Brett Hagler is an author, speaker, cancer survivor, and Co-Founder & CEO of New Story. Since launching in 2014 they have raised over $25 million dollars creating 25 communities filled with over 2,300 homes in 4 countries and changing over 11,000 people’s lives forever. They were the first non profit to go through Y Combinator, accomplishing a challenge of 100 homes in 100 days, and have innovated the world’s first 3D printed home which only takes 24 hours to build, and costs $4,000, a fraction of traditional construction costs.
This article is sourced from the Evolve Podcast. Listen or subscribe below.
Where to subscribe: Apple Podcast | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS
Scroll below for important resource links & transcripts mentioned in this episode.
During COVID-19, I think the worst thing people can do is be paralyzed and not, and not do anything, right? And just kind of wait it out and hoard or think my savings are at this and if my savings go down by 5% because I've helped somebody out, that's a problem. No. 10 years from now, it's not gonna matter, right? If you spent an extra, you know, couple hundred bucks or a couple thousand dollars, depending on your income level, tens of thousands of dollars, right? It literally will not matter. And so what are the stories? What are the stories that you want to tell when this is all over?
New Story Charity | Brett's Website | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram
Get the podcast show notes delivered directly to your inbox.
Hey everyone, welcome to evolve. Today's guest is an author, speaker, cancer survivor and cofounder and CEO of new story, one of the most innovative and impactful charities and the 21st century. But his role in helping people is about as far as you can get from his beginnings, living a self consuming lifestyle of girls' gold and glory that led to unfamiliar film it in his twenties, longing for bigger purpose and more meaningful life. He decided to build a life 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He took a trip to Haiti where he met families living in an unstable tent communities due to the 2010 earthquake that destroyed thousands of homes upon returning. He looked for nonprofits that were innovative in their thinking and approach to global housing crisis. We're transparent and accountable and their solution, and we're not afraid of taking risks to achieve results, but he couldn't find any.
So he made a decision that ultimately changed the course of his life and the lives of thousands of others, seeing so many people in the need. He became absolutely obsessed with building a world without global homelessness. Now, only six years later, he's well on his way. And since launching new story in 2014 they have accomplished unfathomable feats of raising over $25 million, creating 25 communities filled with over 2300 homes in four countries and changing over 11,000 people's lives forever. They were the first nonprofit to go through the world's top startup accelerator Y Combinator, accomplishing a challenge of a hundred homes in a hundred days and have continued the startup mentality by innovating the world's first three D printed home, which only takes 24 hours to build and costs only $4,000 a fraction of traditional construction costs is staggering. Philanthropic accomplishments have seen him named Forbes 30 under 30 top 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs and featured in a litany of media outlets including TEDx, CBS, the wall street journal, and CBS being named among fast companies 2017 2019 and 2020s most innovative companies in the world is disruptive. 3D partnership with icon went viral with over 1 billion online impressions and over 600 million video. I'm honored to welcome CEO and co founder of new story Y Combinator graduate and a man who believes that things are crazy until they're not.
Great to be on. Brandon. Thank you for, for that intro. That was, that was a lot of good stuff that I appreciate. Thank you.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's go ahead and start with the trip that you went down to Haiti and kind of the stuff that you were seeing down there that you know, made you realize that there was something that you needed to do.
Yeah, well, I went when I went to Haiti, the the last thing that was on my mind when I went down there was you know, changing my life and starting a, an organization in my early twenties. But I was down there I actually had a for profit startup before this and we were beginning to give back a little bit of the money we were making to a charity in Haiti. And so I wanted to go see an a person. And when I went to go see it, that's when I discovered the issue that we work on today, which is essentially families living without life's most basic human needs safety and shelter. And it just really struck a chord with me and and, and, you know, move my heart and wanted to try to do something about it. And so that was the kind of origin story of it all.
And you also learned a lot about gratitude and kind of grit and stuff when you were diagnosed with cancer at 18 out of this experience, shape your perspective and entrepreneurship.
