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Bob Bickel of RunSignup | GiveSignup: “Thinking your idea is new and unique”

The thing I find most frustrating is the untapped potential in the world. When I look at the U.S., the disparity in opportunity that many segments of our population face holds our entire country back. If you were born poor, non-white or female, you simply are not playing with the same deck of cards. Education […]

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The thing I find most frustrating is the untapped potential in the world. When I look at the U.S., the disparity in opportunity that many segments of our population face holds our entire country back. If you were born poor, non-white or female, you simply are not playing with the same deck of cards. Education is constrained. Often there is a lack of role models. And there is not a “network” that can help advance a career.


As part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Bickel.

Bob Bickel, founder and CEO of RunSignup | GiveSignup, is a 25-year software industry veteran who mentors and works closely with emerging software companies. In addition, he is an advisor and on the board of directors of the leading DevOps company CloudBees. Bob was vice president of strategy at JBoss (acquired by Red Hat), where he was responsible for the company’s growth strategy, early strategic partnerships, and recruitment of key management personnel. Previously, Bob was general manager of Hewlett-Packard Middleware which he came to through HP’s acquisition of Bluestone Software, which Bob helped create. At Bluestone, he oversaw initial sales, marketing and product development. He also led product strategy through the company’s IPO and, later, its acquisition by HP.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Back in the early ’90s, I was running in the mornings with a friend. At the time, I worked for Digital Equipment, a large computer vendor, and my friend had his own business. He asked me how much of a difference I made at DEC — and it was likely a 0.01% contribution as a middle manager. He said when everyone at his office woke up in the morning, they all knew they would make at least a 5% difference to the company; they could feel their work mattered. I left Digital and joined a small technology company a few months later.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 affected our company, GiveSignup | RunSignup, since live events basically disappeared overnight. On Friday, the 13th of March 2020, I delivered the news to our 50 employees that everyone was going to get their pay cut by 50%. What followed has been amazing. Not a single person left. Everyone actually worked harder. We got help from the government with a PPP loan that enabled us to bring our employees back to 100% pay in April. We pivoted to virtual events and created a whole new solution with virtual challenges. While some companies like Eventbrite laid off 45% of their staff and saw business still reduced by over 60% a year later, we recovered by sticking together. While 2020 was the toughest year of my career, it is also the one I feel most proud of as a company.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our mission is to help our nonprofit customers raise over 1 billion dollars per year by giving them technology that helps them truly engage with their supporters. We use lots of fancy, cutting-edge technology, but the key trick is making it simple for customers and their supporters.

As an example, we have just added a free photo capability to our nonprofit ticket platform. This allows nonprofits to upload photos from their gala or golf outing to the ticket website quickly, easily and free of charge. All of their supporters can enjoy the photos, and the photos can be used to attract more attendees next year. Under the covers, we use a serverless infrastructure from Amazon AWS called Lambda. It allows us to process thousands of photos simultaneously, optimizing image sizes for later display on mobile phones and large computers. We send all images to an automated image processing engine that checks for appropriateness. And we store millions and millions of photos in the cloud — always delivering photos to websites in under a second.

Complex technology, simple to use.

How do you think this might change the world?

Nonprofits have a need to really engage with their supporters. They are successful when they have a strong community that works together and supports their mission. Nonprofit organizations often pay expensive subscription fees and are locked into exclusive contracts for antiquated technology. Technology is the only way that nonprofits can really pull their supporters together.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Our nonprofit customers are largely using our technology to engage their supporters in live events like fundraising walks or rides, community festivals, or animal shelter pet photo contests. These are the types of activities that help to break down barriers and bring people together, which is important as we emerge from the restrictions of living under COVID-19.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

We saw the popularity of Facebook and Instagram photo sharing. However, nonprofits wanted to tie photo sharing more closely to their own brand, their own activities, and their own websites.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We need more nonprofits to realize they can go beyond Eventbrite as a way to sell gala tickets. Word-of-mouth is important and is how we became the largest technology provider for races in the U.S. It takes time, and we need to be patient as customers catch up to the technology solutions that are available.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Over the past year, we have been spending considerable time and effort on education more than marketing. We think the key to technology adoption is learning what it can do and how to implement it for your organization. We have created information resource hubs on a variety of topics and held many webinars for thousands of customers. We are averaging over 150 new customers per week, and we are busy onboarding them and making them successful. Our self-serve platform allows customers to use the features that are important to them and allows them the freedom to express their own creativity for putting on great events.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing technologists over my career. The core reason GiveSignup | RunSignup has been successful is our CTO, Stephen Sigwart. He was the first person to join the company in 2010. While he is a brilliant software developer, his key to success is that he truly cares about our customers. That depth of caring has acted as an example for the many team members that have joined us over the years to create a culture where we view ourselves as partners with our customers.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We just build technology. But the amazing thing is that our technology is used to help so many good causes. While we have helped our customers raise over 1 billion dollars since we started, our next goal is to help them raise 1 billion dollars per year.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Here is my top five list of mistakes I and every other entrepreneur make:

  1. Thinking customers will like your product as much as you.
  2. Thinking your idea is new and unique.
  3. Insufficient funding to get to success.
  4. It always takes longer than you expect.
  5. You can get funding when you don’t need it, and you can’t get funding when you need it.

In terms of a story, I’ll give you one so I don’t bore you too much. I was working with a software vendor who had created what we all thought was a good product. We got a couple of early customers and investors who thought it was a good idea as well and invested in the company. We then landed a very large customer with a 5 million dollars contract. We thought we were off to the races! We hired a bunch of people and never really got another large customer. We ran out of money and had taken away our option of time giving us flexibility to pivot. We needed money, and investors were not willing to give it to us. The company ended up being acquired for about the same amount as the investors had put in — so everyone wasted several years of their lives with no real advancement.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

The thing I find most frustrating is the untapped potential in the world. When I look at the U.S., the disparity in opportunity that many segments of our population face holds our entire country back. If you were born poor, non-white or female, you simply are not playing with the same deck of cards. Education is constrained. Often there is a lack of role models. And there is not a “network” that can help advance a career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was an average runner in high school. I went to Bucknell and learned that if I ran 5 miles every morning and 10 miles every afternoon for several years, I could get pretty good. We apply that lesson at GiveSignup | RunSignup — we just do stuff each day and try to continuously improve. As an example, we do 2,000 releases of our software each year.

But the quote I love the most was our team motto:

“The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

SaaS, net recurring revenue of 120%+, huge nonprofit market, transaction-based business model that is no cost to customers, helping amazing customers do good things.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bobbickel/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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