Detroit Startup Chalkfly Helps Customers Give Back to Schools

9/4/12Follow @XconomyDET

As a new school year starts today for Detroit kids, a new Bizdom startup has launched that allows customers to help make lives of local students and teachers a little bit easier. It’s called Chalkfly, an office and school supplies website that donates 5 percent from each purchase back to the schools or teachers of the customers’ choosing.

Chalkfly was started by Andrew and Ryan Landau, two affable brothers who grew up in the suburbs outside of Detroit and went on to careers at IBM (Ryan) and Google (Andrew). Ryan points out that they had great jobs and no apparent reason to come back to Detroit—until they saw the growing community at the Madison Building, downtown Detroit’s hub for the city’s burgeoning tech scene.

“The Madison Building and Bizdom were setting up down here and starting this revolution where they really pulled out the red carpet for young entrepreneurs,” Ryan explains.

So back they came with an idea: To reinvent the experience of buying office and school supplies. “We said, why don’t we make this experience great by offering more than 15,000 products, 24-7 live customer service, 365-day no-hassle returns, and free shipping,” Andrew says.

Just as important was the idea of giving back. In addition to hiring their first employee straight from a Teach for America stint in Charlotte, NC, the Landaus decided to give their customers the ability to select a teacher, school, or organization to benefit from donations. If a customer doesn’t have anyone specific in mind, Chalkfly puts the money into its general donation fund, where it’s spread around to different classrooms and initiatives in Detroit.

On August 20, Chalkfly hosted a swanky kick-off party at the Madison Building, complete with food, music, and drinks with 250 Detroit teachers to thank them for the job they’re doing—and maybe get some help with marketing.

Andrew says the company has already recruited hundreds of teacher ambassadors to spread the word about Chalkfly and the potential for its customers to donate money to schools, which in Detroit especially are notoriously underfunded. Selling school and office supplies isn’t a terribly sexy industry, the brothers admit, but they want their brand to be associated with both quality and compassion, something akin to the Tom’s brand of shoes.

Though Chalkfly has only been live for a few weeks, the Landaus say they’ve already fielded “thousands” of orders. Part of what attracted them to the Bizdom accelerator is its ability to help Chalkfly scale quickly, but Andrew says it’s just as important to be a part of Detroit’s renaissance.

The Landaus are even lobbying the friends they grew up with to come back and join them in being a part of the city’s reinvention. They see Chalkfly’s charitable work as a small but important part.

“Our mom was a teacher,” Andrew says. “Education is a family value—a great education sets a foundation for opportunities later in life. We want to empower others to do the same.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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