When you hear the name, Brett Hagler, you’re likely to also hear the phrase, “It’s crazy, until it’s not.”
Co-Founder of New Story, Brett’s “crazy” idea started when he recognized the impoverished living standards he witnessed while on a trip to Haiti. Six short years later, New Story has not only had remarkable start-up success (Ex. An Y Combinator alumni and being named fast Company’s 2017 and 2019 “Most Innovative Companies In The World”) – but most importantly, impacted more than 11,000 lives in 16 communities in four countries.
It was a privilege to sit down with Brett and learn more about what he and his team are working on.
M.R. Rangaswami: You began this nonprofit when you were 25. How did your career experience before New Story impact your approach to doing business?
Brett Hagler: I was always entrepreneurial and started a for-profit, venture-backed consumer company before New Story. After I got back from my initial trip to Haiti in 2013, I did not think about starting a charity but looked for other exciting organizations working on housing for the poor. Turns out I couldn’t find one that I was excited about and that I felt were trying to solve problems in a more modern way. Then the entrepreneurial side took over and I started to imagine what a nonprofit would look like that prioritizes innovation, software development, R&D, and taking more calculated risks.
Since the beginning, we’ve believed transparency was the only way to operate. All public donations to homebuilding go directly to providing a home for a family in need of shelter. If you want to support research and developing breakthroughs in social housing, then we have a private group of donors that we call The Builders. The Builders are a private group of donors that give multi-year annual donations to fund New Story’s staff, innovation, travel and other overhead expenses.
The Builders enable New Story to have the “100% Promise” and also significantly impact future strategy and decisions because New Story knows what their overhead budget will be for the upcoming years. We have two bank accounts: one for building homes and communities, and one for overhead. We promise to never cross the accounts.
M.R.: Since its inception in 2015, New Story has helped to build about 2,300 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. As a San Francisco-based company, you see the homelessness crisis in the Bay Area firsthand. Do you have any plans to get involved in housing the homeless in the Bay Area? What would be the challenges and opportunities of this?
Brett: We have not been able to have an impactful answer to this question until now. In order to make the most impact, we’ve shifted our overall strategy to focus more on developing breakthrough innovations, not keeping them for New Story’s direct projects, but by sharing them with other nonprofits and governments. We call it “create, prove, share” and a use case would be that we help create a 3D printer of homes, prove it in one of the communities we directly build in Latin America, then we share the innovation with SF-based housing organizations. We can also do this with software products we’re building and also human-centered design processes that other organizations can use to design communities.
So, in summary, New Story will not be directly building homes in SF, but other organizations can begin to use the innovations we’re creating to help them be more effective and impactful.
M.R.: You showed off a 3-D printed home at South by Southwest and are set to open a community made up entirely of 3-D printed homes in 2019. Can you tell us more about this community?
Brett: The short version is that we’re set to start the world’s first 3D printed community with our partner Icon this summer in Latin America. The challenge we face is monumental; there are more than a billion people across the globe living without safe shelter. To make a dent in that number, our ability to scale up has to change. 3D printing is faster, cheaper, and had the potential for higher quality homes than the current industry standard.
Our goal is to help power those building homes for families living without shelter — governments and non-profits alike — to do their best work. As we make these strides, it means more families around the world will have safe shelter.
You can read more at the link below and email me (firstname.lastname@example.org
) if you want to learn how people are getting involved!