Max shows us how a good product stems from empathy

Hi team,

This week, I sat down with Max Friedman, the CEO and co-founder of Givebutter, a DC-based fundraising startup.

Max is awesome. He shared his chocolate chip pancakes with me even though we had just met. He and co-founder Liran have bootstrapped their company since the two were in college, and now, Givebutter is looking to hire its first full-time employees: a customer success manager and a front-end engineer. This is an awesome opportunity to join a growing startup at the ground level. Things will be busy. You’ll have autonomy, agency, and equity.

We talk about improving the donor experience, the importance of product funness, and what he’s looking for in their new hires:


LEA:

What is the mission of Givebutter?

MAX:

Our goal is to build something that inspires and enables people to make giving a part of their lives, or for people who are already giving, to enhance their experience.

LEA:

You were in college when you started the company. Is there a particular experience that you've had donating or being involved with a cause that made you interested in this? Or how did you come up with the idea? 

MAX:

I'm trying to think how deep I want to go in this story. It's a long one.

Before Givebutter, we started something called We Give Two. It was a play on The Million Dollar Homepage: this guy made $1 million selling a million pixels, which were basically advertisements. It went super viral in 2005. We saw that and said, “what if we did something similar, but for charity?” 

LEA:

You sold pixels as donations. 

MAX:

Pretty much. We were in The Washington Post, and we got inbounds from The World Wildlife Fund, The Red Cross, just saying, “Hey, you guys seem to have some traction on college campuses and stuff. How do we get young people more involved?” 

It was during the ice bucket challenge, nonprofits were trying to think, “how do we go viral?” We said we don't really know, but we'll give it a shot.

LEA: 

What did you take away from that project? 

MAX:

We learned how much money these organizations are spending on things like direct mail campaigns, which were effective but massively inefficient... And no one our age responds to direct mail anyways. 

Really, we learned a lot more about the donor experience. We saw firsthand the disconnect between what nonprofits were doing and the platforms they were using versus the experience that someone our age would come to expect. 

LEA: 

But you aren’t the only online fundraising platform. What sets you apart, what makes you integral for your customers? 

MAX: 

I think our clients really appreciate the ease of use...A lot of our organizations that use us don't know what a CRM is. They would have no idea what that means. We provide that type of value to them without ever having to really explain it.

We also have a really good sense for UI, UX, and product. We have some different features on the site, for example, when people donate they can upload GIFs and drawings and photos to show their support. There's more engagement. I think it's those little things that make a huge difference in terms of people's experience. That's a major reason why we started — so many of these [other fundraising] sites are very transactional.

We're building a brand loyalty in a space that has so little. A lot of the existing sites, GoFundMe or PayPal — a lot of people actively dislike these types of platforms. And we're sort of building a product [where it feels] like, “wow, this is fun.” It just feels light and I can relate to it.

LEA:

You have a lot of empathy for the donor experience, and it’s cool because I think that translates into...you place a high value on — maybe this isn't the word that you would pick but — the funness of your product. 

MAX:

The funness? Honestly, I'm all about that.

LEA:

How do you do that? How do you say, “Oh, I know the feature we need. It's GIFs at the end of the donor signup page.”

MAX:

That's so funny. People will ask, “How [is Givebutter] different?” Sometimes I just feel like you need to go on the site and just sort of see it. I do think it's fun. 

That's important. It's an emotional connection. We really tried to do that. You always have to make trade offs in product development, but we definitely have a category of just fun features that we want to build because they're fun. They don't actually provide utility so much, but they're fun.

LEA: 

Let’s transition into the positions you’re looking to fill. Hiring employees 3 and 4 is a big milestone for Givebutter, right? 

MAX: 

Totally. I'm going to learn a lot. I'm already learning a lot, and I'm really excited to grow the team. The new hires are going to have some equity in the company...It's something I've dreamed about since we started.

The thing that most excites me is just, when I'm looking at applicants, I'm like, I want all of you. You're all great. There's all of these people that want to work on something that we built. 

LEA: 

What is the most important trait you’re looking for?

MAX:

I think trust is actually probably one of the most important things. Do I feel like I can trust this person? Especially with the customer success role. 

I hold basically all these relationships. For example, I'm wearing this shirt, [Humans for Education], and they were actually our first inbound customer. Someone who just found us on Google, subscribed to our email newsletter. I saw their domain and I was like, oh cool, they're a real nonprofit. We’ve built this awesome relationship over three years, but now it's gotten to the point where I'm going to pass on some of these relationships to someone else. 

LEA:

It's personal.

MAX:

Yeah.

LEA:

What else do you think about when you think about hiring another person? Do you have any other fears, wishes, hopes, dreams, questions, ambiguities?

MAX:

It's not really going to be a nine to five right now. It's going to be a grind. We're early, we have a lot of demands and things that we're going to need to get done. It's going to be a demanding job. For the right person I think it could be so fulfilling. There's so much in that ownership over what they're doing. 

For example, the front-end developer role we’re hiring for will have a ton of ownership over building the interfaces our customers interact with – and those customers are literally changing lives. It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding.

LEA:

Ok, let’s end with this: you’ve said trust is so important to you. Why should someone trust you with their next step in their career?

MAX:

Our track record. We raised no money from investors for three years and took on debt, paid off loans, all while trying to make Givebutter work to get to where we are now....We have thousands of customers. It's a real business that we’ve built from the ground up. 

If you're joining any startup, there's risk. Any job, there's a level of risk no matter what you're doing, but I think we've shown what we're able to do with so little, and now we have more. Bringing on the right person will take all of us to new heights that I'm really excited about.


If you have questions about either of Givebutter’s job openings, feel free to reach out by replying to this email!

See ya soon.

Love,

Lea

Loading more posts…