We had the good fortune of connecting with Brad Otto and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brad, every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
One Sunday in 2012, we had someone come and visit the church I was serving to talk about the water crisis in the world. He was a representative to an organization called Water to Thrive. As he talked I felt a calling, I believe the whole congregation felt a calling to do be a part of the solution, and so we decided to fund a water well. Little did I know that when it was all over we were sponsoring TWO waters wells. I was asked to travel with Water to Thrive to help build these two water wells. I didn’t hesitate, and the next year I traveled to the country of Ethiopia with my church group. It was May 2013. I couldn’t believe I was on this journey. I had always wanted to go to Africa. While there, the focus was supposed to be on the water crisis, but another crisis soon began to bubble to the surface for me. Everywhere I looked I saw schools that seemed to be newly constructed sitting empty. I saw run down schools where kids would be sitting in mud trying to learn, where kids had only one book for every ten students, where education seemed so close and yet so far away. It finally hit home one day as we were walking in one of the villages. One little boy came up to me and asked for a pen. Then a little girl came up and asked for the same. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by children, not asking for money, or even food, but pens! “Why pens?” I asked our guide Yohannes Wassie what she was asking for. “Pens so they can do their school work,” he said. How could something so insignificant to me, like a pen, mean so much to them and give them so much hope? I was blown away. I returned home with so many thoughts and ideas. I shared them with my wife, Stacie. She has always been there for me and is that voice that I need to hear. I thought she would tell me I was crazy, but she didn’t. She told me I needed to continue to pray and talk to others because perhaps I could do something. God was calling me, and then I’ll never forget this last part, she said, “If not you, then who?” If not me, then who? But what could I do? What would it look like? And with me? That was the scariest part of the whole thing. I wasn’t some successful businessman who had built a company. I didn’t have millions of dollars in financial backing let alone tons of money sitting in a bank account. I was one guy who grew up on a farm who wanted to show everyone that regardless of your age, status, sex, or where you live you have the capacity to change the world. These students had the capacity to change not only their world but THE world if given the right circumstances. So, the next week I went down to the Half Price Book store and got the book, “Starting a Non-profit For Dummies.” Yep, that’s how it all started.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am constantly speaking with our folks in Ethiopia who are on the ground. I also am busy communicating with our donors about different fundraising projects and letting them know the status of current projects. I am also a Lutheran Pastor as well so everything that has to do with the church keeps me busy as well. It hasn’t always been easy. There were times I wanted to walk away from both. You have to remember the “Why?” “Why are you doing what you are doing?” That will always bring you back to your passion and help motivate you.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Of course! Minute Maid Park for starters. I love the ballpark and am sad we can’t go right now in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Our Astros are a part of the heart of this city, and I love me some Astros baseball games! We also have some amazing craft breweries here in Houston that have great atmospheres. Some that I love to go to are: 11 Below, No Label, Bearded Fox, Klaus Brewing. Wonderful restaurants as well. Peli Peli, Brooks BBQ, La Grange are some of my favs.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shout out to my family. Their support and encouragement along the way is what got me to this point. Shout out to my church family, Messiah Lutheran, who continually supports our mission. Shout out to Tim Matakas, Bill Wagner two of my board members who have been there from the start. Shout out to these authors of these books: The “Dummy” writers who wrote “How to Start a Non-Profit for Dummies”, Dambisa Moyo who wrote “Dead Aid”, Adam Braun who wrote “The Power of a Pencil” These books inspired me and continue to give me hope for our cause and mission.