Stop. This is startup Renegades are raw conversation with founders, entrepreneurs and the unicorns among us who have taken their idea and turned it into a thriving profitable brand. I'm your host Sean Armitage and my work as a fractional marketing director has led me to connect with dozens and dozens of founders in all stages of their startup journeys. Whether they're bootstrapping or fundraising or have capital on hand. There's one big question founders always ask, how do I grow this thing? And started running gates. We'll explore how they did it. And you'll walk away with actionable steps you can take on your own journey to scalable growth. Hey there Renegades it Shawna Welcome back. Today I'm going to introduce you to Dominic cons, who is the CEO of a new venture backed FinTech company called be generous, which is revolutionizing how people donate to nonprofits through the advent of the first ever philanthropic credit product, be generous is backed by some of the top VCs, banks and institutional investors in the US and was just accepted into the highly selective Blackbaud social good startup program. It's really cool. Now, Dominique is a three time venture backed entrepreneur and philanthropist. He's got expertise in FinTech, nonprofits, charitable fundraising, he's raised over 120 million in venture and philanthropic capital during his career. And he's been featured in a number of publications, including a recent feature in Forbes, with an opinion piece on corporate giving. Now, all of this is great. It's really cool when you hear that Dominique wanted to be an actor when he was young. And you'll really see how his journey has evolved, and how his early career experience really brought him to this place in his career, how important his network was along the way. So I've loved chatting with Dominic, about this company, why he started it and where it's going next. I know you will love hearing it, too. So let's dive right in. This is the story of Dominic comms and be generous. Hey, Dominic, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me on. Good to be with you.
Thanks for being here. You've got such a unique company. I want to dive in on all that. But let's start at the very beginning. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know why looking back on it, but I wanted to be an actor when I was very young.
I like that. I like that. Okay. So what did you go to college for?
So undergraduate, I did double degree in political science. And I did a double minor in law and history.
What happened to the acting?
When I as I became older, I realized that being famous and being an actor, what didn't seem all it's cracked up to be. At some point, I think I became more fascinated by politics. But I did work on Capitol Hill eventually. And they do say that there's a phrase in Washington DC that says, politics is Hollywood for Ugly people. That's actually yeah, they actually say that in DC, which is funny. So in a way, I found my way into a Hollywood like environment in a roundabout way.
Okay, so I've never heard that. But I kind of love it. Thank you for sharing that. You were gonna go into politics. What did you end up doing? What was your first career move?
Yeah. So Well, the first thing I did is I did a master's degree at Columbia University in New York. And I really wanted to, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in public policy, public affairs. But interestingly, my basically, my entire graduating class from school went to Wall Street. And Wall Street is a big recruiter from the Ivy League universities. And I didn't know any better. And I was kind of followed my peers, right. It was kind of peer pressured in a way. And so I ended up on Wall Street, I wanted the big banks, and I really didn't like it. It was as boring as it sounds, as it sounds like it would be and I wasn't intrinsically sort of just just interested in making money. That was I was more interested in doing something positive for the world as well. So I lasted a very short time there before I quit, and I and I was making, you know, more money than I'd ever made before, basically, but I quit to write articles at $300 a pop for a think tank in Washington DC.
back up one second. I have a really important question. Yeah. And maybe this is obvious, but I don't see how does your degree and what you studied, like what job were you doing on Wall Street? That's really broad, right? Like there's a lot of jobs on Wall Street. Yeah. How does that degree translate to a job on Wall Street like what skill set
so it doesn't really the way that Wall Street? I'm generalizing obviously, but I did spend some time they have a lot of friends who have spent a lot of time there. The way that Wall Street generally works is, their ethos is no one comes out of school able to do the job that would be expected in Wall Street. And so you go into these analyst training programs, where you spend six months where they teach you how to do the job. So their philosophy, normally the philosophy of the big banks and investment banks is, look, we're going to recruit from the top universities, and we're gonna recruit smart people. And as long as like, those are basic qualifications, we can train them to do what we want them to do. You know, I was coming out of Columbia, which is a good school, and I was a good student. And so I kind of found my way into being recruited by one of the big banks. But you're absolutely right, though I had no business being in being there at all.
