Aaron O’Sullivan – Founder of My Giving Circle

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Aaron O’Sullivan has previously started, ran and successfully exited from 2 internet marketing and research companies. The first company he started was in the UK called ipoints and was one of the first online rewards programmes in the world. Ipoints was started when the internet was still shiny and new and you could have an idea for a business that no-one else was doing! Ahh those were the days! Ipoints was ultimately sold to Maximiles a company listed on the French Stock Exchange.

Upon returning to Australia, Aaron founded The Great Australian Survey affectionately know as ‘GAS’ to its members and customers. GAS, along with its sister company The Great New Zealand Survey became the leading panel provider for market research companies migrating their research online. GAS was ultimately sold to Q Limited a company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Since exiting from both businesses Aaron moved to Bronte, started a family and took an extended time-out to be there for all the major milestones of his young children (although his daughter Grace still decided to start walking when he wasn’t around!).

Aaron decided he would only jump back into the crazy world of start-ups if it were a business with a focus on social good.

What made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Having been fortunate enough to have a couple of successful exits, Aaron and his family made a conscious decision to set up regular giving to several charities to help give back. Regular giving is the lifeblood of charities and not-for-profits, but it’s not engaging. It’s the right thing to do, not the fun thing to do.

Then one day Aaron was invited by an old classmate Sarah Clarry to join a Giving Circle that was going to pay for the scholarship for a refugee studying at the University of Western Sydney. Each person in the circle committed to a small monthly donation, and together our regular giving was enough to pay for the scholarship, and the James Ruse Class of ’88 Scholarship was born. And what was amazing was how engaged everyone involved was in participating and how everyone happily agreed to a small monthly donation to make it happen. This was regular giving done right! Engaging, social, fun and accountable.

Most crowdfunding and fundraising for good causes focuses on one-off donations. And make no mistake, people who make one-off donations are awesome but the reality is, it’s regular-giving that keeps the lights on for most charities and not-for-profits.

Can you tell us a little bit about your idea?

MyGivingCircle is all about making regular-giving fun and engaging. We help individuals and companies alike start or join Giving Circles that adopt good causes they’re passionate about. By creating an ongoing connection between the Giving Circle and the good cause we make regular-giving engaging, social, fund and accountable.

Can you please explain your business model to us?

The business model is to help charities and not-for-profits secure regular-giving! We charge a platform fee of 6.5% of the money raised and as the business scales that amount becomes meaningful, but in the short-term that amount will be negligible. But that’s ok, we are happily self-funded and focussed on one goal only, to help good causes secure regular-giving.

What are you working on right now?

MyGivingCircle.org is my main focus.

What are you most excited about in the next year? 

What will be most exciting in the next year is watching groups of people coming together to form Giving Circles, adopt good causes and happily commit to regular giving. If we can tweak the dial on regular giving, we’ll be on our way to making a real difference.

Tell us how you make your ideas happen?

I’m a big fan of the lean start-up methodology, and I love the idea that a start-up is a hypothesis testing machine. So we have our hypothesis on how Giving Circles will resonate with individuals and not-for-profits, but we’ll be testing, analysing and adapting as we progress. Our goal is to provide a social good, and we think we know the path we want to take, but we’ll be learning as we go.

What role have mentors played in your business life?

Not as big a role as they should have had, looking back. I started my first internet business when I was a young 27 year old ‘know it all’ and to be honest the internet was so new we were all figuring it out for ourselves as we went along.

But I’ve always brought people on to the share any journey with me who at times act as mentors, sounding boards and sanity checks.

What challenges have you faced when growing your organisation in Australia?

I was very lucky with my last business in Australia. The online market research was just beginning to boom at the time we launched, and we were in the right place at the time, although obviously there was a lot of sweat and hard work to capitalise on the opportunity we found ourselves with.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Start lean and stay lean! The lower your cost base, the longer you have to test your market fit, and the sooner you will become cash flow positive. Cash flow positive businesses are the masters of their own destiny.

What organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

I love charities, not for profits and social enterprises where you feel their passion the work jump out at you.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

A huge role and we want to be part of that conversation. One of the things we are excited about is making workplace giving engaging through the use of Giving Circles. When companies engage their staff then together they can direct their efforts to the causes that resonate with them, which helps effect social change.

Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?

Ha we’re obviously charity agnostic, the people in Giving Circles tell us the causes they’re passionate about, and we help them connect

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

Absolutely. We want passionate individuals and socially-minded companies to start Giving Circles and effect the change they want to see in their communities. We’re also interested in partnering with foundations who can help amplify the giving potential of people’s Giving Circles.


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