No one is too young to understand the gravity of the situation facing our planet. For each new generation, the consequences are more dire, meaning the conviction should be getting stronger. I was twelve years old when I first witnessed the horrible conditions of animals in slaughterhouses in India, which was the catalyst for my vegan commitments. If your kids display passion about sustainability and want to make life changes, don’t discourage it. They are not too young to see the need and respond.
Aspart of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manick Bhan.
Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, a digital marketing agency that provides content strategy and paid media for digital brands. He is a skilled programmer and the creator of the SearchAtlas software suite, as well as the former founder and CEO of Rukkus.com, a mobile ticketing app that was acquired by Stubhub in 2018. He is also the director of the Animal Heroes Fund, which provides grants for vegan activists and organizations working to protect farmed animals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
We work with digital brands across industries to help improve rankings and online visibility, but we are really proud of the work we have specifically done with brands that share our values, that are offering innovative services, and those that are sustainably-minded. When you have a differentiated product or service, or your company is doing good for the world, you deserve to grow, but not everyone has the budget to constantly be running ads in the search ecosystem. Digital advertising continues to get more expensive, which is why I love SEO. Search is more affordable and far more democratic. It doesn’t just reward those with the most funding or biggest budgets; it rewards quality. It rewards people who are thinking hard about how their brand can be useful and valuable to others.
With our LinkGraph Cares program, we’re committed to doing right by our planet and all its inhabitants. That’s why we donate to organizations working to end factory farming and fight climate change. This ethos trickles into every part of our organization. We also proudly contribute money to social justice organizations working to achieve equal treatment for all of our community members.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
- Plant-based meal policy: When I first started LinkGraph, I knew I wanted to be a vegan company. Since our founding, any item expensed under our brand name has been entirely plant-based. I’m really proud to know that we have never spent a dollar of our budget contributing to a system that harms animals and the environment. Being vegan is obviously not a requirement to work at LinkGraph, but all of our company meals are 100% plant-based. Our employees have responded positively to this policy because they like being a part of a mission-driven organization. Some have even grown more interested in plant-based living to improve their own personal health or reduce their over-reliance on animal products.
- Coworking Spaces: Our agency works from multiple coworking spaces across the country. Multiple studies have identified coworking spaces as a key to reduce global carbon emissions. Not only do we have the opportunity to collaborate with other brands that are doing innovative work, we reduce our brand’s carbon footprint simply by sharing the high energy consumption of an office building.
- Work-from-home Fridays: Limiting our commute to 4 days a week is another way we have been able to reduce our brand’s carbon emissions. Multiple studies have estimated that removing just one day from the world’s weekly work commute could potentially reduce carbon emissions by 30%. Like many other companies, we transitioned to fully-remote work at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic (a global health crisis directly tied to the conditions of animals in wet markets). Thankfully, we were able to seamlessly transition as a result of having strong work-from-home systems already in place.
- Paperless Office: It has never been easier for an office to go paperless, and we have been able to ensure all of our documents stay digital, particularly those with our clients who may not have similar policies in-house. 45% of the paper in offices is discarded within a day. Not only is this wasteful, it’s expensive. I understand certain industries are more compatible with paperless practices, but it’s never been easier for brands to embrace paperless, even if only incrementally.
- Monthly Revenue Donations: One of the initiatives I’m most proud of is our LinkGraph Cares program. We donate a percentage of each month’s revenue to the organizations that are ending factory farming and working toward economic justice. The best thing about this program is that as we grow, we are able to give more. Our team’s dedication and hard work is not only supporting our company, it’s supporting social change. The stronger we get, the harder we can push. We ask employees to inform us of organizations they care about so we can make the causes they love a part of our workplace mission.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Revenue is abstract, but impact is real. Organizations with goals beyond revenue have stronger retention and motivation among employees. It has also been easier for us to recruit talent because people care about what impact their company is having in the world. Our clients have responded positively to our commitments as well because they want to work with good people who demonstrate strong ethics. In turn, we have been able to attract the right kinds of customers who have ethical standards as high as our own.
We constantly receive comments from our clients about our LinkGraph Cares program. In digital marketing, you really have to practice what you preach, and because we have made social-consciousness a part of our brand and mission, people are inspired by that. They want to work with us even more. If you look at some of the biggest brands out there right now — Apple, Tesla, Starbucks — they are making big plans with sustainable business models because customers are rewarding them for it. Being socially-conscious is not only good hearted, it’s good business.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Encourage convictions. No one is too young to understand the gravity of the situation facing our planet. For each new generation, the consequences are more dire, meaning the conviction should be getting stronger. I was twelve years old when I first witnessed the horrible conditions of animals in slaughterhouses in India, which was the catalyst for my vegan commitments. If your kids display passion about sustainability and want to make life changes, don’t discourage it. They are not too young to see the need and respond.
- Be a facilitator. If you can, give your kids the resources they need to make lifestyle changes that support sustainability. Most parents buy the groceries for their household and make the choices related to day-to-day consumption. If your kids express interest in plant-based food, allow them to help you create a grocery list. Plan a plant-based meal together once a week. Have conversations at dinner about how your family’s day-to-day choices at home are connected to your community’s ecosystem and the larger arc of climate change. Simply by facilitating these conversations, you can help your kids think about their consumption and the long-term impact of their daily choices.
