Today’s guest is Austin Kasso. He’s originally from Oregon, and he moved to Indiana from New York after graduating high school in 2009. To pursue his passion for agriculture, with a vision set on revolutionising local food systems. Through his campaigns and contributions, he was named top 10 local food hero in the state of Indiana. In 2014. He created the first sustainable living group on Facebook, which has grown to be the most popular group on the subject with almost 100,000 members sustainable living was featured by Facebook and Austin was voted one of the top 50 sexiest environmentalists in 2021. Last year, he founded a new digital media platform exclusively for sustainability called stryver, which has already listed over 100 sustainable businesses in over 40 categories with a goal to populate the world’s largest oil in one repository for green brands and campaigns. He believes in cultivating purposeful connections that empower people to shape a sustainable future.
Katherine Ann Byam 0:03
Austin welcome, finally, to where ideas launch.
Austin Kasso 1:30
Thank you so much for inviting me to your show. I appreciate it.
Katherine Ann Byam 1:34
Yeah, it’s been almost a year now that I’ve been in your community. And I first joined because I wanted to get the word out about what I was doing. But the community was was so active, it was so passionate, so convicted in what they were doing, and it was really impressive. It was already over 50,000 people at that time, and it’s just been growing astronomically ever since I guess my first question is what really sparked your passion for sustainability? What got you into this?
Austin Kasso 1:59
I remember back in high school and around ninth or 10th grade, is when I started to really develop an understanding for what I wanted to pursue after high school I was already thinking about my future and what really what I wanted to contribute to society and it was based on just all what I was observing and what you know, I wanted to help alleviate poverty, I wanted to really support the pursuit for social and civil and environmental justice to but put it in a nutshell.
So you know, I’ve read a lot of books about a lot of different things from you know, philosophy to Buddhism to to economics, and even cognitive science. And so, you know, I’ve kind of developed a a worldly perspective as I was growing up, and then around that time in high school, I decided that I want to go to my cousin’s farm in North Carolina, and experience what it was like to actually live and work on a homestead. I’d say that’s what they had. I mean, they had 100 chickens, cows, they had a whole fish pond, they had goats fit, huge acre vegetable garden, you know, all sorts of vegetables, very bio diverse, I mean, they would unload the whole pickup truck first of manure, and we would shovel it we’d stand knee deep in the manure and shovel it into the garden and spread it around and I mean it was worked out from from morning to night and I you know, I grew up on Long Island, where I spent most of my time playing video games on the computer after school and then but it just wasn’t you know, it was it was something that made me happy but it just wasn’t totally fulfilling.
And what I discovered from working on the farm was that it was fulfilling in such a way that it changed my life in such a way that it actually when I came back, my grades improved radically. I went from being a cnd student to straight A student so and then it just continued on into college and that’s when I had decided I was gonna move to Indiana to study agriculture and be more involved with urban farming. And I had such an energy and passion that ignited from that time that time in North Carolina that making headlines in Indiana right away just my second year of college I already had made the the college magazine
Katherine Ann Byam 4:33
Well it’s it’s an incredible story. I think I shared a little bit the snippet of that I used to be in the farm with my with my grandfather, and it’s something that I took for granted because I was very young at the time. He had what I consider to be a huge forest. You know, when I think about it, no and I go back and visit home. No, it doesn’t look as big as I remember. But he would spend his entire day there so he was already retired. He’d wake up in the morning very early at six am, he’d do his prayers, then he goes straight to the garden, you’d come up for lunch, then he finished off, and then he’d rest.
And that was the cycle every day, you know, this is part of the thing. And what was nice about it is that the neighbours would bring food as well. So they would always be this food swap going on, you know, if the neighbours were doing chickens or having some type of vegetable, and my grandfather was doing fruits and avocados and stuff like that, and it’s really different the kind of the quality of the life that you live, when you have such a community when you have such a spirit. And you could never be like just quietly in your home and alone, where that’s what I feel now that we sit quietly, no homes struggling all alone, in March 2020 year group was still at about 3000 people. What happened
Austin Kasso 5:46
in? Yeah, in 2020, it’s, you know, I’d stagnated for years. Since I started in 2014. It was, I think it was more along the lines of 6000 people actually, in 2020. But either way, it had rapidly started growing to 20,000 people in just a couple months at the beginning of 2020. And I think mainly, it was due to the pandemic, I’m not sure it’s just it seems that it correlated directly with that. And then, and then, you know, every time there was like, another, you know, climate event, you know, like a hurricane or snow storm, you know, like what happened in Texas, there’s a huge correlation between what happened in Texas, and huge growth in our group at that time, as well. And then the recent hurricane, we also had a huge spurt that brought us from, you know, another 10,000 members, you know, in addition, so it seems to correlate a lot with existential crises.
