Nancy Lublin is empowering young people one company at a time

KANSAS CITY—If you look at her track record, it’s easy to see that Nancy Lublin's entrepreneurial sweet spot is with not-for-profits. Lublin started Dress for Success in her tiny New York City apartment to give away professional attire for women coming out of shelters.

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Nancy Lublin Big Kansas City

“I am an entrepreneur,” said Nancy Lublin. “I was born this way, to quote Lady Gaga.”

If you look at her track record, it’s easy to see that her entrepreneurial sweet spot is with not-for-profits. Lublin started Dress for Success in her tiny New York City apartment to give away professional attire for women coming out of shelters. In spite of a run-in with real-estate mogul Donald Trump not yielding bigger office space, she grew Dress for Success to more than 120 cities in the United States.

Lublin loved the organization, but “Because I was an entrepreneur, I was bored and it was time to move on,” said Lublin.

That’s when she got a call from Andrew Shue, former heartthrob on Melrose Place, who was hoping she might take over his startup, DoSomething.org—an online organization that enables members to campaign for causes they care about to “make the world suck less.”

In the age before Facebook, she took the whole company online, got rid of the office space and eventually molded it to be the biggest member-based online organization with more than 3 million users.

Lublin honed the organization’s focus on young people aged 13-25 because of the versatility of the campaigns. “It doesn’t require money, an adult or a car. 13-25. Once you are 26 you are dead to us,” said Lublin.

DoSomething.org’s young users run campaigns that make a difference and start conversations. They run the gamut from making thumb covers to stop texting and driving or working with retailer H&M to upcycle 412,000 pounds of clothes in 2014.

Given its young user base, DoSomething.org’s primary conversation tactic with users is text messaging. With a 97 percent open rate, Lublin said it’s the obvious way to communicate and organize efforts. Although the company rarely received text-backs, one message launched the start of Lublin’s next venture.

“One of our staff members received a message saying, ‘He won’t stop raping me, it’s my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?’” Lublin remembers.

Although they never received an answer when they tried to reach out to the girl, Lublin was determined to create a plan to meet these messages head on.

“We can’t just triage these text messages with personal things. There needs to be a text hotline. So, we built a 911 by text,” Lublin said.

Along with DoSomething.org, she launched the Crisis Text Line. The company now receives more than 12,000 messages a day, 3.5 million to date, from troubled teenagers and adults dealing with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, bullying and abuse.

“People feel like they can tell everything through text messaging,” Lublin said. “We are intervening in one suicide a day. There’s no wait time. Counselors can handle three people at a time, and they return messages in five minutes.”

As Lublin and her team field these messages, they auto-tag keywords and create data that can be used in fields from counseling to law enforcement.

“Because of this data, we know the worst day of the week for eating disorders is Monday. We know the worst state for sexual abuse is Iowa. We know the worst time of day for anxiety is noon,” Lublin said.

She says the Crisis Text Line is working with other industries to make this data predictive.

“Based on what someone texts in, we can let their counselor know what words they use, which might indicate they are using alcohol,” Lublin said. “This can help a counselor know what questions to ask or how to frame a session. Therefore, the quality of their service gets better.”

Although Crisis Text Line is making strong headway, Lublin knows her time is limited until she looks for new ways to impact world with another not-for-profit.

“I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse. When things get good, I get bored and I move on.”

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