- Make a Chicken friend: America’s overall apathy toward the conditions of animals on factory farms is because of how separated we have become from the food production process. Have you ever interacted with a chicken? They are beautiful animals, like Chickpea (our office mascot and a celebrity in her own right). Take your kids to your nearest vegan farm where they can see animals living happy, cruelty-free lives. All of us could benefit by strengthening our bonds to the creatures with whom we share this planet.
- Make plants fun: The earliest years are when we develop our tastes and eating habits. Try to get your kids excited about plants by going to a farmer’s market or helping you cook a vegan meal. Try growing your own vegetables in the backyard or herbs in the windowsill. This not only leads to healthier living, it leads to sustainable living.
- Model climate-consciousness. You don’t have to become a hard-core vegan tomorrow in order to model a climate outlook. Dedicate a single day of the week to plant-based consumption and tell your kids why you’re doing it. Make as many better small choices as you can. There are a lot of innovators out there working hard to make the sustainable options the more affordable ones, but until then, do what you can to model a climate-conscious lifestyle to your kids so that it becomes their default way of moving through the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Focus on profitability, not on raising money. This is hard advice for any entrepreneur, but if you want to grow a company ethically, it’s harder to do that with investors. Raising money equals more expectations, but profitability leads to sustainability. If I had taken funding and always had investors breathing down my neck about our bottom line, I probably would not have been able to build the sustainable brand I wanted. To structure a company with revenue donations is not very appealing to most investors, but it does excite customers. You can build a company without one, but not without the other. Ultimately, if your business isn’t sustainable, the music is going to stop one day. Growing a company with an ethical lens takes discipline and patience, but it can be done.
- Lead with empathy and compassion. The most valuable thing you have in your company are the people you’re working with who are supporting your vision. Care about what happens to them. The most successful entrepreneurs I know build long-term relationships with their core team and keep working with them, startup after startup. I have friends who are on startup #3 together, and each time they did it better than they did previously.
- It’s okay to fail, just fail fast. The faster you can figure out something isn’t working, the sooner you can make it work. The Thomas Edison quote about failure and figuring out thousands of ways to not make a working lightbulb is great. Especially if you’re a tech startup, the faster you can iterate, the sooner you’re going to get something that works. Focus on acquiring some form of knowledge that isn’t commoditized or widely known.
- Always be looking. Building teams is hard. Not all new entrepreneurs realize how long it takes to find, interview, and hire a new employee. When your team is already small, the process can take a lot of man-hours if you haven’t clearly established what success at your company will look like and what the mission of your organization is. If you’re not careful, the hiring process can become a distraction from improving your product or finding new customers. That’s why it’s better to keep a running list of contacts and potential employees always on hand, even if they are not on the job market right now. Always be looking, so when the time comes to bring on the next team member, you already have a list of great people who will fit well with your culture and mission.
- Don’t be afraid to take a vacation. I definitely regret working 120 weeks for 6 years straight without taking a vacation. It wasn’t worth it. You’re a human, not a robot. You work best when you’re happy and motivated. Sometimes when you’re too close to something, you can’t see it clearly. Travel to places you’ve never been — Thailand, Japan, Philippines, India. Choose places you’ll have an adventure but more importantly, a new cultural experience. Also, make time to read. Some of the greatest human minds aren’t alive anymore, but their thoughts are. My favorites: The Four Agreements (Ruiz), The Lessons of History (Durant), Siddhartha (Hesse), Sapiens (Harari), The Great Challenge (Osho), Meditations (Aurelius), and Art of War (Sun Tzu).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When it comes to my journey toward veganism, I’m very thankful for my partner (in business and in life), Sophia. I had already committed to a vegetarian diet prior to meeting her, but she taught me more about the harm factory farming has not only on animals, but on rural communities, people of color, and the global climate we all share. So much of what LinkGraph is doing to be socially-conscious has come through her optimism and execution. I am very lucky to have her along with the rest of our family members — two dogs, two chickens, and the occasional foster duck.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Any company can make sustainability a priority, even if their products or services aren’t directly related to combating climate change. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of political rhetoric that juxtaposes sustainability with business and innovation, but it’s all false. If the next generation of founders and CEOs commit to building brands that are kind to the environment and incorporate the best practices of sustainability into their workplaces, we will see drastic, tangible changes to the health of our planet. For example, an individual who forgoes animal products makes a small dent, but a company with hundreds of employees that transitions their employee dining room to a plant-based kitchen can reduce our over-reliance on animal products at a much faster rate. Brands, not individual people, are the world’s biggest consumers.
A part of the reason my company has grown so quickly is not just because we are excellent at SEO, but because we take our commitments seriously. People want to work with us because of our sustainability initiatives, our workplace culture, and how we leverage our brand to support good causes. I would love young entrepreneurs and business owners to feel inspired to model their companies in a similar way, regardless of their industry niche.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid-self judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” — Don Miguel Ruiz
From my own past experience of overworking and stretching myself too thin, this quote helps remind me that doing my best doesn’t directly translate to perfection, production, or results. Businesses have ups and downs. It’s important to be kind to yourself on those days when your “best,” looks a little different. As long as you keep working hard, those better outcomes will return.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
You can follow me at @madmanick.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!