In this interview, I speak with Arch Wongchindawest, founder of the Bangkok based platform Socialgiver, who shares with me his vision for where philanthropy is broken and what he is trying to do to built a better path for financial sustainability in the third sector.
This interview is about wanting to change the world, being surrounded by great people, and learning (fast) from mistakes
About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.
It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.
Named to Forbes “30 under 30” list, Arch Wongchindawest is a force for innovation inside Thailand’s burgeoning social enterprise sector.
A former consultant for the UN Development Program and UN Environment Program in Asia Pacific, Wongchindawest has launched several highly successful social enterprises, including IDEACUBES, Food 4 Good and Wipe the Tide.
In 2013, he co-founded Social Giver, an online platform that allows consumers to shop and donate a portion of funds to charitable causes. Social Giver recently won first place in the Singtel-Samsung mobile app challenge in Indonesia.
Follow Arch and Socialgiver:
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.
Full Interview Transcript
I’m here today with Arch from Social Giver in Bangkok, Thailand. I just had a phenomenal discussion about what he’s been trying do in converting the mindset around how you give. How to build an organization and like getting through the headaches, but maintaining that vision. Making sure your impact and your revenue align that you can have an achieve everything you want. So, thank you very much Arch for your time. This has been fantastic.
ARCH WONGCHINDAWEST – SOCIAL GIVER
RICH: Tell us a little, tell me a little about yourself and then Social Giver.
ARCH: My name is Arch Wongchindawest. I am from Thailand. I run a social enterprise called Social Giver. We are a lifestyle and travel company that raises funds for local charities. So we work with over 160 leading brands in Thailand from hotels, restaurants, bars, activities, events, airlines and we work with them to convert their best services into charitable contributions.
THE BIG CHALLENGE
RICH: What was the big challenge? What was the idea that was, wait a second…we’ve got a problem here and we need to fix it.
ARCH: I started off working in the social sector. I raised funds for a lot of charities and I noticed that when I raise funds for one charity, it most of the time takes away money from another charity in the sense that someone who just donated money, would not donate again to another charity. So I try to figure out a better solution. What I was trying to find out was how do we convert this, ya know, consumer spending power, which was huge and have a portion of that become new revenue for the social sector to help sort of grow the sector that has been overly reliant on donations alone.
TURNING DONORS INTO BUYERS
RICH: How have you been reaching out to potential buyers then? Because you are turning a donor into a buyer. How do you reach them and how are you changing that mindset? That they are not just donating, that they’re actually getting a value for the product.
ARCH: Yeah, actually that’s a difficult question that we have to sort of answer because, ya know our motto is quite new. When we first tell people that you buy on our website and you get the best deal and the business doesn’t take any money, they donate it to charity. It sounds unbelieveable. Like people have the tendency to not believe it. So, that’s a big one of the challenge that, ya know, that we have to overcome. So we usually end up having to explain the whole idea, like with the capacity. Like if they don’t use it they’re going to waste it so they’d rather give it to you and, ya know raise funds for charity or then not use it at all.
RICH: On that note, I’m even thinking usually, there’s a lot of almost push back right now if you’re profiting off of this space in any way. Like, the Dan Pollotta book the Uncharitable. Like you take 30%….you’re taking a free thing and then you’re selling it. How many people question you on that? Even in the industry and how do you respond to that?
ARCH: There are definitely a few, but as..there are I think equally like people who think that 30% is a lot and there are people who think 30% is to little. Usually the finance ones will think 30% is to little. The social ones, the ones that are usually donating money will think that 30% is al lot, then we would just have to explain to them, hey, like when you go on holiday, how many percent of that goes to charity and….not a lot. What we are offering is 70 as opposed to almost zero, which is actually a much better deal if you look at it from a consumers point of view.
The bigger problem that we have actually is not when people understand the model an question, but it’s when people don’t understand it and make a judgment. As for example, they see oh donate profit to charity, they probably going to donate 1% or something. Or someone who would just see tomorrow and think hey, they’re trying to use donation to market these businesses. So they don’t realize that actually these business are giving away their service for free, but they don’t know that because they haven’t read it, but they are making a judgment call right in advance because this is a new model. But they don’t know it ‘s a new model. They just think it’s the same as everyone trying to sort of promote. Trying to do good.
CURRENT SIZE AND IMPACT
RICH: How big are you guys now?
