Transforming dust-collecting “stuff” into a valuable commodity is a tall order, but green entrepreneur Dustin Byrne and his team have found another way of doing just that through Givmo.com, a website that lets you give away and recycle your old things quickly and easily. We interviewed Dustin to find out how to get a site like this off of the ground.
What was your inspiration for Givmo.com? Where did the idea come from?
The idea behind Givmo was conceived several years ago when work required me to move around a lot – actually moved 11 times in 11 years. I lived in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and now New York again, and moved several times within each of those areas. Every time I moved, I had to pack up all my stuff and each time I was surprised to uncover another item that I completely forgot I had because it was still in a box or shoved in a bag in my closet.
Good stuff like, electronics, computers, kitchen tools, toys, sporting goods, you name it. Stuff I just never threw away because it wasn’t junk and was still usable. It still had intrinsic value, just not necessarily to me anymore. Not wanting to toss anything that still had life left, I tried the eBay, craigslist and garage sale route – and yes, I was able to get rid of a lot of stuff that way, but found that the effort involved was not nearly worth the money I earned. With craigslist, I didn’t love dealing with emails and negotiating deals with strangers I then had to schedule times to let into my home. I did some garage sales, but well… you can only take so many quarters from old ladies at a garage sale before you realize you’re not doing it for the money.
Basically, I just wanted an easy way to get my old stuff to a new home where it could make someone else happy, with no muss and no fuss. And, so Givmo was born.
What are the biggest challenges to getting people to start using the site?
Well, once we started advertising, we’ve gotten amazing feedback and tons of support via emails and in conversations with people. We’re hearing good things about our concept and people seem excited about the possibilities.
As we expected however, we definitely have many more users requesting to receive items then users giving away items. This is where we feel particularly challenged. We know people have stuff to give and want to give, so our charge is to make it as easy as possible for our users do so. We’re currently working on revamping the shipping process plan to roll out some easier ways to help people get materials to send their items.
Are you self-funded or did you start with investments or grants?
We’re currently self-funded and running on a shoestring budget.
How do you fund the donations to charities? How do you choose which charities to support?
Items that are donated on the site are shipped directly from the person giving to the person receiving. The item itself is free – the receiver pays the discounted shipping rate we’ve negotiated with UPS. We pass along most of the shipping discount we get to the receiver, but we reserve $1, and that goes to our partner charities.
Currently our team chooses one charity to feature and donate to every few weeks. We look for people that are doing the kind of work that’s in line with our vision (environmental, educational, community, etc). However, we know that there are so many charities and causes out there doing great things and so we’re working on setting up a charity page where we can allow people to choose where they’d like the donation to go. We’ll definitely take suggestions from our users as well, we’d love to get as many charities spotlighted as possible.
How do you advertise? Do you use social media? What has worked best for you?
Since we’re operating on that shoestring budget, we don’t really have a ton of money left over to advertise. We’re as grassroots as they come. So yes, we use a lot of social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’re also reaching out to bloggers, telling our story and asking them to write a little something about us – and that’s been really well received. We’ve been really fortunate and have connected with some really great people that I know we’ll continue to have relationships with.
Are there any mistakes that you made on this entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with other green entrepreneurs?
When we first launched Givmo we had a slightly different business model than we do today. We really wanted to focus on Karma and had a whole plan to allow a bunch of people to request an item and then let Karma decide who got it. Karma would be determined by Karma Points – the more items you gave away, the more Karma you’d receive and the more Karma Points you had, the more likely it would be for you to win the item.
But, as you can see, each time we got finished explaining that, we were exhausted and while we still think it was a good idea, the logistics were way too complicated. So we revamped, and now you still get really great Karma if you give, but you don’t need points to request an item. If there is anything we took away from this it’s – simple is always best. If you have to explain it, it’s too complicated.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
Get involved and talk to people! Members of the green community are really active, really vocal and really inspiring. We’ve met and been in contact with some amazing people through this venture, including some of our users. The community is really friendly and if you have a good idea, people are happy to help spread the word.