Yeah. In hindsight I think going through that definitely helped me as a, as an entrepreneur and, and and as a, in a leadership role I think one is just, is just perspective and knowing that you know, ultimately, ultimately I'm not in control, right? I can do my best and I can try things, but one day I could, you know, go to the dentist and they did, they checked my tooth and they find a tumor. Right? That's what happened. Or one day I wake up and, you know, Cobra 19 is now spreading across the country, right? So I, I'm not, I'm up. I'm ultimately non-control you know, from my personal standpoint, I'm in personal life of a man of faith. And so I think that you know, I, I have trust in, in a, in a higher power for that, but like, you know, ultimately life life is so short and so you got to have that perfect perspective to start and be okay with it.
And and then know that you can, learning to control, but you can control. Right? And so for the cancer example I couldn't control getting cancer. I could control my attitude and my mind and how I responded to it, right? And so I could see, I could control how I was, you know, presenting this publicly to people. How my attitude was how I was going to choose that. You know, ultimately this was going to make me better in my, in my twenties and beyond. And and that was a, I think a really good lesson to learn because, you know, at some point in people's lives, you're, you're always going to go through valleys and you're always going to go through adversity. And if you're not, then something's wrong or you're not trying enough things. But you know, at some point in this life, nobody's guarantee or promise a, a comfortable, easy life, right? We're all going to go through hardships and challenges and adversity and the more you can learn to to understand those things are going to happen and when they happen, it's an opportunity to, to build your character and to get better. And so that was kind of the first introduction. And and I think it just, it just really helped shape my mindset.
Yeah. I think a, it's interesting bringing up the fact that you know, we're not always in control because a lot of people would look at the global homelessness problem and shelter as something that they can't control yet. Something that I love about entrepreneurs is they choose a big problem and they say, I'm gonna own that. So why did, why did you happen to choose this problem and say, I'm going to be the one that owns it?
Yeah, this one particular, I I just, again, it was a personal experience, so you see the problem firsthand. And I just think people are, people are moved in their hearts by, by certain things and they're not as moved by other certain things. And I think that when you come across something that you're really moved by or you have a conviction about, then that's probably a sign. Whether it's just like however you want to describe where that comes from or whatever, right? Like there's a reason for it and I think you should listen to it. Right? So there's some other, there's some other serious problems in the world that I personally don't have as much passion for. Right. And so it's not that they don't matter or they're not super important. It just, I'm, I'm less called to that. And for this one, I, I did feel a deep calling to it.
And then when I looked at other organizations that were trying to work on the problem then I saw another issue, at least from my perspective, which was that there were not enough organizations that were trying to, to create solutions in a more modern way. And from my mindset, that was you know, trying to be more innovative as an organization. You know, investing in technology and software taking risk raising money for an R and D budget. Like these are just things that I didn't really see. And so that was a reason why it made sense to actually try to start something instead of just join one. Right. Cause I like the world's not short of organizations or governments that are trying to help people, they don't houses, right? So why not just go do that? And the reason why, because I thought the the, the, how it was done needed some changing it, a little less of the what and the why, but more of more of the how and the strategy.
Yeah. Why start a nonprofit instead of maybe a tech startup to solve this problem?
Well, I think it was because of you know, who we work with. So we work with literally the most vulnerable poorest families in the world. And so that's, you know, reason why philanthropy is needed. You know, obviously the for-profit has a massive impact even on, on the global core. The government has a massive impact and there's also a space for philanthropy to fill. And and, you know, we felt that that was, that was our call. You know, we're now doing things once we've, you know, we've been out of the Gates now for about six years, that that are actually going to become a little bit more of a, like you think of it more of a for profit, even though it's still gonna be a nonprofit, but we're now essentially creating software services and innovations such as a three D printing machine with our partner icon that other organizations and governments are going to start using.
But we didn't start that way, right? We started by just you know, starting small and being a an implementer ourselves, learning a lot in that process, learning the, the problems, the inefficiencies, the gaps, etc. And then how could we identify what those gaps are and try to cut, we say pioneer solutions. That's part of our mission statement. Pioneer solutions. Prove them and then not keep those for our own organization, but to actually export them and democratize them so that other, other organizations and governments can use them. And so that's, that's what we get really excited about today. But you know, ultimately it's like w what's the demographic you want to serve? Right? And when we want to serve, like families that are literally making less than $3 a day, a tech startup to become profitable with them is, is nearly impossible.
