Ottawa startup Go Give-Back pairs technology with philanthropy
Giving’s good, that’s true. But it’s better when it’s easy.
As principles go, that one may not be the loftiest, but it nevertheless gave birth to Go Give-Back, a new mobile donation app that’s been drawing dollars to a range of Ottawa charities, from homebuilders to cancer researchers. To make a donation, all you need is a device; it’s like ordering pizza or a taxi. The app also uses elements of gamification: You rack up points as you donate, and you can challenge others to do the same.
Co-founder Liora Raitblat got the idea when she was caught cashless at a gala fundraiser, all decked out in high heels and too far from an ATM to make the slog. “I can order food from my phone,” she thought. “Why can’t I donate?”
In February 2015, as a 21-year-old marketing student at the University of Ottawa, she took that idea to an event hosted at the school by Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based non-profit. Would-be entrepreneurs pack themselves into a room and submit their ideas to the judgment of their peers. (Think Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank, but with less forced drama.) After two rounds of voting, winning ideas go through a development gauntlet, at the other end of which is a slew of local entrepreneurs swelling with judgment and criticism. In the OttawaU scenario, the talent roster included people from Shopify, Survey Monkey and Bridgehead Coffee.
Just as crucially, Raitblat met Lemuel Barango at the event, a mathematics student from Nigeria. Jazzed by her presentation, he brought his software savvy to the table and the pair became co-founders in the business. And make no mistake, Go Give-Back is a business.
For the time being at least, they won’t say much about revenue or the specifics of its generation. But thebusiness model is no-risk, meaning organizations sign up and Give-Back skims a percentage off their donations. In the future, the partners may tweak their membership scheme, but for now things are still small scale: Go Give-Back has around 15 clients who can connect with a few hundred donors.
As for participating charities, they aren’t necessarily registered, but they are vetted. On one end of the client spectrum are major entities like Habitat for Humanity. On the other end are lesser known organizations, like Valérie’s Flutter Foundation, which raises awareness of rare cancers, and Young Makers, a program that introduces kids to 3D printers.
“Luckily, Ottawa’s a tight-knit community,” says Raitblat, “so as soon as we have one client, others hear and we get the network effect.”
When organizations don’t have charitable registration, she interviews them and checks their references. That and her other duties as CEO – social media, promoting clients, developing content – have her working on the app full-time and beyond, while Barango, as chief technical officer, hauls a similar workload keeping the platform in shape and bug-free.
All this must be weary-making in the extreme, and their faces sometimes show it. Still, they want to grow their membership with bigger clients and extend their reach beyond the city. They’re working on new features to draw in star players, but no matter what they come up with, that sort of growth might be challenging – this isn’t exactly an untapped market. (There’s this app here, for example, and there are these ones over here and this one, too.)
But Barango remains undaunted. He’s up for a tussle, and just oozes positivity – so much of it that he sounds completely genuine when he says stuff like: “If you have it too easy, it doesn’t have a lot of meaning.”
To boot, Go Give-Back’s founders have deep roots in entrepreneurialism. Barango traces his first business back to high school in the southern city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He picked up beading from a friend and the two of them made money selling wares to their buddies, everything from shoulder bags to lighter sheaths. Raitblat, meanwhile, tracks her first business back to the Grade 7, when she coloured patterns into graph paper, found them lovely, and elected to sell them to her friends. Her initial offering was successful, so she set a revenue goal of $20. Unfortunately, her friends discovered the means of production for themselves, and she only made $2. But the experience was formative just the same.
As a middleman and not an end product, Go Give-Back won’t likely suffer the same fate. The world needs hubs. Ottawa, with its long history of government contracts awarded through employment agencies, is no stranger to the model.
So for Raitblat and Barango, viability is really just a question of bringing two groups together in a simple arrangement. “If it works for you, we make money,” she says. “And if it doesn’t, we don’t.”