Change in the Making: Cent Up!
31st January 13
Every once and awhile we stumble upon a piece of technology or an innovation that changes behavior in all the right ways. For the most part these ideas are based on a very simple, very obvious insight that for one reason or another, has not yet been solved for. CentUp is exactly one of those ideas.
Quite simply, CentUp is a share button that lets you appreciate content and give a few cents while doing so. So, when things go viral, they create awareness. When things get CentUp, they will create change.
One of the most common reasons people don’t donate more online is because they forget. CentUp is an active reminder to give, and it lives where people are spending an enormous amount of time and attention each day: consuming online content.
So whether you are reading your favorite blog, browsing your friends instagram photos, or even loling at a local improv group’s video, let amazing creators know that you support them with more than just a share. CentUp changes behaviors by making social good a core element of the publishing business model.
We spent a bit of time with Len Kendall, one of the founders of Cent Up through the magic of Google Docs. Below are is our Q&A.
Q1. When and where did you first conceive the idea for CentUp? And how close to the original idea is the current incarnation?
There were two items that sparked CentUp. (Not including the damn amazing domain name that was available.)
The first inspiration came from our collective work in the advertising and pr world. It’s increasingly difficult to build digital things that people take the time to use, read, or donate to. People’s attention spans are low and distractions are high. So we wanted to create something that took miniscule actions and made them something more powerful in aggregate. This flash of inspiration happened at a coworking space in Chicago while we were dissecting a different project.
What really tipped us over the edge specifically was the Kony 2012 video that went viral last year. It so perfectly embodied the often negatively used term, “slacktivism” which describes people taking an action that doesn’t really lead to change. (The video was shared millions and millions of times, but war in Africa wasn’t being thwarted by most people clicking “like”). We decided to develop something that could take advantage of tiny actions, but collectively accomplish something good. Hence, CentUp was born.
While the focus of our idea was very much on raising money for non-profits, we quickly realized that publishers (anyone who creates content online) were our core customers and we needed to build a product that first and foremost served them. While the functionality of CentUp isn’t going to be that much different than how we first envisioned it, the relationship building and marketing will have a vastly different focus.
Q2. I assume that going into this, the shift into a start-up lifestyle was something you planned for. In retrospect, what would you have done differently if anything. And, what were some of the unexpected surprises?
In terms of surprises, the biggest adjustment for me was the management of my own time. I don’t wake up anymore with an outlook calendar full of meetings or client requests that need to be dealt with. The way in which I spend my time is very much up to me and it has made me hyper-sensitive to whether or not particular moments, conversations, events, and other diversions are helping my business. But don’t worry, I haven’t become a selfish jerk just yet. Also, I am lucky to have a wonderful and understanding fiance who doesn’t mind my increased work intensity, as long as I spend some of that time working from the couch next to her.
I always imagined I would leave the agency world to either build my own company or join a young one, but I didn’t know it would happen as soon as it did. I was presented with a solid opportunity to do freelance work on a recurring basis while focusing the most of my time on CentUp. Since a few hours here and there during the week helped me cover my expenses, it made the transition much easier to embrace. The critical element was that I no longer had to say, “I still have a full-time job” when talking to investors, partners, media, etc. I highly recommend this kind of shift for people because it allows you to build and run a company quite lean before it’s time to dedicate your entire life to it. A month after leaving my gig, CentUp was accepted into a startup incubator in Chicago and things started moving really fast.
Q3. How do you and your partners work together? Prior to CentUp, were any of the founders part of a start-up?
The three original co-founders: Tyler Travtiz, John Geletka, and myself all come from marketing and never had worked at a start-up. While we’re not veterans in that respect, we all have a solid set of experience in building brands for very large companies. Once CentUp joined an incubator program, we combined forces with our investors Chris McLaughlin and Marcus Duncan who have a solid background in the non-profit space and product development. We’re all in Chicago, and we intend on staying on our lovely city. When we’re not working from our lovely office we’re usually taking advantage of Google Hangouts to work from home and talk to each other along the way.
Q4. How has Ventricle been able to help you grow beyond staffing and talent?
What I really appreciated about their program versus the other big ones out there like Techstars is the level of partnership they brought to the table. They didn’t just invest in us, have a few mentors come in, and give us a desk. They are with us day to day helping develop and design the product. Beyond the added hands on deck, they’re also removing friction from the business building process. By helping address the minutia (accounting, legal, etc) of building a company, it leaves us time to focus on doing what we do best, designing, developing, and acquiring customers.
Q5. When do you expect to be out of beta, and open to the public? What are some of the first partnerships that will be connected at launch?
We expect to launch at the end of February (which incidentally is when our Indiegogo campaign will wrap up). We’re giving first access to the people that pledged to our campaign, even if it’s a dollar. We’re not using a crowdsourcing platform primarily to raise money, rather we’re using it to build our first set of fans and show publishers that they absolutely should install CentUp after our launch, because there is a demand from readers.
In terms of partners we’ve got a great set of non-profits that we’re in final discussions with. From the publisher side, we’re going to start with small to medium size sites to test out the system and then expand quickly on larger networks. We can’t reveal those yet, but they’re definitely names that readers of this blog will recognize. In the meantime we encourage anyone who hosts their own site to sign-up to be one of our publishers.
Q6. Do you envision CentUp being rolled into a larger platform or network, or is it too early for that kind of thinking?
Ultimately, we realize that the CentUp will be infinitely more powerful if it can partner with a platform like Google+ or Twitter, but we know we’ll need to develop our own ecosystem first.
Our intention for the first year is to have enough content getting CentUp so that we can build a Reddit-like home page that shows top content getting cents. It’s a place that we believe bloggers and other content creators will strive to show-up on because it doesn’t just represent virality, but a substantial endorsement from fans, backed with real money.
P.S. Look for the CentUp button right here on the Labs blog towards the end of February.