Great. Great. you were the first nonprofit to go through YC. How did the things from YC kinda change your mindset around the nonprofit model? I don't know how much it changed my mindset. I think,
You know, starting the organization it was all with a mindset of how a Y Combinator startup would operate. And so it was less of changing my mindset and more of like how me and my co founders, we're gonna, we're going to build the organization, what was our DNA going to be? And our DNA was going to be the exact same DNA that a great for-profit startup would have going through Y Combinator. Right? So like an Airbnb or a Stripe or a Dropbox. Like we wouldn't do the exact same program. Right? The exact same mentors, the exact same mantras and strategies and philosophies. And you know, the best part about it was that it was no different, right? It was, it was the same thing. And and I think that's how, you know, I would dream that, you know, more entrepreneur, more social entrepreneurs would start operating that way. Where there's, there's a, there's no rural differences, I'm sure the end, the end result is you may be you know, putting your revenue in different places and not going back to shareholders. But everything else is pretty much the same. How you build a culture, how you think about building software, how you think about building products, how you think about your sales and marketing channels. How you think about, you know, hacking things together and testing and NBPS and all of that stuff. It's literally the same thing. So,
Yeah, I think one of the cool things though that you took from that was this idea of using the technology to scale your impact or not, not only just trying to take money and directly put it towards the families, but taking money and putting it towards R and D in order to, you know, give it to these other governments, give it to these other organizations.
That's right. That's exactly right. And yeah, that's, that's a model that we hope other organizations and different nonprofit sectors will, you know, see and consider and hopefully try to try to do something. In the same vein,
My background actually came from architecture going through architecture school. I always remembered looking into three D printing and building you know, buildings with alternative methods. But when I got actually into perfectional professional practice, they, the times were just, you know, so archaic. We were still doing things in a very old way. So how do you kind of see you guys pushing that innovation and maybe helping to move that space?
You know, the, the three D printing project that we've done with our partner icon. I think that's a really good example. And for anybody listening, we actually have a a documentary that is out on Apple TV. And so if you have Apple TV, you can just go in there and the series is called home and we're one of the episodes in there. And it just profiles the whole process of trying to create a three D printing machine, proving it, driving it down to Mexico, praying the first few houses seeing the family that's going to live in the first house. And so all of that is documented by an extraordinary you know, film production team that Apple, Apple hired. So I would just say like, if you're interested, go check that out because kinda, they explain it a thousand times better than I can explain it through a podcast. But, you know, we, we just are trying to, you know, think of, think through how do we, you know, if I had, if I had $500,000, right?
One thing I could do, which is really good and as a great option is I could take that $500,000 and I could you know, I'm making up a number, but I could build 80 houses the same way they've always been built, right? And that's 80 families. It's amazing. Or I can take the 500,000 and I could try to come up with a innovation that would make tens of thousands, if not millions of homes cheaper and more effective and more efficient. One's riskier, right? But if, if that one works, then you have a an exponentially higher impact than if you you know, just did it directly, how it's always been done. Even though doing that is still great because it obviously impacts those families and those 80 families as I use the example matter, like so much. But that's, that's how we think about things.
Well at the core of new stories, this belief that homes are more than just sheltered. So why does a home really change everything about a person's life?
I mean, we're all going through Qubit 19 right now, right? And we all have to shelter in place. Imagine if you didn't have a place to shelter all your life. Look like, where would you take your calls? Where would you do your video conferencing? Where would you go to the bathroom? Where would you take a shower? Where would you sleep? What happens when it rains at night? Right? Like these are all very serious things that you know, I always took for granted. I still will sometimes take for granted cause I have a lot of privilege in my life. But like you, you can't, you can't do anything other than try to survive if you don't have a safe, a safe place to call house call. Like you literally can't. Like, it's, it's impossible. And so that's what we get to work on.
Well, that's something that I love that you guys do is you guys have what you call impact metrics. So you're literally measuring how a person's life has improved from your guys's interventions. How does, how do you guys measure these and utilize these?
Yeah, it's, it's pretty simple. I mean, we just have a, you know, we believe in making data driven decisions and so we build that into our process and every family and organization that we work with is, is required to to do you know, to answer certain questions before we engage with them. And that helps us get baseline metrics, you know, of income or of issues with health or sleep or what kind of assets do you have, all types of things, psychological things. And then that's a baseline to know that after we make, after we have an intervention and we you know, there's a change that happens, how do those metrics get better or worse or stay the same? And we're able to consistently check on what's working, which is great, high five over that and then what is not working.
