THE BLOG
09/16/2016 01:12 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2017

A New App Turns Facebook Likes Into Donations

Today, many consumers feel a real sense of accountability to address global issues and they look to brands to be their partners in social good. There's a new app for that!

Mido Desanti, CEO and Founder of Pixhug, launched this venture in August 2016 to "bring social value to social media." Here's a conversation I recently had with Desanti about their startup story and the mission of Pixhug.

Why did you create Pixhug? Briefly explain it's purpose:

Desanti: Pixhug was created to elevate awareness of charitable causes, support philanthropy, and make giving easier and more transparent than ever before by harnessing the power of social media and photo sharing. Pixhug brings charities and sponsors together through a unique and fun user engagement. For every LIKE on Facebook, a corporate sponsor gives ten cents to a specific cause/campaign.

What was your background before launching Pixhug?

Desanti: I moved to Monaco in 2002 to finish my studies at the International University of Monaco. While there, I built a concierge business that basically served the one percent of the one percent, which was a group of about ninety people. As privileged as they were, there was still a desire for them to have access to local events that were frequently closed to residents. We built a successful membership business model based on this need and I expanded to another business that would cater to the other 45,000 people who work mainly in the service industry in Monaco and live in France or Italy. It was a Groupon sort of business, where members paid a discounted rate for local services and events.

I enjoyed these businesses, they were lucrative but didn't feel as fulfilling as I hoped my career would be. I wanted to move into a more tech oriented business. In 2011 we sold our Monaco businesses and my wife and I decided to do something to do more meaningful and tech centric.

I joined the board of Julian Lennon's foundation called White Feather Foundation where we worked on conserving life in all forms; whether human, plant or animal. Julian and I wanted to work on causes close to our hearts while also working with other organizations to help scale their work both by eliminating inefficiencies and reducing the cost of fundraising. The business of fundraising is extremely inefficient. Sometimes the cost to raise $1 is $1.31. That, along with the lack of transparency and reporting shouldn't be happening in 2016 with social media.

We looked at social media because the demographic of 18-27 yr. olds are very keen and educated on global issues and causes, more so than 35+ yr. olds., but they don't have the means to support charities financially. However, they will happily volunteer and spread the word. This notion eventually led to Pixhug.

Talk about the social media component to Pixhug:

Desanti: Corporate America is donating $20 billion dollars annually to causes while they're also trying to reach this younger demographic. When you think about the actual reach of donations, it's frequently not maximized.

Corporate reach is limited by the way companies spend their funds and build brand equity. Often, they are confined to the old school public relations photo op; a picture of the giant check that's is very 1991. My wife was working in PR but is a psychologist by trade, so she looked into the behavior of that demographic and of social media in general. Julian Lennon offered feedback from his charitable research and I looked into the analysis of corporate donations.

We decided to merge these three constituents onto one platform that's win/win/win for (1) people, (2) charities and (3) corporations. My wife and I co-founded Pixhug with savings and then invited family and friends to invest. We spent a year fine tuning the business model. Pixhug was born in August 2016 and we launched in partnership with Variety as a sponsor at their Power of Young Hollywood event. It was a very successful soft launch.

It showed how quickly this can take on a life of its own. We worked with Variety and internet celebrity Cameron Dallas raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation. Now, we're reaching out to more celebrities to partner with corporate sponsors. When celebrities support a cause it's exciting because their fans are usually spectators, but now they can work together by providing and promoting Facebook 'likes.'

Explain the structure of the platform:

Desanti: The key for us was to keep it simple. We didn't want to have to do too much educating.

We wanted to add purpose to the existing behavior of photo sharing. We use photos as a vehicle to send a positive message. A picture is worth a thousand words, but now a picture can be worth a thousand meals or a thousand blankets.

On Pixhug, Facebook, 'likes' translate into tangible, measurable results for those that need them the most. 'Likes' become a currency for social change and empower everyone to participate in making the world a better place, regardless of their financial means. We are a unique platform on the market that transforms social media into charitable donations.

