Transcript of Interview with John Bromley
Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans, this is Dan Lok and I’m so excited today. Today I have the privilege of bringing you a very, very special entrepreneur who also lives in Vancouver. John, welcome to the show.
John: Thank you.
Dan: John, maybe with our listeners: they’ve heard of your intro, they’ve heard of your background and the work that you do in charity, take us back a little bit John. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into what you do today.
John: Well I’m a Vancouver boy who left Vancouver at the age of 18 to go study commerce at McGill, and I ended up staying in Montreal because of a woman who, fortunately I ended up getting married to, so that was an investment that worked out okay. And I stayed in Montreal for four or five years after graduating from McGill and worked in the corporate finance and investment banking space with Price Waterhouse Coopers and RBC Capital Markets.
And after I — my second role was with RBC Capital Markets and I enjoyed the work and learned a ton but culturally there was something going on, there was an itch that wasn’t being scratched by my work there. And as a result of that I started just getting back in touch with my parents. Of course they were just my parents the whole way through, but talking a little bit more about, you know, I might leave this job and go on and do some other work, what do you think that would look like? Just getting the sort of mentorship you do with parents that you’re in a good relationship with.
And longer story short, while it wasn’t forced in any way and there was no family plan, I ended up starting to work more closely with my Dad. And my Dad is one of the leading — he’s basically the pioneer of charity law and finance in Canada, and so he’s one of the top experts globally on charity law in particular and the facilitation of giving money away. And so I just started spending more time with him and it ended up bridging back into staying in the finance world at some level but moving from the for-profit world into the not for profit world.
And last thing I’d say there, I guess, is when you work with any subject matter expert — I mean this guy happened to be my Dad — but when you do, and if they truly are a global leader in their space, you learn more in a year working for these people than most people learn in an entire career. And so I had the privilege at a reasonably young age, being a motivated, ambitious young person, to work with one of these leaders. And over the course of four or five years sitting in on every single meeting that they attended, arguably learned more about charity than most people, like I said, would acquire in a whole lifetime. And from there went on to start my own companies.
Dan: John it seems that your Dad is a very very important mentor in your life. What are two or three things — what are some of the most important things that you’ve learned from him?
John: Well it’s interesting when you say that in the context of how he’s a mentor to me professionally, because he actually is a professional mentor to me despite being my father, so he’s a mentor on an individual different level too. And I have two boys now, so I’m a father and I look for some mentorship there as well. But the stuff that’s most important from him that he’s taught me, I think has actually less to do with charity and has more to do with just running ideas.
So the first one is — so I’ve got about fifty employees now, and we’re growing. So the first thing that he’s taught me that I keep in my mind is: be more scared of when people aren’t making mistakes than when they are making mistakes. And the context of that advice is people are making mistakes period, full stop, everyone makes mistakes. And so the problem with mistakes that aren’t being made is that they actually exist and you can’t see them. So that advice is trying to translate into a culture at Chimp where — while it’s critical that we put super high quality into our work, mistakes are acceptable around here and particularly if you are transparent about them and talk about them. And what’s not acceptable is if you try to hide your mistakes or sweep them under the carpet as if they don’t exist.
I think another major thing that he taught me, more by watching him work than by saying it, is just to not accept the status quo, unless you really choose to. So his work has pushed the boundaries a lot in the charity space, it’s opened up whole new worlds of how people can give tax effectively etcetera. And we’ve taken that type of position, less on the tax side and more on the making giving a part of everyday living.
Dan: And from there — so you’ve learned from your Dad, and what inspired you to start your own company?
John: So I was working with my Dad at the time and I had a couple frustrations with our work. So we’re about a 15-person company, and largely a law firm and consultancy focused exclusively on charity, and largely tailored to higher net worth people. And so the frustrations were: well, what about all of my friends? Let’s call me 30 at the time, I’m 39 now, so let’s call it 30 at the time. What about all my friends who are starting to make good money? Some of them are starting good companies and these are people who are going to go on to be philanthropists one day, if they choose to, and how do they get involved today to start giving in a sophisticated way when they don’t have the time or inclination to come sit down with me and/or to pay the type of money that they need to pay me in order to get engaged? And so there was a frustration sort of related to access to, and participation in giving that I couldn’t provide because in a service based business you’re not scaleable.