Katherine Ann Byam 6:51
Yeah, definitely. And as sustainable intrapreneurs, you know, I know, we’re all about sustainable living, but at the same time being an intrepid it, you have to have some sort of relationship with money as well. And we struggle with this. I think, in general, a lot of the sustainable businesses that I meet, struggle with converting their idea into something that sustains them. And it’s not just about, you know, making the capitalist stream, it’s about making a sustainable living, from what you’re doing, what are your thoughts on how you can create more value and monetize value for your incredible community?
Austin Kasso 7:34
Yeah, so I think that was the one thing that I tried to avoid for the longest time, because it made me sort of uncomfortable, you know, I was very, I pursued the business of urban farming in Indiana, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with business or pursuing a campaign or, you know, doing things for profit. But really, you know, it came to the group, I just, you know, I didn’t think of it as a way to create a monetizing scheme, or, you know, I just didn’t, you know, didn’t really understand how I could use it in that way.
But I understood that the group itself was becoming more and more impactful, and I wanted to figure out a way to actually leverage the impact that we can make as a group. And that’s what led me, you know, I was observing, you know, well, how, what is it about this group that I can actually, you know, serve people that’s useful in a way that can also help build the momentum, and leverage or impact together, so it comes more so from that perspective of less, it’s, it’s more about the people than it is about the profit, and but you still have to make money to drive it forward. So that’s, that’s when I was starting to see that, you know, the most common thing in our group is that people are asking, Where is it all in one source for tangible products or crowdfunders, or, you know, blogs that I can find in support?
Because, you know, people are always saying that they’re looking for looking on Google, and they’re having no luck. And then they’re also, you know, trying to understand, you know, what are people’s, you know, what are people’s businesses in the group that they can support, you know, they, you know, they want to, they’re part of a bigger community, and they want to support smaller businesses, and, you know, sure they can, there’s a way to do that on Amazon. But at the same time, a lot of people in our group are just not a fan of Amazon. And it’s a growing trend that, you know, well, Amazon’s just not the, you know, all in one answer.
So, and we’re trying to come at this from a less bigger corporate agenda perspective. You know, it’s, we’re coming at this, you know, we’re the smaller guys, we’re the underdogs, so it’s more meaningful to us and it allows us to also give back more so we have a niche market that we can really Focus on. And so that’s where I got the idea to create strivers to collect submissions for businesses and then you know also to promote them in our group because that was also a big thing that people wanted to do was promote their business in our group, since it’s so popular and it’s such a niche market, it’s there’s a huge incentive there for sustainable brands, you know, to post their content,
Katherine Ann Byam 10:24
what has been some of the challenges in managing such a large community? Have you had any challenges?
Austin Kasso 10:29
Oh, yeah, from the very beginning, it wasn’t so bad. But then as it grew rapidly, we had more and more people involved. And so we had more diverse views involved. And so there’s a lot of clashing between different perspectives on what is considered to be sustainable. And I can understand that, you know, I’m sympathetic to everybody’s cause, and, but I still want to create a space that was inclusive for everybody, and sort of that sometimes the aggression can turn a lot of people away.
So we had to really focus on moderating the group, you know, from a sensitivity, you know, enforcing our rules, which are, you know, respect everyone’s views, and be kind and civil in your comments. And I had to develop a team, and our team is actually, you know, largely responsible for helping to maintain the positive environment that it is, and people are really appreciative of that. And, you know, it’s something that also people say that they can’t find another groups because, you know, they say, other groups, admins don’t care as much about the conflict. And, you know, a little bit of controversy and such can can drive engagement, but you know, has to be respectable controversy.
