Brad Wirz was making a six-figure income as a successful marketer working for large corporations and had 20 years in the workplace when he gave it up to start a home-based online philanthropic commercial business.
Wirz, 43, said he was at the peak of his earning potential and was traveling four to five days a week in 2010 when he decided to call it quits.
"It had run its course," he said of his former fast-paced career.
After a few discouraging attempts at a suitable website design for GoneReading.com, his new endeavor officially launched in February.
The website sells the brand name GoneReading line of T-shirts decorated with reading slogans and is geared towards book clubs, librarians and book lovers. Other third-party merchandise, such as book journals, book lights for a Kindle and literary-inspired scented candles, are also available.
Half of the proceeds from the all of the sales go to two designated charities to help fund building libraries in under developed countries. Also, there's a plan in the works to help create funding for local libraries.
Wirz describes the startup as a "commercial approach to philanthropy."
A Trip to Honduras
Wirz took a trip to Honduras in March 2010 to help a group of volunteers build a library. After a 10-hour bus ride through the mountains, they reached their destination in the Honduran jungle where he and other Americans built a library "about the size of a Starbucks," he said.
"It was the first one in over 100 miles in any direction. They've never had access to books at all in their lives. We take books for granted," Wirz said.
"They live a 15th century lifestyle in the 21st century," he said of learning that the villagers had no access to books. "That really put the wheels in motion. I quit my job nine months later."
Wirz learned that close to a billion people in the world live in similar conditions, without access to the power of books and reading.
The Business Model
Realizing he wouldn't be good at running a traditional charity by not wanting to spend his days asking for money, Wirz put his experiences and marketing skills to work.
"People like to buy stuff," he said, recalling a trip to the Westfield Annapolis mall with his wife, Eileen, during the downturn in the economy when there were still lines to buy things and people streaming in the door.
Wirz discovered from the experience that maybe a better way to approach the startup would be to create a brand of products people would want to buy.
“These are incredible organizations that have been developing rural libraries in the poorest parts of the world for many years. I can’t wait until we can start cutting them some big checks,” Wirz said.
Wirz hopes raise $20,000 through online sales this year and said that most of the sales revenue will occur during the holidays.
“We are hoping for big scale funding,” down the road, he said. So far, he has a small group of volunteers, including a lawyer who are helping him launch the business.
Pointing to funding cuts to local libraries, Wirz hopes to partner with Anne Arundel County libraries on fundraiser programs similar to those schools administer to raise funds. He's piloting the program in their former home of Atlanta, GA, where he is aiming to get volunteer groups to sell his GoneReading products and in turn, the library would net 40 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the merchandise.
"We couldn’t have done this five years ago. It's incredible what a small group of people can do with a relatively small investment," he said.