Tag Archives: GiveForward

Jedi Max

What happens when a community rallies together to help a stranger?  This summer I witnessed something that totally blew my mind and warmed my heart.

Last May Brad Feld decided he was going to raise money on GiveForward for someone he didn’t know, a 17-year-old named Justin who was battling stage 4 testicular cancer.  I asked the Startups and Burritos community to support Brad’s efforts by sending Justin virtual hugs to his GiveForward page.  The outpouring of support was nothing short of amazing. You all sent hundreds of virtual hugs and gave Justin a critical boost during the most difficult of times.  If you have 4 minutes, stop what you’re doing and watch this video that shows how you all helped change a life. It gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.

Now, Brad’s at it again. He’s running the Detroit Marathon on October 21st and has chosen another person on GiveForward to help.  His name is Jedi Max. Max is eight-years-old and LOVES Star Wars.  When he grows up, he wants to be a pizza chef.  (yeah, I know, Jedi-Pizza Chef = most awesome job EVER!).

Max also happens to have a very aggressive form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma Multiforming.  But Max is the toughest Jedi fighter/pizza chef in the galaxy so he’s obviously going to beat this.  That said, even the strongest Jedi-pizza chefs can use some extra help.  If you feel like doing something awesome today,  I encourage you to go to his GiveForward page and leave him a HUG to let him know he’s going to kick cancer’s butt.

May the Force be with Max!

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Hug it Forward: 1000 Hugs for Justin

17 years ago, my dad passed away from cancer. He had stage 4 colon cancer and only lived 11 months after diagnosis. Today is his birthday and in honor of my dad, I’m asking everyone to give forward to another person fighting stage 4 cancer, Justin Salcedo.  My goal is to inspire 1000 “hugs” for Justin by the end of the day today, May 9th, 2012.
Please take a minute read more about this amazing young man on Brad Feld’s blog with whom GiveForward has partnered for this project.  Once you’ve taken a minute or two to read Brad’s blog post, here’s how you can help.
Go to Justin’s GiveForward page and do the following:
(1) leave a “hug” for Justin (doesn’t cost anything; only takes 30 seconds).
(2) Include at the end of your comment the following hashtag “#1000Hugs4Justin”
(3) Email this to any person you’ve ever know who has been touched by cancer.  Post this on your Facebook wall, share it on Twitter and encourage others to keep hugging forward until we reach 1000 hugs.
I’m not asking anyone to donate money but if we can get 1000 people to leave hugs on Justin’s page by the end of the day, it could change the world for this young man and give him the emotional boost he needs to beat the crap out of this stupid cancer!
We’ve got 15 hours.  I realize this is going to take a monumental effort, but I know we can do this.  I just gave my hug.  999 to go.  Ready. Set. Hug!
UPDATE:  We didn’t get to 1000 but we did over 100 hugs for Justin on the first day.  Thanks to everyone for hugging.
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A World Give Day Surprise for Fatima

May 4th is World Give Day.  It’s the one day a year where people around the world come together to support the causes that they care about most, whether that means giving money, giving their time, or perhaps just giving free hugs.

For this year’s World Give Day, I am holding a mentor-thon and  giving all the money I raise to a little girl named Fatima. Fatima is 4 years old and battling leukemia in Los Angeles.  Friends of the family started this GiveForward fundraising page to relieve some of the financial burden as they cope with the high medical bills.  Fatima’s family doesn’t know we are helping and I think it would be awesome to surprise them with a big donation on World Give Day representing the collective generosity of all the awesome people on the Interwebz! My goal is to help make Fatima’s page rock!  I’d love your help!

So how’s a Mentor-thon work?  Good question!  For the next 24 Hours, I will be using Clarity.FM to take as many phone calls as possible  from anyone who wants startup advice.  Whether your question is about business plans, raising seed capital, finding a co-founder, hiring your first employee. marketing, customer acquisition strategy, blogging, you name it. I’ll answer it.

The goal is to raise $500 for the Ortega family.   All you have to do to help is go to my Clarity.FM page and click the button that says “call me now”.  It’s $2 per minute and all the money is being donated to Fatima through the family’s GiveForward Page.

