Dan is the founder of Crêpes for Change: a social enterprise and Australia’s first non-profit crêpe van, with 100% of the proceeds going towards alleviating youth homelessness in Australia. Rather than simply throwing money at the problem, however, CFC will run a program to provide underprivileged Australians with hospitality and barista skills so that they can gain the skills needed to find employment and prosper on their own. The project is currently in its crowd-funding phase, but will be operational in the next few months.
Dan is passionate about having a positive impact by leveraging the market through a sustainable business model rather than by relying on donations. He is currently taking a break from his Law degree in order to devote his energy to the range of start-ups he is a part of. In addition to Crêpes for Change, he is the founding editor of Asia Options, runs a blog about learning Chinese (Chinese-Breeze), as well as a freelance editing company (Write Fluently).
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Anyone can dream, and there are a million great ideas floating around. The hard part is identifying which of those are worth pursuing, and being honest with yourself about the feasibility of your idea.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Crêpes for Change has been a dream for a long time. I often get asked by people where the seemingly arbitrary idea to use a French dessert as a tool for social change came from, as on paper I have an Asia-focused background, having studied Law and Chinese while being involved in a number of organisations centered around the Australia-China space.
In high school, I spent a semester in France as an exchange student. I happened to be placed in the region where crêpes originate (Brittany), and it was there that it all began. Every Friday night, my host family religiously had the extended relatives over for crêpe night. After much begging and pleading, I was allowed to try my hand at spinning them, and was even handed down the secret family recipe.
When I returned to Melbourne, I spent the next few years working in crêperies in Melbourne.
So, in reality, it’s not surprising that the embodiment of these experiences is Crêpes for Change.
To begin with, I started off slowly. I was kind of afraid to be vocal about the project or announce it through my personal channels for fear that the project might fail quickly or never get off the ground. Luckily, enthusiastic response from friends and early contributors was enough to give me the confidence to take the plunge and launch officially.
We’re about half-way through our 60 day crowd-funding campaign, and we’ve raised about half of what we need to fully fund the project. We’ve also been publicly endorsed by both sides of politics, including Greens MPs Adam Bandt, Ellen Sandell and Labor’s Mark Dreyfus. NGOs such as the Oaktree Foundation and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have also given the Crêpes for Change the nod.
We live in an exciting time full of opportunities to be had, but the sad reality is that not everyone starts off on the same level. Many lack not only the tangible basics such as food and accommodation, but also the things that shape a person’s life immeasurably: a loving family, inspiring teachers and mentors, support from their community and people who will give them a shot. It’s heartbreaking to see people unable to leverage themselves out of a bad situation.
Our goal is to be able to employ, train and support young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and allow them to find long-term employment and prosper on their own.
Please explain your business model
As a social enterprise, we follow a relatively traditional business model. We will be hitting Victoria’s streets, markets and festivals and selling our crêpes and coffee. Occasionally we may receive grants from the government or other parties, however we have not done so yet.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
The next three months is when it will all be happening! With only a few weeks left in our campaign, we’re already in the final stages of designing our van and will soon be placing an order for it to be built. We’re currently operating out of a temporary stall that we built to cater for a large number of requests for us to spin crêpes at events (weddings, private functions, etc), so we’re super excited to have our very own van.
We’ve recently also developed a partnership with The People’s Solar, an organisation that provide a crowd-funding platform to fund community-owned solar projects, and we’re working on some exciting collaborations with them. Notably, we’re in discussions about whether it might be feasible to install panels on the van so that it will be entirely solar-powered. It might take us a while to work it all out, but we love the idea of a carbon neutral, socially positive and deliciously-tasting crêpe van.
We’re also looking forward to partnering up with other like-minded organisations to increase our impact. Watch this space.
How do you make ideas happen?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know how to answer that before reading Margaret Quixley’s interview – but I think she’s completely on point with her response. Anyone can dream, and there are a million great ideas floating around. The hard part is identifying which of those are worth pursuing, and being honest with yourself about the feasibility of your idea. Those are actually words of encouragement, by the way! As long as you do your research and proceed with clear intentions, you should be in a pretty good position to be successful.
There will be people along the way that will doubt you, question your motives, laugh at you, and try to dissuade you – but that’s all part of it. If you listen to those people, then you’re probably not motivated enough to follow through with your idea anyway. I believe strongly that your twenties are the time for risk-taking and experimenting. If you fall flat on your back and wonder what happened, you can be confident that you know where you went wrong and will be better off because of it.
What does your typical day look like?
Unfortunately, like most start-up founders, I’m working a full-time job to pay the bills while working on Crêpes for Change and the other projects I’m involved in during every other waking moment.
On a typical day, I wake up at 6:30am or 7am, answer some emails before going to work from 8am-4pm. Then I’ll come home and keep working until about 9pm. It’s a long day!
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
I think the hardest part, especially when you’re crowd-funding the start-up funds needed, is to get people on board when you don’t yet have much to show for yourself. It’s kind of necessary to fake it ‘til you make it a little bit, but once you get a bit of momentum behind you you’re all set if you leverage it to keep it rolling forward.
It’s easier now that I’ve founded a few companies, but the first time around I found the registration requirements confusing and demanding. It’s hard to know whether to incorporate under state law or federally with ASIC. I didn’t know the difference between an ABN and an ACN was, etc. These things become doubly confusing when you enter the non-profit space…from registering with ACNC, to applying for DGR status, to determining what type of non-profit your organisation is, it can get tedious.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Do not underestimate the power of thanking someone. When someone donates to Crêpes for Change, they get thanked many times. They get thanked on the Facebook page before they’ve even done anything, then again when they reach our crowd-funding page, then again when they pledge, and one final time when I send them an email expressing how much their support means.
I’m not being ingenuine, either. One thing I realised immediately when starting a crowd-funding campaign just how hard it is to get someone to pledge money – even just one dollar. It takes a special kind of person. To those types of people I am extremely grateful.
It sounds overkill, but it makes a huge difference. It will increase the chances that they will share the campaign with their friends, or help you out in some other way!
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
STREAT were the inspiration for Crêpes for Change. I am hugely influenced by what they do. I’d love to talk to their founder someday, Rebecca Scott, or anyone else in the team. Someone people put us in contact!
Kinfolk Café, too. Check them out.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Business can have a huge impact and create enormous social change. Social enterprise, I believe, is the future of the ‘charity’. Even businesses that donate a portion of their profits to a social cause can have a massive impact.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Absolutely! The plan is to rely on volunteers to help staff the van when it’s up and running. We’d also love to be able to pay underprivileged young people.
So, if you’re interested – get in contact!
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Leroy, Acland St.