Adbongo in Austin and Dallas, Texas, is not like other incubation programs. It’s not even close.
“I started Adbongo as an agency that beats to a different drum,” says founder John Bush. “It has developed into an incubation program. We’re committed to the ‘for benefit’ way of doing business.” This means, he says, putting people first, then the planet, and only then profit, in what he calls “the triple-P bottom line.” It also means clients agreeing to have zero-waste businesses. “We’re building the economy of the future,” he says. The program’s logo, which he designed, features a monkey and a snake dancing. “The monkey is the new economy, and the snake is the old economy. They’re both necessary for the ecosystem.”
“Adbongo applies permaculture principles to the development of cause-driven ventures that adhere to a triple bottom line: people, planet, profit,” notes the program’s Web site. “We call this process: ‘Organic Business Development.’”
Following a tour in the U.S. Marines and several years in private business, Bush began Adbongo as a socially conscious ad agency. Then he broadened its scope. “I began by renting warehouses for the incubation program, but that didn’t work out,” he says. “After I got my underwear pulled over my head a couple of times, I started rethinking it all.”
Thinking back to his advertising experience, he decided that an affiliate program would make sense. “I had clients, but I didn’t have them in my office,” he says. “A lot of businesses in need of incubation have been around for a long time – and simply moving from a traditional to a modern, no-waste kind of ecosystem is a kind of incubation. One of our earliest successes was a law firm that had been around for 30 years. It was an immigration firm, but now it’s a firm that markets itself as bringing families together, and its business has almost tripled.”’
Adbongo does have residential clients in a building it owns and is expanding in Dallas, with three current resident clients and soon room for four more, Bush says. It also has offices in Austin, Texas, but as with many of the approaches Adbongo takes, traditional incubation thinking is turned upside down. “In Austin, the building owner is the client, and we get space from him,” says Bush. “He’s trying to build a kind of cooperative ecosystem there.”
Bush uses the word ecosystem a lot. He sees things differently from most people in business, which he says creates opportunity. “It takes one person to carry 10,000 pounds of waste to the dump,” Bush says. “It takes 10 people to recycle 10,000 pounds of waste. But reusing that waste, so that it’s not waste at all, puts 75 to 250 people to work.” Indeed, he’s in negotiations for 45 acres of land near a Texas landfill that, if the deal goes through, will become the site for reuse businesses incubated by Adbongo.
For now, Adbongo spends a lot of effort on its dozen or so affiliate clients, who get occasional use of office facilities but who primarily do business off site. “Revenue potential is in the affiliates,” he says. “It is almost like a membership, a membership in our ecosystem.” Time with Bush or members of what he calls the On-Demand Team is billed at an hourly rate, with membership being the equivalent of one hour per month.
The hourly price? “One-tenth of an ounce of gold,” Bush says. You read that correctly. Adbongo is not confident in the “old economy” or “fiat currency.” So its fees are stated in gold, with the cash equivalent being the current value of gold.
The program doesn’t take itself too seriously. When announcing the switch to a gold standard in late summer, Bush said, “Gold can’t be counterfeited, it’s not so easy to burn, and it can be molded into a sculpture of a monkey.” The Adbongo Web site features photographs of team members in various costumes and in unusual photographic styles.
Yet it is serious in its goals. Its client list includes a variety of both existing and start-up companies, most of them “green” in one way or another, from waste disposal to the marketing of seeds of heirloom plants.
Still, Bush doesn’t intend to reinvent the wheel. “The old economy and the new economy need to live together in a whole new ecosystem,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons we’re in NBIA – we want to learn from the experts what is feasible. I’m eager to have the views of the masters in the industry. They can help us temper our ideas.”