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Fully Grows as a Force for Good — for B Corp Community and as Part of Larger Company

Fully Acquisition by Knoll Comes With B Corp Donation to Fuel B Local Effort

Since founding Fully in 2006, David Kahl and his team have built the Certified B Corporation into an online office furniture business with 105 workers and annual revenue of more than $50 million. (Photo courtesy Fully)

Online office furniture business and Certified B Corporation Fully is joining forces with Knoll, an 80-year-old furniture company, to enable its growth — and, as part of the acquisition agreement, boost the B Corp movement for the future. The agreement includes a donation to B Lab and a regional B Corp group to strengthen their work in using business as a force for good, and it demonstrates the role of collaboration and community in growing the B Economy.

Since David Kahl founded the company in 2006, Fully has offered office furniture to help its customers and workers stay active and engaged on the job. The Portland, Oregon-based B Corp pioneered direct-to-consumer sales of adjustable-height desks, ergonomic chairs, and accessories that feature recycled wood and other environment-friendly features intended to keep workers active throughout their hours in the office.

“We created this website experience that enabled customers to find products that encourage more movement, mindfulness, and flow, but it also provides a more direct relationship with the company,” Kahl says. “We wanted the relationships with our customers to be as authentic, direct, and honest as possible.”

Fully and Big Path Capital are part of the community of Certified B Corporations. Learn more about this growing movement of people using business as a force for good, and sign up to receive the B the Change Weekly newsletter for more stories like this one, delivered straight to your inbox once a week.

Kahl says movement and ease of use are at the heart of Fully, which has grown to have 105 workers and annual revenue of more than $50 million while operating its business as a force for good. With that growth came new challenges, including adequate cash flow.

“We needed access to capital to grow and scale at the pace our customers were demanding,” he says. “I knew that outside investment was the fastest and most efficient way to get us there.”

But it was crucial to maintain Fully’s mission and transparent practices in the process, Kahl says. “We were never willing to sacrifice our values for the sake of growth.”

As a B Corp, Fully values stronger communities and healthy workplaces — internally and throughout its supply chain, which includes partners in the U.S., Scandinavia, and Asia that use efficient manufacturing practices and encourage women’s leadership and employee-ownership opportunities.

When Kahl first considered seeking outside financial help, he kept Fully employees informed from the beginning — in line with the transparent workplace culture — and announced the new partnership with Knoll in an all-hands meeting.

For Kahl, it’s all part of operating the business as a force for good.

“It’s not important who we are, it’s important how we are,” Kahl says. “We believe in contributing to shareholder value and the value of the world, and our customers feel that. Our employees feel that. It’s something special.”

Relationships as a Force for Good

To help explore various capital options that would support his mission , Kahl turned to Michael Whelchel, managing partner of Big Path Capital, another B Corp, whom he met at the annual B Corp gathering, Champions Retreat, in 2017 in Toronto. Kahl says the two “hit it off” then and stayed in touch, maintaining a friendship that came to business fruition two years later when Fully needed financial guidance.

“I wanted someone in this transaction who also understands that how we do business is as important as the business itself,” Kahl says. “Employees, Mother Earth, and customers are equally important as net income.”

Fully and Big Path Capital are part of the community of businesses that have used a third-party verification of their impact. Use the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate your company’s impact on all stakeholders, including the environment, your workers, your community and your customers.

Whelchel and others at Big Path provided mindful assistance that eased the capital-raising process, Kahl says, by narrowing potential partners to mission-driven capital sources and maintaining Fully’s focus on all stakeholders. “How we are culturally is important to why the brand is successful,” he says.

As one of the founding B Corps, Big Path Capital is committed to helping mission-driven companies find capital partners that will support and strengthen a company’s mission and impact. Outside capital creates vulnerable junctures with long-term ramifications, Whelchel says, so it’s important to get things right.

Michael Whelchel is managing partner of B Corp Big Path Capital. (Photo courtesy Big Path Capital)

He notes that Big Path Capital works in three ways with mission-driven businesses: helping B Corps like Fully raise capital and/or build and sell a piece or all of the company; working with impact funds; and organizing events that build the impact investor community by creating and strengthening relationships — like the one Whelchel and Kahl established at Champions Retreat.

“We developed a relationship for a couple of years,” Whelchel says. “Because of the growth of his business, Fully was able to finance a good part of that just from internal operations. But the growth eventually got so strong, there was a need to bring in a capital partner.”

Because of the ongoing relationship, Whelchel says the move toward finding financial help was a smooth process for Kahl and the Fully team.

“One of the things that David spent so much time on was talking about the intention for his group, himself, and his team,” Whelchel says. “That preparation was key. When you do that work well, and are grounded, the other steps can come easier. He really did some upfront work to know what he was looking for — to know what was most important.”

Like Fully, other B Corps considering an acquisition or similar business arrangement can protect their mission by specifying the importance of those values early in negotiations, Whelchel says, and checking the investment history of potential partners.

“Understand the intentions of the money and of the group: where they’re coming from, timeframe, expectations for return,” he says. “Some people can say they’re interested in impact, but it can mean different things to different people. It’s easy to say but not necessarily easy to figure out.”

Read about another Big Path Capital B Corp collaboration: B Corps Partner for New Opportunity: Big Path Capital Connects the Builders Fund for Smart Investment

Spreading the ‘Secret Sauce’

Kahl wanted to include Knoll on the list of potential capital partners, as he had always admired the company’s design and industry leadership. With $1.3 billion in sales in 2018, Knoll offers furniture and other design elements for modern interiors.

In addition to that market success, Kahl knew that women played an important role in Knoll’s history, noting that Florence Knoll was an early influencer at the company with her husband, Hans. Florence Knoll is credited with creating the idea of modern design and office interiors in the 1940s and 1950s — an era when few women filled such roles.

Fully office furniture is designed to encourage movement throughout the day. (Photo courtesy Fully)

“Having that kind of heritage is really meaningful,” Kahl says. “We don’t just talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Fully, it’s a core part of what we are. It’s part of our secret sauce.”

Knoll was a receptive partner. As the agreement between Fully and Knoll took shape, Whelchel and Kahl discussed whether it could include some financial support for the B Corp movement. That idea became reality in the form of two important contributions, both in support of local networks promoting the B Corporation movement: a donation to B Local PDX, a network of B Corps supporting the movement in the Portland region, and a donation to B Lab to support B Local infrastructure across the country. These contributions were a shared commitment to B Corps among Knoll, Fully, and Big Path Capital.

“We wanted to create a stronger sense of being a force for good in the world — putting our money where our mouth was,” Kahl says.

Chris Baldwin, Knoll Office President and COO, says, “We admire David and the Fully team’s leadership in the B Lab community, and support Fully’s continued B Corp certification. This contribution reflects our support for the B Corp movement, and will fuel B Lab’s work promoting the values we all share.”

For Kahl, the donation is another indication that Fully will continue to forge a strong B Corp path even as its operates under a larger corporate umbrella.

“Being a B Corp is part of our DNA,” Kahl says. “Wanting to use the power that we have as a business to really make an impact is what excites us here at Fully. These ways of doing business are part of who we are. Not only did Knoll recognize that, but they’re celebrating it.”

Since the deal between Fully and Knoll closed in August, Kahl sees new and bigger opportunities to spread the B Corp message among customers and other businesses in the Knoll family.

“We can do well and do good with our business,” Kahl said. “There’s tremendous potential here to transform this industry’s way of thinking.”

B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

Fully Grows as a Force for Good — for B Corp Community and as Part of Larger Company was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Originally posted on B the Change - Medium by B the Change.

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