Alex Budak is an advocate of doing things for others so he co-founded a company focused around this idea. StartSomeGood is new platform for social good initiatives to raise funds and grow a community of supporters. StartSomeGood provides social entrepreneurs with a platform to raise start-up funds and build a community of supporters — all in a fun, engaging and community-driven way.
Similar to what Kickstarter does for creative projects, StartSomeGood taps into the power of the crowd, allowing social entrepreneurs to ask for small amount of money from supporters from around the world, and gives them the tools to update their supporters, provide unique rewards in exchange for support and run multiple campaigns over time.
MO: I love the concept for your business! Can you tell us about the origination of this idea?
Alex: The concept for StartSomeGood arose after I spent a few months living in India. While there, I volunteered for a local social-enterprise focused on girl’s-empowerment, and I came back to the states ready to dedicate my life to improving the world through social entrepreneurship. I had an idea for a social venture I wanted to start, but I realized that there was no good place to start raising the funds or growing the community that is so crucial to getting a social enterprise off the ground. It’s at that point that the light-bulb went-off and I thought that if I were struggling with this, so too must many other would-be social entrepreneurs. Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there must be countless wonderful ideas out there for improving the world that never come into being. And so my focus then shifted from micro-level social entrepreneurship to macro-level, thinking about the type of platform we could create to empower social innovators around the world.
MO: It’s important to note that your company is a for-profit company that is focused on social good. How do you believe for-profit companies can do incredible social good in the world?
Alex: Absolutely — in fact our platform stands out from others by allowing for-profit social good initiatives to raise funds side-by-side non-profit endeavors. I’m a huge believer in judging a social enterprise by the quality of its vision, the impact of its ideas, and not its organizational (i.e. 501(c)3) status.
From the beginning, we wanted to prove that one can make money while simultaneously creating social change in the world. We’ve made sure that our revenue model perfectly aligns with the needs of social entrepreneurs using our site: we only receive our 5% fees if a campaign successfully raises funds on our site. This means that the more good is created on our site, not only do the social entrepreneurs and StartSomeGood benefit, more importantly so too do communities and the world.
For too long, non-profit status has had a mental monopoly on the concept of “doing good” in the world. I often go back to the words of Robert Egger, founder of the DC Central Kitchen, who told me not to focus on the “dot” (i.e dot-com or dot-org) of an organization, but rather on finding the model that creates the most good. We’ve found with our revenue model that being for-profit gives us the best chance of sustainability, and, more importantly, impact.
MO: StartSomeGood is not the first company to utilize the new trend of crowdfunding. Why do you believe crowdfunding is becoming so successful?
Alex: Indeed, all kinds of crowdfunding sites are emerging, and I love it. There are now broad platforms for any kind of project one can imagine, such as indiegogo.com, all the way to specific niche sites for things like developing video games or fashion lines.
There are a couple of trends, I think, that are behind this boom. The first is that a crowdfunding campaign is even better than a financial loan as it’s not just funds that are raised, but a community around one’s idea that is cultivated. In fact, we’ve had social entrepreneurs using our site comment that creating an initial group of supporters was equally as important as the funds raised.
Secondly, supporters want to feel a part of new initiatives. Crowdfunding, in many cases, allows people to become the very earliest of supporters where they can see their funds make a huge difference in getting a project off the ground. They can know that they had an impact, and see exactly where their funds went, which is an exciting new paradigm for donations.
Finally, many sites like ours use a “tipping point” or “all-or-nothing” funding model, whereby a campaign needs to hit a certain threshold before transactions are processed. This works on two levels: for the entrepreneur they know that if they receive funds they will have what they need to follow-through (without needing to scramble on a half-funded project), and the supporters know that, in the case of StartSomeGood, if they are charged that there’s a critical mass of support behind an idea and that a new, tangible social good will come as a result.
MO: You mention the entrepreneurs providing unique rewards in exchange for support. What types of unique rewards have your entrepreneur users provided?
Alex: We encourage our ventures to think of rewards not as “hey here’s a coffee mug,” but rather a way to build community around an idea. To this end, some of the best rewards are those that are essentially priceless — that make people feel like they are a part of the team. This ranges from behind-the-scenes videos, to limited-edition runs of products just for StartSomeGood supporters, all the way to special access at events or the opportunity to visit the venture on the ground in person. From tours of urban gardens in LA, to the chance to meet rural artisans in Thailand, the key to great rewards is to offer the type of opportunities and experiences that get people excited about supporting a campaign and that they couldn’t otherwise buy.
MO: Can you tell us about one or two of the campaigns on your site that you have been extremely excited to help?
Alex: That’s not fair! That’s like asking a Dad to choose his favorite child. I love all of our ventures equally. But a couple that stand-out for me:
Jack McDemott is a student at Tufts University, who has overcome a stuttering problem. As he worked with speech language pathologists, he recognized a number of inefficiencies in the model, and set out to use technology to help people address these. He came up with the idea for “Speech4Good,” an iPhone app which would help people connect and work on speech-issues, but he needed the funds to take his idea and put it into action. He successfully raised about $3500 on StartSomeGood, and just recently launched his app which is now making a huge difference for people around the world.
I also reflect fondly on working with Cassie Childs, an experienced teacher who after travels in India felt a calling to start her own social enterprise. She had a great idea–creating the first ever girl’s soccer league for Tibetan refugees living in Northern India– but wasn’t sure how to get started. Working with her I felt that intoxicating spark of someone on the cusp of something big and important, and as a result of her successful fundraising campaign her idea is now transformed into a reality at this very moment.
MO: What is the future for StartSomeGood? What can we expect in the next 12 months?
Alex: We’re so excited to keep growing our community! We launched February 28, 2011 and since then have helped 27 social good initiatives raise over $180,000. We want to continue finding more great social entrepreneurs to support, develop new partnerships with great social innovation organizations, and use StartSomeGood as a hub to connect people passionate about ideas for good and impact in the world.
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