That was a problem that I was trying to create, was kind of access and participation at scale in a donor centered way. And the other problem I was trying to solve at the time was: how do you make giving a part of any economic transaction? So whether you’re buying a coffee at Starbucks, or whether you’re receiving a pay check from a company, or selling your Google shares, or selling your private company shares, or selling your signed Air Jordans on EBay. How do you make giving a part of any of those transactions? And because I was pretty fluent at the time in the charity sector, thanks to the mentorship I mentioned earlier, I was able to answer my own question.
And the answer to the question was what the charity sector would call a donor advised fund. Which is kind of like having your own bank account for charity. It’s kind of like having a democratized or free version of a private foundation. And I didn’t invent the donor advised fund, those exist, but no one had really built a donor advised fund that was for everyone: for people like my two young boys as much as it was for my wealthiest clients. And so Chimp went about creating a donor advised fund with a kind of lens of building it like an accessible modern day web based bank.
Dan: It’s almost like you disrupt the industry by bringing the technology and social media and all these things to create just more efficiency in the whole charity space. Now were you always interested in tech? How did you come up with all these ideas?
John: Yea, that’s interesting. I think that the honest answer is no, I wasn’t always interested in tech. So I’m 39, so that makes me born in 1978, so I grew up with a computer at some level, but I didn’t grow up pulling it apart and putting it back together, nor was I actually much of a gamer. I’m of the generation that grew up not being intimidated by the web or by technology but also not being — I didn’t grow up with it immediately at birth, so I’m not a native technologist. Anyway, so I first come at it with a finance background, secondly with a charity knowledge, deep charity subject matter expertise. But you know it was — you can’t do anything today without the web and if you want to scale anything you can’t do it in particular without the web and if cost infrastructure is important to what you’re doing, it also necessitates a web-based type of platform. And so it was more that we had to develop online, and as a result of that I’ve sort of defaulted into becoming a bit of a software entrepreneur despite the fact that I don’t have a background in that.
And if I was being transparent with you, the downside of that is that the coding part of our world, which is substantive, is the one part of the business that I don’t fully understand. And entrepreneurs always get nervous when they don’t understand a part of the business, not that you can know everything, but I know everything to do with charity and I know everything to do with finance enough to fully understand my company, having built it from scratch, but the developing and coding part I can — I always have to do through other people.
Dan: So if something breaks down or there’s a bug, you’re like, “Okay, so you guys fix it.” But you don’t really know what to fix or how to fix it, so you’re relying on your team obviously.
John: Yea, you have to rely on your team anyways. At this level we’re operating now, I’m relying on my team for everything and they are reliant on me for different things. But it just means that if push came to shove, having to get down into the coders and get your hand dirty, something entrepreneurs have to be prepared to do in my opinion, it’s the one area where I can’t get in. And if I were to get my hands dirty the most I could do is sit beside you and refill your coffee.
Dan: Now John, when you came up with this idea, I’m just curious, did you get any push back from the charity space that — because it’s revolutionary, right? Also, what did your Dad say? Is he old school, like, “No this won’t work” or is he very supportive, “Oh yea, this is genius, this is going to change our industry.” What kind of feedback did you get?
John: Yea, so let me start with the first part of your question. So the charities, what feedback did they give me? Let me just give you a little bit of context first. So, if you’re the average Canadian, or American, you only give to charity when you’re asked.
John: So that’s a problem, I think for a number of reasons. Now I won’t go too deep into it unless you’re interested, but effectively what that translates to is: unless someone’s trying to sell you on charity, you’re not giving. And the problem with that, aside from the economic problem with that over time if the sales procedures doesn’t work, there’s a couple of things: first of all, it’s expensive, so raising money in the context where you’re always having to be asked is expensive because there’s a whole sales infrastructure behind it and that’s not free. And you see lots of complaints today about the high cost of…
John: Yea, marketing and administrating charities. So there’s the problem there with how our whole charity structure or paradigm today is overly reliant on fundraising. So where charities push back on Chimp, particularly the larger ones who understand fundraising oftentimes only enough to be fearful of a donor advised fund, and the reason that they’re fearful of a donor advised fund is simply because of the realty that if you give through a donor advised fund you can ultimately as a donor give to the charities of your choice anonymously. And that scares a fundraiser or a marketer or a list builder, because now they don’t have your name anymore.
