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The CharityCheckin team. Photo via CharityCheckin.

When Marsh Sutherland lost his wife to a battle with cancer, he started looking for ways to raise awareness for his personal causes. That’s when he realized there was an opportunity to build something that let people spread awareness while also helping retailers and brand advertise via user-generated content.

Marsh Sutherland.
Marsh Sutherland.

The result is CharityCheckin, a Spokane, Wash.-based startup led by Sutherland that describes itself as a philanthropic Facebook advertising platform for retailers and brands.

“Our goal is to become the world’s largest giving engine,” Sutherland said.

The year-old company, now working as part of the current 9MileLabs cohort in Seattle, lets users pick a charity and check-in on social media while visiting a given retailer. Once their activity is posted to Facebook, that retailer donates to the charity. Users can also receive coupons from said retailer.

We caught up with CharityCheckin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “CharityCheckin enables brands and retailers to advertise on our users’ Facebook walls with branded check-ins in exchange for a small donation to the user’s favorite charity.”

charitycheckin11Inspiration hit us when: “Marsh’s wife Betsy lost her two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. His young son Sean is challenged daily because of his autism. While looking for ways to raise awareness and money for his personal causes, he realized everyone has a personal cause — something they or ones they love have been affected by. Our goal is to connect our users with businesses willing to support our users’ causes and eliminate the friction from year-round philanthropy.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Funding from 9Mile Labs in Cohort VI and bootstrapping.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Facebook reduced the reach of Page posts from businesses by 80 percent. And when businesses do advertise, they look like ads in the ads News Feed, which is largely ignored.

We are the only platform that allows companies to advertise in the organic Facebook News Feed via our user-generated posts to friends and followers, driving more brand awareness and foot traffic.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Moving to Seattle for 9Mile Labs accelerator. The knowledge transfer, mentoring and relationships are truly world-class.”

icon-transparent-backgroundThe biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Building our app with OrientDB graph database hosted on Google. We are migrating to SQL Azure hosted on Microsoft Azure via the Microsoft BizSpark program.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bill Gates, because he is a cultural fit having founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our tech stack is entirely Microsoft, and he is the biggest philanthropist in the world while we aim to become the world’s largest giving engine.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Drinking beer and eating steamed lobsters — we are Boston guys.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “If they have a personal cause based on something or someone they love that has been affected. We also look for an emotional connect for a personal cause for vendor selection, too. We want our supply chain links to truly have their hearts into making a real difference in the world for the causes they care about.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Get traction with paying users as soon as possible and keep growing the traction as fast as you can.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the startups in 9Mile Labs’ fall cohort. The companies will debut their final products at the Milestone9 Graduation Day event Oct.13.

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