So that’s it.  Give me a call!!!!  Like ASAP!!!  And if you don’t have any startup questions, ask me about burritos.  And if you don’t have any startup or burrito questions, pay it forward this World Give Day by sharing this on Facebook or sending this along to someone who might.  Let’s make this happen for Fatima!

Click here to talk turkey with me! —> https://clarity.fm/#/ethanaustin

Alternatively, if you think talking to me will be a real snoozer and you’d rather just give directly to Fatima, you can donate on her GiveForward fundraising page here —>  http://www.giveforward.com/friendsoffatima

As an extra incentive to give, I’ll match up to $100 (in total) on donations that use the hashtag #WorldGiveDay in the donation comments.  Let’s go Internet.  Let’s make something amazing happen!

Thanks for your support and happy giving!

– ethan

PS – I hope this post inspires you to do something meaningful on World Give Day.  Feel free to share your plans or idea in the comment section.

PPS – If you haven’t used Clarity.fm before it’s a super-cool website started by Canadian entrepreneur extraordinaire Dan Martell (sorry, no relation to the Model, Rick Martell of WWF lore).  Basically, Clarity allows startup founders (or anyone really) to call up successful entrepreneurs to get advice.  For instance, you want to call up Mark Cuban for advice?  Boom! Here’s his profile. Give him a call.

Clarity is still in private beta, but there are already some really awesome entrepreneurs in the network like Dave McClure and Micah Baldwin.  Holy crap, right?  Imagine not having to deal intro emails and LinkedIn nonsense.  Imagine actually using your phone for (gasp!) talking and not just emails and text messaging. Clarity.fm eliminates all the gatekeepers, and gives people direct access to the most bad-ass, nerd-celebrity entrepreneurs in the universe.  I love the fact that it is democratizing mentorship and bringing back the phone call like it’s 1996. I only wish this service existed when we were first starting GiveForward.


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Why ‘Small Timing’ is Better than ‘Big Timing’ and Other Lessons I learned from AngelList Co-founder, Naval Ravikant

This is a guest post I wrote that originally appeared on PandoDaily

Let me start off by saying, I’m a pretty big AngelList fanboy. When we were raising our seed round for GiveForward in 2011 we turned to AngelList and, because of it, we ended up oversubscribed. But that’s not why I’m a fan. I’m a fan because the customer service lessons I learned while interacting with AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant will last me a lifetime. I hope they can be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

Lesson # 1:  Hustle like it’s your first startup.

When I was creating our AngelList profile, I sent over a customer support email to AngelList and to my total surprise, instead of hearing back from some fresh-out-of-college customer support agent getting paid $15 an hour, Naval responded himself. WTF?

Here’s this very successful entrepreneur, a thought leader and a legend in Silicon Valley and he is rolling up his sleeves and responding to customer support emails like he’s a 20-year-old kid bootstrapping his first startup.

Takeaway: You can’t always outsmart your competition but you must always out-care  the competition. There is no substitute for passion in the startup world. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, fifth or tenth startup. AngelList works in part because Naval and his team care more than humanly possible and treat AngelList as if they still have everything to prove.

Lesson # 2:  When it comes to response time time, be like Domino’s — 30 min or less.

Here’s a little secret: When it comes to customer service, your customers don’t actually care all that much about the answer you give them. What they care about most is that you respect them. And part of respecting someone means answering their emails in a timely manner.

When I was corresponding back and forth with Naval I remember two things: (1) He never gave me the answers I actually wanted to hear; and (2) it didn’t seem to matter at all, because his response time was lightning quick. It was crazy. As fast as I could type, Naval would respond to my questions. And this wasn’t just during business hours. I’d send him emails at 11:30 PM and by 11:32 PM I’d have a response in my inbox.

I’ve seen this same phenomenon occur over and over again at GiveForward. No one becomes a fan of your company because you gave them the exact answer they were seeking. They become a fan because you listen to their problem with empathy, and you wow them with your stupidly fast response time.

