Imagine trying to start a company while getting an MBA. Now imagine that in the midst of launching the company Covid happens. This is exactly what Whit Hunter, CEO of BetterWorld, along with co-founders Ben Yobp and Colin Hunter, faced when they decided to launch a company with an ambitious goal of transforming the charitable giving space by offering nonprofits a free platform of fundraising tools where they can keep 100% of the dollars they raise.
With full transparency, I have been able to watch the firm progress and flourish as I had Whit in my MBA marketing class at the Darden School of Business. I have continued to observe how he has converted every business challenge into opportunities to drive profitable growth. What I am especially impressed by is his outside-in strategic approach—he has a single-minded focus on understanding his customers and creating value for them. In return, his company has flourished.
Unlike many entrepreneurs who become fixated with their product, I think you’ll see below what happens when an entrepreneur cares more about solving the consumer’s problem than the widget that they create. Additionally, Hunter’s story highlights what happens as you use consumer insight to better position your firm—and then convert the superior positioning into better products and services.
Whitler: Your startup is now on track to be the largest fundraising platform in the space within the next two years. How did you get to this level of growth so quickly?
Hunter: When it comes to our level of growth at BetterWorld, there are really five key lessons we learned that enabled us to exceed our goals and become a leading platform enabling non-profits to fundraise more effectively and at a lower cost. We knew that we needed to listen to consumers and each of these lessons provided “aha” moments that enabled us to shift development of our platform to create greater value for our customers.
Lesson #1: Prioritize meaningful interactions with your first consumers.
In the beginning stages, we found that listening to every consumer provided crucial insight that helped us adjust our company’s both our positioning and then our product development. At BetterWorld, we set up calls with each new user and offered personal onboarding and support. These discussions were mutually beneficial; the user felt connected to and confident in the product, and at BetterWorld, we were able to receive detailed insight into consumer pain points. During our calls, users would often say, “This feature seems great, but I am confused by X, or feel like it is missing Y”. From these beginning conversations, we were able to adapt our positioning to be more relevant and then adapt the existing product features. Of course, this process is not scalable. However, at the true startup beginning, the goal was simply to better understand our customers so we could better align our firm with their needs and create more relative (to competition) value.
Lesson #2: Listen for the question behind the question.
During these initial conversations with users, we received countless questions from confused and wary customers. Although it is easy to offer a quick response to somebody’s seemingly simple question, this is an opportunity to dig deeper to understand what the user might actually be needing … but not articulating. For example, at BetterWorld, we would receive questions about product features. A simple question such as, “Am I able to share this fundraiser on social media?” could be driven by more critical questions such as, “Are there enough resources on BetterWorld to make up for my limited fundraising team?” or “I don’t have much time to market this myself, how will I get the word out to make this a successful fundraiser?”. Paying attention to these deeper questions enabled us to find more meaningful ways to add value. Consumers don’t always know what to ask so by continually asking for the reason behind the question, we were better able to address the issues that really matter. Our mantra at this point was: “listen, learn, solve, anticipate”. Understanding the drivers of pain points enabled us to better anticipate issues and build a better platform.
Lesson #3: Communicate Deeper Benefits.
From a functional benefit standpoint, we always knew that BetterWorld was the most efficient fundraising tool on the market. That was our original goal. So, we built our positioning around this rational benefit and advertised this message: our fundraising tools were able to help non-profits raise 30% more dollars, surpassing our competition by a large margin. When we talked about this benefit, our target consumers’ eyes would glaze over. Over time, we realized that these were not the benefits our potential users actually cared about. This response led us to learn that most users wanted to learn about the deeper, and often simpler, benefits. In the context of BetterWorld, our users wanted to know, “Is it easy for me to use? Will it be easy for my donors? Are the transactions secure? And will you be there if something goes wrong?” Although these questions touched on functional attributes, much of the underlying concern was emotional – it was around trust. While our rational benefit didn’t change, when we started addressing these emotional – and much deeper concerns – user interest increased significantly.
Lesson #4: Build for the Least Savvy Consumer.
Similar to many industries, consumers in the non-profit space have a wide range of proficiency with using industry tools. Some clients are young, flexible, and tech savvy, whereas other—and equally important—clients may be older and less familiar with navigating online fundraising platforms. However, older clients have more experience and understand the non-profit space better than younger users. And the range of proficiency is broad with each individual coming in with a different set of skills.
This disparity creates a challenge. To address the variance in knowledge and skill, we decided to approach this with the mindset that our target client is one that has never touched a computer before, and never fundraised before. In reality, clients like this represent a small fraction of the people using our platform, but by building for this level of proficiency, our team is forced to create better, simpler, and more intuitive tools that end up also improving the experience of a tech savvy user.
As an example, as our client list grew, we didn’t have the ability to personally talk to everyone. Further, not every client wants a personal discussion to be able to use the site. So, we developed “onboarding flows” that show users how to easily set up a fundraising event and launch a successful product. We also tiered out our support systems so that organizations could choose between self-service options and more dedicated, white-glove service. Importantly, we tested the content with a broad range of skill levels to ensure that it worked for the novice as easily as for the expert.
Lesson #5: Bring It “Home”
Our early learning moments at BetterWorld helped us understand what mattered most to our clients: making the daunting fundraising process one less thing they have to think about. Behind the passionate, successful fundraising organizations using our platform, is a father of two who is volunteering to run an auction for his son’s school group or a real estate agent who is volunteering with a local animal shelter after she’s already worked a 60-hour week. Our positioning has evolved from: 1) more efficient fundraising, to 2) a company you can trust, to 3) a platform that seeks to help clients spend more doing what they love—whether that means a few more hours with their family, some precious time spent alone, or working on a meaningful project they’re passionate about. The bigger insight we got from this process is that though our world is centered on our fundraising tools, it isn’t for our clients. They want BetterWorld to be an easy, effective, small step in an otherwise overworked day. I call this reverse marketing because the benefit we can ultimately provide comes from spending less time with our product. This is an uncomfortable idea, but one that is grounded in thoughtfully considering our consumer’s needs outside of their persona as a user. If we can take an 80-hour, laborious fundraising campaign, and turn it into an equally effective 4- or 5-hour stress-free experience, we are indeed building a better world – not just from the good these organizations are able to do through our platform, but for the more meaningful and joy filled lives their leaders are able to live.
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler
Special thanks go to Sarah Young, a rising third year studying at the McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia, who took notes during the interview and helped craft this summary.