So the push back — I don’t get push back from charities, generally speaking, like people in the science side or program delivery side of charities really like chimp. People on the administration and fundraising side sometimes don’t like Chimp because they’ve got this conflict with wanting to have the donor’s name so that they can spam them forever. And therefore they don’t empower donors. So that’s the main context to push back.
Now having said that, this is also a major opportunity for Chimp and the charity sector, in my considered opinion. It’s an opportunity for both Chimp and the sector because if we teach donors how to give, and if we do that in an objective way, in a neutral way, where it’s about them and not just about the charities who are receiving the money, then we’ll create a context where over time people give for more intrinsic reasons than extrinsic sales motivated reasons. And if you give intrinsically, the cost of fundraising from you is much lower.
If you give $100 a month just because it’s something that you’ve committed to doing, regardless of because someone’s asked you to do it, then you have $1200 a year to allocate to the charities of your choice. Now a charity’s fundraising department only have to go fishing in a lake that they know has fish in it, and hungry fish in it, and their role becomes more to help you discover them, but if that doesn’t happen, the fundraisers role is both to help you discover them and to convince you to give your money away. And that two-part sale is more expensive than a one-part sale.
So this is sort of a longer way of saying that I have had push back from charities on the idea of Chimp, but it comes from this deep place of fear, where if my donors are ever empowered to act on their own, will they stop giving to me?
Dan: I can see whenever you disrupt an industry, obviously you’re going to get pushback, just like Uber or just like Air BnB – it’s all the same, right? There’s people who love it, the end users usually love it once their educated —
Dan: But you also piss off a whole bunch of people, that’s part of it, right?
John: Yea, you couldn’t be more right. I mean Uber, forget all of the governmental, governance side of Uber — I mean Uber gets tax companies nervous because they used to control all the access to drivers, now anyone who has a car and passes certain type of tests can make money from driving cars. We’re doing something similar for donors: we are empowering them with the tools to give up front and get their tax receipt now, and to give whenever they want and how they want and do it socially if they want, and allocate that money to any registered charity of their choice. It’s very powerful for Chimp to come to the market as a donor centered program, because everything else that you’ll find in the sector isn’t about the donor, it’s about the charity.
Dan: Correct. And now — I was just reading a book — I don’t know if you’ve read the book called “Inevitable” and the author talks about tall forces that — technology, how it’s changing the world and how behaviour consumer — and this ties in very nicely with that. It’s almost from a marketing perspective, see if I get this right. Because one of the things I teach in marketing is I don’t like to make a one-time sale, right? I’m all about recurring revenue. So what you’re doing is basically recurring of donation for charities, instead of every time I have to go back and make a sale, but why not just put them on autopay. And so definitely overall you’re going to raise a lot more money to help a lot more people, right?
John: That’s right.
Dan: Versus — that’s awesome.
John: And just to push on that for one second: so what’s important — as a charity listening to you right now would say, “Well that’s what’s important to us too, we need recurring revenue and not one-time revenue.” The problem why — so fundraising has succeeded at raising some money for some charities but it has completely failed at creating a culture of giving. And the problem with not creating a culture of giving for fundraising, for the charity sector, is that it’s like you say, it’s that additional cost of the one-time transaction, so we keep having to go back to ask people every time to make the gift.
So my view is let’s create a facility, like a web based, charity bank minded but social network scene where John and Dan, who are both generous people and care about their community, can interact and give together without — and amplify each other’s impact and community without necessarily having to choose the same charities, right? Because you and I might not even care about the same exact cause, because I live in this part of Vancouver and you live in that part of the city. It ultimately means using — charities are going to be different, the homeless shelters in our area are different charities.
So what I think the mature world of charity is going to look like in the future, is there’s going to be something like a charity bank where donors are supported in a neutral and objective way, the way RBC or CIBC helps us as individual consumers today, and then consumers will go forward with their money from there and allocate it to the charities they want, which in the for-profit world is akin to sort of saying: well if you want to buy Nike or Reebok shoes, guess who doesn’t care? Your banker. Your banker doesn’t care.