And it's honestly a little more important to figuring out what's not working so that you can, you can try to make changes and tweak it and test it again. And so we actually built our own software product. It's called Felix and you can actually go to a URL Felix data, F, E L I X data.com. And you can, you can see that that tool where actually other organizations and governments are, are beginning to to use it and pay us for it. So we've, you know, we basically have a software data company inside of new story.
Yeah. Well I think that's a amazing, because you know, with a lot of other nonprofits or organizations, it's hard to tell, you know how your money may be actually making a difference. And so this is one way you guys are measuring it, but you also show the stories of the families directly, you know, to the people that are donating. So you make them the hero of those people's stories.
That's right. That's exactly right. Yup.
How do these things kind of help you to attract more donors and, you know, really showcase these things?
I mean, it depends on what a donor cares about, but you know, we've been fortunate to attract donors that, you know, they want to know a little bit more than anecdotally that how a family is doing. Right? And, and, and before they even decide to donate with us, they, you should be able to know up front that like we are an organization that really cares about getting better. Right? And how do you get better? We believe you need to make data-driven decisions. And so what do you do from there? You set up a whole system and a whole process and we have a team and we have software and we bake it into how we do our operations. And so if you care about that, then I think you know, we provide a good, a good way to to, to see and to really understand the impact that, that you can make.
Yeah. I think one of the other cool things that you guys do in terms of donors is, you know, acting like a tech, a tech company, going to angel investors and separating your operations from your donations towards buildings. Can you kind of, can you kind of explain how you guys do that and what the idea of social ROI is?
Sure. I mean we, you know, so we have this model where if a, if anybody listening wanted to give, you know, a hundred to a family 100% of that donation would go towards, will go towards building a house, right? Which is great. And then it goes to my salary and none of it goes to the software stuff we build. None of it goes to, you know, three D printing, R and D that, you know, has a high risk associated with it. And then we get a group of private donors that we call the builders to fund all of our, our operational expenses. And you know, now it's about 53 of those folks. And you know, the, the, the, the pitch to them is pretty simple. It's you know, you could, you could donate directly and you could definitely help you know, as many families as you would like, there's a great option to do that or you could more so invest into the future of the organization and you can help me hire excellent people that then are going to come in and they're going to produce a lot more donation revenue, right?
Then you could do with one, one of your donations just directly to houses or you're going to help us have an R and D budget where we can, you know, create a breakthrough such as a three D printing machine and then be able to ideally, you know, and one day you'll scale that in different countries across the world. And so it just depends on what your appetite is. But we've been fortunate to have a lot of folks that are able to think more longterm with us and and have actually got really excited about investing in quote unquote overhead or operational expenses.
Well you guys have a lot of incredible mentors and advisors like Scott Harrison of charity water, who most likely influenced the a hundred percent model that you guys are doing. How have you surrounded yourself with these people and what have you learned the most from them?
Yeah, I mean so Scott has become a friend and a mentor and he's one of our advisors. And Scott's wife, Vick who's a cofounder of charity water and it was their creative director is actually on our formal board of directors. And she's, that was, that's been effective in 2020 and she's phenomenal. And so we're incredibly close with charity, water. You know, personally and my team, we think the world of, of what they've done and the model they've set and they've, you know, inspired the hell out of us. And I think that that's really healthy, you know, and, you know, my dream is one day is to be able to do that to another generation of you know, a social entrepreneurs. And so, I don't know, man. I think I just, I don't, I don't you know, I'm so much shameless and asking for help and asking for intros and, and wanting to connect with people that I respect.
And I think you have to you have to approach it in the right way and you have to be smart and talk full about how you'd do it if you're really of their time. But I've, you know, for the last, you know, all throughout my twenties, that was just what I prioritize. And I'm 30 now and you know, thankfully it's, it's, it's been very helpful. And once you, once you build a a network that is you learn, you learn so much, you get great counsel and then you know, ultimately it, it starts generating more, more and more introductions because you built, you've built trust with with a kind of caliber of people that are starting to believe in you and then they're going to be a lot more willing to introduce you to two other people that can help.
