Giving is Receiving: The Story of a Social Entrepreneur

March 13, 2014
by Kristine Page

Jeffery Adler is an entrepreneur who gives new meaning to turning lemons into lemonade. This San Diego-based entrepreneur and founder of Dlush has proven time and again that dreams don’t have expiration dates and that perseverance truly pays off in big ways.  He’s also an outspoken proponent of finding ways to give back to the community and committed to building socially responsible practices into all elements of his business. Read on for some instant inspiration.

Q. What does social entrepreneurship mean to you?

A. It’s incredibly important, at least to me, that social entrepreneurship is reflected throughout all aspects of your business—it’s not just about writing the big checks. It’s also not just an external thing—you can start small, in your own space with the people that interact directly with your business, meaning your customers, your investors, your employees, your stakeholders. It’s a bigger mindset of concern for others. We’re all about empowering our customers to give, especially in terms of youth to youth giving. It’s not just cash, but other forms of currency, the intangibles that happen in those positively structured environments. Tom’s Shoes is a good example of this one-for-one giving that also provides market differentiation with concrete points of impact. We’re looking to do something similar with Dlush’s Dare to Dream Foundation, but in terms of sharing a beverage and spreading joy.

Q. What’s your best advice for young entrepreneurs?

A. Stay humble and hungry. I’ve always been hungry but I’ve not always been humble. Life is going to smash you sometimes—it’s inevitable—and there’s this pervasive tendency to behave as victims. When, not if, this happens, the successful entrepreneur will take the experience and try to understand it, convert it, grow from it. Be the cause of everything you do, not the effect. It’s what all the best leaders do. You have to find the inner hero within and take accountability.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

A. Looking back, I wish we did more of what we are doing now at the start. Right now, we’re focused on building localized relationships with our community. It’s really easy to get caught up in chasing the next shiny object, but that’s not a long term strategy for success—you have to be willing to prudently grown and expand.

I also learned how important it is to make the product the hero, not just the experience. We like to find playful opportunities with the things that people are at Dlush to buy, while offering a diversity of products that fit within our brand.

Last but not least, I wish I had asked for help sooner—there are tons of amazing resources out there and sometimes you just have to ask. It’s simple but true.

Q. Have you always had an entrepreneurial bent?

A. I’ve always been industrious. It all started with my lemonade stand, Sweet and Natural, which is how I paid my way through college. I’ve always had a lot of ambition and an interest in the beverage industry. It wasn’t a seamless path though—I graduated from Georgetown Law School and realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer. After that, I worked in retail consulting for international department stores, mainly in Southeast Asia and Central America—that’s what made me realize I eventually wanted my own brick and mortar enterprise. I helped bring Starbucks to the Philippines and realized I wanted to create a youth-based drink concept.

Q. What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur? And the worst?

A. The best is that there is no ceiling—but there’s no floor either! There are truly no expiration dates on dreams. It’s punishing at times, but it’s also a real thrill. I’m still enamored with the beauty of capitalism in America—there are no excuses to not chase your dreams. To me, America is still the prettiest girl in the room.

The worst? There’s definitely no clock, no nine to five. It can’t matter what other people think and you can’t define yourself by other people. You have to fire yourself every single day. Every day is the first day on the job.

Q. Tell us about Dlush.

A. Dlush is all about category-innovating drinks and fun, playful foods. We’re looking to build our market share and be a category disruptor in the beverage industry. We want to be a pop culture playground in a cup. All of our drinks are premium—we don’t have just one specialization. Each category is equally important to us.

Kristine Page is a digital strategist at the Rady School of Management. When she’s not tweeting, sharing photos on Instagram or writing stories, you can find her sipping iced coffee and  expounding on the merits of the latest Facebook changes to anyone who will listen.