We’re launching a new weekly series called Founder Friday, where we’ll interview 43North winners and other entrepreneurs in the Western New York community about their experiences as a startup founder and advice they would give to those looking to start their own company.
Our first Founder Friday is with Su Sanni and Ben Lamson, founders of 2016 43North winner WeDidIt. WeDidIt is an online fundraising platform for nonprofits that helps identify target donors and launch high-converting campaigns. Check them out at wedid.it!
How did your startup, well, start up?
Su Sanni: While Ben and I were working together at another company back in 2011, we discovered that many nonprofits were interested in crowdfunding but needed A LOT of help getting started and executing. We were encouraged by the fact that a few nonprofits that we spoke to agreed to pay us if we were to build an online fundraising solution for them. So after spending several months researching, deliberating, and planning, we finally decided to do it. We quit our sales jobs, moved in together, and started WeDidIt from our apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY.
Ben Lamson: Su and I met while working together at the Meltwater Group. After becoming friends, Su let me know that he was thinking about leaving MW to start his own thing. I immediately said I was down to jump ship and pursue something with him. As we started exploring different ideas, we realized that many of our nonprofit clients at MW were struggling with fundraising. This gave us the idea to launch a new online fundraising platform for nonprofits.
What do you do? What does your startup do?
Su: WeDidIt is online fundraising platform – we help nonprofits raise money online and automatically research their donors.
Ben: I am head of Sales and Business Development at WeDidIt. WeDidIt is an online fundraising platform for nonprofits. We help nonprofits research their donors and raise money online.
What is the best/worst part of your day as a founder?
Su: As a founder, the best part of my day is noticing when the vision or plans come to fruition as designed. Usually, this takes form in seeing our customers hit their fundraising goals. The worst part of the day is being met with questions that you can’t yet answer or issues you can’t yet solve.
Ben: Best part – closing deals. Worst part – not closing deals.
When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup where you realized this could actually work?
Su: In 2012, we won $25K in a national business plan competition and was offered a personal investment of $50K by one of the competition judges. That judge later introduced us to 3 nonprofits, who became our first paying subscription customers. All of this happened within 60 days, after we spent the last 8 months building a prototype fundraising platform.
These 3 events created a ton of validation for us, which seemed to just snowball into the next opportunity. But it was around this time when we started to realize that our business idea had merit and value to customers (let alone investors).
Ben: It was 1:30am and I had just got off the subway after a long night of working with Su. The ‘aha’ moment was when the name (WeDidIt) came to be and we connected it to the concept (nonprofit crowdfunding). What do you say when a group of people come together and achieve a goal? “WeDidIt!”
What tools/apps/services can you not live without and why?
Su: Slack – can’t live without Slack because it’s the primary communication and collaboration tool for our team. Regardless of where everyone is located at any given time, we all know that we can use Slack to reach one another quickly. Moreover, we share docs, files, articles, and media in Slack so it’s become the database of record for our discussions around project specific deliverables.
We also use Hipchat for managing work with our tech team. It too is a great communication tool. It’s part of the same Atlassian product suite that we use for project management (Jira), code storage (BitBucket), and with aspects of our tech stack through their many integrations.
Ben: Google Docs/Google Sheets/Keynote/My iPhone. The first three give me the ability to create and collaborate on ideas and concepts. My iPhone allows me to stay connected and do work no matter where I am.
What important advice did you receive when starting up and who told it to you?
Su: Our first investor Bill Imada encouraged us to do good work for the cause (or mission), not only for the money. He explained that people will buy our product because they believe in our mission and in us as individuals. Moreover, he believed that we’d have a more engaged team if people were focussed on solving a real problem more than just “going to work.”
I’ve never dreaded a day of a work since starting WeDidIt, and that’s because I’ve grown to love every aspect of this business, so much so that it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like life…like responsibility.
Ben: The best salespeople are the ones who ask the hard questions softly – a family friend told me this. He’s made millions working for an international freight company as their first salesperson.
What are your goals for the next year? Next three years?
Su: For the next year, we’d like to be working with over 2,000 nonprofits and having a larger group of partners who also want to leverage WeDidIt with the nonprofits they support.
So ideally over the next 3 years, WeDidIt will become the platform of choice for any organization that supports many nonprofits as customers, members, projects, and grantees.
Ben: Grow WeDidIt to profitability.
Su: Why not Buffalo? The city is up and coming, there’s a strong entrepreneurial community here and traffic is never an issue. If it wasn’t for 43North, I would have never considered Buffalo. But now that I’m here, I’m taking advantage of every opportunity to ensure that we stay and grow our business here.
Ben: I was born and raised in Michigan. Much of my family is from the the east side of the state or the greater Detroit area. I’ve seen first hand what the effects of the “Rust Belt” are. Bringing WeDidIt to Buffalo gave me an opportunity to help rebuild a Rust Belt city, something that I’m extremely passionate about.
How do you do it?
Su: I maintain a ‘short memory.’ The ups and downs of startup life can take a tough toll on anyone. Keeping a cool and calm head amongst the craziness in the market, the goals of your team, and needs of your customers is an incredibly challenging balancing act. But if you let every single loss affect your mood or distract you from your focus, then it’ll be hard to get up every day (i.e. you lose more than you win in this game). Therefore, you’ve got to have a ‘short memory,’ allowing you to quickly get over the setbacks and enjoy the triumphs as you continue to charge forward. That’s how I do it.
Ben: Do what? Lol.
What is your favorite local spot, and why?
Su: Hydraulic Heath – delicious, glorious brick oven pizza. And Resurgence Brewing Company, which has great beer and the best soft pretzels I’ve ever had. Despite the distance, I plan on going back there many times this year.
Ben: Toutant! No question. James Roberts is an AMAZING chef. Plus Toutant has an amazing bourbon selection and I’m a huge bourbon nerd. Their brunch is out of this world too!