You may be the kind of person who is spending their free time digging out a bunker and studying Battlestar Galactica in preparation for when the robots take over, but you have to admit, technology has made it much easier to help each other. From Kickstarter to Venmo, there are so many different ways for us to quickly and easily give friends (and strangers!) cash, it’s almost over whelming.
Which is right where Spotfund comes in. Based on the idea that fundraising should be so quick and painless, it can become an impulse, Spotfund allows you to fund a pretty wide variety of charities (or Stories), the catch being you can only donate $1-$3 at a time. Not only that, but they’ve managed to gamify donating, allowing you to easily share your donation via social media, in the hopes your friends will donate as well. Which in turn, raises your Impact Score.
While the app is basically still brand new (it was just released June 9), co-founder Sanford Kunkel is confident that’s it’s going to stick with people, so I called him up to chat about the apps origin story, his thoughts on hashtags, and much more.
Let’s go back to the very beginning. How did this all start?
The genesis of Spotfund… We’ll first of all, there’s three of us, three co-founders, Brian, Mike, and myself. We all had the privilege and the irony of living together for a couple years. That ended about two years ago. Every Sunday night we would order pizza from this place called Luigi’s and we’d make our way through our DVR queue. On Sunday night’s it primarily consisted of 60 Minutes, John Oliver, Bill Mahr, and Vice. Every Sunday we’d watch these in depth humanitarian stories, or it would be a story about nature conservancy, or gun control, it was a myriad of things. Each one of those shows is a hard hitting, millennial-centric programming, even 60 Minutes. You might not think of it that way, but it’s adapted over the years. You’re left with these emotions at the end of each episode and we would look at each other and… I think the one that really took us over the edge was a Vice documentary on clean water in India. We were just unbelievably shocked at all the emotions that the show conjured up in us, and we had no outlet for them.
What was interesting was, in these shows, they would occasionally direct you to a URL. It often wasn’t mobile optimized, or it was a clumsy user experience. For example if Lara Logan did a piece on 60 Minutes on African lions, which she did, she would direct you to AfricanLions.com, right? And let’s say you were inspired to give, but there are a lot of pain points associated with that. 1. You have to get of your couch. 2. You have to get out your laptop. 3. You have to register for the website, put in your credit card information, then you have to determine how much you want to give. Which is really one of the main major pain points that Spotfund alleviates. I think a lot of times the thought process with people goes something like this, “You know… I should probably give at least a $100…” and then you’re like, “That’s a lot, I don’t know very much about this charity. I also heard there were other charities raising money…” And the next thing you know, you’re like “I’m just going to give a little bit of money and be done with it.”
And by that time, what’s the point? You’re making an anonymous donation. If you can inspire other people through your donation than at least your good deed is being recognized, which we think is a core human need. Whether it should be celebrated or not, people like to be recognized for their good deeds. So that was our “aha” moment, those last two pain points. What is the dollar amount and how are you encouraging others to do it if you’re donating in a vacuum on a desktop computer? I think we realized that for today’s modern consumer, that’s not conducive to our lifestyles, to have to not do things on our phone. We realized that the best way to get other people to join us, and to support things we cared about, was to be impulsive and mobile first. It was intelligent to limit donations to $1, $2, and $3 because when you limit them you can be impulsive. You don’t have to read the terms and conditions. Even though if you did read them, it’s one of the core values that we vet all of the charities in advance to make sure we’re identifying the single best charity that would benefit the African lions.
If you’re giving $3, and you can inspire one out of every ten of your friends… let’s say the average person is connected to a 1,000 people on Facebook… Although I think the actual number is around 400… if we can inspire 10%, which is maybe a high number… but even if I inspire my friends to give the minimal, that’s a $103 donation. And that’s a donation that I almost talked myself out of. So I think we quickly realized that there was a need for a product that was conducive with the lifestyle that consumers lead today which is a mobile first, sharing economy. How do we adapt a giving platform and tie all those elements together? That’s kind of the birth of Spotfund.
What’s the thing that sets Spotfund apart from other donation apps?
If I’m going to take a step back, what I think is the most important thing you know about Spotfund is that, 1. We’re putting the democracy in charity by limiting people to $1-$3 donations. 2. We’re putting the recognition in charity through these sharing mechanisms and we’re encouraging virality at the same time. It’s a micro donations platform and we also have what’s called the Spottag which is a really important component. The Spottag is our version of the hashtag, but what it is an asterisk followed by unique syntax, which is the title for the story. For example, if you’re watching 60 Minutes, instead of her sending you to a non-mobile optimized website, it would say *60MinutesLion. You’d grab your phone, enter in the Spottag, and you’re directly taken to the funding page at which point you choose your amount and immediately share it to your social networks in an attempt to encourage your friends to also donate.
We can make the Spottag synonymous with giving. It can be at the bottom right of the NBC telecast of the Olympics. Perhaps there’s a cause in Rio, or it’s the Special Olympics. There are a million places these can exist. Right now, Bono can direct you to his Africa RED website where you can donate when you get home, but during a performance at Wembley Stadium, we can flash fund these things. What’s also cool about Spotfund, is that it’s not just a donation platform, even though that’s what it’s for, but it’s also an awareness platform.
It’s an awareness tool. It’s a marketing tool. I think that’s one interesting thing about Spotfund that differentiates us from other donation platforms. There’s no such thing as the Indie Tag, for Indiegogo, The Go Fund Me Tag, or the Kick Tag. We have the Spottag and we’ve co-opted this piece of real estate on the keyboard and hopefully it becomes synonymous with doing good and with causes around the world.
