Company: Promise or Pay
Year Founded: 2013
Founded by: Jay Boolkin
Location: Sydney, Australia
What is Promise or Pay?
Promise or Pay is an online web application that allows you to publicly promise to achieve a personal goal or donate a pledge amount to a charity of your choice if you do not follow through our your promise.
Promise or Pay (1) harnesses social media to make a goal public and thereby strengthen the intention of keeping it and (2) integrates charitable giving to ensure a win-win outcome is always achieved and people are left feeling satisfied. Either you keep your promise thereby benefiting yourself, or you contribute towards solving a pressing social problem via your donation. As a result, Promise or Pay helps overcome the disappointing and discouraging feelings that are often the aftermath of failing to accomplish something important.
What inspired you to start Promise or Pay?
Like millions of other people around the world, on New Years Eve of 2013, I made some resolutions to change my life. And like millions of people around the world, by June 2013, I had followed through on exactly… none of them. Making changes is hard. We all want to become better people — stronger, healthier, happier. But even when we get really inspired and start doing things better, it’s tough to actually stick to new behaviors.
I knew I was not alone in breaking my New Year’s Resolution. In fact, while 45% of people make resolutions, only 8% of people stick to them. I thought, surely there is some way to make sticking to self-improvements commitments a whole lot easier? I did some exploring and found that the chance of achieving a goal increases 33% if it is (1) shared with others and by 72% if (2) money is put on the line. It was this research that was the brainchild of Promise or Pay. Promise or Pay combines both of these approaches by enabling you to help you achieve your goals and change the world for the common good. The idea is powerful but simple. Promise or Pay allows you to publicly promise to do something or pay a nominated contribution to a charity if you don’t follow through.
How did you fund your startup?
I conceived the idea in late July 2013 and entered a competition, Social Startups MVP Program, before the months end. In early August 2013, I was announced as the winner and received funding to develop a first proof of concept, which successfully went live with a Beta launch in late December. There was no immediate need to initially raise any external capital and I used what little resources I had to cover the cost of the website domain and company registration. I haven’t spent a cent since.
What challenged surprised you the most?
Building a social enterprise start-up is extremely time consuming. My passion and commitment to seeing it through to success (or failure) means that all my energy is devote towards it. Surprisingly, what I thought was going to be the easiest part of the journey, getting charities to join, actually ended up being the most challenging. I was pitching the idea to charities, while the actual platform was being built and many of the charities where understandably cautious about joining. I was able to overcome this by establishing genuine relationships with the charities that expressed interest. I talked them through the story of Promise or Pay, the exact process, the recognition it had already received, as well as my motivations for pursuing the venture. Knowing that charities are often short on resources and personnel I focused on the fact that their involvement would not entail any additional work for them. I made sure I was promptly available to answer their questions, all the while instilling a sense of professionalism and trust as we worked to come to an agreement that was in both our best interests.
Customer acquisition can be difficult, how did you find your first customers?
I found my first customers by reaching out to my personal network – family, close friends, university networks, sporting clubs, email contacts etc. This wasn’t very difficult as I am lucky to be surrounded by many supportive and generous people. At the moment my basic strategy is to develop a strong understanding of Promise or Pay’s target audience and present clear, concise and powerful messages that resonates with potential customers and addresses their actual needs. I have zero budget for paid advertising and therefore rely heavily on social media to spread the word and connect with relevant blogs, bloggers and journalists. I also continue to enter competitions as I have found it is great way to get free exposure and raise Promise or Pay’s profile.
How are you going to bring your start-up to the next level and scale the business?
Promise or Pay has massive potential as it appeals to the natural human instinct to set goals, to have dreams and to make resolutions. It leverages off the social trend to share experiences with others electronically and it speaks to a generation that have grown up in a world where social issues are impossible to ignore and are looking for a way to make a difference. Others have been quick to pick up on the potential of this simple idea to help reinvigorate charitable giving and engage people not previously inclined to donating: Promise or Pay was a finalist for the Sydney Genesis Entrepreneurship Challenge Best Social or Not-for-profit Start-up and received an honorable mention in the category of “Social Change” at The Guardian’s Activate Tech Talent Day, the Guardian’s platform for innovators working with the Internet to change the world. These accolades are very encouraging and further validate the idea. I have generated some excellent early results but the current site is very much a Beta version. I intend to slowly scale up the project in the near future to make Promise or Pay a community for self-improvement. My vision is to build a platform that will inspire millions of people around the world to be the best that they can be, and, at the same time, to encourage and facilitate millions of dollars in donations to charities. I love what I am doing with Promise or Pay and I am deeply passionate about it. My plan is to start working full-time on Promise or Pay so that I can dedicate more energy towards improving the customer acquisition process, maximizing conversion rates, automating a number of manual processes and further refining the platform.
Tell us what you learned that you would now do differently, had you known ahead of time.
I am still very new at this startup thing and I while I want to encourage others to take a leap of faith, I didn’t make it this far based purely on instinct and feeling. In fact it is quite the opposite. I have learned that building a startup is an organized process of discovery and therefore I am constantly listening and learning to improve my chances of success. This has required focusing on small tasks that will, I hope, fulfill my grander vision. As a result I have learned the importance of being able to differentiate between the things that are enjoyable to do and the things actually need to be done. I could spend hours tweaking a photo or changing the copy of the website, but I realize that if I really want to get things moving fast and test the idea, I need to be as productive as possible. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many hours that can be used effectively, so I frequently re-evaluate my to-do list and prioritize those tasks that are most pressing. ‘Can this wait?’ “Should I be doing this now?’ ‘How important is this?’ – I am always asking myself these questions. It remains an ongoing challenge as I am constantly drawn to the more exciting (but less important) elements of building a startup. Nevertheless without adopting such a work ethic I would probably still be mulling over the logo.
What advice would you give to new start-up entrepreneur thinking about a start-up?
It has never been easier, cheaper and more rewarding to build a start-up. If you have an idea that you think is worth pursuing then I urge you to put your doubts to the side and follow your instinct – ‘Leap and the net will appear’. I promise it will be one hell of an experience. Think big, start small, stay focused and believe in the power of entrepreneurship. Because if I can do it, anyone can.