As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Whit and Colin Hunter of BetterWorld, a free, easy-to-use fundraising platform that helps nonprofits and individuals raise funds online.
Since the age of 18, Whit Hunter has worked in startups from Shanghai to Palo Alto. After recognizing that up to twenty percent of funds raised for nonprofits do not make it to the end cause, Whit set out to disrupt the charitable giving industry for the better. With a background in best-in-class technology and a passion for nonprofit work, Whit has dedicated his life to imagining new ways for businesses to do good. He currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.
Colin Hunter is the co-founder and head of strategy and growth at BetterWorld. From his early career at Bain and Company, Colin brings with him a vast background in strategy consulting. He is also the proud founder of the premium menswear brand Alton Lane, which allows him to bring a multidimensional, entrepreneurial mindset to the team at BetterWorld.
Recognizing that a large portion of donations made to charitable causes do not make it to the end cause, he used his expertise in scaling and growing brands to found BetterWorld. He has a deep-rooted commitment to nonprofit work, having served in every role of the nonprofit ecosystem, from board member to advisor, consultant, event host and donor.
Colin received a BA from the University of Virginia and also studied at Oxford. He currently lives with his wife and two daughters in Charlottesville, VA.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Colin Hunter: We’re brothers and also entrepreneurs, and together we’ve always discussed and pursued business ideas based on our own experiences and the needs we saw in our communities. We have a shared passion and deep respect for philanthropy — having worked in nonprofits, volunteered for causes close to our hearts, served on the boards of nonprofits and more. This, in combination with our backgrounds, led us to founding BetterWorld, a free online fundraising platform for nonprofits and individuals.
Whit Hunter: Colin spent half a decade in management consulting with Bain & Company before starting the men’s clothing brand, Alton Lane, which built a skillset of improving and disrupting industries. This, paired with my background in startups and venture capital, gave us the tools we needed to build an organization dedicated to serving nonprofits and those looking to make an impact in their communities.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
CH: We recognized that over $430B is given to charity in the U.S. each year, and we knew from our previous experience in the industry that a huge percentage of that is often lost to the fundraising process, instead of going to the end causes. That didn’t sit well with us and led us to want to see if we could change the status quo, solve a problem we’d faced and make the solution scalable and readily available for everyone.
It was definitely more of a process of getting to that point by experiencing that frustration personally, than a single “aha moment.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
WH: One of the things we learned is that you can have really smart tech people, but when met with a user base that is not necessarily tech-savvy, translation errors can occur. For example, we quickly realized that using language like “the slug” (the end bit of a URL) with clients could lead to more confusion than anything else. It showed us that we really have to put ourselves in the minds of the user.
CH: One of the main takeaways we’ve learned is that it’s important to get to know your customers from the get-go. We were so excited to disrupt the industry that we just jumped right into building the platform from our experience — before taking the time to talk to clients and understand their needs. While our experience took us much of the way, small moments like the above made us realize that the more we’re able to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, the more we’ll be able to understand and address their needs.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
WH: Our vision can be seen in our name: BetterWorld. It’s this vision, that with every dollar we help nonprofits raise and save, we’re able to help them do more good in the space in which they work — that drives our business.
CH: We like to think in terms of an abundance mentality — what if we could create an ecosystem where nonprofits, consumers and businesses can work together to sustain each other? This led us to think about how we could create a platform that leaned into this abundance mentality, making it easier for nonprofits, individuals and businesses to work together to create a BetterWorld.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
WH: We aim to lead with a service-oriented mindset. As leaders, it’s about serving our team members and serving our customers. When the founders are the ones cleaning up the office, making coffee or working weekends, people notice, and that articulates our values a lot more than a poster that says “Humility.” If something goes wrong or if an organization on our platform needs help, Colin and I are the first ones to jump in. BetterWorld is an extension of who are and who we aspire to be as individuals.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
CH: There are probably two: one that’s more external and one that’s more internal.
Externally, we always put the needs of our partners first. This manifests itself in how we approach serving our customers and our team members.
Internally, we always remember that everything has a season, and there’s a season for everything. So, when things are hard — for example, this has been a really trying year for everyone — we just remember this is a season. This mentality allows us to approach problems the best way we can, with humility and perspective.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
WH: For most of our existence building BetterWorld it’s been about meeting challenges head on to create the best service and product we could. For many years, we didn’t take a salary to ensure that we could offer our product for free. Working 17-hour days, seven days a week, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been validating to see it taking off, and it’s made us glad we continued pressing on and didn’t give up.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
CH: Now that we’ve really leaned into the abundance mentality, we’re seeing the fruits of our labor pay off. We can and will always continue to improve, but it’s just been great to see our product resonating with the communities we aim to serve.
WH: We’ve seen incredible growth — tens of thousands of nonprofits and individuals have signed up for BetterWorld in 2020 alone. But the most important metric for us will always be the hours we’ve saved for individuals and organizations — which stems from our core value of empathy and putting ourselves in the shoes of our partners.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
WH and CH: Our top five pieces of advice would be:
- Team first — You can have the best idea, but nothing is possible without an excellent team. We always aim to approach our team like family, always being the ones to support in brainstorming or jumping in to find a solution to a problem.
- Humility is essential — Your title doesn’t matter; exemplify servant leadership. We are always the ones to support a customer when they have a challenge, no matter how small.
- Think like a customer — Always aim to put yourselves in the mind of our clients of any size, just as “the slug” moment taught us.
- Let clients lead product development — Our best ideas have come from conversations with clients. Carefully listening to their ideas is the key to building a best-in-class platform.
- Be authentic and genuine — This goes for every interaction with your team and your clients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
WH: Our father has always been there to support us. He’s a professor and entrepreneur in the academic space and runs a nonprofit. He’s been invaluable for exemplifying leadership and relationship building, and he’s even brainstormed some of our best ideas with us.
CH: We have to thank our mother as well. She’s the example of servant leadership that we follow. She has always embodied the culture that we aspire to: playful, fun, team-oriented, warm and always available — the way she has treated us is how we want to treat all our clients.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
CH: Though we’d like to think we’re doing it by giving nonprofits their time back and the ability to raise funds on their own terms, we would like to see a continued movement that makes it easier for:
- Donors to give directly to the causes they care about
- Nonprofits to put every dollar they raise toward their work
- Individuals, nonprofits and businesses to work together to make their communities, and by extension the world, better
How can our readers follow you on social media?