No, thank you for explaining that to me, because it makes a lot of sense when you say it that way. But I wasn't immediately making the connection. And I think that's really an important part of the journey, right? Like how you get to that next step. So yeah, you weren't loving, it wasn't right for you, you quit, you're writing these articles for a think tank, told me about that.
I left this lucrative banking job. This Think Tank basically said, we'll pay you $300 per article that you submit, I was submitting three to four articles a month. So you could do the math and see what I was surviving on. And I was so happy, I was so much happier doing that, that I was at the bank. And I was writing about international affairs and international relations and national security and all the things that I was fascinated by, by the way, those were the things I studied in graduate school. So at Columbia, I did a master's degree in international affairs. And that's what I was passionate about. So I did that for a while. And then I interestingly, got asked to become a political aide to the Afghanistan ambassador. This was during the war in Afghanistan. So it was this incredible opportunity. And I worked closely with him at the UN mission of Afghanistan. And that was unbelievable opportunity. And really, I got a sense of what it means to be a diplomat and work for the United Nations and security clearance and all that cool stuff. And then I got my quote, unquote, dream job, I got asked to join the Senate Finance Committee, which I had always wanted to do and work in national politics. Not only that I got asked to be in the chairman's office of the Senate Finance Committee, so it was the most powerful senator of the most powerful committee in the upper chamber. So everything came through our office, and I was the youngest staffer in the office, it was a really cool experience working and when I moved to Washington, DC, and worked on Capitol Hill, it was unbelievable.
Wow, what a career. So how do you move from that to become a startup founder? Where did your idea come from?
By this time, I was like, in my sort of, like, mid 20s, nobody was out of grad school that was let down by the inefficiencies of government. That's a good euphemism. And I decided that, you know, if I really wanted to affect change in some meaningful way, it wasn't going to be in government, because the wheels of government turned very slowly. And so
how crazy is that? Sorry, I just like listening back, like, I want to affect change in this world. It's not going to be through government. Okay,
keep going. I thought it was going to be I mean, I really believe that as a young, naive, man. And it turns out, not so much. So you know, I was there for a while. And I should mention, I'm actually still really close with my boss, who was my boss at the time, we recently reconnected. And he was the chief US Trade Council. So that was a really big position. So long story short, I ended up leaving that and I had gone to high school in Los Angeles, I'm not from there. Originally, I was born in Asia and grew up in London and lived all over, but I got to high school in LA, I wanted to be closer to my family. At this point, I spent 10 years on the east coast. So I moved back out to Los Angeles to be with my family. And that's when I was looking for something at the intersection of profit and purpose. I had done the public policy work, I knew I didn't want to be in the public policy side of the arena anymore. And I'd done the hardcore private banking side. And I knew I didn't just want to be, you know, a pure capitalist and just make money. So there was some thing in between those two that I was looking for. And I couldn't obviously find much, because at the time, there wasn't a lot of opportunity at that unique intersection. And eventually, I linked up with a firm called Global Philanthropy group. And global planter group was really one of the first private sector philanthropic consulting firms in the country. So you can think of them like a Deloitte or a BCG or McKinsey, but for the philanthropic space. And so it was a private company that ran structured advised and manage the philanthropic workforce, celebrities, corporations, and ultra high net worth individuals. And I joined the company and eventually ran business development there and became very close with the CEO, there are the president and founder there. I spent years there. And it was an incredible, incredible learning opportunity. And I really learned the essence of philanthropy and how the philanthropic sector can be such a force for good in the world where government fails. And that's when I knew like wow, this is what I want to spend my life doing, which is helping people trying to make the world a better place. And yes, getting paid a private sector wage where I can actually live and have a family one day and you know, make a living, so I make no bones about that. And eventually, that company ended up getting acquired in 2017 by another company. It was at that point that I decided to start my own company after having learned the ins and outs of the philanthropic space in great detail. I then raised venture capital round two rounds actually and I started a company called giving or GE and ge.com. And the idea behind that was very simple. I saw a huge problem in the philanthropic space, which is that the cost labor and time of starting running an operating a 501 C three nonprofit is very expensive, very laborious, and very time consuming. And so most people who want to start a nonprofit are actually in fact priced out of that marketplace, which is crazy to think that people want to do good in the world, want to start a nonprofit and spend their time and money and energy helping other people. And they can't do it can't access that infrastructure. Yeah. And after the 100, and 50th, person asked me, Hey, Don, can you help me start my nonprofit, because, you know, my community knew that I was an expert in this field, I finally said, There's got to be a better way to do it, then come back to them and say, Yeah, I can help you, but it's going to take you you know, six to eight months, it's going to cost you $20,000. And by the way, there's 150 forms you have to fill out. Those are not exaggerated numbers, by the way, if you want to be compliant across federal and state jurisdictions. So I came up with this idea of a way that we could reduce about 98% of the cost, labor and time of starting running an operating a nonprofit, went to the marketplace raised several million dollars of venture funding, and built my first company and ran it as CEO for almost six years. So why
don't you make this sound so easy, found a need serious problem, had the idea and just went out and raised a couple million? Like, it's not that simple. So did you have paying customers like, what did you have you built already, when you went into this raise?
