We take a look back at how Raise5 has developed over the last year, and how they earned the attention of Virgin founder Richard Branson.
When we first came across Raise5 — the social fundraising platform — back in March, the startup had only recently come into being after a 72 hour brainstorm at Start Up Weekend Toronto in November 2011. Since then they’ve received recognition from Richard Branson, had widespread media coverage and expanded the business dramatically. The platform was founded by four friends — Hassan, Mike, Shayan, Althear — who all shared an interest in charitable causes and who wanted to personalize the process of giving as well as adding a social element. Raise5 operates as a platform for donors to volunteer their skills, and for buyers to purchase their offerings for USD 5. The money is then donated to the donors’ charity of choice. Raise5 make their finances transparent by providing a clear breakdown of how each USD 5 is used — USD 4 goes straight to the cause, while the remaining 1 USD goes into admin costs. This succinct idea has been a hit, so much so that it was recognized by Virgin founder Richard Branson, who rewarded the start-up with a bursary as part of the Virgin Unite ‘Screw Business As Usual’ initiative, which gives publicity to the work of entrepreneurs who are using business as a force for good. As a result of this award Raise5’s profile has risen considerably, as Hassan says: ‘We’ve received an unprecedented amount of media coverage, ranging from the Huffington Post, The Independent, Canadian 680 News, as well as appearing on a live prime-time interview at CTV National News. This press coverage has helped to bring a lot of attention and credibility to our work, and for that we’re truly thankful.’ Meanwhile, the team have been busy improving the usability of the platform. They’ve introduced categories for the different services offered so that buyers can quickly search to find a particular skill being offered. They have also made the commitment promised by the service donor more flexible to encourage increased numbers, and service donors can now more easily fit their volunteering into a busy schedule. With the introduction of new non-profits, users can now support a wider array of causes, and the team are also keen to offer an eclectic mix of services being offered by donors. ‘The quality and quantity of our services are looking better than ever with services ranging from artistic to professional to downright wacky. It’s become more of a community where there is a little something for everyone.’ Like any startup, Raise5 have struggled to find the hours in the day to get all their ideas for the business off the ground. ‘Our trouble has been like many growing companies — keeping up with all the new demands and issues of the ever-evolving Raise5. As soon as we get ourselves on track with the media we’re behind on all the great features we wanted to develop. As soon as we start tackling our website development, we fall behind with researching the trends in our industry. And so it continues in an everlasting struggle to push on all fronts, and with all the stumbles along the way, but we’ve managed to keep ourselves moving forward pretty successfully.’ They have also discovered that when launching a business those involved often end up exploring new avenues that they hadn’t expected. ‘Appearing to do live interviews on one of the most popular national news stations is something we hadn’t planned on. It was both surreal and nerve wracking. When we began, we thought we signed up to develop a website and build a community and all of a sudden we’re taking on completely unexpected and foreign roles and having to learn in the moment.’ Beyond the initial energy behind the project, the team have had to learn to harness their enthusiasm and develop achievable goals. ‘Starting a project is about vision, and excitement. A vision clear enough that it can be acted on, accompanied with an excitement that motivates you to drop everything else. Developing a project on the other hand is more about shaping and reshaping that vision as needed, while staying focused, staying organized, and learning to prioritize. At an early start-up phase, for every hour of time you have, there is at least ten hours of work that needs doing, so prioritizing and planning becomes crucial. Project development requires a fine balance of creativity and structure.’ The next barrier for Raise5 to overcome is to work out a way to translate their growing profile into a profitable business. ‘Like many web-based social startups, we can begin to leverage our community for financial gains once we have a more established web presence. Our website has made incredible strides since being announced the winner of Virgin Unite’s ‘Screw Business as Usual’ contest and receiving Sir Richard Branson’s personal endorsement, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Our sign-up rate has increased by 25 percent since last month, so we’re proud of our progress, but it has little financial implications as of yet.’ Their plans for the business are ambitious and focused, with an emphasis on developing the community aspect. ‘We hope to make Raise5 a global socially-connected community, comprised of generous service donors, looking to raise money and awareness for their causes; curious buyers, looking to purchase fun and useful services; and non-profit groups, looking to reach out to a community that is receptive to doing social good. We’d like to allow social elements such as groups, where friends, companies or like-minded people can congregate within the site to push forth their agenda for social progress. We’d like to start contests and initiatives to further motivate people to get involved. We’d like to become the site that has a consolidated source of knowledge regarding the non-profit organizations out there. Put simply, we’d like to be the social network for non-profits and their supporters.’ With clear focus and a strong business model, Raise5 seem prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. You can read more about SRaise5 in our article here, or visit the Raise5 website here.
20th June 2012