Len Kendall, 29, co-founder and CEO of CentUp.org, describes the purpose of his Chicago-based start-up as a way to put social media to work to better help artists and charities receive help from their supporters. The former marketing agency director says the idea came after wanting a way to fight against the empty gestures of online armchair activism.
Q: Explain your company in a sentence.
A. CentUp is a button that content creators can install on their site to easily receive donations from fans, the kicker being that half goes to charity.
Q. How does CentUp use social media?
A. Literally billions of things get liked or shared each day online. CentUp borrows from that common (but sadly inconsequential) behavior and turns it into helping artists and charities. The more viral something becomes online, the more good it will be able to do via CentUp.
Q. When did social media first really click for you?
A. About 6 months into using Twitter (mid-2008) I started to really see the value of Twitter from a networking perspective. I started to make connections personally and professionally that I simply couldn't have done unless I befriended people online via mutual interests. It helped my career, it gave me amazing opportunities, and to some degree is responsible for me meeting my fiancé, Katie.
Q. What do you wish would change about social media, in general?
A. I have a huge issue with "slacktivism," and in many ways trying to fight it is the driving force behind CentUp. People "like" things on the web and get the feeling they've contributed to a cause, but really there's nothing tangible behind that unless it leads to other people doing something about it. I want to help add significance to everyone's social actions.
Q. What is on the horizon in the social media world that really excites you, in terms of how it will relate to your business?
A. Payment solutions (I know…super sexy) are becoming easier and more integrated with social and mobile platforms. I look at companies like Dwolla and Stripe and they're working really hard to lower the cost of moving money from one place to another. Making it easier for people to give money to each other, especially via social platforms is incredibly important to our business and I hope this trend continues to evolve.
Q. What real-life business lesson applies online as much as it applies offline?
A. Don't talk like a robot. It's easy to criticize or distrust companies that talk in corporate buzzwords and speak as an entity rather than as a person. Every time I've had criticism around CentUp (and it's been rare) I've disarmed people and changed their stance by talking to them the same way I would talk to them in person. This seems like obvious advice, but companies often feel very skittish about following it.
Q. How do you think social media helps you most as a small business?
A. A lot of people think of social media as a great way to spread a message to a lot of people, but I also think it's incredibly valuable from the perspective of finding business partners and customers 1 on 1. People reveal a lot about themselves and their projects in social. If you're looking for a certain kind of person or customer, you'll likely find it easier by scanning social channels in smart ways.