Givebutter Co-founders Encourage Aspiring GW Student Entrepreneurs to Stay the Course

Alumni Liran Cohen, B.S. ’18, M.S. ’19; Max Friedman, B.S. ’17; and Ari Krasner, B.A. ’18, embraced the process while starting now widely known crowdfunding platform as students at GW.

Givebutter trio
From left, Liran Cohen, Max Friedman and Ari Krasner (contributed photos)
January 21, 2022

By Nick Erickson

While George Washington University alumni Liran Cohen B.S. ’18, M.S. ’19; Max Friedman, B.S. ’17; and Ari Krasner, B.A. ’18 were the star subjects of their Forbes profile, it was their startup company’s mascot that perhaps had the photo of the shoot. Mr. Butter, resembling a slice of his namesake and measuring in the size a bed pillow, was propped up on a high-top chair with a backrest that read “failure is an option.”

Mr. Butter and the company he represents exists because his creators took on that mentality.

Givebutter is the world’s first free end-to-end fundraising platform that Cohen, Friedman and Krasner started as GW students in 2016. The story seems too good to be true. The three met in college, concocted the business idea while living together in a residence hall and turned it into a company that last year alone raised $150 million for charities. While all of that is factual, they experimented with different types of projects—such as a viral charity sweepstakes and an event discovery app—before finding what really worked for them.

As the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) and Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence (CFEE) hold student startup events such as Mini Pitch George and the New Venture Competition this spring, the Givebutter trio advises aspiring entrepreneurs at GW to embrace the process and stay committed to the vision.  

“I think a lot of our relationship was built on failure and seeing how we behave and respond to that failure and learn from it,” Friedman said. “Starting a business, everyone always says, is a lot like dating. The relationship is just so important, and I really value the time that we had to learn and become closer.”

If entrepreneurship is indeed like dating, Givebutter is enjoying an extended honeymoon and sharing the good times with people who may need it the most. Forbes recently honored Cohen, Friedman and Krasner in its annual 30 under 30 list for social initiatives. Givebutter annually features more than 35,000 good causes ranging from small youth groups to large nonprofits. One in 500 Americans donated on Givebutter in 2021, and a contribution is made every 30 seconds.

While thousands of charitable causes are born on the website, GW’s Fulbright Hall is the birthplace of the idea itself.

Rooming together after hitting it off early in their GW careers, the trio spent much of their free time working on the startup and credited the fierce 2016 winter storm that canceled class as a breakthrough period. “We wanted it to keep snowing out there so we could keep working,” joked Friedman. It took off from there and launched later that spring shortly after a whiteboard naming session at the Science and Engineering Hall.

Givebutter mascot on chair

While Givebutter ultimately stuck, both the product and the name, it incorporated ideas from other startups the three worked on that didn’t make it as far. While the final product wasn’t always clear, they always planned for a built-in a social contract as all three aspired to create something that helped others.

“It was a huge part of all of our lives growing up in the communities that we came from, and giving back was truly instilled in all of us from an early age,” Krasner said. “We were really excited about what we were building, and we really wanted to do something great with those values in mind.”

They had noticed millennials were active in volunteering but lacked representation when it came to donating online. They concluded that the giving experience was too transactional and not enough companies were transparent with fees, thus discouraging would-be donors from lending their financial support to worthy causes.

So, within the confines of Foggy Bottom, they created an interactive experience with no contracts, subscriptions or hidden fees. They’ve done their best to personalize the giving process.

“Giving should be fun no matter how you do it, and when giving is fun, you want to keep doing it,” Friedman said. “Sometimes it's not all about the data. It’s just about people helping people and having a good experience doing that. And that's what we're all about.”

Givebutter now employs 30 full-time people working remotely throughout the country. They recently launched the world's first free donor management solution with email and text messaging capabilities, and they have grown to a point where they are able to translate customer feedback into the product faster than ever before. And most of all, hundreds of millions of dollars have landed in the hands of noteworthy causes distributing to those who in need.

All of that would have never happened had the Givebutter trio given up the first time something didn’t work, or a pitch contest didn’t turn out the way they hoped. They encourage GW students to seek mentors, listen to their feedback and follow up. Now is the time, they say, to take chances.  

“Find like-minded people and take advantage of that,” Friedman said. “There’s not going to be another time in your life where you're literally amongst 10,000 potential co-founders.”

Some of those chances are coming. Applications for the NVC are due Feb. 2. This year, the competition will award over $500,000 in prizes, including $125,000 in cash to the winners. Pitch George winners from the fall earned an automatic buy-in to round 2 of the NVC. Mini Pitch George, which takes place in February, is exclusive to spring semester students enrolled in an entrepreneurial-related course or program and prepares students for the NVC.

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