Focus on key priorities - Q&A with GoFundMe’s CEO Rob Solomon
This month we sat down for a Q&A with GoFundMe (GFM) CEO Rob Solomon. Rob joined the platform in 2015. The platform started working with WePay in 2011. This interview is abridged.
Q: You lead GoFundMe and Crowdrise by GoFundMe. For those that don’t know them, can you briefly introduce them?
A: GFM is a social fundraising platform to empower people to help each other out. And since its founding, GFM has enabled more than 50 million people to donate more than $5B to causes they care about. The platform was started by Brad Damphousse and Andrew Ballester. They were wandering in the wilderness trying to create a great startup, and they tried many different ideas. They finally launched something that looked like GFM in 2010, focused on helping economically challenged folks. Then major events like the Boston Marathon bombing happened where people wanted to help, and GFM really catapulted to the forefront as a way for people to take action. Fast-forward to today and GFM is part of the social fabric of our world and has become synonymous with helping.
Crowdrise by GoFundMe, provides fundraising solutions to help raise millions of dollars for causes through the largest charities, biggest brands, most important events, and foundations. Crowdrise was founded by actor/activist Ed Norton and movie producer Shawna Robertson. They along with two internet entrepreneurs set out to help people raise money for charities that they care about. We acquired Crowdrise in January 2017 after meeting Ed and talking about how we could pursue our mission together.
Q: You joined GoFundMe when its co-founders sold to private investors. What’s been your greatest surprise since entering the world of crowdfunding?
A: The biggest surprise is how much positivity there is in the world. News cycles and the social web often present a barrage of negativity. Yet I’ve been surprised by just how much people are compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic – they genuinely want to help. And the power of the people collectively – which we’re happy to support – can have an impact that is massively outsized even compared to some of the largest foundations and individuals in the world.
Q: What metrics do you pay attention to for business success?
A: The most important metrics to me are number of campaigns and donation volume. After these it’s the sharing of these campaigns because at the end of the day, we are a social fundraising platform so the virality of campaigns really matters.
Q: What’s an operating lesson you’ve learned that you often share with others?
A: Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and moisturize. Just kidding, that’s my life mantra, not my operating lesson. More seriously, here are two operating lessons I share:
- Luck is a very important factor. It’s been really important in my career, and other people’s careers, but a lot of people won’t admit that. Said another way, working hard and being smart often aren’t enough. And you can influence your luck. For example, making sure that you’re tackling the right space – a big market, not a tiny market – is a way to affect your luck.
- Focus on key priorities. We all do too much, and even the most focused companies are always pushing to do too much. It’s very easy to say “Yes” to a lot of things and overwhelm teams and try to do too much. And we’re all guilty of it. To me, learning how to say “No” is more important than learning to say “Yes.” And you have to constantly recalibrate and get focused on doing a few right things incredibly well in order to be the most successful.
Q: When you look to other companies for inspiration, which are you looking at and why?
A: I like iconic companies, and I’ve always gravitated toward trying to create them or to work for them. But it is hard to be an iconic company. The companies that I have looked to in the internet space that are the most iconic or the most interesting are Netflix (Reed Hastings) and Amazon (Jeff Bezos). These are also two examples of companies that weren’t accidental – they knew what they wanted to create and went out and did it, never straying from their respective visions, and never taking focus off of operational excellence. In addition, I think Airbnb is a great inspiration for focus, customer-centricity, and beautiful design.
I was really lucky to invest in a company called Tiny Speck, which was a video game company. And it failed. But the team led by Stuart Butterfield also created an internal employee communication tool that eventually became Slack. As readers know, it has become what I would call a de-facto operating system for tech companies. And that is pretty hard to do, and they are up against some of the biggest, baddest companies in the world, and having great success. So that’s a very inspirational company.
Q: GoFundMe recently introduced Team fundraising. Can you tell us more about this?
A: In its simplest form, fundraising together is better. Instead of a single campaign organizer tapping into their network, imagine a campaign that has 10, 20, 50, 75 co-organizers and thus you have 10, 20, 50, 75 networks to tap into.
This is nothing new – think about the good old days when a bunch of high school kids raised money with a car wash. What we’re trying to do is to take an age-old fundraising concept and bring it into the digital era, the social era, and create an opportunity for people to fundraise together to have a much greater impact together than they can on their own.
We think this space that we are entering into represents a total addressable market of billions of dollars that we haven’t been able to tap into before.
Related, this month we announced a partnership with Varsity Brands, the world’s largest supplier of sporting goods and cheerleading equipment for schools. They’re not dissimilar from us – they’re the market leader and they define the space. Together, we’ll be able to tap into their network of 1,700 sales people and our social fundraising tools to get to every sports team in this country for team fundraising and tap into this new market.
Q: Do you personally get involved with any of the campaigns that you see on GFM or do you try to stay neutral?
A: It’s impossible to stay neutral because all of these campaigns are so interesting, diverse, heart-string pulling, and important. There are massive movements like Time’s Up, that was powered by GFM. And there are really interesting campaigns, like the Black Panther Challenge to bring disadvantaged kids to see the movie in hundreds of towns and communities.
Our employees always get involved in campaigns. It is part of our internal mantra. Our internal Gives Back program, created by our founders Brad and Andy, allows our employees to nominate campaigns for donations every week and if selected, the campaign receives a donation. This program allows employees to see first-hand the direct and powerful impact of their work.
Q: By the way, Is Ed Norton still involved with Crowdrise by GFM?
A: Yes, he’s on the Board of Directors. He’s still heavily involved.
Q: So we’ve got to ask: What do you think was Ed’s best movie and why?
A: Fight Club. He was incredible in this weird, wacky movie. He really captured his character in an interesting and unique way.