This Company Makes the Impossible Possible — Like Making Toilets Sexy

On an otherwise reasonable evening in July, over 1000 people packed an auditorium in Boulder Colorado for the culmination of the Unreasonable Institute. They came to watch 12 ventures, tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges, take the stage and share their plans to help define progress in our time. This is one of those talks.


The entrepreneur in this video is Mike Rios, Creative Director of 17 Triggers.

What Does 17 Triggers Do?

We’re a mix between a consulting, marketing, and innovation firm who helps social enterprises, international NGOs, funding agencies, and foundations transform their programs to be dramatically more impactful. Our projects range from triggering millions of Indians to save more money, to redesigning the way health care centers teach rural Cambodian mothers how to take care of their newborn babies, to training UNICEF Global on how to better sell toilets throughout the world. We do everything from research, to strategy, to program optimization, marketing, sales, training and monitoring. In other words, we’re like a one-stop-shop hybrid between Bain, Ogilvy, and IDEO, but based in Cambodia and dedicated to good causes.

What’s the Urgent Need You Are Addressing?

The first urgent need relates to social enterprises. They face numerous barriers to being successful. It’s one thing to have a great product, it’s another to make it work in the market. Social enterprises are often tied down by poor distribution, untrained salesmen, poor marketing tools, bad service, and a product that is significantly more difficult for a customer to understand compared to a commodity like Coca-Cola.

The second urgent need relates to NGOs, funding agencies, and foundations. Their processes unfortunately stifle innovation. They work in silos, their programs are planned from top down, workplans are inflexible, and agile experimentation is somehow feared.

The problem is that consulting by itself is not enough to help. Nor is marketing or innovation. The world needs to reinvent the way it solves its greatest challenges.

Why the Name 17 Triggers?

There are many ways we can trigger the masses to change — from marketing, to service design, to making a product easier to buy — much of which can be explained through behavioral science, psychology, design principles, or economics. We embrace and teach all these methods to our clients. However, there are also many reasons why people change, do, or remember things that cannot be explained. For example if you ask someone to pick a number 1 through 20, 17 is the most common number, and no one knows why. This “17” acts as a constant reminder for us that we need to embrace the unexplainable if we truly want to innovate.

About the author

Unreasonable Institute

Unreasonable Institute

The Unreasonable Institute arms entrepreneurs creating solutions to the world’s biggest social and environmental problems with the mentorship, capital, and networks they need to do so.