Dan: Correct. Correct. It’s almost like — this reminds me a lot of your business model of Kickstarter: that instead of an entrepreneur going in and pitching these investors, trying to raise money and: maybe I can make the prototype, I can make my technology work and whatever, I just go directly to the consumers, “Hey, I’ve got this idea, I’m thinking of making it, who will support me?” So all the power now goes to the consumers, “Yea I like the idea, I want this. I know you haven’t made it yet, but I’ll put in some money, I’ll be a small investor. But when you have thousands and thousands of them you would raise enough money to do what you want to do and then you can make the product and deliver it to me. And in the meantime I can give you feedback on how I like the product, what I like about it, what I don’t like about it,” right?
John: Yea, on the empowerment angle you’re exactly correct. You’re correct on a number of levels, the only difference I’d say is that if you look at Kickstarter as a transactional platform, which it is, they really empower the entrepreneur or the idea creator, the project creator. So the major difference with Chimp is that that project creator is akin to the fundraiser in the charity sector and they’re trying to get other people to give to them. So Chimp is developing something that empowers the spender, the investor at Kickstarter, more so than the project founder. You know what I’m saying? So that’s the only major difference between us and Kickstarter, otherwise exactly right on everything you said.
Dan: Awesome. And John, do you see — like what other problems do you see in the charity space, in terms of like — so people have to be sold to give every time. What about just how a lot of different charities operate? Because a lot of that is not very transparent, and we read that from the news, that they’re not very transparent and even the top-level people, they get high salary. What is some of the major problems that you want to correct with Chimp?
John: So let’s start with what you said, and I’ll just pretext it with saying: the biggest problem in the charity sector today, in my considered opinion, is that there’s nowhere to learn how to give. So, that’s a problem, right? And why is it a problem? It’s a problem for a number of reasons. Let’s start with some basic steps. So how did you learn how to do math?
Dan: Go to class.
John: Yea, how did you learn how to shoot a basketball?
Dan: You learned, you practiced and you were coached, yea.
John: So there’s nothing really in life, within reason, other than breathing and eating and stuff like that, that we truly do without learning. So when you go into schools, and when you go into workplaces, and when you just wander the streets as an individual, and really the only interface you have with charity is someone selling you something; selling you to give to their cause, you don’t create a context where donors are empowered, where they have fluency, where they know or they’ve learned how to give, okay?
So a problem that also exists in the sector is, like the one that you suggested, is this sort of idea that there’s a lack of transparency and some charities don’t spend their money well etcetera, etcetera. So, if you went into the public market, what you’d find there is a whole bunch of money that goes to companies that spend it poorly and that aren’t transparent. And so in that way, the charity market and the for-profit market are exactly the same. The difference is that in the for-profit market, there’s all sorts of helpers along the way to reduce the probability that your money is going to get into a bad investment decision. So for example, if I’m at RBC dominion securities, in the Canadian context: I’m an investor, I have a broker who spends his or her time helping optimize my investments and they lend all their literacy in finance to me and that helps my decisions.
Who helps me give my money away? So, in the one case I’d say that the problem that you talked about is a real hard-core problem, but it’s actually based in a lack of charitable literacy, which is based in a lack of somewhere to learn how to give. If you’re a reasonably financially fluent individual, you’ll find very quickly that all information about charities, including within reason how much they pay some of their senior staff, is all publicly available information. So the transparency is there, but no one actually knows how to find it. And if they find it, they don’t necessarily know how to read it or interpret it.
So fundamentally Dan, and you’re asking a really great question, fundamentally I’d say that Chimp is here to empower donors to act on their innate generosity, and that’s our purpose statement, by the way. And we have a mission to cause people to think, act and feel like philanthropists. And both of those things are about, on the one hand recognizing that generosity is innate, and so that’s nature, now we just have to nurture it, and the nurturing of it is really about helping people learn.
Dan: I love it. And it’s also about educating them that you don’t need to be — we’re not talking you need to be Rockefeller, you need to be Bill Gates, you don’t need to be Warren Buffett, anyone can give. You can give where you are now.
Dan: You don’t need millions and millions of dollars. You know what, you’ve got $1000 you can give $50, you can give $60, it doesn’t matter.
John: Yea, so let me say two things, you’re absolutely right. First, in a Chimp context it’s why we — our biggest account at Chimp holds north of twenty million dollars in it, and that’s invested by financial advisors on behalf of that client. So there’s big money there. And yet both of my boys who are six and four years old, neither of whom truly can read or use the web yet, both have charity accounts with Chimp, because Chimp empowers me to give them a charitable allowance, for example. So charity has to be taught to everyone.
