Ask Me Anything with Tom Dawkins – Entrepreneur and CEO of StartSomeGood

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Tom Dawkins is aptly described as a “serial social entrepreneur”; having founded three non-profits and two companies including the incredibly successful StartSomeGood, a social change crowdfunding platform and GoodMob, a new social platform designed to bring like-minded giving circles together. His other claims to fame include creating the first co-working space in Australia and putting together the award-winning Vibewire Youth Inc. non-profit. Tom also worked as the first social media director for Ashoka, the world’s leading social entrepreneur support organization with influence in over 50 countries.

We brought Tom Dawkins onto IdeasHoist recently to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and were incredibly impressed with the wealth of experience and insight he brought to the questions asked. Below are some of the best questions and responses. (Or read the full AMA here)

What is your favourite app that you use to help run your business and why? (by rjerrems)

There’s a set of apps which we use to run our business, all of which are equally-important to allowing us to function effectively. They are: slack (for conversation, banter, info exchange), trello (for project and pipeline management) and dropbox (files). I guess trello is my favourite, because it’s also what I use for my personal to-do list, so I’m in there constantly.

…Other stuff I use regularly includes: Toggl for time tracking; Scanbot for scanning (this is seriously a lifesaver); Evernote for personal notes and bookmarks; Zoom for our team meetings; ClearFocus for Pomodoro time management; Stitcher for Podcasts; Twilight for regulating the colour balance of your screen so it doesn’t aggravate your brain at night (recommended).

What the top three things are for a successful crowdfunding campaign for a social enterprise or other cause trying to raise money on your platform? Do you have any unexpected or particularly insightful tips that people might not think about? (by Mel Butcher)

My number 1 tip, is to ask exactly this kind of question! It’s amazing how many people rush into crowdfunding campaigns with very magical thinking about how it works; that the internet will just find their project and shower them with cash. But as I suspect you already know, that doesn’t happen very often. What does happen is people do their research, have a plan and work hard to execute that plan. Here’s my top 3 tips:

  1. Have “day 1 money” ready to go – momentum is so important in crowdfunding so getting off to a strong start is key. Build an inner-circle of your most passionate supporters and have them ready to support the first minute your campaign goes live.
  2. If you’re a social enterprise, think of this as a pre-sale campaign rather than a “fundraiser”. Crowdfunding is the quickest and cheapest way to answer the question at the heart of your enterprise: will people pay for this? So sell them the thing at a competitive price, but make them care because of your social change ambitions and your personal story.
  3. Tell your personal story, don’t hide behind your brand/product/beneficiary group. Crowdfunding is a more personal style of fundraising which appeals to people looking for a more personal connection to the causes they support. Your personal journey as the founder/leader/driver/organiser behind the enterprise is a core part of that. In addition to whatever social change impact the enterprise will have, those who support your campaign will also be helping to make your dream come true, and for many this will be the thing that attracts them most.

How have you dealt with failure over your time as an entrepreneur? And how do others deal with crowdfunding ‘failure’ – have you seen people go back a second time with success after learning from their initial unsuccessful campaign? (by Mel Butcher)

I try to deal with it the only way you really can, short of quitting, and that’s as learning on what to do differently and better. If you think of your crowdfunding campaign not as a make-or-break thing that you MUST succeed at but rather as an incredible learning opportunity that will give you instant market feedback on your product, pricing, branding, etc, then it might feel less scary. Then do the work that will ensure your success!

I think every campaign can potentially succeed, so long as they get two big things right: 1. set a realistic goal 2. expect to do a realistic amount (read: a lot) of work to get there. Most people who fail badly calibrate these factors, especially the second (thinking it’ll involve much less hard work and outreach on their behalf than it will). Generally what we’ve seen is that if you’ve failed once you’ve had a wake-up call about these things, so you’ll be more likely to get them right next time. We tell you about how important your outreach and storytelling efforts are as you set up of course but some people need to experience it for themselves. Off the top of my head I believe every – or close to every – person who came back after a failed campaign succeeded the second time around.

Some entrepreneurs have even told us that their failed campaign was still one of the best things they’ve done to help move their enterprise forward because they learned so much in such a short period of time.

How important do you believe partnerships are in “starting things up”? Is investing time in pursuing partnerships worth the investment? (by KateBowmaker)

Like with most things: it depends.