Nothing. Okay, we had built nothing, it was me and a deck. And I was able to articulate a vision for what the product was, I had a lot of credibility coming out of global clampy group, because what I've been doing, you know, for several years in running some of the most well known nonprofits and foundations in the country, many of the ones that you would know, I just had a lot of credibility, a lot of expertise. And I had honed in on a problem that was well known in the nonprofit space. And when I was able to articulate that to investors, and then when they spoke to their friends, and so forth, that were nonprofits, everybody was like, Yeah, this is a legitimate problem. And the solution does make sense. I think the way I built credibility early on, though, in lieu of having anything built was that I went out to my network, which was a pretty good at the time, I was able to bring on some of the leaders in the nonprofit space to basically say, I'll be on your advisory board, or I'll be one of your early investors. And that gave me enormous credibility in the early days.
That is amazing. Okay, so let's talk be generous.
Sure, you know, I ran that company given for six years. And then I basically stepped out of that, as a CEO, I'm now the president of giving. And the reason that I stepped out of giving operationally as CEO is to start this company called be generous. And this company has just been just an absolute rocket ship of a ride the last two years. So I don't know if you know, your, your listeners are familiar with the Buy Now pay later space, companies like affirm Klarna, or afterpay. But these companies sort of sprang up around 10 years ago, they've been incredibly successful. And what their products allow you to do is exactly what the name sounds like, you can buy a product now and pay for it later, usually with some interest payments. And so what happens is like, if you go to Amazon, for example, and you see a TV, and the TV is $1,000, you can buy that TV, they'll send the $1,000, to the merchant, you'll receive the TV, you won't spend any money out of pocket today. And you'll maybe you'll pay it down over 10 months, at $100 a month with some interest payment. So the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just put out a report a couple of weeks ago, saying that almost 60% If you can believe this 60% of Americans have used to buy now pay later alone to buy a product online. And today, one out of every five online e commerce transactions are done using Buy now pay later. So 20% of the whole ecommerce market is transacted through Buy now pay later loans. Yeah, so there's a big market for this. It's huge. I mean, it's just enormous. And so what you've seen is this proliferation of all these Buy now pay later companies like a firm Karna after pay, we pay says we'll split it Pay Pal, and I'm not. I happen to be friendly with the co founder of one of the largest Buy now pay later companies. And she was telling me about Buy now pay later and how it works. I was sitting in her office. And as she's talking to me, I had this really interesting idea now that you know my background a bit, you can see why I would think this way. But I had this idea of well, why can't this be applied to the largest underserved sector of finance in the world, which is the US nonprofit market. Most people don't know this. But the US nonprofit market annually is a half a trillion dollar market as defined by the total amount of donations that go to nonprofits each year in the United States, half a trillion dollars. I mean, Americans give away more than $1 billion every day in the United States. And the vast, vast, vast majority of that comes from donors like you and I individuals. It's not corporate donations. It's not foundation grants. I conceived of this idea. I have a lot of friends who were CEOs and board members of some of the largest nonprofits in the United States, just given my background in this space. And I said to them, Look, I want to build the first ever philanthropic Credit product, which instead of allowing somebody to buy now pay later, allow somebody to donate now pay later. Allowing the donor to finance a charitable contribution to a nonprofit, the nonprofit receives the donation upfront immediately in a lump sum, the donor gets the full tax deduction without spending any money out of pocket today. And the donor gets to choose over a certain time period, three months, six months or nine months how they want to pay that donation completely for free, no interest payments, no transaction fees, no late fees, no hidden fees. And so what you have by effect is when you allow someone to pay for something over time, and you do it for free, people will obviously pay a lot more or come out of pocket a lot more, right. It's the same way credit cards, work, mortgage payments, car payments, etc. And so what we see is that, you know, in our survey testing about 82% of people who have the opportunity to try Donate now pay later, double their donation to their intended nonprofit. Yeah, they can pay overtime for free.
