Speaking Of … Competitiveness: with Pixar's Oren Jacob and his wife Justine (TCTV)

Ever wonder what a Technical Director of Pixar does in his free time? Well, in the case of Oren Jacob, the answer is: things that begin with “competitive”.¬† Not only has Oren – along with his wife Justine and filmmaker Alex De Silva – recently completed a film called ‘Ready, Set, Bag’ about competitive grocery bagging but he’s also a competitive gardener. He grows things that are as big as I am, such as giant 140lb-ish pumpkins. In the video, you’ll see something huge and green that’s the weight of some five year old children. His journey into competitive gardening wasn’t planned, but he’s found it quite enjoyable during his free moments away from work.

In a way, Ready, Set Bag is tied into the competitive gardening thing too, but you’ll have to watch the video (below) to find out why. Sufficed to say, sometimes life presents you with very interesting opportunities if you are willing to see them and act on them.

Along their journey, the filmmakers discovered an innovative way to change how independent films are distributed while raising money for charities. Not only are they the first independent filmmakers to distribute their film using Groupon to sell tickets but they also give $1.00 for each ticket sold to the local food bank where the Groupon offer was redeemed.

For the first time, a filmmaker doesn’t have to wait until the day of the screening to figure out how many people are going to show up. Thanks to Groupon, they will know two weeks¬† in advance if their theater will sell out. In Ready Set Bag’s case, they also knew exactly how many food bank meals their ticket sales would create.

After this initial screening, they’ve made giving to local food banks an integral part of marketing their movie. With a portion of their ticket sale going to feeding someone locally, movie-goers can feel good about donating to something very close to home, as opposed to contributing to a nationwide or worldwide organization and wondering what happened to it. If you want to know where your contribution went, you can drive to your local food bank and just ask.

I’d love to see more businesses figure out ways to attach social change to their business models. Ready Set Bag could have been marketed the old fashioned way with tons of marketing dollars spent, but instead they decided to focus on local deals and local charities to promote their film, creating meals for those in need as a bi-product. The business wins, the theater wins, hungry people win and the viewers win.

In addition to film distribution, imagine if we started doing this more with virtual goods. Zynga experimented with this idea and its community of players raised 1.5 millionin relief funds for Haiti over five days. I don’t have insight into what Zynga made as a by-product of running that promotion, but I imagine the business benefited as well. If the benefit wasn’t profits, certainly it was a huge community and retention win.

Social giving doesn’t always make sense for a business and can be quite distracting, but if it can work, I urge entrepreneurs to explore it as an option. You might find that it cuts down on marketing costs like Ready Set Bag discovered and as Oren says, that’s a good day at the office.