Bostonian Brad Damphousse headed out west after graduating Emerson to follow his entrepreneurial dream, founding personal crowdfunding site GoFundMe. Now, he’s in the running for Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of 2013 award in the “Established” category. He shares what he’s learned, what it takes, and why, these days, Boston is a great place to build a company.
One of the things that really struck me was how personal so many of your campaigns are: How do you encourage people to share those kinds of personal stories, and has anything surprised you as the site has developed?
The beauty of GoFundMe is that it allows campaign organizers to invite others to take part in their story. Just as we share parts of our lives on Facebook, we also want to share our dreams, pursuits, celebrations and challenges online with crowdfunding. People will always be eager to support others they care about. GoFundMe removes the physical barriers traditionally associated with receiving financial support from the people in our lives. We’re amazed everyday at how fast and effectively people come together and support the things that matter to them most!
Your a Bostonian, but are now working out of San Diego. What’s different about the entrepreneurial culture there, and any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs on either coast?
Boston has a work-ethic unlike any other city. The West coast is full of dreamers and risk-takers. You put those two attributes together and it’s a recipe for success. I graduated from Emerson College and moved away before I had a chance to experience Boston’s startup culture in 2004. Any startup located outside of the San Francisco Bay-area should enjoy less distractions, cheaper office space and more time to focus on building great companies. My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur is to go for it. Focus on making your first dollar and the second one will come easier. Now repeat. Establishing revenue early will allow you to make better decisions later.
You’ve stayed away from outside funding. What have been the ups and downs of that decision?
Since it was our goal to bootstrap GoFundMe, we never experienced the want of outside capital. That said, there was certainly some stress in the early days. Like when your first child is due in 9 months and you have no revenue. That sort of pressure was critical in motivating us to make smart, impactful decisions that eventually led to success. Today as founders we enjoy the freedom to operate our business as we see fit—no approvals from the board needed.
There’s been an explosion of the number of types of crowdfunding sites. What’s helped GoFundMe stand out, and what does it take to succeed in this market?
While other sites are focused on funding the latest gadget, GoFundMe was designed with a different audience in mind. Our focus has always been on delivering delightful, frustration-free experiences for our users and donors alike (in fact, it’s one of our core values). We also respond to any questions users may have within 5 minutes or less during the day. No other crowdfunding service has put such an emphasis on taking exceptional care of their customers. When you combine excellent customer-service with a world-class product, the results speak for themselves. To date, GoFundMe users have raised over $100M for their personal fundraising campaigns. Half of that number was raised in the last few months. (See the Alexa growth chart link below).
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned building, pivoting, and growing GoFundMe?
If you can make a big promise to your customers and actually deliver on it, your company will earn the trust and respect that people won’t forget. In fact, they’ll tell their friends about the incredible experience they had. If you’re operating in that way, the right people, opportunities and eventual success will find you.