It has been two weeks since the last time I sat down with student entrepreneur Brooks Gabel and talk about his startup justlikeyou.org. We discussed his journey starting a nonprofit social networking platform as a student to now having a team of more than 20. This time, we discussed his upcoming Indiegogo campaign that will launch this Saturday, February 1.
Danielle Bennings (DB): Hi Brooks, welcome back! I’m glad we get to sit down and talk again.
Brooks Gabel (BG): Hi, thanks for having me back.
DB: So, when does your Indiegogo campaign launch?
BG: Our Indiegogo campaign is launching February 1 which is this Saturday!
DB: Kickstarter has become popular among startups and many campaigns hosted on the platform have been successful. The example we talk about a lot at the Dingman Center is another UMD student, Chase Kaczmarek, who raised a over $30K on Kickstarter for his startup Wheel Shields. Why did you choose Indiegogo?
BG: We had to look at many different online fundraising platforms. One drawback of Kickstarter is when you have a company with a social networking component you’re actually not allowed to fund raise there. So, we started looking at other options and Indiegogo kept popping up. They’re more cause related. As a nonprofit organization with tax exemption status you can get even better deals on the percentages you have to pay, so Indiegogo seemed like a good fit for us. The justlikeyou team has been divided into five groups. We have a business development sector, a volunteer and training experience team, a marketing team, a legal and insurance team and the Indiegogo team.
DB: Do you call them staff or team members? And how many do you have?
BG: We call them team members and there are 21 total.
DB: Wow. Are they all based in Maryland?
BG: They are not. We have 16 from the United States and five international. We all operate remotely and everything is done through Skype and conference calls. Working in different time zones is definitely a challenge but everyone has been great about it.
DB: Do you remember any Indiegogo campaigns that stood out to you and served as inspiration?
BG: We looked at who was fully funded, the kind of messages they were sending, how long it was, and what they were communicating through the video versus in the description. You want a video that entices people to get involved. The people that are really interested in your mission, are going to read more.
DB: So it sounds like you did a significant amount of research which I think is really impressive.
BG: Yea, we made sure to look at campaigns that were similar to what we’re trying to do and mimic their success from creating perks that made sense to our constituency to creating content that is able to be read by anyone.
DB: I’m really interested in hearing about the video. How did you come up with the concept and how did you create it? I saw you recording it here in the Dingman Center.
BG: We created the video in partnership with another UMD student, Jeff Hilnbrand. He’s done some freelance projects for other units within the business school — I know he did some work for the Center for Social Value Creation and a lot of other freelance work around campus. I was actually introduced to him by you, so its great that we were able to connect. We did our first shoot a few weeks ago here at the Dingman Center. I felt that since this is where we spend the most of our time it was an important place for us to shoot. People will be able to see the video for the first time this Saturday.
DB: What do you hope people take away from the video?
BG: I want people to get a full understanding of what it means to be a social network for people coming out. That really is the only thing that we have put out there – we are the social networking platform for people going through the coming out process. Defining that through the video is going to help people to relate to their own experience or the experience of a sibling, a friend, or maybe even a parent whose been through the coming out process, and really see the value in the resource we’re creating. We also want to show a global perspective. This isn’t just coming from two or three students at the University of Maryland who ended up in the Dingman Center together. This is a collaborative effort from people all around the world.
DB: How much money are you raising? Are you willing to reveal that?
BG: Sure, it will be completely visible on the campaign. Our goal is to raise $50K and we’ve structured incentives in order to get us there. Also, the people we’re targeting for the network itself are not going to be the ones donating to our campaign.
DB: So you’re expecting donations from people who believe in what you’re doing but might not be using the site themselves?
BG: Right. With justlikeyou, the top three people that we’re looking at are: the free and anonymous user; the volunteer who wants to give back, and the donor who probably sees this is the resource they, or a loved-one, never had.
DB: Right, many donors may think “I wish my mom or my brother or my best friend could have used this”.
BG: Yes, because it’s personally linked to you in some way.
DB: What are some of the incentives?
BG: We have custom justlikeyou apparel, early site access, and tickets to our red carpet launch party in Washington D.C. in April. We also have ways to sponsor the organization to support a mobile extension.
DB: I’d like to get one of those justlikeyou t-shirts, they look great. Are they available online right now?
BG: Yes, we have to get you one! As soon as the Indiegogo campaign goes live they will be available just on Indiegogo. We did a pre-sale for the month of January where they were all $29.99.
DB: How did that go?
BG: It went well. The biggest takeaway for us was that we needed the shirts beforehand. One of our greatest strengths has been using the team to reach their networks. We have really been able to showcase the team on our social media sites over the last couple months.
DB: I’ve been noticing that, especially on Facebook.
BG: The use of social media has been growing the network because people like pictures of the team members. One of the latest things that we’re doing is having everyone take selfies of themselves in the shirt. That’s how we highlight our team members from week to week. It has a dual purpose; showing the #LoveisLove shirt and introducing our greatest asset which is our people.
DB: In a perfect world, your Indiegogo campaign launches February 1, it ends April 1, and you reach your $50K goal. What is your next step from there?
BG: Our immediate next step is to make sure that we have our education and training program complete. That’s our priority. The program is fully developed so we’re going to be doing all our trainings in March, but we’re looking to make that a more sustainable model. On the network, minors can only talk to volunteers. Volunteers aren’t people that we employ, but they are trained and in our team member system and we want to make that experience accessible to anyone regardless of if they live in the DMV area or not. Learning how to put the trainings online is definitely a priority for us. Going forward we’re going to need to scale in order for the training to be accessed from anywhere in the world.
DB: If there are people who can’t buy a t-shirt or contribute to your Indiegogo campaign, what are other ways that people can support justlikeyou.org?
BG: The best way is to share the network. You never know who may be looking for this resource. Regardless of whether you can personally identify with it or not, I can guarantee there is someone within your circle that you have no idea is going through this. By supporting the network or sharing a picture of the t-shirt, they’ll know that you’re a great person to come to when they’re ready.
DB: What’s the best way to connect online? Do you want people using #loveislove, like on the t-shirt, or do you want people to mention @justlikeyouorg on Twitter?
BG: I would always go back to the justlikeyou Facebook or Twitter pages. It’s justlikeyou.org for Facebook and @justlikeyouorg for Twitter and Instagram. #loveislove is fine, but we’ll also be coming out with branded hashtags when the Indiegogo campaign launches this Saturday.
DB: We’ll be sure to look out for those when the Indiegogo campaign launches. Thanks so much for sitting down with me again, Brooks.
BG: Thank you, Danielle. We appreciate the support.