The second piece is: why is Bill Gates a philanthropist? Why was Andrew Carnegie, or if you use a name like Rockefeller, a philanthropist? Well, if you go back and learn about these guys, a lot of the biggest donors in the world didn’t just walk into money or earn their money and then go, “Okay crap, I’m going to give it away.” I mean, some of them do. But in more cases than you’d think, it’s because these people were actually raised with values that predetermine your future giving and the context where you make money. So Bill Gates had a Mum who raised him to be charitable and then he became the biggest baller in the world and so he’s now giving it all away.
So anyways it’s not just that, a lot of people sort of say, “Hey man, I’m going to be charitable one day when I make it.” Well if you don’t make it, what kind of purpose or meaning is your life going to have and how are you going to be able to look at your friends or those around you and say what you gave back? Giving back is not about being rich, giving back is about getting engaged with your community.
Dan: Yes, and if you study — it depends on if you study, like the spiritual laws of money and what your belief is. You know that the more you give — that you would now have a different of level of motivation, because if you just — because I believe motive does matter. If you just make money say, “Oh if I do well then I’ll make enough money for myself,” just personal consumption, that’s okay. But if I do it for my family, that’s a little bit better. But if you do it for the community, you even do it to impact more people, that’s a very different level of motive. And I think you’ll find that, when you work, there’s a different level of motivation. And things just showed up, that’s been my experience. Good things and people, they just showed up because now they can see you’re not just motivated by yourself, you just do it for yourself.
Dan: And people want to support you in that. So if you believe in that then you know that by giving early — just think about it, if you’ve got a thousand bucks and you’re not giving away $10, believe me, when you make a million you’re not going to give away $10,000.
John: You’re exactly right. No, you’re exactly right.
Dan: That $10,000 must feel like, “Oh I don’t know” — no it’s not going to happen, trust me it’s not going to happen, right?
John: No it doesn’t happen, I’ve seen it time and time again. I’ve seen people who are worth one million dollars give away way more than people who are worth one hundred million dollars. And I’ve also seen people who earn forty to fifty thousand dollars a year give away more than the person who’s worth a million dollars. It really is about values and how you understand and see your role in community, and how you understand your assets: whether those are financial assets or personal talent assets or your time as an asset, for example. And it’s a function of how you’ve been raised and what you’ve been taught, which is why I said to you that the biggest problem in the sector today, despite all the things I could talk to you for hours and hours about: about law and politics and tax and all the problems there, the biggest problem is that there is nowhere to learn how to give.
And when we empower people — what my vision is, is it’s not so much to cause everybody in the world to be charitable, even though I believe we all have the capacity to be as we’re innately generous, my goal actually is — I think it’s a little bit more realistic — it’s to cause everyone in the world to decide whether or not they’re going to be charitable or not. So I’m happy enough if I get you to the point where you make a conscious decision to be or not to be charitable. And my bet is that more of us will choose to be charitable because when we give we get something in return.
Dan: Correct. Correct. Very, very true. And I know that John, Chimp just recently reached a major milestone of processing over 200 million dollars in charitable donations, so congratulations.
John: Thank you.
Dan: That’s a huge accomplishment. So talk to us a little bit about that. Like, how did that happen? And I’m sure you’re very proud of it as well.
John: Yes, I’m very proud of that. And really, really proud of the team that contributed towards making it happen. So it happened in two ways: the first is it happened — so two different sort of market segments contributed to the 200 million dollars. On the one hand, relatively few high net worth people who are using Chimp to guide and transact all of their charitable giving nowadays, that’s one segment.
And then the other segment is relatively many smaller grassroots donors who also use Chimp to give all their charitable giving through. So the problem we’re solving is the same for both. The difference is that if you’re a high net worth individual, you might give a large, large amount, which may be partly tax driven, today and you’re not going to want to give all that money to your charities of choice, because what am I going to give next year?
So we have tools that, for example, enable high net worth people to make investments with their charity dollars after they’re in Chimp. So the tools are slightly different depending on who the user is. But really, how you get to 200 million dollars is just by putting in front of people a donor centered platform that helps them manage and amplify the charitable impact they create. And by the way, we haven’t chatted about that yet, the name brand Chimp.
