In his earlier life, Ben Unterkofler was a teenage star, played in "Freche Mädchen" or in the "Wild Chickens". Unterkofler stood in front of the camera more than 20 times, was considered talented and was nominated for the New Face Award in 2011. But then, when Unterkofler's career was supposed to really take off, he left. In 2013 he shot his last film, an episode of SOKO Munich, then he started studying business administration in Cologne and later went to the renowned London School of Economics. A contrasting programme, which Unterkofler later described as a "good cut", because without him he wouldn't be where he is today. Unterkofler is now a founder and achieves double-digit million sales with his social enterprise Share. A success story by all established criteria.
Since this year, however, this story has been getting its first scratches. In the first quarter, revenue growth expectations were missed by 20 percent and Share had to lay off some employees. Unterkofler and his team are only partly to blame for the development. The slump has to do primarily with a macroeconomic trend. A current Deloitte study also shows that in times of high inflation, people save primarily when it comes to sustainability. Only 30 percent of people are willing to pay more for sustainable products. In 2021 it was still 67 percent.
This is exactly how Unterkofler and Co. earn their money. Share is best known for its presence in supermarkets. There the company sells muesli bars, water bottles and various care products. A social project is supported for every product sold. A bottle of water, for example, gives a person in Africa access to drinking water for a day. With this "one-for-one" approach, Share has grown since 2017 and now sells 120 different products. "We want to scale social capitalism," says Unterkofler confidently.
In the meantime, however, Unterkofler is also wondering how social society is in times of crisis. A look at the figures from the German Donations Council shows that older people over the age of 49 carry the bulk of the donation volume. The proportion is increasing from year to year – or to put it another way: Younger people tend to donate less and less. "That probably has less to do with their attitude than with the general economic conditions," says Unterkofler. He is therefore all the more convinced of his concept that social consumption picks up young people better than a donation. At least you get a product here. And the 32-year-old also sees a great opportunity for products that would have to be bought anyway.
"What we have found is that the products under two euros in particular are currently working very well. Everything above that is becoming increasingly difficult," he says. Overall, Share sold a total of 13 percent more products despite the missed sales forecast. This calculation works because customers mainly bought cheaper products such as water or muesli bars.
Unterkofler and his team reacted to this and adjusted their business model. Away from higher-priced to cheaper everyday products. Less natural shampoo, more food. "We look at everything that makes up daily consumption," says Unterkofler.
However, the realignment does not only include products under two euros. For example, Share has been cooperating with the mobile communications service provider Congstar since Tuesday. Almost every German uses a smartphone. This also makes the market interesting for Share. In the new tariff, users receive four gigabytes of data volume for 10 euros, or 8 gigabytes for 15 euros. In return, with every monthly payment completed, a Kenyan child receives one month's access to the educational platform Eidu. Actually, the price should be well above the current conditions, says Unterkofler. But, as the past few months have shown: "We have to be highly competitive with our products. Otherwise we don't stand a chance." Anyone who is familiar with the mobile phone market knows that you hardly make any money at these prices.
The path still works through many micro-investments. You can supply a person with water for a day with just three cents per water bottle. That could be accommodated in the price. The times when people grabbed expensive care products and thus released larger sums of money in one fell swoop are currently not there.
Nevertheless, there is no alternative: "We have to make ourselves crisis-proof now," says Unterkofler. His investors, especially medium-sized companies and private individuals, have conspired with Share. In the medium term, however, it would be about getting by without external money. "I call Share a big experiment: Can there be a company that operates sustainably and at the same time creates social benefits? If so, then there are actually no more excuses for other companies not to follow." This question has not yet been finally answered. The current path inspires hope, but it requires adjustments and a change of direction. After all, Unterkofler knows all about it.
This article first appeared on Capital.de.