Social action is an underrated part of the universe of entrepreneurship. Giving back is a huge motivator to start a new venture, and it can change lives.
However, many people find it hard to find awesome volunteering spots beyond the occasional relief efforts during extraordinary tragedies, such as the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Plus, some charities and volunteering groups may have outdated information online or can be hard to get in touch with because of lack of communication resources.
Thus, I was very excited when I got in touch with Garrett Houghton, the creator of Kandou. He and his team decided to make volunteering simple and social, by curating the best opportunities in the New York area and offering the choice to sign up directly from the app.
By day time, Garrett is the Manager of Sales Operations and Strategy at BuzzFeed. He dedicates his 10% venture to build the app along with his team to connect with more charities and even partner with corporations, colleges and other organizations to bring engaging volunteer events to their employees and students.
1. When did you start Kandou?
I started Kandou in the summer of 2016. It began as a simple email newsletter to update my friends and coworkers on volunteer events in New York City. And since then, we’ve built a platform and organization to expand this service to all New Yorkers.
2. What drew you to start a social entrepreneurial venture? Is it different than a regular entrepreneurship project?
I’ve always been obsessed with technology and building things. Typically, I find myself building ventures/tech for the sake of experimentation and exploration. With Kandou, I knew I wanted to put my skills in building platforms and applications to do good.
I went to an Irish bar with my sister last summer and said we couldn’t leave until we came up with a social venture that would improve the lives of New Yorkers and the New York community. Kandou is the realization of that day’s brainstorm.
3. What was your inspiration for launching your company?
Last year, I was looking to give back to the New York community by volunteering with local non-profits. The first thing I did was Google “Volunteer in New York City.” I was met with a barrage of aggregator sites, old technology and a bunch of outdated forms and hoops to jump through just to start volunteering. I thought, “there has to be an easier way to give back.”
Over the next few weeks, I picked up the phone and called around 30 nonprofits to ask them about their pain points. Technology, expanding their volunteer lists and recruiting younger volunteers were the top three resounding issues I heard.
From those early conversations and my personal experience, I realized I could fill a gap by making volunteering easier for a younger generation and simultaneously building a tech solution for nonprofits looking to expand their volunteer recruitment sources.
4. Why do you think your business is a good idea?
Every minute I invest in working on Kandou is driving towards building a more charitable and giving community. It’s the only thing I’ve worked on where I never question the integrity of its mission.
5. What have you invested in your company?
a. Time – how much?
I spend my nights, weekends and mornings working on Kandou. Currently, working at BuzzFeed full-time, Kandou is my passion project, and with that, I’m typically able to devote 15 hours a week to working towards building the company.
b. Money – how much (if you’re willing to say – no pressure)?
b. Money – how much (if you’re willing to say – no pressure)?
Regarding monetary investment, it’s important to me to invest where it makes sense, and at this stage, it’s primarily sweat equity. I’ve made mistakes with past ventures by investing money in technology before it’s needed. With Kandou, I’m maniacally focused on building a community, which primarily requires hustle and effort, not financial investment.
6. Do you have any partners? What do they bring to the table that you do not? Are they also 10%?
My partner, Matt Tanaya, is also a 10%’er. He’s in grad school, working in the music industry part-time and the head of marketing for Kandou. He’s a hustler in every sense of the word, incredible at connecting with and building the Kandou community and brings amazing creativity to everything we do.
7. How do you connect to charities and volunteering organizations?
Matt and I typically volunteer with all of the charities and nonprofits prior to offering their volunteer opportunities on Kandou. It’s important for us to connect in-person with all of the nonprofits we engage with and offer to the Kandou community. We not only want to build a close-knit volunteer community but a strong nonprofit network as well.
This approach definitely goes against the speed that most startups subscribe to, but it’s important to us that we don’t just create a user base or a marketplace, but rather a community. Plus, it incentivizes Matt and I to volunteer all the time, which is why we got into this in the first place!
8. What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is realizing that Kandou isn’t a technology company. It’s an events and community-building organization. When I changed my definition of Kandou, my perspective and priorities changed, and ever since, I’ve been able to focus on the more vital tasks that move the needle. Also, trying to find more time in the day is a huge challenge!
9. What are your top tips for managing time?
For me, I budget time for everything in my calendar. If I need to get something done for Kandou after work, I put those hours in my calendar and hold myself to it. If someone invites me out that night, it’s much harder for me to bail on the work I need to do for Kandou because my calendar is holding me accountable.
Also, I’m a big advocate of daily lists. I make lists for everything, prioritize them and these lists hold me accountable to not procrastinate.
10. Who have you gone to for advice and what you do when you need help?
Mentors are critical. I go to family, friends and colleagues all of the time for advice and support. Without these people, Kandou would definitely not be possible. The best things that have happened to Kandou are a direct result of conversations with these people.
11. What do you see happening in the future?
I’m excited to keep building the Kandou community. We started to host our own Kandou volunteer events as well as expand our partnerships with local colleges and corporations. I see us continuing to grow a strong volunteer community, building more services for nonprofits and making volunteering simple and social for more and more people.
12. What books and blogs have you read and that have been helpful to you (if any)?
The material I read and listen to usually straddles two interest areas: inspiration and education. On the inspiration front, the How I Built This podcast is my go-to. It’s an interview style podcast with successful entrepreneurs. The primary difference with this podcast is they never gloss over the hard times these successful entrepreneurs experienced when building their ventures. It humanizes the experience of building a company and demystifies the steps it takes to build a successful venture.
For education, I love email digests from Product Hunt, Y Combinator, and Stratechery.