Dan: Yes, how did you come up with that?
John: Yea, it comes from — well it’s what’s called a Portmanteau, who knew what that meant, but a Portmanteau is sort of when you take real words and you stick them together. So when you take charitable and impact you get “ch” and “imp” which makes chimp.
Dan: Oh wow, I love it.
John: So in some places you get this sort of goofy reaction: people saying, “What, you think I’m going to give my charitable dollars to a chimp?” And they sort of have this reaction.
Dan: Yea, that’s my first thought, right?
John: Yea, and then when you hear the back story that it’s really for charitable impact, people sort of breath this sigh of relief. To be honest with you Dan, we have a conflict with that brand, but here’s where it works: if it works in the future, like for example I can say, “Dan, yo man thanks for putting me on your podcast, love the questions you’re asking.” I can send you fifty charitable dollars for you to give away, so I can effectively “chimp” you money. So where we like the name is where you can kind of bring it into your everyday vernacular, and become a verb. Where we don’t like it is, the first time we meet with the CEO of a major financial institution, I’m going, “Sorry, how am I going to introduce this to my client?”
Dan: Yea, I could see the word would become a — it’s just like people would say, “I’ll PayPal you,” right? That becomes a day-to-day language. So, from a marketing perspective it’s extremely powerful. I’m also curious. So maybe give us a little bit more insight into the business model of chimp. So you guys would actually take the money and then process the money, correct?
John: That’s right.
Dan: And how does that work? Do you guys like charge a fee? Like, how do you fund the company?
John: We’re on two models, and I’ll give you the straight answer and then we’ll come back and build some context for it. So we make money in a couple different ways: first of all we run a freemium model. So a freemium model is sort of free product and premium product all in one. Some users upgrade — pay more to upgrade for a premium model. So there are functions at Chimp where, for example, as a company or as a charity you can sign up to pay to have access to better tools. So for example, if you’re a company and you’re just using chimp to send money to charities, there’s no cost there. But if you’re using Chimp to match your employees or activate your customers in a certain way, we would have fees for that. So that’s a product based sort of subscription kind of business model.
John: The other major way we make money is more of a financial model, where if you’ve got money sitting in your Chimp account, it sits in a big pool until you’re ready to give that away, and you can give it away whenever you want, by the way. But it sits in a big pool and we monetize that pool, create our OI from that pool, and we don’t today pay interest into Chimp accounts.
So high net worth users have what we call a charitable investment account and they can make investments from there and any gains or losses on those investments accrue to their own account. But if you’re just a retail user, someone who has what we call a Chimp account, and you’re not earning any ROI on that float — now some people, let’s call it — this is for people who are keeping somewhere between zero and $10,000 in their account. And we generally get no complaints on doing that and if you ask why, I think there’d be two reasons. One, if people are in the know financially, they’d kind of go, “Well, my checking account at RBC doesn’t pay me anything either, nothing material.” So they’re not really used in this modern day to earning decent returns on investment on just cash sitting in a checking account. Rather what they want is the features that come along and help them manage their money, and not getting charged or not getting charged much for that.
So Chimp has decidedly gone against the course of a Kickstarter type of models, or GoFundMe models where they’re charging their clients up to seven or eight percent to make donations. Because of our focus on impact, we’re trying to stay away from charging our donors transaction fees. And the reason for that is actually as much about culture as it is about just business model. Lots of people will not give charity because of the perceived or real costs associated to doing so. And so I see it partly as my function in life to reduce any objection to giving possible. Particularly any objection to using Chimp, which, for example in this case would be a transaction fee. And then say, “Okay, so don’t not use Chimp because you don’t want to pay the “x” percent transaction fee, just use Chimp and give for free and as you become an active user we’ll either upsell you into a more subscription-based model or a deeper level of service, or we’ll let you keep giving for free and we’ll earn some money off of your float if and when you push it through.”
Dan: Exactly, so the float it’s also — it’s interesting how you combined your investment banking background and your skill in finance, and also now with tech and different things, and just combined it together. I just find it fascinating. You have this hybrid model that — it’s a little bit like Kickstarter but it’s not Kickstarter, and you created your own thing, and I think it’s just brilliant. It’s brilliant.