What was the thought behind creating the Spottag, instead of using the hashtag which is already used for discussion and things of a similar nature?
That’s a good question. 1. The hashtag is a way to mine data, right? It doesn’t represent anything, it’s a way to mine data from the conversations happening on Twitter and Facebook. The Spottag is a short cut to a funding opportunity. When you put in the Spottag, it takes you to an action page. If you put in a hashtag it doesn’t take you to an action page, it’s just a way to sort all the noise. It’s great that you’re talking and you care about it, but we think Twitter is for opinions, Spotfund is for action. If you put out a Spottag on my Facebook, and you click on it, you’ll be taken to a page for action. A page where you can impact that story.
That brings me to another thing, if you look in your profile page, you’ll see the impact score. So the impact score is comprised of three things, and this is kind of the gamification, and one of the fun elements we’ve baked into Spotfund. Impact is a calculation of three things. 1. It’s the donation that you’ve made, 2. It’s the donations that you’ve inspired through share links, 3. It’s the donations that have come in on the back of the stories you’ve created. If I look at your impact page, if I look at your impact score, I don’t know how that score is divvied up. Which is the beauty behind it. It doesn’t matter how much you gave, as long as you’re inspiring others to give, that is your impact.
How did you guys scale up from an idea to a finished app?
Persistence. I’d say. Once we had the core idea, we had to figure out, how do we package this? My background is in design and branding and marketing, so I think we knew right away that the only way this could resonate and be cool amongst tastemakers was to nail the branding and the name. I think we thought, Go Fund Me, Indiegogo, not a lot of that stuff is very timeless, or intuitive branding, so we wanted to come up with a branding ecosystem that represented more of the Snapchat, Facebook. Duo-syllabic, intuitive, timeless, utilitarian style name. I don’t think Kanye West would put Go Fund Me on his Twitter account. We wanted to make it neutral and subtle.
We came up with the name after a lot of, honestly, sleepless nights. I knew we had this potentially groundbreaking idea, but it had to be packaged perfectly. When the name came it was kind of a light bulb moment. Right from there we moved to getting a prototype built. Brian, Mike, and I funded the first prototype ourselves, that took about three months to build. We did it with an agency down in SoHo, and once we had the prototype, we took it to a bunch of investor meetings on Park Avenue and said, “Hey, we built this. Here’s the idea.” I think we differentiated ourselves from a lot of people who were trying to build an app. Most people have a PowerPoint presentation and a deck, we actually put skin in the game. We believed in it so much we invested a pretty significant amount of money. We were fortunate enough that we met some investors who believed in the idea. They didn’t even have a tech background but were like, “We get this. This could be major.” So they wrote us our first seed check and then we took that and go into development right away and that process began officially last July. So we had a big long process and now we have the tech in house, the front end developers, the back end developers. We have a 15 man office in Williamsburg in a WeWork and we’re cranking away. It just went live June 9.
Has anything happened since you’ve gone live that surprised you? Any ways people are using the app that you didn’t foresee?
One of the things that surprised me, we had a beautiful piece in Fast Company. I think the reporter really nailed it on the head. So that was a great way to get the ball rolling. A lot of positive momentum has been coming from that. The downloads have been streaming in all day long. We put a Story up yesterday for Orlando that went to almost $250 in a matter of hours. Which is not insignificant considering we just launched and we don’t have a lot of users. It’s just basically all amongst our friends. What’s been most encouraging is that I see friends using this not as a favor, but because they see it as a way to communicate their interests, and compassion in current events, namely in the Orlando tragedy. People are gravitating toward this product for the right reasons. Which is, hey, this is a great way to let people know that I care and also impact the story is a positive way. To see people I’m not directly connected with doing it, it’s very encouraging and I can’t wait for more eyeballs to get on the project and for awareness to be driven by these pieces I know we have coming up that will make that number quintuple, and quintuple from there, and then the next thing you know, we’re at a critical mass and we’re raising $100,000 for these worthy causes.
How do you guys decided which causes are included in the app?
We monitor things that are trending on social media and we try to reflect what the cultural narratives are and we try to find out what conversations are happening on Twitter and Facebook and that’s one of the values we try to bring to our customers. To tap into the pulse of what people are talking about and what we think they’ll care about. Some of this stuff is really obvious and some of it is not sob obvious, like presenting Stories on SeaWorld, ALS, veterans issues, preservation, humanitarian issues. A lot of the stuff is quite intuitive. Also, you have to remember, these are user generated Stories. We’re not typically telling people what they should care about, rather, when it’s appropriate we spotlight the Stories that are gaining a lot of traction, but these are user generated Stories. It’s people deciding what the news is. When we see these things trend and when we see them gain traction, we move them into the Spotlight section of the app.
Are you worried at all about people submitting charities that are not legitimate?
They can’t! We have to pre-approve every charity that goes into our database. So if you have a suggestion for a charity that’s not in our database, typically within an hour we’ll have that in the database for you to create a Story around, but we have to do our due diligence in house before we approve it.
Did you ever think you would be working in the charity industry?
Well. I wouldn’t say it’s the charity industry. I would say it’s the cause industry.
Either or! They’re all synonyms.
Yeah, but I think a lot of times charity limits the scope I think Spotfund can be, but definitely everything we do in Spotfund is cause oriented. I think I thought that I would be working in something that had purpose for sure. I think a couple of years ago I realized that affecting current events, shaping policy, and creating a marketplace where people’s voices can be heard and they can connect with causes is definitely something that I aspire to. For sure. I think we just finally came up with the right tool to help people to connect with the issues that are shaping our world. I wouldn’t say I’m working in the charity industry, I’d say I created a tool to help people connect with causes.