Katherine Ann Byam 11:50
It’s, it’s an interesting one, it’s something it’s the one thing that kicks off in my group, my group is usually just really businesses trying to help each other. But then there are some times maybe just a few people who would come in and say, Well, you know, you can’t call your business sustainable. If you haven’t done everything, like don’t call it sustainable, it’s greenwashing. And in some way, I kind of empathise with that, like, I can identify with what they’re saying, because we do call out the big corporations for their little slip ups.
So as we progress in our journey, you know, it’s it is a journey, it’s a journey at the end of the day, and none of us will be perfect. But at the same time, it seems to black and white. So this is some of the things that spark up definitely for people. And I think the other thing I would say, that I see in my community is a bit of, I would call it decision fatigue, and a bit of climate anxiety and decision fatigue, of always having to check everything, that everything, you can’t find the right suppliers, you can’t find the suppliers who are ethical enough? And how do you how do you sort of support that side of it? If it comes up?
Austin Kasso 12:58
Yeah, so you know, I think giving everybody an equal say, or an equal Avenue, it allows for just, you know, humanity to be the final Judge of what is sustainable. Because I mean, what is sustainable is just what’s going to sustain, you know, and what’s going to carry forward. So if it’s, and there’s a number of ways you can do that. So if people are learning, and I think the biggest thing about our group is that it exposes all those different perspectives and exposes, you know, the facts behind them the experiences, and it kind of helps people understand what, what the reality of sustainability is what that conversation looks like, on a more worldly basis.
And so, you know, as we’re, you know, for instance, with our platform, and I have, you know, similarly multiple businesses who, you know, may look at each other differently, but they’re all one where one way or the other, they’re trying to pursue a positive impact and they’re, what they’re doing might not be 100% perfect compared to someone else. But, you know, if we all help support, and direct resources, and channel, you know, our support through, you know, these avenues to, you know, support all these businesses together, you know, on a platform like ours can help everyone else achieve their goals and strengthen their own sustainability goals.
Katherine Ann Byam 14:27
Absolutely. What’s next for Striver? And how can others get involved with what you’re doing?
You know, there’s a lot next for stryver I want to say but right now, you know, we have some exciting recent updates that you know, are soon to be published where, you know, members can now create single listings, and if they want to be discovered on our platform, but you know, they’re they’re not really ready to promote or they don’t have a budget for marketing campaign, you know, they now have an opposite opportunity to create us. listing. And then later on, I don’t know how soon we can achieve this, but it is the next stage of things is where we’re going to create more interactive features for free members on our website to, for example, follow businesses on our platform and get notifications when they submit new content.
So it’s kind of another way for people to get noticed on our platform and then we’re going to continue to find more ways that we can create interactions on our website between members and businesses and create add, you know, avenues and opportunities for businesses to actually help improve their marketing campaigns, you know, through through our platform, you know, they can, we’re looking at building in more services later on, like a more one on one consulting till very affordable. And the goal is to really just help small businesses improve their campaigns to get better results when you know, when they’re promoting on our platform.
Katherine Ann Byam 15:58
That’s great. I have one final question for you. Yeah. Are you fulfilled?
Austin Kasso 16:03
Absolutely. I am more than fulfilled. I’d like you know, I guess I’m so happy about this platform being successful. Because a year ago when I first started it, it was it was like a, an arts and crafts project, you know, where I was just, it felt like a scrapbook of things that I was trying to put together and I was just like, is really gonna work. But now it’s like the concept of it. I just kept building at it and building at it, and it’s finally shaped into something really, really fantastic.
Katherine Ann Byam 16:33
Congratulations and all your success. I’m really in awe of you and really admire what you’re doing. And I wish you the best of luck as we continue on.
Austin Kasso 16:41
Well, thank you so much.
Katherine Ann Byam 16:45
This episode was brought to you today by the Eco business growth Club by Katherine Ann Byam and by the space where ideas launch, the Eco business growth club supports positive impact SMEs with coaching new health, and community support toward achieving the impact and reach they set out to meet. You can find out more by connecting with where ideas launch on Instagram or following the hashtag where it is launched across all of your social media.