by Kalpi Desai (WG’16)
We all know getting your education is not cheap. Have you ever wondered if you could crowdfund your education? Andrew Wilkinson (WG ’16) created studentdonate.com, a nonprofit that helps student collect micro-donations through an online platform.
Studentdonate.com has helped over 500 students and in total, studentdonate.com has raised over $85K.
How did you come up with the idea for studentdonate.com?
I was at dinner with a friend one night in SF when we began talking about the student debt issue. Later that night, while at the gym I had the idea of using the power of crowd funding applied from a non-profit standpoint to help students.
How do you differentiate yourself from gofundme.com or other successful crowdfunding websites?
In a few critical ways. We are a nonprofit organization which strongly signals how aligned our mission is through our corporate structure. We do not have shareholders we need to show profits to.
We take 0% of any donations – all donations go directly to helping the student unlike every for-profit and the vast majority of other nonprofits. This is by far a critical differentiator and unique to our business model.
Lastly our whole crowd funding focus is solely on students who would like to achieve a higher education. Other platforms are more general, ours is targeted to a specific type of donor and a specific type of individual looking for funding.
How did you determine the user interface and user experience of the website?
Testing, lots and lots of testing. We did several completely different mockups of the User Experience, the brand, the feelings we wanted to convey, etc. This included totally different images, text fonts, logos, you name it we had at least 3 versions. It took 10 full iterations on the home page to get it where it is today. We ran multiple A/B tests and in person surveys with people, making refinements each time.
How did you market it to attract users, specifically donors?
We attempted several different tactics, most of which frankly failed. We tried direct advertising in student papers, but that went nowhere. We also tried Facebook ads and doing some press work, which had a low level of success. What really worked was connecting directly with power users and connectors – mainly current students in college who had large networks. They would get on and all of a sudden 30 of their friends would join within a few hours.
How do you plan to keep growing studentdonate.com while you’re at Wharton?
Wharton is super busy, but I am fortunate enough to have a team outside of Wharton who continue to work on improving the platform and getting the word out there. Word of mouth by students is the best way we’ve found to help StudentDonate.com thrive and continue its mission of helping students globally attain a higher education.
What are some challenges you faced that you did not anticipate?
StudentDonate.com was setup as a nonprofit corporation. Frankly I didn’t imagine the amount of additional effort it takes to setup a nonprofit. Everything from dealing with the lawyers, to filling out the initial 30+ page application full of legalese (all in small print of course.). That’s just step one. Later on, the IRS comes back to you and interviews you and requires documented proof in answer to their questions. Took a lot of time.
Also, because it was a nonprofit endeavor, it was much harder to attract the initial funding for the project since there was no potential monetary ROI to the ‘Investment’.
Any advice for Wharton/Penn founders?
Assume everything will take more than double the amount of time it should in your initial plans. Entrepreneurship, despite the glamour it has these days, is very much a slog most of the time. This is where your passion and interest will get you through. Those without a passion or at least strong interest in their business usually give up at this part.