At the core though, we are a marketing platform. For example, a corporation like Variety can reach 50,000 people for $5000 instead of just donating $5,000 directly to a cause. This is more purposeful sharing that allows more people to learn about the cause as well. Our fee to a corporation is 10% of the campaign goal and comes directly from the company, not the charity.

Facebook is a personal space that corporate brands want to participate in and the market is saturated. Marketing budgets are much larger than donation budgets, so Pixhug works well taking the marketing budget spend and turning it into exposure by adding social value to the donation/campaign. The company cost for doing this is minimum and it's a write a off through the marketing budget.

How does the app work?

Desanti: Pixhug is fully integrated on Facebook, it's available for download on iOS right now, android is coming soon.

  • Open the Pixhug app
  • Choose a campaign that you like
  • Click on Support the Cause tab
  • Take a picture
  • It will post on your Facebook page
  • Your friends see it and like it and contribute to to the awareness of the campaign while the corporate sponsor donates for each 'like'

The platform empowers everyone to be philanthropist. Once a charity's goal is met, the campaign is closed and the corporate sponsor sends the donation to the charity.

What were some lessons learned during startup?

Desanti: One of the biggest challenges for many entrepreneurs is finding the right team. We've had our struggles and setbacks with this as we moved from Europe to Vancouver to start the company. But we've overcome that and now have a great team. We plan on opening an office soon in L.A. to be closer to influencers who are so instrumental in growing the platform.

Since we are working with three different communities with different wants and needs, we utilized focus groups which was a fun process that provided useful constructive criticism. It's important to allow people to destroy the business model and see how it can't work; realizing all the ways it could go wrong was valuable. Silicon Valley's philosophy is that if you wait until something is perfect, you may have waited too long. So, we went to market with our MVP (minimum viable product) and are currently working on several iterations.

83% of people want a product from a company with a social component. People want to see companies become more socially responsible. Pixhug is launching a movement where we all come together and make a difference. We hope that if we can empower people to be compassionate and kind online that it will translate into offline behavior/kindness. This is a driving force behind our mission.

We completely remove the individual ask from charities. People can support a cause with a simple Facebook 'like' and charities are finding that users want to learn more about causes and will likely donate in the future.

Talk about the other technology that you're adding to the platform:

Desanti: Charities utilize KPI (key performance indicators) for data analysis. A lot of charities spend marketing dollars to send a message to the masses instead of targeting the right people, it's very inefficient. Think about if a beer company is marketing to people who don't drink alcohol. We collect data and are working to improve on the KPI dashboards for charities so they can see donor growth and then pinpoint that specific market. We are building the backend to help charities reduce fundraising costs.

Pixhug provides analytics from basic dashboard but will soon introduce an entire SaaS platform where charities can purchase more analytics for approximately $20-$60 per month. This will provide real time monitoring of fundraising efforts and allow them to communicate more efficiently.

You set out to disrupt fundraising, how does it feel now?

Desanti: Yes, we wanted to disrupt fundraising. It should be disrupted; it should be more transparent, cheaper and accessible to everyone. We are focused more on corporate donations because marketing budgets are far greater than donation budgets and companies have more challenges reaching consumers and building brand equity. What better way to build brand equity than through spreading a positive message? That's the holy grail of any marketer who asks 'How do we get our consumers to talk positively about us?' Pixhug digitizes that to make it simple and affordable.

What are your goals for the next 12-18 months?

Desanti: Our goals are:

  • Take 10% of the corporate donations market in next 12 months, which means getting2 billion of the approximately20 billion donated by corporations to go through Pixhug. That translates to a lot of social engagement.
  • Launch that comprehensive analytics dashboard.
  • Ultimately, Pixhug will be like a dating site between corporations and charities to come together on a mutual project. We want to simplify this process for partnerships. The key is to have as many charities and corporations onboard where they can meet and collaborate.

So, now is a good time to 'like' away when you see your friends/family post a Pixhug photo on Facebook. We can all be philanthropists with one free click, and what's not to like about that? Please tweet me your feedback @sandyabrams.