ARCH: Our team is 12, 12 people. Sort of about subscribers we have 68,000 subscribers. Our Facebook fan page we have around 40,000 fans. We’ve just started sort of tying to build our Instagram page up and mostly our Instagram is posting nice photos from the businesses. We have around like 4,200 fans/followers.
RICH: Then how many deals? How many transactions do you have on an average week? A month?
ARCH: So right now, we have like more than 160 business and the deals that we have live on our website should be around 100 right now. We don’t have that many..as much transactions per month as I would have liked, but we’re growing continuously. We sort of like year on year we are doing pretty well around 300-500 % growth. So, we’re sort of, yeah, trying to push that up more.
SOCIAL MEDIAL & ENGAGEMENT
RICH: A lot of charities particularly struggle with how do I create social. Like I only got 32 likes, I only have 100 likes, like what does it matter? What were some of the techniques you use that you realize like wow, we got 50 more we got 5% and not just they click through. What were the things you learned through social?
ARCH: Well, it always changes.
RICH: It is a bit of a whack amole right?
ARCH: Right. But, I think that the most important thing is quality content and I mean its…it’s an easy word, but it’s one of the most difficult things to do.
RICH: It depends upon who is….Social Giver or something else.
ARCH: Yeah. Having quality content is probably one of the biggest factors to getting people to share. Then when people do share, like how do you get, how do you make sure they like your page as well. So that’s more difficult.
RICH: So if you look at the content that you put out and you said it has to be good content. Now obviously that is in the context of social givers own business model. I talk a lot about you shouldn’t put crying babies as the lead image, right? You should inspire people.
ARCH: Although that does work. But we try to avoid it for a lot of charities that actually works very well. In Thailand especially, a lot of charities go through..like with drama. They create drama. Like, this big rich company is about to close down this house, which is like could be a museum, let’s raise funds for it. That raises loads of funds. Or like a charity that has been working to protect elephants is now 60 million bhat in debt we need to close down. Then suddenly, people donate like 100 million bhat to it. So, you know what I don’t know. I think these ya know sad stories sometimes work and work very well.
RICH: But can you do it over and over and over or can you only use it once?
ARCH: I think if you over due it, like people would sort of like kick you for it.
RICH: How do you then position content? How do you try and inspire people to be engaged?
ARCH: We, ya know, I think like there was a time when I thought about these two ways of advertising and the first way is promoting the cause. Sort of like if I promoted the cause, I would be targeting people who already cared .
The second way is promoting the deals. I think like the reason we decided to go with the second option is because I felt that by promoting the deals, what we are essentially doing is getting people who might not have cared to suddenly now donate money to charity. When they do, and we provide them the content of ,ya know you’re last vacation put a child through school and this is what happened. I’m betting that this will have an impact on them, on them becoming a socially conscious consumer in the future. So, we see this as more of a long term bet where we’re building sort of the community of people who will eventually care more about society. That’s sort of what I’m very interested in, like creating change.
WHY SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
RICH: Why choose this? What’s going on here that made you say I have to do this?
ARCH: Um, I think it came more because like I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Like, many, many years back before I joined the social sector to help other organizations, I sort of felt like I wanted my work to be meaningful because it is something that I would have to do as a majority of the time that I spent of my life. So I sort of, my goal or my mission was I wanted to change the world. So I, so I look for ways that I thought would be best for changing the world and I think I believe that this is it.
RICH: What are some of the headaches that you’ve had that…lets’ just say the ones you’ve learned the most from, but only in reflection.
ARCH: Actually I think my biggest headache was building this model. Because we needed to build a model that was a win/win/win for every party that got involved. This sort of development of this took me about 2 years. Ya know, at the time I was doing other things, helping other organizations and getting paid by other organizations to sort of consult for them. This was sort of something that we tested out and redeveloped and rebuilt.
The biggest headache when we were building this actually besides the model now that I mention, is the website. In the beginning we outsourced the development and we had to build 3 different websites before it was something we could use.
RICH: Was it because you over engineered it?
RICH: I have the same problem. What do you got planned going forward? What do you hope to achieve?
ARCH: So, we are planning to launch an app in November. Right now we have an app, but it’s a sort of mobile version of our website, but…
ARCH: Honestly I don’t know. But we have a native app coming on the iPhone and Android in November. So I am really looking forward to that because we’ve sort of seen like most of our users shifting to using our website on their phones. So now, around 65% use Social Giver on their phones. So, I think we’re sort of moving in an a direction is that our customers are using us more. We have a few pending deals from big companies that we’re planning to close soon. It might be possible that we might have a car on our platform.
