Forward progress — Building a company is a long journey, and sometimes milestones can be few and far between. We might not get everything done today, but if we move important tasks forward, then that progress is worth celebrating.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin Hunter and Whit Hunter of BetterWorld.
Whit Hunter is the co-founder and CEO of BetterWorld, a free, easy-to-use fundraising platform that helps nonprofits and individuals raise funds online.
Since the age of 18, Whit has worked in startups from Shanghai to Palo Alto. After recognizing that up to twenty percent of funds raised for nonprofits do not make it to the end cause, Whit set out to disrupt the charitable giving industry for the better. With a background in best-in-class technology and a passion for nonprofit work, Whit has dedicated his life to imagining new ways for businesses to do good. He currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.
Colin Hunter is the co-founder and head of strategy and growth at BetterWorld, a free, online fundraising platform for nonprofits, individuals and businesses.
From his early career at Bain and Company, Colin brings with him a vast background in strategy consulting. He is also the proud founder of the premium menswear brand Alton Lane, which allows him to bring a multidimensional, entrepreneurial mindset to the team at BetterWorld.
Recognizing that a large portion of donations made to charitable causes do not make it to the end cause, he used his expertise in scaling and growing brands to found BetterWorld. He has a deep-rooted commitment to nonprofit work, having served in every role of the nonprofit ecosystem, from board member to advisor, consultant, event host and donor.
Colin received a BA from the University of Virginia and also studied at Oxford. He currently lives with his wife and two daughters in Charlottesville, VA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Colin Hunter: We’re brothers and also entrepreneurs, and together we’ve always discussed and pursued business ideas based on our own experiences and the needs we saw in our communities. We have a shared passion and deep respect for philanthropy — having worked in nonprofits, volunteered for causes close to our hearts, served on the boards of nonprofits and more.
Whit Hunter: My early career was spent in startups and Venture Capital, where I would interact daily with best-in-class technology, with companies solving problems through innovation and a better user experience. In my free time, I would also volunteer for nonprofits, and I was shocked to see the quality of the technology being used. Looking deeper, I was even more surprised to see that up to 20% of every dollar raised was often taken by these fundraising platforms instead of going to the end causes. And, as the story often goes, we thought there had to be a better way…
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
WH: In the past, if you were raising money online, it would either cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars, or the platform would take a percentage of every dollar you raised. Even more, these platforms looked like they were designed 20 years ago — with no focus on user experience, elegance, or automation.
We think that nonprofits deserve better. We think that the individuals who are tirelessly serving their communities should be able to access fundraising tools that are elegant, easy-to-use and free.
BetterWorld is disruptive in its simplicity and intuitiveness. Of course nonprofits should keep 100% of what they raise. Of course those tools should save them time and be easy to use. Of course businesses that serve nonprofits should care more about purpose than profit. To date — this hasn’t been the status quo in the industry, and that’s what makes BetterWorld so disruptive.
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?
CH: One great lesson we learned is that it’s always better to have a small, highly skilled team than a larger team that isn’t as tight-knit or as invested in your vision as you are. One time, when we hired a virtual assistant, an email went out offering a “quick massage” from us instead of a “quick message.” We knew we had to reevaluate our priorities, and we learned to value and invest in relationships with those who are on this journey alongside us.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
WH: I’d have to say my brother and business partner has been a great mentor for me — I’ve looked up to him and followed in his footsteps for much of my career, so it’s been a real joy to work with him. Our parents have also been mentors for us, exemplifying the excellence and selflessness that we strive for. I’m also deeply grateful to many professors at the University of Virginia and the Darden School of Business who helped frame and mature how I thought about business, particularly Kimberly A. Whitler, Damon DeVito, and Kenneth G. Elzinga.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
CH: We believe disruption is “positive” when it has the customer and their needs as the focus and when it makes the customer’s life easier or saves them time. Some of our favorite examples are organizations that have shaken up the status quo by prioritizing the customer above all else, like Blue Apron, which is all about saving time, Zappos, which transformed customer service into a joyous experience, or Southwest Airlines, which leads with a customer-first attitude.
Alternately, when disruption does not have the customer at its core, prioritizes the company’s bottom line, or simply deprioritizes joy, we would consider that “not so positive.” We can think of some of the value airlines on which you feel like you’re practically being charged to go to the bathroom.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
WH: The three that we always aim to remember are the concepts of:
- Forward progress — Building a company is a long journey, and sometimes milestones can be few and far between. We might not get everything done today, but if we move important tasks forward, then that progress is worth celebrating.
- Iterative excellence — As perfectionists, feeling the pressure of making something perfect can often do more harm than good in the creative process. ‘Iterative excellence’ removes the pressure of getting it perfect on the first draft, because we know the end result after numerous iterations will indeed be excellent.
- Grace under pressure — As founders, we are well familiar with sleepless nights and hundred-hour work weeks. When something goes wrong, it can be easy to lose patience, but these are the times when empathy and kindness are most called for. Clearly, we’re human and we often fall short, but this is the ideal we aspire to.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
WH: This experience of learning how to be better entrepreneurs has given us a mindset that we can take to a number of challenges in a number of industries, and we look forward to doing so.
CH: There are a couple of things we cannot talk about yet, but we definitely think there is an opportunity to reimagine the Newman’s Own concept for the 21st century, leaning into the consumer product side, across a number of different categories, the profits of which would go to the causes that the customer supports personally. The opportunities feel endless.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
CH: I would have to recommend “Hug Your Customers: Love the Results” by Jack Mitchell, the CEO of Mitchell’s, a clothing store and one of the most successful small businesses in America. He pioneered a lot of the early concepts of going above and beyond for your customer. No act of service is too small for him — he’d meet customers at their homes or open the store early for someone himself, even as his company was growing and scaling.
Richard Branson’s books have also always served as great inspiration for me as an entrepreneur. He has disrupted so many industries –airlines, hotels, spas, etc. — and always brings a sense of creativity to it by thinking like an outsider.
WH: I also recommend “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” by Daniel Meyer. Even though it’s about the hospitality space, there are so many lessons about delighting your customers that you can take away that are invaluable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
WH: Our favorite, which we have mostly memorized and is up on our wall, is Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena.” The gist is that doing good work is hard and messy and exhausting, and all you can really do is give a good effort and hopefully, that’s met with success.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
You are both people of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
CH:Though we’d like to think we’re doing it by giving nonprofits their time back and the ability to raise funds on their own terms, we would like to see a continued movement that makes it easier for:
- Donors to give directly to the causes they care about
- Nonprofits to put every dollar they raise toward their work
- Individuals, nonprofits and businesses to work together to make their communities, and by extension the world, better
How can our readers follow you online?