SmilingStart is a new social enterprise that aims to change the lives of thousands of kids by harnessing the goodwill of everyone who are interested in giving back to the society and combining it with an organic business plan that makes this venture sustainable in the long run. SmilingStart has a simple premise – use your browser to help a social cause! Tejas Sangoi, the founder of SmilingStart shares with us his experiences in bringing smiles to hundreds of kids each day.
How did you come up with such an out-of-the box idea that advertising that can used for fueling a charitable cause ?
While working at TracksGiving (also a social venture), I was researching on ways to use technology to integrate charitable giving in common day-to-day activities. With the fast paced lives people are extremely busy and find it difficult to devote time and resources for a social cause. A tool which could allow people to contribute to causes without much effort would be very useful.
Secondly, digital advertising has become a race to the bottom. In a world of increasing banner blindness and pop-up fatigue, advertisers are looking for tools to make them standout in the clutter. There is need of a medium where advertisements are beautiful and memorable.
SmilingStart was born in response to above thoughts. It is a premium advertising platform with a social twist. Users have to simply select a cause that they want to support and set SmilingStart as their browser homepage. Each day we update the SmilingStart homepage with beautiful wallpaper which is sponsored by a brand. In return we will donate 75% of the advertising fee directly to the cause supported by the users.
The success of this venture depends upon advertisers coming onboard and convincing them must have been a tough task. What challenges did you face when approaching advertisers initially?
Generally speaking, advertisers are extremely excited about this platform. It allows them to reach their audience before anyone else, display ads which the users will never miss and create a visually pleasing and memorable experience which allows them to standout in the ad space clutter. With these advantages, convincing the advertisers is not a big issue. The real challenge lies in creating awareness to create large user-base who are willing to receive branded wallpapers in exchange for donations to charity. Convincing people to replace their existing homepage with SmilingStart.com is our biggest challenge.
Are there any NGOs or sponsors who are funding your project?
Currently, the venture is supported through my personal savings and family funds. We have tied up with three large and credible NGOs who have pan India presence. The Akshaya Patra Foundation (Mid Day Meal Programme), KC Mahindra Trust and Nandi Foundation (Project Nanhi Kali) and Pratham (Residential Care Program) are the three NGOs. Furthermore, we have private sponsors who are supporting us during our initial 3-6 month of pilot period. During the pilot period, for every user on SmilingStart, the private sponsors will donate Rs.2 per day. 100% of their donations reach the charity project.
As I write this, with the funds we have generated so far, we have enabled 187 mid day meals for school kids, 111 days of education for underprivileged girls and 142 days of shelter for street kids.
Being a social entrepreneurship venture it must be tough to work out a monetization plan to keep the good work going. How do you plan to manage it?
We are a profit driven organization with an intense social objective. The profit motive encourages efficiency and innovation and the social motive brings satisfaction of contributing to the society. We strive to maximize every cent of investment and minimize expenses incurred in creating and delivering value.
75% of the advertisement fees are donated to charitable causes selected by our users while we retain the remaining 25%. This revenue helps us cover our expenses, spread awareness and grow meaningfully. We believe this model will fulfill our mission of making a meaningful difference to the society and be sustainable at the same time.
Are you planning to support more social causes in the future?
We have exciting plans for the future. We will be introducing new features for the users which will allow them to develop, customize, send and receive beautiful personal wallpapers. SmilingStart will be optimized for mobile browsers. Currently, SmilingStart is restricted to users in India and in future we want to expand the movement to international locations. For the advertisers we are developing a real time ad serving engine which will enable rule based ad delivery.
During our initial 6 months we are not looking to partner with new charities. We do not want to dilute the donations to our existing partners who have supported us so far. Later, as we grow we would be adding social causes after performing the necessary due diligence.
Tell us a bit about your team and the founders
Currently, we are a 5 people strong team plus one intern.
Tejas Sangoi is the Founder CEO of SmilingStart. He is an MBA from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA and holds a degree in Technology from Mumbai University. Earlier, he was co-founder at TracksGiving where he got selected amongst the top 75 entrepreneurs (out of 14,000 plus) at the 2012 The Power of Ideas Initiative.
Bhawana Sahu – Marketing Evangelist (MBA, 5 years exp in Marketing)
Chirag Dhuvad – Technology Lead (14 years technology exp, worked in multiple startups)
Amol Navsupe – Web Developer (3 years experience)
Jekin Gala – Designer (BE in IT, 2 years of exp)
Alisha Sheth – Social Media Intern (MBA candidate)
What we think of SmilingStart?
Despite having the intention to help the society we are held back by various reasons like work, lack of time or not knowing where to start. For all of us it doesn’t get any easy than this to make better lives for others. We have already set our homepage to SmilingStart and we wish all our readers would do the same to make this world a better place 🙂
Go ahead and do it now!