We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Pipkin Clinton”, Founder of the Maryland – USA based start-up “DisasterDirect”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
We are the only charity in the United States who provides direct monetary relief to families whose homes have been destroyed by natural disaster. We give 90% of every donated dollar, directly to disaster victims. Families use the benefit we provide to help pay for unmet needs that their insurance company, FEMA and other organizations do not cover.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
The Foundation was officially launched on April 30th, 2014 in conduction with America’s Preparathon, a National Day of Action devoted to education and preparedness for natural disasters. We are currently in the fundraising phase, working various events throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to raise awareness for our cause and raise funds to give directly to families.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Our business model is simple: We GIVE 90% of every donated dollar directly to disaster victims. We are a charity, not a business, and we are passionately dedicated to helping people. The families we help are those who live within a declared disaster area and whose homes have been destroyed.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Because we give away nearly everything that we receive, our team is very small and consequently, we have very little overhead. Our Team is comprised of four employees. As of September 2014, all of our Board of Directors are unpaid, and volunteer their services. That includes our President and Founder, who spent 13 years working with FEMA and other emergency management organizations helping communities recover from disasters.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
No other charity in America makes the bold promise to give 90% of their donations directly to disaster victims. The notion of providing monetary relief to families is extraordinarily unique in the US. Although this is how charities operated for more than 1,000 years, American charities have collectively shifted their priorities to align with corporate structures. At the National Disaster Relief Foundation, our only mission is to give directly.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We are a grassroots organization supported entirely by donations from the general public. Therefore, our growth has been slow and steady. As a charity with no affiliation to corporations or government entities, we planned for slow growth and consider increased brand awareness and traditional grassroots movement indicators as achievements.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
This question is difficult to answer. As far as public perception is concerned, the American Red Cross would be our largest competitor, although neither they, nor anyone else, do what we do. Other charities provide ‘services’ to disaster victims (like ice, food, water, shelter, blankets, etc). We are the only nationwide charity who understands that a family who loses their home needs money in order to rebuild their lives.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Our biggest obstacles are raising awareness for our cause by letting the American public know we exist. Another obstacle is getting the public to understand that when disasters occur, their donations do not go directly to families. With us, donors can rest assured that their donation has the largest possible impact anywhere. Nowhere else can someone give $20, and know that $18 went DIRECTLY to help families in need.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Most people don’t know that in an average year, nearly 50 disasters occur in the United States. Most of these are tornadoes or floods in small towns that don’t make national headlines. Further, most people don’t know that when disasters occur, the donations they make to the most popular charities in America don’t go directly to disaster victims.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Because we aren’t going to stop helping families, no matter how difficult it may seem to overcome short term obstacles. We know this is the right thing to do, and I have devoted my life to helping people. But the easiest way to answer that question is this: We define our own successes. If, at the end of the year, we can only afford to help 20 families, then that will be a success. There is no possible unsuccessful outcome for us.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Our plan for growth includes possible micro-loans with no interest to help other families in need, but who happen to live in areas where the government did not declare a national disaster. Not every large-scale emergency is declared, and that many people who need our help, won’t be able to receive it. Ultimately, our expansion will be based entirely on the Foundation’s revenues. We will help those who fit into our current philanthropic guidelines first and others later as revenue permits.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
I spent more than a decade working with communities to help them recover from disasters. My work was primarily confined to helping pay for infrastructure damages (roads, bridges, etc). Through the course of this work, it was apparent that despite our incredible expense, both in terms of taxpayer dollars and public donations, a great deal of economic pain and suffering remained. I served FEMA following Hurricane Katrina, and it was then that I knew we must do something radically different.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
The biggest thing I’ve learned since launching the Foundation is this: Just because you build an organization, doesn’t necessarily mean that people will simply come. It takes a great deal of patience and persistence to build a brand, which is ultimately what we are trying to accomplish.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Hopefully, 6 months from now my biggest problem will be getting money on the street fast enough to keep pace with our fundraising. Thankfully, the number of families that we help is very manageable. If a large-scale disaster similar to Hurricane Sandy or Katrina happens during the next six months, then we will certainly face unforeseen challenges that we will have to address.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
As a charity, we consider our donors to be our customers. Their benefit with us is extraordinary and that’s reflected in our Commitment to Donors. 90% of everything they give is given directly to families who have lost their homes. No other charity in the United States has, or will, make that bold promise.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Since we are brand new, our efforts have been focused on traditional events. Fairs, large events like the Star Spangled Spectacular in Baltimore, and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current customers are everyday, working families in America… the average household who normally gives in small amounts to organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or their local church. One thing we have discovered is that the people who tend to give, and who give most frequently, are most often the people who can least afford to do so.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
We hope that new customers will begin to arrive through social media channels. We do not have a corporate budget for large commercial enterprises and we refuse as an organization to pay for celebrity endorsements. Expensive commercial campaigns are contrary to our entire philosophy and we have chosen to differentiate ourselves from the other charities in the world that spend millions on marketing. We don’t believe that is how donations should be spent.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Our donors are extraordinarily supportive of our cause and our mission. All of them say that we will someday change the landscape of charity in America. Above all, our donors are excited that they know their donations, however big or small, will have a direct impact and they are thankful they finally have an option that gives them this sense of power as donors.
20. How are you going to scale?
Our plan for growth is based entirely on our revenues. We plan to enlist the help of local organizations with fundraising, primarily in the faith based community. These organizations tend to share our commitment to helping families without precondition and without a profit motive.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The one thing that people keep asking for, especially those outside the United States, is: Do we have an international chapter. Unfortunately right now, we can only help families in the United States. As our name indicates, we are the National Disaster Relief Foundation. Perhaps someday we can create an International Disaster Relief Foundation, but first we must focus on our core mission of helping American families.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Perhaps. See the answer above. It is doubtful that we will internationalize anytime soon, but it isn’t out of the question. It will take time for us to build enough growth within the United States to justify any expansion overseas.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
In theory… incredibly big. Based on the size and scale of other nationwide charities we could be a multimillion dollar organization, but our beauty is that we don’t need to be enormous to make an enormous impact. As far as planning is concerned, we have the capability to deliver $1Million in relief based on our current structure. If we are extraordinarily lucky and receive donations above that, then we will scale accordingly, but will always remain true to our 90% Commitment.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Yes. We are looking to hire 1 grant proposal writer and 2 interns to help support our Marketing Director in Baltimore, MD. Potential applicants can visit http://www.ndrf.us/promotions.html to download a copy of the job descriptions. They can also send a cover letter and resume to info@NDRF.us
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where potential can partners / investors contact you at?
Yes. Our only commodity is money. We receive it, and then we give it away. If venture capitalists would like to discuss options for helping us grow, they can reach me by email at cpipkin@NDRF.us We can discuss options for investment that include helping offset the costs of the Foundation’s operations and also investments of a large scale to directly help families.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Do not compromise your vision to satisfy other people. If you know you have the right idea, stay true to your convictions and never give up. Don’t be afraid to ask other people for help. Indeed, the best leaders in America know what they don’t know, and being able to ask other people for advice is a sign of strength, not weakness.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to help spread the word about the work we do. We have a huge task ahead of us and our success will be largely dependent upon word of mouth marketing and grassroots activism. I hope that folks who read this interview will feel compelled to help us by visiting our website and making a donation at www.NDRF.us