Don’t be afraid to expose your weaknesses — I think for a while I thought I had to have the answers and know what to do. I had to be good at everything. I have learned finding out your weaknesses is just as important as your strengths so you can become better and enlist help in those areas.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Wasserman.
Michael Wasserman is co-founder and CEO of Tiltify, a premiere peer-to-peer livestream fundraising platform for the digital generation. With more than 10 years of experience in charitable fundraising, Michael has helped raise over 100 million dollars through innovative strategies for major charities as a consultant and executive.
With a focus on leveraging digital-first strategies to engage new donor audiences and harnessing the power of online communities, Michael’s work has included highly successful campaigns for Black Lives Matter, The Bail Project, Farm Sanctuary, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Save the Children, MDA, Make-A-Wish and dozens more. In 2018, he earned the Public Service Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for his work in fundraising and awareness around suicide prevention and mental health. He’s also been named one of the Top 20 Under 40 Philanthropists in Los Angeles by Shalom Life Magazine.
In 2011, Michael introduced crowdfunding and cause marketing into the videogame industry, where he developed partnerships and designed fundraising opportunities in this largely untapped industry. In 2013, he turned this innovative approach into Tiltify, launching the first crowdfunding platform designed for gamers to fundraise through their livestreams on sites like Twitch.tv and YouTube. Since then Tiltify has expanded into streams of all interests involving arts, music, food, celebrities and variety, effectively re-inventing the telethon concept.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was in the entertainment industry producing films and while I was waiting for a film to be released in theaters I had some downtime. During that time, someone had reached out to me to ask if i could help with bringing celebrities to an event at a local children’s hospital. It was a Christmas party for the patients and I ended up helping with celebrity guests and hanging out for the event.
Spending that time with the kids really affected me in many ways. The joy of working with them, seeing them smile and the satisfaction of helping make that happen was really exciting and heartwarming. I suppose serendipitously (looking back now) we then had the 2008 recession and a lot of my film projects were wiped out, but I still received outreach from some people to help in the same way I did from the other organization.
From there I decided to make a drastic career change and began consulting for charities on celebrity strategies, digital strategies and live events. I found it alot more fulfilling and eventually realized something was missing in the technology side of fundraising. This led me to create Tiltify and look at the future of fundraising for digital communities and livestreams.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I will preface this by saying that I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. So when I was on a business trip in London to meet with some of our clients there, we had been speaking with some contacts about potentially doing a fundraiser for Emilia Clarke’s new charity SameYou. Last minute I ended up going to a private tea club and ended up having tea with Emilia Clarke’s mom (who is amazing and sweet) and that led to having an in-person live stream in Los Angeles with Emilia herself. One of the nicest people I have ever met!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was on a panel at Twitchcon with a few hundred guests and on the panel with me (which I was moderating) was an executive from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (who is now one of our biggest clients). While on the panel, I was calling them “St. Jude’s” which is a big “no-no” for their org. I’m pretty sure I got a quick evil stare and quickly corrected myself. It became a bit of a moment that I got reminded of for a few years. It really reminded me to know my clients better and think clearly before I speak.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
That is certainly the most exciting part of Tiltify. I hear so many comments and stories from people who have fundraised with their online community using our platform and so many people who say they have never fundraised before or never donated before. I feel strongly that Tiltify has enabled a new generation of charitable giving and allows a younger generation to have a powerful impact in the causes they are passionate about.
How do you define “Leadership”?
I think leadership is about empowering and inspiring others to bring your vision to life.
Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I ascribe to the idea that people operate best when they feel part of the creation of a vision. As opposed to simply instructing people to perform their given tasks, per se, I prefer to give the ability to be creative in the pursuit of that person’s goal. For example, if you needed someone to give you 10 apples, someone could go to the store and purchase them, they could grow them, pick them from an orchard, draw them on a piece of paper, create a video featuring 10 apples etc. Sometimes a specific process is necessary, but overall if people are excited about creating the vision and you allow for some ownership in the process, I believe 1) you will learn more about the skill set of the people you are leading and how they like to work in order to maximize that and 2) people will hold themselves for accountable to do the best they can.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Nothing will go as planned. — My mom always says “We make plans and God laughs”, which could not be more true when you start a company.
- Don’t be afraid to pivot with the market — When you have an idea, you have to learn to mold, adopt and even pivot based on feedback from the market. The first version of Tiltify was a super colorful, overly complex looking fundraising page. The current version is sleek and to the point. Even when Tiltify begun it had a different name and a different strategy and you have to learn not to get married to an idea in your head.
- Don’t be afraid to expose your weaknesses — I think for a while I thought I had to have the answers and know what to do. I had to be good at everything. I have learned finding out your weaknesses is just as important as your strengths so you can become better and enlist help in those areas.
- It’s a marathon not a sprint — As I’ve learned more I realize every “overnight success” company took years to get there. In my head I imagined the trajectory being different and sometimes it’s hard to motivate to stay the course. Fortunately, I love what I do and have always believed heavily in what we are continuing to build.
- Failure isn’t always bad — you learn more from failure than success. It’s about adapting and learning from the experiences. I used to be very worried about small failures.
You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
We live in a world that is more digitally connected than ever before. I wish there was more of a movement around positive social interaction. There are certainly too many people that feel the need to weigh in on the lives of others in negative ways and pass judgement from afar. Ideally people would move toward being more uplifting, open to change and open to understanding. I think our empathy towards each other still has a long way to go. One example I give a lot and something I would be guilty of as well is when someone speeds past you on the road or cuts you off. I think most of our reactions would be of anger or a bit of road rage. Maybe thinking that person is terrible for driving like that. Who knows, they might be. What if they were driving fast because they needed to get to the hospital in an emergency. Would that change what you thought?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”. by C. S. Lewis..
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My life has been a continual series of strange occurrences, career changes, failures, and successes. Through most of my life I always had a fear I should have done something differently. To convince myself to look more at what I can do to affect what happens next, I often think about this quote. Though I may be concerned about what I did in the past and whether it was the right decision, all I can control is what I do next to create the outcome in the end I am looking for.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Eric Clapton. I originally came to LA as a musician. I was a guitarist and mainly gravitated towards blues and rock. Clapton was someone I admired in so many ways for his skill, innovation, soul and brilliance. I always imagined that someone that can create that kind of feeling he does with his music must have many profound thoughts running around his head. At the least I can ask him for some secret tips.
He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me personally on twitter @mdwasserman or you can follow Tiltify @WeAreTiltify or on Linkedin.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!