Takeaway: Respond to your customer support emails in 30 minutes, and you’ll have a happy customer. Respond within 3 minute and you’re going to have a fan for life.

Lesson # 3: Treat everyone as if he or she is the CEO of Google.

Lastly, this is by far the most important lesson I learned from Naval: Treat everyone with the same level of respect, regardless of  who they are.

A few months ago Chris Dixon wrote a great post on “big timing”. This is the practice where “people who are ‘higher ranking’ act disrespectfully toward people who are ‘lower ranking.’”

What I admire most about Naval is that he does the exact opposite.  

Instead of big timing, Naval does what I call small timing. He makes people who are not important, feel as if they are the most important people in the world. He doesn’t do this, because he hopes to get anything back in return. He does it because he’s a mensch, and because it’s the right thing to do.

When Naval emailed me back at 11:32 PM within minutes of me asking him a question, AngelList gained a fan for life. Here I was, a nobody with a tiny startup and this Silicon Valley legend is taking the time to answer my silly questions and treating me as if was the most important person in the world. He made me feel as if I was the CEO of Google or Facebook. And that’s important.

Takeaway:   Small timing > Big timing

Final Thoughts: Your goal with customer service at your company isn’t to simply answer customer’s questions. Your goal is to be like Naval. Hustle like it’s your first startup, respond to people with empathy in a timely manner, and treat everyone with the same level of respect and kindness regardless of who they are, even when…scratch that…especially when they are a nobody.

And if you’re a co-founder or CEO of your company, every once in a while, try answering a customer service email yourself. I can promise you that getting a personal email from the CEO will create a little bit unexpected joy in somebody’s life and leave a long lasting impression on that person.

*One small caveat: I don’t wish to set any false expectations with this post. My interactions with AngelList were in winter 2010/2011 when AngelList was still relatively small. If you are using AngelList today, chances are you’re not going to get a personal email back from Naval, as AngelList has grown significantly in the past year and the extremely high touch level of customer service exhibited in their early days would be nearly impossible to scale.

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Why Good Customer Service is More Important than Technology

Highlighters: the king of all office supplies and the key to financial success!!

Brad Feld posted a blog last week called Start with Customer Experience where he quotes Steve Jobs who says “you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.”  I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy.

When we first started GiveForward, our technology was absolutely terrible.  In fact, during our final round interview for Excelerate Labs, Sam Yagan, one of the Excelerate founders, told us that GiveForward was not just the shittiest website he had seen during the Excelerate application process, but in fact “the shittiest website [he] had ever seen.”   Yeah, ever.   As in the entire universe, which I’d like to remind everyone is a vast place and includes this clip art-inspired 1996 gem from White Castle.  Yet, despite the technological shortcomings with our website, by the time we were doing the interview we had already processed over $2 million in transactions.  Clearly we were doing something right — it was our out-of-this-world customer service.

The logic of starting first with the customer experience and working backwards for the technology is especially true for startups who are bootstrapping their operation like we were at the time.  Think about it — when you are bootstrapping, you have no budget to advertise.  The only way people are going to learn about your company is through word-of-mouth.  But word-of-mouth isn’t a marketing strategy.  It’s the result of a strategy. I think that’s an important concept for young startups to recognize.

So the question is, how do you get people spread the word about your company?   There are generally only two things that will compel someone to talk about your company. You either have a phenomenal product or you have phenomenal customer service.

If you have limited resources, focus on the customer service before you focus on the product. In the very early stages, it’s inevitable that your product is going to suck. Don’t worry about it. Everyone’s product sucks at the beginning.  Instead, overcompensate for your sucky product by creating a culture of out-of-this-world customer service from day one.  Hustle your butt off, be open and honest with your customers, and do the little things to WOW them at every opportunity.   If you’re bootstrapping, it’s going to take a long time until you have the right technology pieces in play to provide your users with a great product.  In the mean time, make customer service a cornerstone of your business.

Over time, continue to listen to your customers and keep iterating your product so that it sucks a little less each day.  Ultimately when the quality of your product catches up to the quality of your customer service, you’ll be in a great place.

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