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Goodshop Founder JJ Ramberg ‘92: Entrepreneurship Takes the Right Attitude

Video by Pilar Timpane, Duke I&E

For the past 11 years, social entrepreneur JJ Ramberg ’92 has overseen her business, Goodshop, which raises money for causes when people shop online.

She founded Goodshop – which started as a charitable search engine called Goodsearch – with her brother “almost on a whim” about 10 years after she graduated from business school at Stanford. She used “guerrilla grassroots marketing” to promote the idea, cold-calling nonprofits and charitable organizations across the nation to ask them to share the platform with their supporters.

Since then, Goodshop has raised about $12 million for causes and campaigns. Recently, the business launched two new products – Goodshop Fetch, a browser plugin that automatically searches databases of coupons for participating stores and comes up with the best one, and Goodshop Give, a way for users to start a campaign for a cause they’re passionate about.

The way Goodshop Give works, Ramberg said, is by asking people to download a browser plugin. Then, every time they shop at a participating store, (including Sephora, Reebok, and Travelocity), a percentage of their purchase will be donated back to the campaign at no additional cost to the user.

“It’s not crowd-funding, it’s shop-funding,” she explained.

Ramberg said she’s just as excited about her business as the day she started it, which she views as the most important part of being an entrepreneur.

Ramberg, who now lives in New York, returned to Duke for DEMAN Weekend (Duke Entertainment, Media and Arts Network), where she delivered a keynote talk along with Amy Gravitt ’95, the executive vice president for HBO programming.

An English major at Duke, Ramberg said she didn’t know what she wanted to do when she graduated.

“I’ve been interested in social entrepreneurship since I was a kid and I had my first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone and I realized that you could marry business with doing good,” she said. “But I didn’t have an idea for anything that I wanted to start until I was in my 30s. I did lots of jobs and learned from a lot of people and all of my experiences came together to help me start what became Goodshop. I’m glad that it took me a while to come up with an idea because I was much more prepared for growing it once I had it.”

But Ramberg isn’t just busy with her business. She’s also a journalist, and for the past 10 years she has been the host of an MSNBC weekly show about small business and entrepreneurship called “Your Business.”

Ramberg said that hosting the show and starting her business concurrently offered her a unique opportunity.

“I got to take everything that I learned from these other people and bring it into my company, and I got to take everything that I’ve learned in my company and talk about it on the show,” she said.

She said she feels her time in media has also been an entrepreneurial effort.

“Entrepreneurship in a traditional sense is someone starts a company, grows this company, but entrepreneurship is also an attitude,” she said. “If you are an artist, and you’re out there selling your own products, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re in essence starting your own company. If you go work for a big media company but you are working on one particular thing, you can have an entrepreneurial attitude around it.”

Ramberg’s first job in media was as a receptionist for NBC Nightly News.

“It took about two days being there, and I was hooked,” she said. “I loved working in that newsroom. So I worked really hard. I took that job as a receptionist so seriously.”

She uses her experience when she administers advice to students.

“I tell everyone out there, get any job you can in the organization you want to work in,” she said. “I don’t care what job it is. Do a good job, ask a lot of questions, and you’ll get recognized.”

It’s also OK to not always have a plan, Ramberg said. She didn’t know what she wanted to do after she graduated from Duke.

And if students want to start their own companies, Ramberg said, attitude is the most important component.

“Being an entrepreneur is not about what you study,” she said. “It’s about do you have an idea, are you a good leader, do you have the open-mindedness to change your idea along the way if it needs to be changed.”