John: So the vision is — and thanks for saying that Dan, not just the complimentary, but thanks for seeing where we’re going — it is truly a combination of tech and of a tech kind of subscription, modern day tech play like a LinkedIn and a bank. So in that way, with more sophisticated folk like yourself and I’m sure like your users, I often describe Chimp as: we’re trying to develop a socially networked charitable bank. So the socially networked part is kind of like, “Okay, well how does LinkedIn make money?” Well, they make money, for example, lots of different ways. They make money in particular from employers coming into the system to go fishing for new people to work for them: employees.
John: So where’s the platform that links charities to donors? Well first of all, the platform doesn’t exist, and the whole paradigm of fundraising is counter to that, because the whole paradigm of fundraising is to put the charity directly in place with the consumer. But when you think about that at scale, it’s hyper-inefficient and that’s why we pay somewhere between 20 and 40 cents on the dollar to charities to help them fund-raise and administrate their organisations.
John: And at scale, Chimp’s going to be able to dramatically reduce that cost to capital in the charity sector over time.
Dan: Yea and I can see that, although without a transactions fee, which is a great decision, but it takes — you need a much bigger pool of money to manage because you make just a tiny bit of money on the float.
John: That’s right.
Dan: But as time goes on, when you manage — when you have like billions and billions of dollars in the account, that float becomes significant right.
John: That’s right.
Dan: And then you’re exactly right, there’s no objection of: “Oh wow, yea you’re making all these fees.” Because people nowadays, I don’t know, they just hate that more and more and more. “Oh the banks charging me these fees,” and what about this, what about that and just completely living the objection, right?
John: Yea. You know when people — when you go to the ATM machine that’s not with your own bank and it says it’s going to charge you $2, or whatever, and you know how like that sort of infuriates you? Well, my experience is that, that level of infuriation goes up even more when the transaction is charitable. And it comes from a place of charity illiteracy, just to be frank. It comes from a context where people don’t learn how to give. The illiteracy, in one sentence, is these are people who think it should be free to give charity despite the fact that it’s not free to buy bubble gum at 7/11. The transaction fee, within reason, is the same. It’s a credit card merchant fee, but because we are doing this to save the forests or the air or the fish or the trees, it should be free. And that’s just a context where we have to really come in and start almost from scratch, not on teaching people how to be generous, but on teaching people how to nurture their generosity and to navigate the giving world. And over time in as a sophisticated way as good investors navigate the investment world.
Dan: And John, how many users do you have at this point on Chimp? Like, from the individual and company side?
John: Yea, we haven’t made a big push yet, so there is around 100,000.
Dan: 100,000 okay. And on the charity side how many charities are on the platform?
John: A user can give to any charity of their choice, whether they’re on the platform or not. So one answer to your question is: every charity in the country, which in Canada is about 85,000, is on Chimp and you can give to them if you use Chimp. But also charities can come in and claim accounts and get more engaged with our community. And so that activation number is obviously less than 85,000.
Dan: Got it.
John: But it has no bearing on whether or not a user can send money to those charities or —
Dan: Yes, and then maybe they’ll say, “Oh we’re getting more donations as a charity from Chimp, maybe we should get more involved and we should engage with the users more,” right? I could see that happening too.
John: That’s what happens, yea.
Dan: Very interesting. And now, with this period of time — I know you just shared with me you started the company a few years ago. Obviously it’s not smooth sailing, just like any business there’s ups and downs, and what’s been the journey like so far? Like, any obstacles that you felt like, “Ugh, that was so tough but I’m so glad I’ve overcome that.”?
John: Yea, so I’d say two major obstacles, one of which we’ve sort of touched on, is that when you go to charities who come across sometimes as just being interested in fundraising, selling to them isn’t particularly smooth or easy. So when we started Chimp, when we started thinking, “Well it’s great, we’re going to make a bank account for giving and give it to anybody who wants one. Who’s going to help us distribute that?” And it’s very intuitive to say, “Oh, let’s go to the charities and they’ll help us distribute it.” So we ran into some obstacles there related to the makeup of the fundraising paradigm, and how the whole sales infrastructure works in the charity world, which is big and powerful.