The right partnerships at the right time, including right when you’re starting up, can be invaluable. They can validate your model, give you expanded distribution or share some of the time/effort if not monetary costs. But the wrong partnerships….

So it’s hard to say without knowing more. One thing that is always true at startup: credibility is key. It may be hard to secure the game-changing partnerships you want until you’ve got some runs on the board, and proven that you can add value. But if you have strong credibility and relationships personally you can overcome this, and there may be an added value in the partner being part of your launch, depending on your business model etc.

For StartSomeGood, partnerships have always been key. When we first launched we created partnerships with many of the best social entrepreneur courses and incubators in Australia and the US, including the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Ashoka Youth Venture and Vibewire. This helped introduce us to the people we needed to know about us from day 1. Those two things gave us the credibility to close the deal.

Can you tell us a bit more about GoodMob – do you see it as an alternative model to traditional crowdfunding? (by speldie23)

GoodMob is a compliment to, rather than competitive with, traditional crowdfunding. Crowdfunding platforms like StartSomeGood are all looking for fundraisers – and almost all their tools are built to assist with that job. GoodMob is about the experience of donating, and how much more fun and effective that can be if we do it together. At GoodMob you can set up a Mob and invite people to join. All members of the mob will give funds on the same schedule (for instance, $20/month or $100/year) and, depending on the settings, choose democratically where those funds are going – which could be to a campaign on a traditional crowdfunding website!

Check it out It’s the first of its kind so all feedback is welcome. And if you’re passionate about supporting early-stage Australian social enterprises please consider joining my Mob which will do just that:

The government has released a number of policies designed to unleash an Australian #IdeasBoom… What are the top 3 things you would advise the government to do, to facilitate a more innovative Australia? (by speldie23)

I generally don’t comment on government policy because I simply don’t have the time to keep fully up with what’s working. So I’m probably missing all sorts of important things here and don’t have a strong opinion on the suite of policies overall but here’s three things I’d love to see happen:

  1. Equity crowdfunding laws that made it accessible to social enterprises and easy for average citizens to participate (the current legislation does neither);
  2. give us a real next-generation fibre-to-the-home NBN;
  3. ensure that entrepreneurship and active citizenship is embedded throughout the education system (state issue I know, but feds have a lot of influence).

Do you think the governments new tax incentives for early stage investors are going to make seed funding more available to social businesses? (by speldie23)

I hope so. I see people who understand the legislation better than I arguing for and against so I’m really not sure, but it would be great if it succeeded in shifting more funding to earlier stage.

For impact investing there’s also just a maturing of the market which will, I hope, flesh out the ecosystem more fully so there are sufficient actors at each level, rather than the donut-hole we have now, with early-stage groups like the School for Social Entrepreneurs staring across a chasm at groups like Social Venture Australia. Crowdfunding is helping bridge this a bit but can’t do it on its own, which is why I’m so excited about our partnership with SEFA (Social Enterprise Finance Authority).

What are your biggest challenges in scaling after having received funding? (by rjerrems)

One of the underlying challenges in scaling StartSomeGood is needing people to know about us before they know they need us. What I mean by that is that, to my initial surprise, most prospective crowdfunders don’t do a lot of research about the right platform for them. If they did they would quickly discover that we have the highest project success rate – 53% (compared to 31% for Kickstarter and 13% for IndieGoGo). Instead they reference what they already know: what examples they have seen, what their friends have used, etc. So we need to build community with potential crowdfunders before they decide to crowdfund, so when they do we are already on their radar. To achieve this we’ve made a commitment to content this year. We relaunched our blog with a much wider mandate – not just information about crowdfunding but, fundamentally, the info and stories you need to change the world. Recent blog posts have covered leadership, volunteer management, great conferences for social entrepreneurs, etc, as well as stories of inspiring projects on our site. We are also working on a podcast and a couple of other content-related projects.

The other thing we do is create groundbreaking partnerships with institutional funders to have them match their funding against the funds raised on StartSomeGood. This is a huge differentiator as you might imagine – want to have half your funding goal up front? We’ve helped invent this model – which we call Crowdmatch – and now we’re working hard to bring new partners to the site to offer more co-funding opportunities to entrepreneurs. So it’s not just about handing you a set of tools and saying good of luck, but really locking in investment for great projects, so they have the best possible chance of reaching their goals and making a positive impact in the world. Because that’s what we’re here for.

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