STARTUP SPOTLIGHT: Change Lives By Shopping | Chicago

RONNY SAGE, FOUNDER, SHOPPING.GIVES, contributor

By September 18, 2017, 1:17 pm EDT

    In 2017, over $91 billion will be spent on online holiday shopping. What if a small portion of each of those dollars went to a worthy cause? Shopping.Gives makes that happen. Here’s how it works: non-profits or other organizations, like local sports teams, create fundraising campaigns using Shopping.Gives. People can purchase items from all their favorite stores through the campaign, and every purchase gets the organizers up to 40% cash-back: cash they can put to good use. It’s a win-win for everyone – good causes raise funds, and shopaholics get to spend without any guilt!

    We invited Shopping.Gives Founder and Game of Thrones aficionado, Ronny Sage, to chat with Techweek’s Head of Media, Prab Kumar, about himself, his company, and his entrepreneurial passion. In this brief Q&A, you’ll learn about the (massive) opportunity in the fundraising space, how he got started, and some of the key lessons he’s learned in building Shopping.Gives.

    • Prab: What are three stats that shows how important your company’s impact has been or signifies the growth your business/market has seen?

      Ronny: This year alone, over $91 billion is going to be spent in online holiday shopping. If even one-tenth of 1% of that was activated through Shopping.Gives, we would generate $6.5 million in social impact – and that’s only over two months. This is what the market is looking at right now – millions of untapped potential fundraising dollars. We’re offering a free service to allow organizations to have a share of that wealth.

    • Prab: Tell us a little about your company today.

      Ronny: At Shopping.Gives, our mission is to turn everyday shopping into fundraising. We run a free platform that allows organizations to easily create a campaign and share it with their supporters. They in turn shop from over 750 merchants and every purchase earns up to 40% cash back for the organization.

    • Prab: What is the hair on fire problem you address?

      Ronny: Millions of dollars go untapped (wasted) each month that could be allocated to organizations who could use it to make a positive impact.

    • Prab: How did you discover this problem and why did you tackle it?

      Ronny: Working across many industries – from digital marketing with retailers to education and nonprofits – I saw the perfect storm of disconnection and missed opportunity. With this in mind, I wanted to create something for a team that had a mission bigger than itself. The end game is not about the bottom line but about the impact created.

    • Prab: What’s the size of the problem? How big is this industry?

      Ronny: The numbers are so large, they are staggering. The retail industry is nearly $5 trillion dollars in the U.S., and the fundraising industry is near $375 billion. If you look at a venn diagram of the two, the amount of immediate opportunity is $7 billion. That’s money that could be put to work today for social good.

    • Prab: What are the important trends that will shake up this industry? What will the industry look like in 5 or 10 years?

      Ronny: As with many things, the fundraising industry is well on its way to being a digital entity. Furthermore, as people are much more consciously purchasing, cause marketing is becoming a large initiative within retailers. They are even carving out budgets for cause marketing. We are in a unique position to shape this industry over the next 5 to 10 years, including continuing to innovate around this digital revolution.

    • Prab: How crowded is the space? What’s your competitive advantage behind your product or service that you believe makes it a winner?

      Ronny: There are tangentially related services but none offer the full package level of Shopping.Gives and that is our competitive advantage. We are working on behalf of the retailers as well as the organizations who use our service, truly making the platform a win-win for both sides.

    • Prab: Who are your customers and how do you make money?

      Ronny: Our customer base is two-fold: we have a marketplace model so we are selling to retailers and nonprofit organizations of various types. We make a percentage of sales that we drive through our organization partnerships and retailers pay us a monthly recurring revenue to have premium position and share.

    • Prab: How do you attract customers, and how well has it gone? How did you acquire your first customer?

      Ronny: Since launching at Techweek, we’ve onboarded over 30 organizations in the last six weeks. The ones we’ve seen be most successful are groups that have a specific goal in mind that is time sensitive, in which their own bottom line will be affected if they don’t raise funds. We found our first customer by taking a risk and making a cold-call. We were looking for an organization to join us while we were in beta, during our first public appearance at the Collision Conference in New Orleans.

    • Prab: Tell us about raising capital – have you raised? What was the experience like? What did you learn?

      Ronny: We’ve been able to launch to market as an almost 100% bootstrapped company, and we’ve had a small capital raise through friends and family.

    • Prab: Tell us about you – why are you the perfect CEO for this company?

      Ronny: My background plays the largest role when I think about why and how I founded this company. I have experience in the coupon and gift card space, and with education and digital marketing. I’ve focused on driving direct response to retailers, working with Fortune 500 retail companies and thoroughly understanding their pains while solving and creating their digital strategy.

    • Prab: How many people are employed by you today? Are you hiring – if so who should apply?

      Ronny: We’re currently a team of twelve people, and we are hiring. We have a bottom-up approach to staff; we’re not just looking for good people but for the right people. Our need now is for more generalists who are comfortable wearing a lot of hats, rather than any specialists. We are a .net shop, and we are specifically looking to expand in development and with advisors. While our team is fairly robust, if we find the right person we are willing to make room. At the end of the day, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we want that brought to our attention. We want people passionate and wanting to work towards something bigger than themselves.

    • Prab: Three words to describe the company culture?

      Ronny: No Lannisters Allowed. (Yes, our entire office is obsessed. In fact, our development release schedule is named after the Game of Thrones houses.)

    • Prab: You know nothing, Ronny Sage! What would be your company’s mascot?

      Ronny: It would definitely be a dragon. We’re strong, hungry, and fighting to make a positive impact.