(This post has not been edited for errors. These are my real, raw thoughts. This blog post is personal.)
At my heart, I’m a storyteller. I learned storytelling not from a pastor, but from listening to Rated X comic routines from Richard Pryor on cassettes as a child. He would tell a HILARIOUS, descriptive story that could take 30 minutes to tell – all to get to one, 5 second punchline that you would never forget. That’s my style to this very day.
3 years ago I had the idea for HopeMob. It was just a seed in my mind. I kept seeing people with great needs fall through the philanthropic cracks of society – and of the internet – and felt like something should be created that helps them. I was too busy to do anything about it.
1 year ago I decided to change the entire course of my life, in great part, to make HopeMob a reality. My family (including my kids) literally sold or gave away everything we owned to pursue this new direction.
7 months ago, on February 17th, 2012, 954 people made pledges on KickStarter to help us build the first version of the HopeMob platform.
5 months ago on April 19th, 2012, we launched the platform. It was simple and we built it on a shoestring budget. We were on CNN that morning and had a party @ Google HQ in Mountain View, CA.
The past 5 months for HopeMob have been great, fun, up, down, tumultuous, exciting – all of those things. If you’ve ever launched a startup (or had a baby) you would know that the first year is so doggone fragile. Sometimes you aren’t sure if you’ll make it. HopeMob has successfully funded and supported over 20 stories from all over the world and, without fail, every one of those stories were stories that would not have been helped without us. That’s the great news…
The Rough News
I never wanted to make money off of HopeMob. I felt very strongly in my heart and soul that the platform was supposed to be a charitable platform that gave 100% of what we raise for people back to them. I was very inspired by my friends at Charity Water to do it this way, but almost every person I ever talked with begged me to change my mind.
“It’s not sustainable”, they would say. I’m hard-headed.
After we built the HopeMob platform, we only had enough money in our account to keep the platform alive for 60 days. To me, at the time, that sounded like all the time I would need to privately raise funds for our shoestring budget. We’re a super lean charity and wouldn’t need much to keep our heads above water. It’s been much harder than I imagined!
100 People Said No
I’m not used to people saying no to me. When I was a student, I was in politics and I never lost a campaign – big or small. When I’ve set out to raise money as a humanitarian, I’ve never missed a goal – even when they seemed outrageous.
I’m relentless. I work like a dog. People find me to be the real deal.
6 months ago I started sending emails, then making phone calls, then hosting Skype video chats, then driving and flying all across the country to ask people to give money to support the operational costs of HopeMob. Our annual budget was just about $300,000 and I had convinced myself that I would need just a month or two to raise it.
I was wrong. 100 people said no.
I met for days and days with the largest foundations in the world and they basically told me that we weren’t old enough yet.
I met for days and days with smaller family foundations and they basically told me that we were too much like a tech-startup for their tastes and not enough like a charity.
I flew to New York. I flew to San Francisco. I flew to Chicago.
I sometimes drove for 12 hours to get to a 90 minute meeting.
I just couldn’t close the deal. Lord knows I tried.
Then, out of the blue, in June, I received an amazing email from a lady in Virginia that said she loved HopeMob and wanted to donate $131,000 in inheritance money to us. I was elated. It would take 8 weeks to receive it, she said. I could keep HopeMob alive for 8 weeks. It would be hard, but we could make it.
8 weeks came and went. The lady strung me along and decided to keep the inheritance for herself. It was demoralizing, but I couldn’t let it freeze me up.
So – I kept meeting with more people in more places. I refined my pitch, made sure that I never lost my passion, and spoke to the 91st person with the same excitement about HopeMob as I did the 1st person. That’s not easy.
But they all said no. Again and again and again.
So, I started to pray more. 100 no’s and shut doors can have that affect on you. Haha.
(Sorry if this weirds out my non-religious friends, but I started to pray a prayer something like this…)
“God! You gave me this vision to help people in need. You’ve shown me that it can work. You’ve told me that we would be an answer to the prayers of people that can’t find help anywhere else. God – please open up just one door for us. Please make the resources available for us to grow and improve this platform and this community.”
ANSWERED PRAYERS & The Future of HopeMob
On September 15th, I received an email from my friend Scott Harrison, founder & CEO of Charity Water, introducing me to a young entrepreneur from the UK, Neil Hutchinson. Neil is a brilliant leader and visionary and has a huge heart to make the world a better place. He leads a great company, Forward, and also leads a foundation called the Forward Foundation. Over the next few days Neil and I started to exchange emails and share ideas about HopeMob and even some ways people could be helped and loved on in the UK.
On September 20th, Neil and the Forward Foundation committed to covering the entire operational budget for HopeMob for the next 12 months with a donation of $300,000 that we will receive later this week. This donation will not only allow HopeMob to simply stay alive (which isn’t good enough), but is going to give us the budget to hire the staff we need to exponentially grow the volume of people we help through HopeMob on a daily basis. We have so much potential to do good in the world and this donation is the catalyst to make it happen.
Let me say this…
I didn’t find Neil. I didn’t find the Forward Foundation. Neil wasn’t even 100% sure where he first heard of HopeMob, but Neil found us and when he did we were ready. I didn’t tell Neil anything that I hadn’t told 100 other people, but it just connected with him. He also told me that it made all the difference for him to have Scott Harrison vouch for me and vouch for HopeMob.
This super generous donation will allow us to hire a few additional staff members, cover our lean costs, and make some really great upgrades that we are dreaming about to help bring hope to more people!
I am so amped!!!
I hate to sound like I’m giving an acceptance speech here, but I have a ton of people I want to thank now before I forget.
- Neil Hutchinson. Thank you so much brother. Your tenacity in business and your heart to give have moved me deeply. So many people are going to be helped because your gift.
- Scott Harrison. Thank you for connecting us with Neil and for being such a great advisor that always gives phenomenal advice. You are my role model.
- Chad Kellough and the tech team behind HopeMob. You all have built an amazing platform that people really believe in. Thank you for doing the work of a 25 person staff on such a pitiful budget. I’ll always have your back.
- Rai King (my wife) – thank you for your unwavering support, good ideas, and even your tough love that never fails to be honest. You tell me what I need to hear every single day to become a better person and leader. Love you.
- I also want to thank my friends Lucas, Derek, Hollie, and the entire staff @ DW+H in Santa Monica. You all were really the only meeting that I traveled to in the past 5 months that said yes! Haha. Thank you all for believing in me and believing in HopeMob and creating such an awesome video for us! I hope we can partner for years to come.
- Thanks to Dave & Sam and Xealots for believing in me and HopeMob and for traveling to half of those early meetings with me. I miss you all and I miss California!
- Thanks to Joey and the Studio Good team for having my back for 3+ years now. We’re battle tested. I am hoping that we can do so much more good in the world together.
- Thank you to all of the original HopeMob KickStarter supporters and to all of you that have donated to the stories that we’ve told over these first 6 months! You all are the lifeblood of what we do and will help pave the road to a brave future for HopeMob! I love you all! You are like family to me.