This essay is part of a collaborative blogging experiment to answer the question, “What inspired you to found your startup?” I’m housing my contribution here on Medium.
In early 2012, a viral video avalanched through the Internet, breaking records for views and social mentions. I have never seen that video, and I probably never will.
What I did see was very bizarre behavior that led me down the path of starting a new company.
Let me back up.
The minimum investment for doing good in the world today has become low. Really low.
It’s as easy as hitting a “like” button or changing your profile picture. But in my mind, that’s unacceptably low.
Such actions can be great for awareness and hopefully for encouraging others to donate or volunteer their resources, but it’s unfortunate when this type of behavior replaces tangible action due to a false sense of contribution. That’s slacktivism. And it has become rampant.
The kind of tech innovation that has been applied to reducing friction in web activities like shopping, social networking, and consuming content hasn’t been directed enough towards social impact.
It literally takes you less effort to buy pair of shoes online than it does to give to charity.
Many have defended slacktivism, citing research that shows people who take such minimal actions online are more likely to 1) donate money, 2) encourage others to do the same, and 3) help change societal perceptions of activism.
These arguments might be valid, and the presented data (though biased) might seem compelling. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research on the opportunity cost of slacktivism. Or on this question: “How much money would have been donated, or how many hours would have been offered of volunteer time, had the minimum barrier of entry to taking action been higher?” As such, I am extremely skeptical of these arguments.
My hypothesis: Slacktivism isn’t neccessarily bad, but it can act as a placebo that misdirects people from tangible action.
The video I referred to at the top of this post was Kony 2012. You’ve probably heard of it.
The problem I had was not with the video itself, which again I haven’t seen, but the type of support it encouraged. Millions of people shared this video, yet did very little to stop (or educate themselves about) war in Africa. And just to state the obvious, war in Africa is the problem, not the lack of awareness of war in Africa. I know very little about the genocide taking place in Africa, so I chose not to become part of a conversation I was ignorant about.
Sure, some celebrities chimed in and helped raise a bunch of money for the Kony initiative (I won’t dive into whether or not that money was to put to good use or not; plenty to Google on that subject), but the gap between people who shared the content and those who did something about it was staggering to me.
This was a huge inspiritation for founding my company: CentUp fuses content creation and charity in an extremely simple way and helps all parties involved.
Why are we pushing online content and fundraising together? Because that’s exactly what enables slacktivism in the first place. It’s where people spend the majority of their time today, it’s what ignites cultural memes, and it’s currently being driven heavily by advertising, not by direct compensation from consumers.
I wasn’t inspired to radically change the non-profit world (and to be clear, CentUp isn’t a non-profit), but rather to make some of the low-investment behaviors millions of people take part in every day becomes a bit more substantial. Tiny improvements across existing infrastructures can lead to huge changes, and that’s very much our strategy. From my experience, it tends to have a higher success rate versus imploding the status quo.
While many startups were created because of a big problem, CentUp was created because of too much “meh” behavior.
So that’s what I was inspired to do. What can you do? Pledge money to causes you believe in. Or, pledge time. If nothing else, spend time researching the non-profit organizations you’re interested in. Being educated on the subject is exponentially more valuable than changing your Facebook profile picture.
If you’re someone who creates content on their own platform, consider using your creations to help raise money for good causes. These two things aren’t generally intertwined (today) but they can work together really well. Use our solution, use Dwolla, or use one of countless others. I’m not going to sell you on CentUp, but rather on changing your behavior. If you can turn your creativity into something that raises money for good causes, please consider it.
For those of you that started your own company, what was your inspiration? Read other great posts on this topic at Startup Edition.