Hey, Shana, here, I want to take a quick break from this amazing episode to send a free resource your way, starting up as hard. Whether you're bootstrapping or you've got some funding behind you, you don't always know exactly where to start and want to fix that you had to firstname.lastname@example.org. Right now, you can claim your free Business benchmark blueprint. That's a mouthful, it's going to help you set a plan in place. So you can create your foundation for growth. And it's free. So why not head to startup renegades.com right now and grab yours. So I mean, it's an amazing product and connecting all of the dots here, it's really cool. Let's dive into the business side of it. So you kind of validated this idea right off the gate, just off the fact that you have an amazing network, and you had the right people to reach out to what was some of the first steps that you took in terms of growth?
That's a great question. So there are 1.7 million nonprofits in America. So it's a huge market. But 92% of those raised less than a million dollars a year, you're really dealing with the sort of like 135,000 nonprofits that actually are substantively raising more than a million dollars a year. So it's still a big marketplace, but it's not 1.7 million. And then within that 135,000, there's a very strong Pareto Principle, meaning a small number of those nonprofits actually account for the vast majority of revenues in the space, right. And it's all the nonprofits that you probably know, like the Red Cross, then Planned Parenthood and the ASPCA and Catholic Charities of America, and so forth, and so forth. So, I happen to have a lot of just relationships with these organizations. And I know a lot of the board members, the CEOs of the largest nonprofits in the United States. So I took this directly to them. And I explained the value proposition to explain what we were building. And ultimately, the product kind of sells itself because it's a no brainer for nonprofits. And donors, obviously like it a lot because it's free for them. And we were able to get sort of like immediate buy in from these organizations. And what ended up happening is a lot of the CEOs and board members of these organizations invested in the company and joined our advisory board. And that gave us instant credibility amongst the broader market. So that's really how we went about it. In the very early days, it was a manual sort of process where we socialize this amongst the largest organizations in the space. And oftentimes, you know, people follow the leader. So as the big players started to get involved in the company, you started to see the broader market respond. And we started to get a lot of interest from the smaller and middle market nonprofits,
that is really interesting. And I mean, it's a hell of a strategy, other than just really tapping into your network and letting the network effects take control. Did you do anything specific in terms of marketing,
we do today, we have a PR strategy, a social media strategy, a digital growth marketing strategy, we have a pretty big sales team for you know, the stage of company that we're at, we have an SEO strategy and SEM strategy, a podcast strategy. So I mean, like, we definitely have an infrastructure, a marketing infrastructure built at the company now. But in the early days, the way we got initial credibility and buy in was really just tapping into our, you know, my network and our network, collectively and other folks at the company, and showing the value proposition to the nonprofits and letting them see for themselves what this could do. And then saying, like, you know, if you're supportive of this, and you believe in this, join the company in some capacity, advise us invest in us, you know, whatever it might be. And that really gave us the early instant credibility that we needed in the space.
That's so interesting. I love that. So why don't you talk to me a little bit about what you're doing. Now. You know, you said we'd get a strategy for this and we get a strategy for that. And as a company matures, you're going to develop strategies and for different channels and different approaches. Is there a specific strategy or a specific channel that has been particularly effective for you? Yes,
I have found that at LinkedIn has been very effective. And I don't mean ads on LinkedIn, I mean curated outreach on LinkedIn. Okay, so we have a service that helps us reach out through Sales Navigator to the decision makers at these organizations. And, you know, a well crafted personalized, meaningful, authentic message from you to them MCs saying hello, and, you know, not being salesy and pitchy, but really genuinely being interested in their organization, what they're doing, and seeing if you know, your solution could be a fit for them goes a long way, I get hundreds, I would say hundreds of pitches every month, LinkedIn about services, and it's not, and they're all very, very pitchy, and that can instantly see through them. And I just think that's the wrong way to go about it. So we don't do that at all, we our messages are quite different. But they've been really effective, really effective.
