Flash mobs have been around for a while (the term was coined in 2003, according to Wikipedia) and seemingly have been getting less and less cool ever since. The base idea is still awesome, but the novelty wore off after it seems yet another mediocre flash mob occurred almost weekly. Flash Volunteer utilizes the awesome parts of flash mobs in creating a new way for people to use their free time for the greater good.
The idea? Use flash mobs to make the process of volunteering a lot easier. Founded in 2009 and run by a team of 15 volunteers, the nonprofit launched its mobile app today.
We caught up with Executive Director Brad Wilke, who has a MBA from The University of Washington, for this installment of Startup Spotlight:
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Flash Volunteer amplifies volunteerism. We build web-based and mobile tools that make it easy and fun for people to get engaged with their community through volunteer opportunities, and for organizations to build an active volunteer base. ”
Inspiration hit us when: “The original seed that grew into Flash Volunteer was sown by a simple realization way back in 2009: social media is everything. And you really can build offline communities online, if you adhere to three principles: keep it simple, social, and sticky. Three years later, inspiration still hits us every day. We keep busy schedules in the local nonprofit community, so we’re always hearing about problems, brainstorming solutions and testing them out online and in the real world. We’re a dynamic, nimble group of highly engaged volunteers and we’re always looking for new ways to make the world a better place.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap. Flash Volunteer is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and our website is built by volunteers, for volunteers. Grants are hard enough to come by these days, but they’re especially rare when you’re doing something that no one else is doing. Our offerings and our tools are new, and while we have garnered some attention (including the Microsoft Award for Social Innovation at the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch) for pioneering work, the surefire way to bring Flash Volunteer to life is to make it happen ourselves.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our volunteers. Nights and weekends (and basically every time in between), you’ll find our team working on our website and mobile app, executing fundraisers, building partnerships with nonprofits, and promoting worthwhile events around the greater Seattle area.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Going mobile. Our mobile app (coming very soon for iPhone) can change the way that people post, find and attend volunteer events.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Getting lost in the maze of self-definition. We found that we can build more momentum by generating ideas, trying them out and collecting feedback. Lather, rinse, repeat. We have a business plan, of course, but when we change direction or scale up, it becomes a natural, market-driven next step — not dependent on the way our team views Flash Volunteer’s place in the world.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Zuckerberg. Facebook fits like a puzzle piece into people’s lives where they didn’t even know the space for it existed. Flash Volunteer wants to do that for volunteerism.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “We reach our ambitious goal to invigorate the Seattle volunteer scene, then we bring Flash Volunteer to other cities around the country. (Don’t worry, when we run the world, we promise to use our powers only for good.)”
Rivals should fear us because: “Don’t fear us — work with us! Flash Volunteer is all about increasing volunteerism: through partnerships, cross-promotion, and smart use of technology. If you are pro-volunteerism, we’re on your team. That said, no one we know of approaches volunteer engagement quite like we do. From our Cause Crowds (flash mobs for good!), to our Volunteer Leaderboards (gamification!), to our Props feature (peer-to-peer gratitude engine!), Flash Volunteer is creating a community engagement platform like no other.”
We are truly unique because: “We’re building one-of-a-kind mobile and web-based tools that empower volunteers, nonprofits and corporate social responsibility programs to make the world a better place through integration with the social graph and the power of gamification. And we do it with openness to partnerships and collaborations on the part of our all-volunteer “staff.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Inertia. Launching an innovative volunteer platform takes time and brainpower — and the dedication of our all-volunteer “staff.” (For the bargain-basement price of less than $10,000, we have built a top-of-the-line platform.) We had to keep our talented team motivated with the vision of using technology to make volunteerism a regular part of everyone’s lives.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “The work — developing, marketing, designing — is the fun part, but don’t forget to plan and strategize. It sometimes seems like navel-gazing, but you won’t be able to sell or grow your enterprise if you don’t have a business plan, program goals and metrics to measure it all by. Think short-term AND long-term.”