I’m super excited to announce that less than 48 hours ago, my business partner Chap and I launched the first version of our new startup, MyDunkTank.
MyDunkTank is a humorous twist on non-profit fundraising. It allows you to do a fundraising dare in support of whatever cause you choose.
A fundraising dare is a simple game that takes place entirely online. You list a few dares that you’re willing to do and your friends and family vote for their favorite dare (they can also add their own creative dares). You agree to do whatever dare raises the most money.
Chap and I are the first guinea pigs for this new fundraising format. We announced our fundraisers yesterday, each for different causes, and together our fundraisers have already raised over $400.
My cause is Startup Corps, an amazing entrepreneurship program for high school students. Chap’s cause is the Austin Center for Design, where they teach designers that they can change the world and help address profound social problems.
The quick story behind MyDunkTank
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about the philosophy of Missioneurs – the idea of running your causes like companies and your companies like causes.
A core tenet of missioneurism is that purpose and profit are not in tension with each another. Instead, we believe that purpose makes you more profitable and that profit allows you to better achieve your purpose. After all, when you’re profitable you have the money you need to expand and are not dependent on investors or philanthropists.
I believe in my bones that purpose and profit serve one another, and I wanted to launch a startup that was a true example of missioneurism.
I also wanted to do a startup that had a chance to grow like a powder keg instead of a movement, with users sharing and evangelizing the product to their friends so that the site could grow virally.
Five months and dozens of ideas later, Chap, Gabriel Weinberg (a key advisor) and I came up with the idea for MyDunkTank. Our mission is to democratize non-profit fundraising by turning regular supporters into fundraisers and philanthropists. It’s built like a business with a natural revenue model (we charge a transaction fee for each donation).
We think MyDunkTank could grow like a powder keg in at least two ways. The first is because donors may want to share funny dares with their friends. The second is because donors in one fundraiser might be inspired to hold fundraisers of their own.
How we built this website in just one weekend
Chap and I built and launched MyDunkTank entirely in one weekend, something that has drawn both admiration and questions from our startup peers. Many people have been asking me how we did it.
The short answer is that we put into practice the Lean Startup methodology pioneered by Eric Ries and Steve Blank. In particular, we decided to start with a Minimum Viable Product, which is a fancy phrase for the smallest useful version of our product that would solve a core problem for our users.
Before we built that, we spent two months doing hardcore customer development, where I was talking to dozens and dozens of potential users as well as entrepreneurs who had started businesses in the fundraising space.
This helped us know what a Minimum Viable Product actually looked like for a business like ours.
Four keys to our lean launch
Let me get a little more specific. I’d say there were four big things that allowed us to get this alpha coded and launched in one weekend.
For starters, our idea is new but not complex. Essentially, we needed to setup a voting system where people vote with dollars instead of with clicks.
Using Ruby on Rails, we were able to piggyback on open source code written by others for the transaction processing and for much of the plumbing that comes with any web application.
The second thing we did was to cut absolutely every feature that we didn’t need immediately. For example, most people would have launched this site with the ability to create your own fundraising page in an automated way. Chap and I didn’t do this. All we needed was the ability for he and I to run our first dares. So we hard-coded our fundraising pages with the plan to make these dynamic later.
The third thing we did was to abandon the dream of a big dramatic launch. Originally, we had planned to recruit celebrities to do the first dares. We figured that celebrities would raise large amounts of money and attract a lot of attention to our site (which is probably true).
The problem with starting with celebrities was that it would have raised the stakes of our initial launch, forced us to have significantly more polish on the site and would have exposed us to the possibility of a flop that would be harder to recover from. After all, no one has ever run a fundraising dare before and we could only guess as to how it would play out.
The last key to launching lean was spending two solid months talking to potential fundraisers, donors, and entrepreneurs who had started businesses in the non-profit fundraising space. This is what customer development looked like for our product.
We immersed ourselves in our customers before writing any code.
Your help with feedback and donations
The whole point of launching a Minimum Viable Product is to get feedback from real users (that’s you) as quickly as possible.
In just 24 hours of real usage, we’ve already learned a tremendous amount and I have had a few of my assumptions challenged, which is a good thing.
Also, in case you’re wondering: I really will do whatever dare wins!