RICH: That would be cool. What keeps you going? I mean you got a bunch of headaches. You’re building an enterprise. You got staff…they’re not even working over here! They’re just eating chips in the middle of the interview! So what keeps you going on a daily basis? Like entrepreneurship is hard.
ARCH: I think the biggest thing is having a great team. Our team is actually very cool.
RICH: I can tell!
ARCH: As you can see.
RICH: That’s good, that’s good.
ARCH: When you have a great team and everyone is sort of working together toward one really cool goal, that sort of is inspiring by itself. Us having that ya know, big vision that we want to change the world. Sort of seeing that, you know what this is possible from what we’ve done so far and from what we’ve achieved so far, sort of gives us hope that ya know, that we might actually get there. But it’s still a risk.
(SOCIAL) ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN BANGKOK
RICH: So I have a question just generally of what’s happening in Bangkok with social entrepreneurialism. Ya know, Singapore’s been a hub. Bangkok’s tried to be a hub. Shanghai we’ve got a little bit. So what’s happening here in Bangkok. How’s the echo system, is it more Thai than foreign, is it more foreign that Thai? Like’ what’s happening here?
ARCH: I think the social enterprises are mostly Thai’s doing it. But the sort of tech startups. There’s a lot of foreigners coming in to do tech startups here in Thailand. I think social enterprise in Thailand is growing, but it’s not..I think it was growing, but it might have stalled a little bit in the past two-three years, two years.
RICH: Because of?
ARCH: I think that’s just a lack of success with the existing social entrepreneurs. I feel like we don’t get enough support from the government. Not even as much as startups get. So, a lot of social entrepreneurs have sort of jumped into startups instead.
RICH: Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur or a tech startup?
ARCH: We are both. Lucky for us!
RICH: So you got the good and you got the good.
ARCH: We have both. I think, yeah, I think that!
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD…
RICH: That’s really a romantic idea that sucks a lot of people in. Their like I’m going to change the world too. So if you have a viewer here that is like, I want to change the world…what would you tell them to do? Because wanting to change the world and changing the world is very different things. What are three things or five things that if you’re going to get into this space, you have to know and do as daily practice.
ARCH: I think the biggest thing is asking yourself what would you give to change the world. A lot of the times you’re going to come up with, come up against challenges that you never thought you’d have to face.
RICH: There’s a story in that!!!
ARCH: Yes, there is! Yeah,
RICH: You’re on video, why don’t you tell it?
ARCH: Sort of you need to be able to, ya know, pick yourself up and sort of remember that hey, this is what you’d said you’d do. Really believe or really, yeah, really believe that you will actually sacrifice all these things for it. So that’s one thing.
The second thing is I think you need to test out the idea with a lot of people and that sort of involves talking to as many people as you can. When I started out, I thought man this is such a great idea. I’m not going to tell anyone about it because someone else is going to steal it. Then, ya know, up to the point I was like damn, I can’t keep doing this anymore ya know, I gotta tell people. Then I realized that the more people you tell, the more people want to help. So we get like loads of people coming in offering help all the time.
That sort of is to test whether one, you’re idea is good enough yet. Two, whether you can find enough sort of super fans or advocates who will help make this happen. Because I think on of the biggest factor to a startup success is how viral could it be and how viral could it be is sort of dependent on how likely that it is that someone will recommend you to their friends. Sort of telling people is the best way to test that. Then you know when you get more and more people sort of telling more people about Social Giver, then you sort of see that, yey, this is starting to stick. People are starting to talk about it. That’s the second thing.
The third thing is to test if you are impact and revenue model works and if its aligned.
RICH: Are you actually helping anybody, right? If not, get out!
ARCH: Ha, right. If your impact model does not work, then just become a business. Then you can donate your profits. If your revenue model doesn’t work, just become an NGO. If both of them work and if both of them are aligned, then you can run a social enterprise. Sort of having these two be aligned is very difficult actually, much more difficult than you’d imagine.
RICH: And if none of them work, go get a job.
RICH: That’s great. Thanks very much.
For more interviews from the “Entrepreneurs for Good” series, check out the playlist here.
Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.