A second, then, was: so who else can distribute charity accounts? Companies. Oh because they can facilitate employee giving, matching, and it can facilitate enabling customers to help companies distribute charity dollars in a different, more innovative, better way, etcetera etcetera. But what we found there was, aside from the biggest companies, only the largest companies, most companies hadn’t actually thought that much, or thought deeply about, or had put in place any priority on developing their own corporate social responsibility strategy, particularly as it related to charity. So we, as a business, either learned a lot or wasted a lot of time, depending on how cynical you want to be, navigating into the charity world looking for partners and then navigating the corporate world looking for partners.
Now, what we decided more recently was, despite the fact that we are a platform and charities can engage over here and companies can engage with their employees or customers over there, we decided that we were going to really focus our energy on serving the donor. And so we’re sort of three quarters of the way through the change to that. I wouldn’t quite call it a pivot, but it’s more of a brand pivot than it is a functional pivot. But what I like about it is: first of all, the only people who give to charities and/or who work for and volunteer for charities are people; and the only people who work for companies and/or who shop at companies are also people. So when you go in and you focus on really supporting the donor, meeting them where they are on their charitable journey today, you can — our goal then is to cause them to love giving with Chimp.
And from there then to move on and say, “Oh hey, by the way, you know, nudge nudge, you have a job, oh do you think it’d be cool if they matched your giving?” So instead of selling to the corporation, we’re more focused now on empowering the individual and seeing where that takes us in the future.
Dan: Yea it makes a lot of sense. Now, John when you started Chimp did you raise any capital to start the company?
John: I didn’t. Because I was an entrepreneur already and had other businesses around me at the time, and back to working with my Dad: we had a law firm, we had a consulting company, we dabbled a little bit into some other technology related to giving, so we bootstrapped Chimp. Having said that, I’m getting to the point today where our growth is outpacing our revenues, and so are we going to slow down or keep moving forward? So we’re starting to look at the need to bring on investors. And of course in our world it’s not just about money, it’s about strategic alignment. But then it’s also about some values-oriented alignment, so our hope is to not get so desperate for capital that we have to take the first money that appears, but rather to find the right partner.
Dan: For sure, the right partner who understands and also buys into the vision, right? Because what you do is very unique.
John: That’s right.
Dan: John, any — if you were to give some advice to maybe young people, entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them?
John: Well, if I were to combine advice for getting engaged in the charity world and in the entrepreneurial, the advice is the same. What differentiates entrepreneurs and charitable donors from other people is the willingness to do something; the willingness to act on impulses and ideas. So entrepreneurs are people who go from an idea and actually action it to the point where it becomes a company. Just like charitable donors are people who take action on feelings of generosity as they live their life. So my advice to people is really to get off the couch and start acting on what they’re thinking about, whether it’s pro-social, or corporate, and then to get started. And once you’re getting started, it’s a fun ride and you learn a lot along the way, and just don’t be scared of failure.
Dan: And I can also see maybe even videos or viral videos would work very well for Chimp too, because you can tell various stories just through videos. I think would be very. very powerful.
John: I agree with you, if you can help me figure out how to make viral videos then great.
Dan: Because I’ve seen — I’ll send you a couple of interviews that I did, even with Bruce, who’s also who’s agency travel, but the way he tells the stories through that. You remind me a lot of him. He’s very, very successful, but in the travel space. But also at disrupting industry what he does and just turning industry upside down. And before I wasn’t interested in that type of travel, after I watched the video it’s like, sign me up. It is so good.
John: Yea. Awesome.
Dan: So John, if people want to find out a little bit more about Chimp, if they want to get involved, what’s the best way to do that?
John: Well come find us online at chimp.net and you can follow us on social media @wearechimp.
Dan: We are chimp? That’s awesome. I love it.
John: You know, we are all charitable impact.
Dan: Impact yes.
John: So then the only other thing I’d say is that, despite us being a web-facing company, we invest a lot into service, so we’re happy for people to reach out and call us and talk to us about what they’re trying to achieve in the philanthropic space. There’s nowhere to go if you’re looking for objective advice about giving, because everyone’s focused on fundraising from you. So Chimp’s really excited about bringing forward a neutral, objective knowledge base for people to engage with on charity. So you can talk to us about what you care about and we’re not going to try to talk you out of helping children so that you can help elephants. If you want to help children, we’re just going to help you achieve that to the best of our ability.
Dan: Awesome. John, thank you so much for inspiring us today with your story and your vision, also your knowledge in the charity space. I appreciate it, thank you so much.
John: Thank you and thank you to your listeners.