So I mean for anybody listening, just like doing the, being, being really thoughtful about it being persistent, but like I say, politely persistent you know, like the smallest details matter, right? Like if you have a conversation with someone, like, you know, I would always, and I still do this sometimes, but you know, I would make sure that, you know, a handwritten note would be there the next day, right. And I would overnight it, right? Or if we talked about something, I would, you know, have a book, you know, show up at their office the next day with a little letter, right? Like, stuff like that that nobody does. People remember that, right? People remember the small details, the small things that 99.9% of people, it'd be like, ah, now whatever. Nobody else would do that. So like, I don't, I'm not going to do that because the status quo was not to do it.
And so people like doing the status quo and nobody stands out. And I think one of the best ways to stand out is to, you know, show gratitude and to and to you know, just, just like really care. And so the good, the good news about that is it, it's not rocket science. It doesn't take any kind of like resume or, you know, accolades from a certain school or it's just, it's just caring it, just doing things differently and caring. And, you know, I, I figured that out at a young age of like, you know, there's, there's certain things that I'm not anywhere close to the best at or good at, but, but those kinds of things I figured out it's, it's a you know, try trying to try to just do things other people aren't doing is, is the sweet spot. So
I think there's a part of being humble about asking for that help as well. And then like realizing that you're, you may be unqualified for what you're trying to face because it's so big. How did you kind of overcome this? It's like fear of the scale of the problem or being unqualified to address it.
Yeah, I think it's you know, just, just starting small. And so I have a really simple mantra that we've adopted at new story is to dream big, but to start, start small. And that's what we do. And, and I think that it, it helps you not be paralyzed by becoming overwhelmed. Right. And, you know, I believe another mantra that we say to 'em to do for one, what you wish you could do for all, and what that simply means, right? Like during, let's just say now during COBA 19, you know, you, you can very well be paralyzed by the,
Just the colossal
Need, right? And it's like, how do you help, you know, the poor that just lost, lost their job. And it's like until you get, you get scared and you, you get paralyzed and you're like, ah, I can't help everybody. What's the point? Right. And what I would say is, sure, you can't help everybody, but you can absolutely help one family with kids. There's, there is no reason other than an excuse of how you can't do that. Right? You can do it through volunteering. You can do it through rate, you can do it through money, right? Even if you would say, Oh, I don't have a dollar in my bank account to give like, okay, maybe I doubt it, but even if that's the case you could, you could still do something to, as a fundraiser, generate some money. Right? So it's like there's, there's, what's, what I love about that is what I love about dreaming big, starting small and doing for one where you wish you could do for all is it takes out all excuses.
Right? You can't blame anything else. It's just your decision. And, you know, that's on you. We talked a little bit before starting the interview about an initiative you guys are doing, which is the neighborhood. Yes. So can you share a little bit about what that is? Yes, yes. So we we actually just just launched this and it's our first time working in the U S and we've always thought about you know, working in the U S one day, but it's now because of coven 19. It's happening sooner than later. The short version of why is our work internationally is paused. We can't do construction right now just because of the, the issues with go in 19. And so we just thought, Hey, what could, what could we try to stand up pretty quickly that would have a real impact and be aligned with our mission here and here in the U S and when we've let, the problem we came across was that, you know, every week the word, the numbers get worse.
But you know, unemployment is right now about, about as bad as it's ever been since the great depression, if not worse. And a lot of those jobs are from the working poor in service industries that have just lost their income and they were doing all the right things, right? They were, were working hard, they had their job, they were, you know, having a way to pay their rent, pay their food for their kids. And that's now gone. And a lot of these industries, you know, we believe it's not going to come back for a long time. And so what we see coming is a really scary issue. Which would be, you know, tens of thousands if not more, hundreds of thousands of families that are not going to be working with the working poor, the families not being able to pay rent and what that would lead to.
There are going to be some eviction moratoriums. There's going to be some ways that you can, you know, there's going to be some help from the government side and some legal stuff, but ultimately there's going to be families that don't qualify for that and they're going to be up for you know, the, the, the cold reality of potentially becoming homeless. And that would be obviously really bad for the family. That would be bad for the existing systems and the homeless shelters and the structures that are set up because they already have their hands full of trying to work with the existing you know, people that, that they, that they partner with. And so we don't want that to be flooded with more people that need their help. So what we're going to do, very simply put is a launch new program called the neighborhood where any American can sign up for monthly donations to help their neighbor that is in serious need and are some of the most vulnerable families that are at risk of becoming homeless.
