We recently participated in IBM’s A New Way to Startup competition. It was, in a word, awesome. After round two, the team at IBM asked us to write up a recap of the experience for their blog. It will publish soon but we wanted to give you a sneak peek here. Check it out below.
The 411 on Charity Charge
Consumer consciousness is shifting and the hard line between charitable giving and capitalist consumption has begun to blur. It began with cause-themed goods (think pink breast cancer awareness products), followed by a sharp rise in the popularity of one-for-one and social impact wares (i.e. TOMs slippers and Warby Parker glasses). But why? Easy.
Literally. These products make it easy for consumers to tap into their inherent philanthropic nature. The simplicity with which people can make an impact is revolutionary. A small purchase that automatically combines with tens of thousands others provides huge financial support for one specific problem. You make the world a better place with every swipe. Unless, of course, the charities or nonprofits you care about most are not supported by a highly successful one-for-one company.
This is why we founded Charity Charge. Our product is a credit card. Our mission is to empower people to donate with every purchase — no matter what they buy or where they shop. Every year, $16 billion credit card rewards points go unused. The sum, especially when juxtaposed against the needs of millions, is staggering. We’re making the world a smarter place with our plan to turn cash back into giving back via a frictionless process. One percent of every Charity Charge credit card purchase goes to the registered nonprofits, religious organizations, or K-12 schools of the user’s choice.
We believe that Charity Charge has the power to change millions of casual philanthropists into avid ones. If the destination is a planet made better by robustly funded charities, we see Charity Charge as the means to get there.
The Genius of IBM
The smartest ideas are often the simplest. Putting those ideas into action, however, is not so easy. This is why we are incredibly grateful to IBM for the support, guidance, and opportunities provided in A New Way to Startup. The program and competition opened doors to a network of mentors and, more importantly, helped us hone our approach as to how we convey our business. We made friends for life, got to live in a sick house, and can now officially add reality “stars” to our resumes.
For the first challenge, we met with fellow Austinites Adam and Marty Butler to dig into the true value of user generated content and customer testimonials. We hit the streets armed with iPads and Watson Analytics data to interview potential customers about how they support charities and their community. As we grow, we know it is essential to incorporate the needs and opinions of our core consumers (including those we spoke with for the challenge) in order to deliver the best possible Charity Charge experience.
On day two our venture capitalist mentors Justin Siegel and Tom Meredith helped us think through the fundraising process from the investors perspective and how to choose terms that are mutually beneficial. As we are currently in funding, their advice was priceless.
Next, we met with Dave Heath of Bombas socks to discuss partnership strategies and how to form win-win relationships with for-profit companies. Using his distribution partnership with Flywheel Sports as inspiration, we left the conversation with an action plan and some serious bounce in our now Bombas-socked step (you should definitely get a pair: bombas.com).
Unrelated to the official challenge, Dave also helped us see the positive in our current status as a small fish. Unlike giant banks and credit card companies, we can take risks, be nimble, and fill an unmet need in the market. The industry leaders will not view us as competition and the same should hold true in reverse. We understand our niche and know our cause is noble. If other credit card companies step on our turf, we will welcome them and celebrate the money they raise for charity. A conversation with a purist like Dave has inspiring effects and ours cemented our belief that the greater good is the goal, no matter what.
On day four, Kirkus Media C.E.O. Meg LaBorde Kuehn told us she loved our mission (thank you) and gave us interesting feedback on how to build out our mobile giving platform. We also discussed possible strategies to implement three to five years down the road. Once our core consumer signup rate plateaus, how do we reach an even larger group of people? Meg has the answer.
For the last challenge, we were delightfully surprised to meet Carol Cone of Edelman. As a leader in the field of cause branding and marketing, we were big fans before our first handshake. We walked away with clear vision of the type of non- and for-profit partners that make sense for our business strategy and the impact the right partners can have on brand awareness from day one.
Throughout, Watson Analytics proved to be an astonishingly valuable tool. We leveraged the technology to capture deeper insights into our previous market research and mine newer, more intricate data. Moving forward, we’ll use Watson to capture customer acquisition and marketing data to fine tune our strategy and development. We already have plans to meet with the Watson Analytics team upon their return to Austin. This time though, the drinks will be on us.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to give shout outs to IBM’s team of experts: Tariq Ahmad, Amy Tennison, Thomas Dong, Drew Daum, Amber Armstrong, Rebecca Wissinger, Maria Winans, Liz Urhaim, and Renee Ducre. You made our world a smarter place. Thank you.
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