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The Calgary Herald’s Startup of the Week: Givyup

Each Christmas I get a ton of gifts from family and friends that I will probably never use and going to the mall to exchange is my biggest pet peeve.  So, many of these items sit on the shelf or get boxed in the basement collecting dust.

If you’re like me, you need to check out Givyup, a new social startup that helps people get less stuff they don’t need by engaging family and friends to do more awesome in the community.

Givyup is incredibly simple to use; after choosing a charity, all you need to do is tell people how to support that charity on your behalf. Givyup has been designed to bring fundraising costs significantly below the norm for small charities and nonprofits and to channel every penny of the profit toward those organizations involved.

We recently talked to the co-founders, Alex Bruton and Jeff Couillard to learn more.

How did you come up with the idea for your startup?

Last October, Jeff caught a brief headline about Justin Bieber donating his birthday to Charity Water, and raising a significant amount of money in the process. Having worked for a variety of small non-profits and charities for the past 12 years, Jeff was keenly aware of the challenge that efficient fundraising posed for these organizations. After an hour-long walk with the dogs along the river, Jeff came back with the basic idea of Givyup and we refined it together.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Probably the biggest challenge has been balancing the demands of a startup with full time jobs and fairly young families – lot of late nights, early mornings and working through the weekend.

Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?

A lot of people have been helpful with their feedback. Our lawyer has been critical; she’s embraced the non-traditional social business idea and helped us implement it.

The folks at Structured Abstraction, Offshoot Studios, and 403 Media have done an amazing job of helping us quickly build a prototype and validate the model, and collaborated with us throughout the development of not just the site, but the broader platform as well.

What’s new with your startup that we can share?

We launched a Christmas campaign last month to allow people to donate part of their Christmas in lieu of getting gifts – “Less stuff. More awesome. Starting this Christmas.”  If you check out, you’ll see some familiar faces in the videos, including Calgary’s Police Chief Rick Hanson and Cochrane’s mayor Truper McBride.

Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?

We strongly believe that having the right solution that provides a very strong value proposition makes it possible to raise capital and find the right talent. We’ve been fortunate with both of these so far, primarily due to the strength of our value proposition.

What has contributed to your success to this point?

A lot of people closely guard their idea and spend a long time carefully planning how to execute it through their business. We’ve taken the opposite approach, gathering as much insight and feedback as possible, and bringing our services to the market in a controlled fashion to test the concept, which we’ll then refine based on the feedback.

New entrepreneurs would do well to take their idea to the marketplace as quickly as possible, and do prototyping and testing with real users and customers.

What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?

I practically live and breathe entrepreneurship as professor on the subject at Mount Royal University and as president of The Innographer, an education company dedicated to helping people learn to innovate. Jeff has spent the past dozen years working in the non-profit and charity sector, most recently in the youth addiction and mental health sector.

We both saw Givyup as a way to make a difference, and are incredibly excited to be working on something that aligns with our passions.

What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community? 

Calgary has a fantastic startup community and we’re fortunate to be part of it. We would love to see more support for entrepreneurs moving beyond the idea and early prototype stages toward solutions that have significant impact on the world… Not just financing but deep, engaged and world-class opportunities for growth.

We would also love to see the conversation around social enterprise evolve and grow.

What’s your ask right now?

Checkout We want to hear from people who donate their Christmas to know what they think and what their best ideas are for changing the conversation around giving. We want to hear from entrepreneurs who’ve been through it before, who can keep us honest and who can help us grow. We want to hear from creative professionals who want to contribute to and build a profile in the non-profit and charitable sectors. And we want to hear from charities and non-profits who understand and want to be part of the Givyup movement.

Like most startups we’d love the ingredients required for scaling this baby, such as marketing talent, cool partners and investment from folks who want to make an impact.

The Calgary Herald/December, 2012