And every month, whether you give 10 bucks or 50 bucks or $100 a month, I'm 100% of that donation will, we'll pay the rent of a family that cannot afford to pay it due to issues of COBIT 19. And so, yeah, the dream is that we can create a you know, a community of generous empathetic supporters that you know, they, that they believe during this time generosity is more important than it's ever been. Especially because we can't be out volunteering a lot of times and we are kind of, you know, staying in our place. You know, we believe generosity is, is the way to help. And and so we want to provide a, just a very transparent and streamlined and trusted way for anyone to help their neighbors that just really need it during this time. So yeah, we're really excited about it. And you just got our website, new story cherry that org and you know, you can sign up and become a monthly, monthly supporter. You know, we, you know, we subscribe to all kinds of things, right? We subscribed to Netflix who subscribed to Spotify, we subscribe to Dropbox, we subscribe, you know, the list goes on and it's like you could subscribe every month to helping a family in desperate need with kids. Like, I wouldn't really hope people do that.
Yeah. There's something that you believe a lot in, which is a service based leadership and that's selfless ambition. Why is, why is serving a mission greater than yourself? So important?
Well, I think it's the only way to truly lead and it's the only way that that leadership lasts. You know, you look all throughout history. The, the best leaders that have made an impact long after their they've passed is are, are folks that have been able to to put a purpose and to put others before themselves when they lead. And you know, the concept that I believe in most that we've really modeled that news story is, is from a book called good to great by author Jim Collins. The chapter in there called level five leadership. And he essentially goes through five levels of, of leadership. And at the top is level five, and he says the best leaders in the world all throughout history CEOs today, the best army leaders you know, from way back in the day to Jesus like it just the best leaders of all time.
They have this really weird blend of personal humility, right? And that's essentially like believing that putting others before yourself and and having empathy with them and thinking from their perspective and how could whatever you're going to do is going to be best for them and not best for you. So a personal humility and a, an intense professional will or essentially like, you know, dogged determination or tenacity. And when you have both of those together, that's the, that's the really rare blend of having both of those right. Humility and you know, really intense professional well and I think so really your ship is, is the combination of those and I think that it's it's the only kind of leadership that actually lasts and works. You can, you can be more you can be more authoritative in certain, in certain times and sometimes you just have to, you know, make calls. But the overall philosophy is, is to, is to put your, your team members first your customers first. And your last,
Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find you in new story?
If you want to engage with me, I'm active on Twitter and Instagram and my handle is just my name, which is Brett Hagler, H a G. L, E. R. and then our is new story charity.org. And that's where you could go to potentially be part of this new program that we have called the neighborhood. Awesome. Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve? You know, in this time, I'm going to go back to a mantra I said earlier is you know, during Koba 19, I think the worst thing people can do is be paralyzed and not, and not do anything, right? And just kind of wait it out and like hoard or think like I like my savings are at this and like if my savings go down by 5% because I've like helped somebody out, that's a problem.
It's like no, 10 years from now, it's not gonna matter, right? If you're, if you spent an extra, you know, couple hundred bucks or a couple thousand dollars or depends on your income level, tens of thousands of dollars, right? It literally will not matter. And so what are the stories? What are the stories that you want to tell when this is all over? And I don't want to tell the stories of, I waited it out. I was cautious. I didn't help others. I didn't give. Right? I want to tell my kids stories of like, yeah, like I was doing all I could, you know, I was being safe and I was being smart, but like I actually gave him more than I was planning to write. I actually did all these other things. And I think that's what you're going to be proud of and that's what you're going to look back on. And those are the kinds of stories you're going to want to tell. And so how you can help her with a wall right now is do things during this season that you're going to be proud to tell when this season's over.
I love that Brett and I really appreciate everything that new story is doing and you coming on and sharing and impacting so many people that you are.
Yeah. Yeah, man. Thanks. thanks to the platform and thanks for having, you know, a lot of like minded people on. It's great.