Thursday, June 23, 2011
Interview with Ryan Scott, CauseCast
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
One trend in the Southern California high tech startup market has been an increasing number of startups--and executives--who have been looking to combine their interests in business with their enthusiasm for giving back through nonprofits and causes. One of the firms which has been active in that area is Los Angeles-based CauseCast (www.causecast.com), run by Ryan Scott, who talked us about the company's relationship with the Huffington Post, its new efforts to provide its technology to companies interested in corporate social responsibility, and other initiatives. Ryan is a serial entrepreneur, having previously co-founded email marketer NetCreations, and also has been an angel investor in local startups.
First, for those not familiar with CauseCast, what is the company all about?
Ryan Scott: We focus on a couple of things. We like to call ourselves a cause integrator. Our goal, is to help businesses and support causes, via three pillars. One, is with cause marketing, engaging your customers around causes; second, is employee engagement around causes, and the last is corporate social responsibility, companies working with vendors or other folks they work with, and the public in general. The way CauseCast helps do this, is through technology to help engage people around causes and campaigns. An example is one we recently launched with Virgin Mobile and Katy Perry, where we allow people to volunteer to help youth homelessness, track that with our patent-pending cause tracking and rewards systems, and where those volunteers can get tickets to a concert. That's on the cause marketing side of things. We also are building out sections on the Huffington Post, the Impact and Education brands, with our technology, and powered the AARP's Create The Good site to help in cause marketing and audience engagement. We also launched an employee engagement piece in August, which allows companies to engage their employees in causes, such as volunteering and matching employee contributions dollar for dollar. The final component of this is CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility. What we're doing there is providing Cause Integration Profiles, where we are letting businesses provide information on what they are doing in the cause area, and not just display it on our site but take that to any website that is interested in it.
Describe a little bit about how you are working with the Huffington Post?
Ryan Scott: What we did with Arianna, who came up with the idea two years ago, was create a place where the story doesn't end, but where you have the opportunity to take action. Most people feel compelled to do something about problems when they first read about them--they decide at that moment what they can give, what action they can take. For example, if you're reading about Haiti, you might want to take action and support a group, donate, learn about a nonprofit, or learn where you can volunteer to help. That was about two years ago, and more recently, we launched an education section--partially in response to the Changing The Equation effort by the White House, but also because of the Waiting For Superman movie, which catalyzed a lot of the current talk about reforming education. We launched that section with Paramount, with the movie ad as the lead sponsor. Both sections are doing very well, and we have millions of uniques a month, which for a non-major, non-celebrity section is really group. We've brought in about a thousands bloggers, including Bill Gates, George Lucas, Arnie Duncan, and other major folks, and it's really become a great place to get those issues out to as wide an audience as possible.
It's been a few years since you launched--what have you learned and how has that shaped what you're doing now?
Ryan Scott: Originally, we started with consumer facing content. Even the stuff we've done with the Huffington Post is consumer facing. Originally, our intent was to have consumer facing content, but as we developed our technology, we found out that we would be competing with our customer if we continued to do consumer facing content. We decided it would be smarter to not compete with our customers, and instead focus on the core strength of the company, the technology an infrastructure. We stopped doing consumer facing content a year ago, and handed over writing of the Impact Section on Huffington Post to the team at AOL. We're still powering actions there, but we're not doing editorial. We had an excellent editorial team, but we found we just couldn't bring that many eyeballs compared to something like the Huffington Post. So, we want to power any content which is actionable. That's the core of the company.
Is this behind your recent launch of your Cause Integration profiles?
Ryan Scott: Yes, we found a need with large companies, who need to be able to get out the word about the things they are doing that are good. There's a huge shift going on, which is almost unseen, where companies are examining their supply chains, and holding each other accountable. For example, we have a big wireless company that told us that it's really important for them to know about their vendors when buying stuff from them, knowing if a company does employee matching, has donation programs, and with the supply chain that there is a corporate social responsibility program, no conflict minerals, and so on, otherwise they won't buy their products. However, you'll never see that in the media. I wanted to help bring some light to that without having it be advertising, which comes on as being disingenuous. You need a third profile.
Our idea was to be a central database of what companies are doing in terms of cause, corporate social responsibility, engaging customers, cause marketing, and through volunteering and donations. We put that all in one place, where it's searchable. It turns out, there is a lot of interest from other companies in that space for that kind of information. We're also taking this to publishers. The first one we launched was with Corporate Responsibility Magazine, where the top 100 corporate citizens will be on their web site. We'll be putting that data through an API, and putting in onto other websites, too. Another example might be a job website -- we found out that the second thing, after salary, which employees want to know if is the company is a good corporate citizen. Will the company pay for me to take a week out to go to the Amazon and help kids? Will they match my charitable donations? We'll be taking that information out to job sites and financial publications, as a way to enhance the data that is already there. Right now you can see a company's market cap, and everyone has that, but no one has information on if a company has an initiative about bringing clean water to places that don't have it, if a company is doing anything about conflict minerals, and so on. That kind of information won't be transmitted through advertising, but that information can be put out to places where it's most interesting. Our business model, is that businesses will have to pay to put themselves into the database, and we'll help them distribute that further.
Your prior background was in email marketing--how has this been different for you?
Ryan Scott: It's really similar, actually. The main focus of email marketing is building mailing lists, and aggregating information about people who are voluntary subscribers to commercial messages. We provided the technology, but partnered with other websites. Initially, we just had our own list of 30,000 webmasters. But, we found we needed a lot more names and subscribers, and there was no way to get that on our own. It made a heck of a lot more sense to partner with Ziff Davis, AOL, and others who had lots of users to sign up and take action. So, we wound up building lists for those people, and handling the mailing and making sure everyone was an opt-in subscriber, becoming a central database of that information that we gathered. We're doing something very similar here, takinga ll that information about companies and nonprofits, and putting it in a database to put that out to as wide an audience as possible.
So what's the big goal for your firm now?
Ryan Scott: I really want to be able to bring cause to everything. That would be publishers, all campaigns, and all workforces as well. Employee engagement is something we'll be releasing into our platform shortly. The goal is to have people engage with causes, wherever they are, whether it's at work, or on their website. So, when a disaster happens, we'll be able to help companies so that when something like Haiti or Japan happens again, and they want to match donations, they can quickly figure out who to work with to do that. When a big tragedy strikes, we can help inspire millions and millions to take action and have a measurable impact, as quickly as possible.