Vancouver is proving to be the home of more and more entrepreneurial ventures focused on social impact. A couple weeks back I featured the Weeve team, who focus on helping nonprofit organizations. This week, the CampusAuction team focuses on bringing together corporate social responsibility with socially conscious consumers – all through online bidding. Eyal Lichtmann, President of CampusAuction gives us a closer look at how it was started and how it all works.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and how it got started.
I’m Eyal Lichtmann president of CampusAuction. I grew up in Vancouver, graduated from Eric Hamber high school and UBC, and now my wife and I are raising our three daughters here. I remember Vancouver when Woodward’s was a landmark department store, not a 40-storey residential building, and I have seen the city change, as we all have. The past few decades have been exciting times for Vancouver and have put us squarely in the middle of the world’s consciousness. Our new business emerged from this exciting Vancouver environment, in part, because it seems like this place inspires dreams and dreamers. The West Coast has also always been a place where people came together to make a better world. CampusAuction sort of brings all of that together.
I envisioned CampusAuction: Bid for a Better World (www.campusauction.com) as an online auction that links socially conscious young consumers with businesses that demonstrate corporate social responsibility. I have a background in marketing and worked on British Columbia’s three largest campuses with university students, in the non-profit sector, for the past decade. I saw a willingness of college students to make positive social change through conscientious purchasing decisions, and I also saw the challenges businesses had reaching this demographic. I wanted to build a platform that marries CSR [corporate social responsibility] with students and charities. There is no other business or concept like ours. I wanted to create a space where students come together via commerce and ideas to make a difference. I envisioned CampusAuction as the place where businesses that demonstrate corporate social responsibility would find the customers they seek and young consumers can find great deals on amazing products, while doing good for themselves and the world.
2. Tell us more about the philanthropic aspect of this business and tell us what makes it stand out from the rest.
According to a recent study, one in three young consumers (18 to 30 years old) had boycotted a business in the past year (or, conversely, buycotted a business to show their support) based on the corporation’s business practices or public policy positions. Corporate social responsibility is a hugely important issue to this generation. And our Charity Partners benefit in more ways than the obvious. While they receive 50% of profits (or 10% of gross revenue, whichever is greater), they also have the opportunity to put their “brand” – their cause – directly in the sightlines of millions of young people who will make up the next generation of philanthropists they need to reach in order to sustain themselves in the decades to come. CampusAuction not only provides a platform for them to showcase their good works, we also make it easy for members to contribute directly to their causes and to share their support with friends through social networks.
There are other online auctions – in fact, auctions are one of the fastest-growing components of an already fast-growing online retail economy – but no other venue combines social good with an auction platform targeting the 18 to 30 year old demographic across North America. We are growing quickly – and making the world better every day.
Last year we gave $78,000 to charity after running a nine week auction. That money was put to good use by our charity partners. Our donations directly helped to build schools, provide clean drinking water to people in need, provide meals to starving children and more! We hope to donate a lot more this year and in years to come.
3. What sorts of things do people usually bid on? Tell us more about the contests aspect you have to the website also.
Everything! Toshiba laptops, tablets, gift cards, Tiffany bracelets, e-readers, video consoles, mobile phones and accessories, as well as entertainment devices, and the sorts of things young people need when they are moving out on their own and starting homes, like housewares, furniture and bedding. Then there’s a whole range of things that are just cool things everyone wants, like food and wine options, clothing, cosmetics and accessories.
We also have fun contests on CampusAuction. By interacting with the site and using your social media channels you collect what we call partiCApoints. PartiCApoints can be traded for entries into contests for amazing prizes. Last year, for our grand prize giveaway, we gave away a Toshiba 55 inch 3D television, an iPad2 and a trip for two to Australia.
4. What are some of the biggest challenges you and the team face today and tomorrow and how is the team working to overcome them?
Luckily, we are over that daunting hump of getting a start-up off the ground! We have the secure, online platform in place, so the infrastructure is there for years to come. Corporate partners are recognizing the value CampusAuction offers to reach the exact clientele they need, and amazing charities are jumping on board to be a part of the phenomenon.
The place we are at now is letting millions of people know about the site. Social media is a huge thing for us. One of the characteristics of this generation is that they make decisions collectively, getting advice from their friends, and they share their decisions through their social networks. Friends telling friends about the great stuff and how they are helping the world is the way word will spread about us. It starts with us. Each of us has a network and our networks ripple out in concentric circles. That is the imagery of doing good in the world, too: do a little good and it ripples out in countless ways.
5. How does this improve the city of Vancouver? What is the real world problem you’re solving?
CampusAuction was founded in Vancouver and we are based here, even though we are a North America-wide organization. Our team all lives here and our roots are firmly planted in the wet West Coast earth. The problems we are solving are many, both local and global. Among our charity partners are agencies doing amazing work making the world better. Make-A-Wish Canada, for example, grants magical wishes to children, ages 3 through 17, who are living with life-threatening medical conditions. F- Cancer is on a mission to save lives by spreading one simple message: 90% OF CANCER IS CURABLE IN STAGE ONE! imagine1day is a growing global community of people making passionate contributions to ensure all Ethiopians have access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030. UEnd: Poverty raises awareness about how easy it is to impact change in the developing world through simple actions at home.
These and other charity partners are addressing some of the world’s most pressing, immediate challenges – and doing so in ways that are innovative, impactful and sustainable. More than this, though, CampusAuction is helping young people create a culture and a habit of impactful living everyday … of charitable giving, but also of mindful purchasing and conscientious consumerism. We’re helping people change the world in the most meaningful way we know: through small individual acts of goodness that make incremental, real change possible.
6. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Find a niche. Go for it. Everybody has a dream, but only dreams + action = reality. There is no guarantee of success, but there is a guarantee of failure if you do not try. Get advice. Ask experts and amateurs, run your ideas through as many minds as you know and listen to the answers. Be prepared to change your original idea in response to feedback. Do not be discouraged, but be prepared to bend. Try to meld multiple ideas to form a brilliant hybrid. CampusAuction’s original idea was to be a book called ‘The Power Of U’, U standing for University, and how students could make a positive difference on their campus which would influence them to make a difference in society … look where it ended up! Dream big … then focus on the details.
It’s pretty fantastic to come across entrepreneurs who can prove that social entrepreneurship is very much a viable and effective option. We’re seeing more and more how the power of the internet and social media can bridge the gap between organizations and socially conscious consumers. It’s a really great thing and it’s only the beginning.
Stay in touch @pauldavidescu
*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send [email protected] an email explaining why*