an arsenal of Google resources. As an Ad Grants recipient, they receive a monthly budget of in-kind advertising from AdWords, Google’s advertising program. “We use Ad Grants for everything—getting the brand out there, reaching students, bringing in donations, and recruiting volunteers. We even have volunteers from outside the U.S. who find us through ads on Google,” Saeed explains. Ad Grants comprises Inclusion’s entire marketing budget. “This really allows us to put money back into the program,” he adds. The nonprofit also uses Google Analytics to optimize their online presence and to see what marketing campaigns are working. And G Suite tools, such as Gmail, Docs, and Sheets, provide easy access to shared tools for every team member and student. “It’s the bread and butter for all things operations,” describes Saeed.
Today, Inclusion shares their curriculum with thousands of students across the country. “Our goal is to reach as many people as possible, and to create a more inclusive world in the process,” Saeed says. “We’re going to adapt to the future as it comes. Whatever skill set is necessary, we’ll train the people who get left behind so that they can be active participants in the economy of tomorrow.” With over 80 percent of their graduates heading back to work, and on average tripling their salaries, Inclusion’s impact is evident. “We’re transforming lives,” Saeed muses. “We’ve grown from a mission statement into a movement.”