Their business turns bad habits into good habits

STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jethro Heiko , co-owner of the Action Mill, stands at his task wall in the office near Chinatown.
STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jethro Heiko , co-owner of the Action Mill, stands at his task wall in the office near Chinatown.
Posted: July 16, 2013

J ETHRO HEIKO, 40, of Fishtown, is the organizing director and a co-owner of the Action Mill, a "habit-design" firm on Vine Street near 12th, near Chinatown. The firm, which includes co-owners Nick Jehlen, 41, of New York, and Rob Peagler, 48, of West Philadelphia, was founded in January 2006 and has four employees.

Q: What does the business do?

A: We help teams, organizations and leaders identify bad individual and group habits and replace them with good ones. We design tools that increase employee engagement, reduce burnout and increase efficiency.

Q: Backstory behind the name?

A: We wanted something that had action in it, and our design process gets to the foundation of what's important, like milling the ground to create something new.

Q: What's an example of a program you've designed or used to change habits in the workplace?

A: We've developed dozens of habits that tame email, make meetings shorter and more useful and keep us from getting stuck in day-to-day work. One called Kanban helps us visualize our work and focus on a small number of tasks at a time.

Q: How much do services cost?

A: We did health-care-management work for the state of Vermont that was a $1 million contract. I'm doing a workshop with a local museum on a new way to brainstorm, and that's $2,000 to $5,000 for an afternoon session.

Q: How many clients?

A: We have three: a global bank, a museum and a Canadian entrepreneur.

Q: You recently created a game - My Gift of Grace - to help with difficult conversations related to end-of-life decisions.

A: We spend most of our lives avoiding the subject of death, which means we're unprepared to confront it. We entered the California Healthcare Foundation's End-of-Life challenge in May and won $2,500 for best solution focused on advance directives.

Q: How's the game work?

A: It's a set of cards with questions, activities and phrases to help people comprehend complex issues involved in end-of-life care and determine an individual's preferences for that care.

Q: How are you bringing the game to market?

A: We created a prototype and are using Kickstarter [the crowdfunding platform] to raise $38,000 in a month. We launched July 8. We've raised $14,830 from 113 people. When we hit our goal, we want to finish the design and print it. The first edition probably will be 2,000 to 5,000 games.

Q: How much will it cost?

A: It's $30 for the first set of cards, $50 for two sets and $100 for up to five sets.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: Last year, revenues were in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

Q: What's next?

A: I'd love to be a $3-to-$5 million-a-year business in the next three years, a business that could seed its own ventures.


" @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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