Win a double date with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and support charities in the process. Sounds amazing, right? That’s the idea – and the name inspiration – behind Omaze.
Omaze is an online “raffle” platform, founded by Matt Pohlson and Ryan Cummins, that allows users to buy entries for a chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences with celebrities. Entries start at $10 and proceeds go to benefit a partner charity organization.
Pohlson and Cummins joined Mike Walter on Full Frame this week to talk about the meaning of celebrity and future opportunities in the world of philanthropy.
Besides Damon and Affleck, lucky participants have won the chance to hang out with celebrities like Jon Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the cast of Breaking Bad. This past summer, the chance to be in a scene of “Star Wars: Episode VII” raised $4.26 million for UNICEF Innovation Labs.
According to Pohlson and Cummins, they are on track to raise $20 million this year. But they won’t stop there. The entrepreneur-philanthropists want to bring their online auction model to communities across the country and help the 350,000-plus small nonprofits and foundations in the U.S. fundraise more effectively.
It was a missed celebrity experience of their own that initially inspired Pohlson and Cummins. Best friends and broke grad students at the time, they attended an event where the chance to play basketball with Magic Johnson – their lifelong hero – was auctioned off for $15,000. Though too expensive for their budget, it struck them that a celebrity like Johnson could raise so much more if the process was more democratic.
“Let’s take these types of experiences, these once-in-a-lifetime experiences with celebrities, make them available to everybody online so the 99.9 percent of the fan base can all have a shot at it. And as a result, we’ve seen that you can raise significantly more money than you can through those traditional models,” Cummins said, recalling he and Pohlson’s conversation after the Magic Johnson dinner when the idea for Omaze began to form.
Now, they will actually get to prove that theory with the sports legend himself: Johnson has partnered with Coca-Cola and (RED) to fight AIDS by offering one lucky fan and a friend the chance to watch the NBA All-Star game in a VIP suite with him.
“We told him the story, and he gave us a hug. And we were like little kids. I think he was touched by [the fact] that he just inspired us but also how effective it’s ended up being,” Pohlson said.
Could philanthropy be the next great wave of start-ups? Cummins and Pohlson think so.
“We’d be honored if we represent a shifting tide, where, you know, this is a space where entrepreneurs have not really attacked the charity space and have not really brought the same level of both introspection and just business application to the space of philanthropy that they have in other start-ups, historically,” Cummins said. “And so, what we see right now is that there’s incredible opportunity.”
Follow Matt Pohlson on Twitter: @MattPohlson
Follow Ryan Cummins on Twitter: @ryan_cummins