Startup interview: @lenkendall on @getcentup

lenkendall-2It’s been a while since I put up an interview with a start-up founder on my blog. When Len Kendall announced recently that CentUp is getting closer to launch (do support them on Indiegogo – I hope this interview will give you some reasons why), I thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase what they are trying to do: turn social sharing on the web into social good through micro-donations to content creators and charities.

Here we go:

Where did the seed for CentUp come from? Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

All of the founders are heavy web users and we have observed how very little investment people are willing to make into taking action on the web, partly because we’re all so distracted by the flood of content. Kony 2012 really topped things off for us because it embodied the often negatively used term “slacktivism” which describes people taking an action that doesn’t really lead to change. We decided to develop something that could take advantage of tiny actions, but collectively accomplish something good. Hence, CentUp was born. If we can take some of the 5 billion likes/shares each day and turn that behavior into tiny donations, we’re going to be in great shape.

‘Clicktivism’ and ‘armchair activism’ are other phrases that lots of people mention today when it comes to fundraising for charity. What is your take on the issue? 

Oops, I think I answered this! But to add a few more thoughts on the subject: the web has made it INCREDIBLY easy for people to get involved with good projects and organizations, but they feel overwhelmed. We’re trying to create a single sign-on system that lets people do good things every day, in small doses.

One of the things I like about CentUp is that it hopes to change the way content creators are compensated for their work, where often they have none. I’m reminded of this article by John Battelle which talks about this need to change the way we produce and consume content across the web. Is there a list of content creators you work with on a priority basis?

We want to support artists of all sorts, but our assumption is that people will feel more compelled to give via CentUp to independent creators. In other words, people are less likely to give to CNN than they are to Clay Shirky. That said, mega publishers like The Atlantic, New Yorker, and The Onion could work quite well because of the niche audiences they’ve carved out.

Are there limitations to the kind of content you think CentUp will be able to support through your work? 

News will be a tough one for us. People may not feelmotivated to give to an author who wrote a story about Lance Armstrong using performing enhancing drugs, but they very likely WOULD give to the Deadspin writers who broke the Te’o story. Same genre, different context. Long-form, investigative journalism stands to do quite well. From the non-writing perspective, we also think there’s a big opportunity for musicians and photographers who post their work to a personal site.

You used to work in advertising in Chicago for a long time before leaving to start CentUp. What lessons do you, as an individual, think you can bring over to the startup world, and specifically to CentUp? 

The one thing I’ve been really shocked by in the startup world is just how bad young entrepreneurs are at marketing and sales. I’m not talking about pulling together and optimizing Facebook campaigns, I’m talking about building a brand and knowing how to sell it. I almost see it as an inverse from the agency world. There you had very few folks who had a deep understanding of technology. In the startup world, it seems like there’s a huge lack in communication skills.

What’s your favorite charity? 

I honestly don’t have one. I’m a renaissance man in many aspects of life and my affinity for social impact organizations mirrors that.

Tell us a bit about the team working on CentUp with you. 

We started off as three. A technologist and artist (John Geletka), and talented designer and creative (Tyler Travitz), and media/marketing geek (me). Recently we expanded our team with our new awesome investor-partners Chris McLaughlin and Marcus Duncan who bring lots of non-profit and business development knowledge to our ranks.

Initially, if I understand correctly, CentUp will be US-focussed. What are your plans to expand into the rest of the world? 

Technically speaking, CentUp works globally. International transactions get a bit tricky due to additional fees so we’re figuring out a way to make things work without having to cost anyone more money. We’re definitely looking to go global by Q3 2013. That sounds way bigger of a deal than it really is. Ha.

What do you hope CentUp will achieve? What are your plans for CentUp for the future? 

Put simply, we want to become a patron of the arts. CentUp is just one tool, but ultimately we want to build many things that help creative people earn more for their work. We’re not looking to turn anyone into a millionaire, but we do think artists deserve more than nothing, which sadly is what they’re getting now. We also want creators to move away from advertising and instead become conduits for charity. These two groups actually go so well together, they just rarely overlap. In terms of future rollouts for CentUp, we plan on building out leaderboards (think Reddit but for top Cent-ed content) and a mobile app that lets you toss a few cents at content with the flick of a thumb.

Thanks very much for your time, Len! Here’s to CentUp, and wishing you all the very best.

For everyone else, here’s the the link to their Indiegogo page again.

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