That's awesome. I love to learn about different strategies that people are using, you know, kind of how that's affecting the business growth. So what is going on with be generous today?
Yeah, so we actually just did an interview with some major press publications that will be coming out in a few weeks from now, which is pretty exciting. We did an interview with Forbes recently. And that came out, which is exciting as well. And right now we're basically in the scale phase. And so you know, we're looking to basically just continue to grow and bring on as many nonprofits as possible, we're starting to have integration and contract conversations with really now some of the largest nonprofits in the world. I mean, I'm talking like top 10, that raise over a billion dollars a year. So they're really, really big. At the same time, we're also looking to bring on additional lending capacity, because ultimately, we are lending product, and we have a very large lending facility that has been provided to us by a bank, our bank partner, basically, and we need to ultimately grow because that lending, if you're servicing an organization is doing a billion dollars of donations a year, I can tell you, we don't have a billion dollar lending facility. So bring on additional lending capacity is definitely important for us. And then scaling the team. We hired three people last week, we have three or four new people coming on. So that's a whole beast, you know, as a scheme as a team scales, you have to adjust operations and your burn and all that stuff. So it's a lot of work for sure.
That is a lot of growth, though. That's exciting. Looking back, can you identify what has been one thing that's been really crucial to your success as a startup founder?
Is it? It's such a simple question, but it's such a good question. So I'll give you a very honest answer. I would say delusional optimism is like being so confident in yourself and so optimistic that it borders on being delusional, but you have to believe it. Really, if I were to teach one lesson to people, you have to believe in yourself so much that it doesn't really matter what anyone else says or does. You're just focused on the end result in the end goal, no matter how many lows there may be. And it doesn't matter how successful you are, whether you're Elon Musk, or you're just starting a company, every CEO, every startup founder, every business leader has ups and downs, like crazy. And so whether you're really successful, or you're just starting your journey, you just have to be relentlessly optimistic through those scenarios. Otherwise, you'll you'll crash and burn because it will get hard at various times. And you have to believe in yourself when it's going gets
tough. Yeah, because it will get tough. I love that and so good. So tell me what does being a startup renegade mean to you?
Yeah, it's, um, another good question. I think being a startup Renegade is is maybe just you know, means doing things maybe non conventionally. It's funny because like startups, we're supposed to, like, traditionally they're very disruptive, right? That's the point of the startup. You're disrupting an industry. I you know, that's the famous book about it, I think, Clayton Christian Center. That's the notion of startups. But in fact, startups follow a very now familiar pattern, right? Yeah, that's true. It's the venture funds, get the term sheets, you know, raise the capital, build the team, scale, the organization, monetize, come up with a business plan. I mean, whatever it might be. But the point is like, they've become very monolithic, in a way. And so I think being a startup Renegade is doing things in an unconventional way to get the same end result, which would be hopefully success of some kind. That's what it means to be blazing your own path, so to speak.
Yes, Dominic, thank you so much for being here. Can you tell everybody where they can find you online?
Absolutely. Yeah, dominant comms was my name with a que and you can find me on LinkedIn. I'm very active on LinkedIn. I don't have other social media. So pretty much just LinkedIn. And my company's website is be generous, and that's the letter B, and the word generous. So be generous.com. And for anyone who wants to learn more, please do reach out.
Go check it out. You can donate now and pay later. And there's a lot of worthy causes that could use your support, so go check it out right now. Awesome. Thank you. That was this week's episode of startup renegades. Thank you so much for joining Meet and soaking up all that brilliant entrepreneurial knowledge from today's guest. If you want to suggest a founder for a future episode or just want to connect, you can find me on Instagram at Shauna dot Armitage. That's Sha una.ar M I T ag E. And just a little reminder, if you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen. It makes a huge difference and it's so important for helping the show thrive. I'll be here same time next Tuesday for a raw honest conversation with another startup Renegade.