The following post is part of TriplePundit’s coverage of the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon. To read the rest of our coverage, click here.
By Eliza Huleatt
Amid all of the big-name companies and organizations present at the 2011 Net Impact Conference, one new player was working hard to get noticed. KarmaGoat is a new start-up in the online fundraising space. Basically, it’s eBay with donations. Combining trends of social philanthropy and the de-cluttering movement, KarmaGoat is an online marketplace for users to buy and sell their old stuff—but instead of making profit, you make charitable donations.
Jamie Voytko, KarmaGoat’s Co-Founder and Operational Goat (that’s “Finance and Operations” for the rest of us) considers himself an “accidental social entrepreneur” who is now enjoying the opportunity to run a start-up that has a social mission as well as market potential. He explains best in his own words what KarmaGoat is really about:
TriplePundit: What are you trying to accomplish with KarmaGoat?
Voytko: Basically, we’re trying to unlock the value in this massive aggregate of stuff we all have in our garages, under our beds, and lying around the house. We want to capitalize in a way that achieves social good and turns our extra stuff into stuff people actually need, like clean drinking water, electricity, or education. People sell their old stuff online and then donate the proceeds to the charity of their choice.
What’s with the name? It’s catchy!
We are huge fans and supporters of Heifer International, an organization that works toward alleviating poverty and hunger through the gift of livestock. We see the goat as a symbol of something people really need in the world and “karma” as the rebirth of our stuff into better stuff for other people.
There are many kinds of organizations out there today—nonprofit, for-profit, social venture—what is KarmaGoat’s model?
We are a for-profit social enterprise. We have the social mission, but it’s also a business. We donate 85% of every transaction to the designated charity and we keep 15% for ourselves. We want to be totally transparent. You can see, right as you’re making the transaction, exactly how much of your purchase is going to charity.
So would you call yourself a social entrepreneur?
Karma Goat’s founder, Jonathan Lehmann, would say he’s a social entrepreneur. I consider myself an entrepreneur who happens to be doing something in the social space, and I’m loving it. My background is in investment finance so I just kind of fell into this. Jonathan’s got the key characteristics of a social entrepreneur: persistence, persuasiveness, and charisma. He’s pretty persuasive! This started as our business school Capstone project in 2010 at UCLA Anderson, and we’re still at it today.
Is KarmaGoat unique in the space? Do you worry that there are too many online platforms for charitable giving?
KarmaGoat is definitely pretty well differentiated. We are the first in the space to have this kind of marketplace without cash. We are encouraging people to turn the excess stuff they have into a source of value. The purpose of a marketplace is to unlock value by exchange, and we’re doing that in a unique way.
To find out more about the company, check out their video:
Eliza Huleatt is a 2012 MBA Candidate at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.