Interviewee: Alex Budak
Focus Region: Global
Category: Crowdfunding for Social Innovators
Co-founders Alex Budak and Tom Dawkins first connected while working at Ashoka and here they connected because they shared the same belief: the immense power of technology and media to empower change-makers around the world. Inspired by Alex’s travels in India, the concept for StartSomeGood arose. A development team was brought together while they where all camping at a UCLA basketball game and after many late night, coffee-fueled discussions, the idea became reality. The team is located thought out the world, highlighting that even time zones cannot hinder a group of talents to help change-makers transform ideas into reality; leading to positive impacts upon societies.
Alex has spoken about social entrepreneurship at the White House, the World Bank and leading Universities, and is as well a member of the Sandbox Network, a YouthActionNet fellow and a StartingBloc fellow.
The concept for StartSomeGood grew out of a couple of light bulb moments, beginning while I spent a few months living in India. There, for the first time, I recognized that substantive social change wouldn’t come from one or two organizations, but rather from lots of people pursuing social good in their own individual way.
While in India I spent time volunteering with a social enterprise that taught local girls ultimate Frisbee. It was lots of fun, of course, but the core of it was about teaching female empowerment and leadership to the girls. 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, similarly leveraging sports for community engagement, 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. 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 go from the idea stage to action. It was my second “ah ha!” moment where I reflected back on my experience in India, and spent time thinking about how we could empower anyone, anywhere, to become a social innovator. My motivation at that point was to think hard about how we could tear down these barriers to enable all kinds of change makers to take action.
I called up my buddy Tom Dawkins, whom I had met while working at Ashoka, and through a lot of late night talks, and (too many) coffees, StartSomeGood emerged.
As for the second part of your question, I’m a die-hard UCLA basketball fan and during college I would spend most nights of the season camping out for the best seats to UCLA games. It was there that I met some of my best friends, including Bryan Parker and Emerson Taymor, who would become the engineers for StartSomeGood!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how StartSomeGood fits into a bigger picture. What was your initial career plan before you came up with this idea?
I was initially set on getting really involved in reforming education through policy as a result of my experience at UCLA. There, I lead the charge to reform admissions policies to better reflect the diversity of the state of California while maintaining high academic standards. I set-out to pursue a masters in public policy to go down this path, to ensure a great public education is available to all, but then it was the trip to India that changed my focus to the potential of social innovation.
Did you raise any money for StartSomeGood?
This is a bit meta, but we actually did a crowdfunding campaign for our own crowdfunding site, raising the initial funds we needed to get started.
There are a lot of crowdfunding portals, which are set up as non-profit organizations. Nonetheless, they struggle to survive. StartSomeGood was set up as a for-profit organization. Why do you believe that you can make a profitable business out of crowdfunding?
From the beginning, we believed that being for-profit gives us the best chance of remaining a viable platform for the long run. But we were very conscious that we wanted to align our revenue model to be directly in sync with our impact. To this end, we only receive funds if a venture on our site successfully raises funds. That means that the more good that is started on our site, the more everyone succeeds.
If I approach you with an idea for a for-profit company, looking for funding, and state that as our social value we will be creating 5-10 jobs within the first year, will that qualify me as a social entrepreneur? In other words, what is your definition of a social entrepreneur?
We believe that social change comes in myriad forms and to that end we have an expansive definition of the type of good that can be started on our site. We support non-profits, for-profits, and unincorporated groups. We support organizations, agencies, programs, policy-research, media and other entities as long as social innovation and social change are at the core of the work being done. We want to create a world where people that want to take action on their ideas for improving the world are able to do so.
What were your biggest successes with StartSomeGood?
In terms of the most amount raised, The Do Good Bus holds the record. They had a big vision: take their bus on the road, visiting 22 cities and involving thousands of young people in active citizenship and supporting local nonprofits everywhere they went. All told, 691 people supported them with over $101,000 successfully raised to make their dream a reality.
You can read the stories of some more of our successful campaigns here.
How do you measure the impact of StartSomeGood?
The main metric we use to measure our impact is in the number of successful campaigns on our site, as each one means new social good is brought into the world. And then of course in following-up with ventures after they’ve raised funds, we’re able to learn about their impact and therefore measure ours, which is directly related to their work.
The following provides a great introduction to the amazing work being done by our ventures, when we asked them “What good are you starting?”
That’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! I love all of our ventures, but one that I think especially highlights why we created StartSomeGood is the story of Jack McDermott and Balbus Speech. Having spent years receiving speech therapy for stuttering, he looked for ways to support those who may not be able to afford such support, exploring how to empower the speech therapy community with technology. He had a great idea for an app but needed the money to make it happen. He raised $3,246 on StartSomeGood to launch Speech 4 Good, an iOS app which makes speech therapy accessible and affordable.
Which challenges are you currently facing?
A major challenge at the moment is how we continue to provide the same level of high-touch support - whereby we guide ventures through the process from the moment they apply, to crafting their campaign and then making it a successful one - as we grow. We’re passionate about helping changemakers and creating a site filled with high-quality campaigns, but as we serve more and more ventures, we face the challenge in making sure we can continue this support and guidance.
What are the next steps at StartSomeGood? What can we expect from the organization in the future?
We recently celebrated our twentieth different country with a successful campaign, though we hope and believe this is just the beginning of reaching and empowering changemakers all around the world. We look forward to playing a key role in growing the social innovation sector and enabling anyone, anywhere to take action on their ideas.
What inspires and drives you from day to day?
My motivation comes from people, and I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by incredible and inspiring people every day. Firstly I think of our team, including my amazing co-founder Tom, and our group of twelve people all dedicated to empowering changemakers. It’s an awesome feeling to be part of a group so passionate about having an impact through our work.
And then of course I derive a great deal of inspiration from the ventures using our site. The best part of my job is getting to meet, collaborate and support these incredible people taking the leap to create new futures for their community. It’s nearly impossible not to be inspired by them.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with great people. Ask a lot of questions. Be humble. And try to enjoy the ride.