Young Gun Entrepreneur: Joyce Meng
Sep 16, 2011
Givology is an online giving marketplace for education that leverages small dollar donations to support grassroots projects and student scholarships in the developing world. As a P2P community, Givology partners with NGOs and schools around the world, connecting donors to grassroots causes. Through donor message functions, open blogging, and frequent student updates, Givology democratizes giving by introducing choice, transparency, and information sharing in education philanthropy.
This is part of a profile interview series of young entrepreneurs & their experiences launching & growing new startups.
About the Entrepreneur / Experience:
- What first attracted you to becoming an entrepreneur?
The possibility of turning an idea into an actionable reality. Entrepreneurship is empowering because it’s about innovation and the process of creating something new.
- What was the first step you took?
Coming up with the idea and our fundamental business model – thinking through the specifics on how we’re doing something different than solutions currently in the market.
- When did you hire your first employee? How did you find them?
Rather than “hiring” an employee, I took on teammates that shared the same vision and passion for our social enterprise. We took on new core team members based on their background, commitment, and ability to offer a unique skill set.
- What was the hardest thing that you have had to do as an entrepreneur?
The initial phase to build out the Givology community was really tough – to gain traction and awareness in the education online philanthropy space. We really struggled to raise our first $1,000 and register our first one hundred donors.
- What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Better to launch quickly and cheaply rather than plan everything out theoretically. It’s impossible to plan for all contingencies - it’s much more effective to experiment and adapt when challenges arise.
- What type of support is available in your community?
Taking advantage of university grants and incubator support was really helpful. We benefitted from a small Weiss Tech House grant to get started.
- Is there a true entrepreneurial environment in your community?
- Yes, definitely! Universities are great communities in which ideas are often traded and discussed. In New York City and in other cities worldwide, there are also plenty of entrepreneurship hubs and networking associations that help support and connect entrepreneurs.
- What was the best piece of advice you received?
Don’t ever give up – perseverance matters. If you start doubting your own abilities, then how can you expect others to have confidence in you? When things go wrong, rather than dwell on the failure, cut your losses, fix the problem, and move on.
- What was the biggest mistake you made starting out?
We made so many mistakes along the way, from web troubles to sustainability/scaling issues later on! If I could do the launch phase all over again, I would make sure to get our technology infrastructure more spread out across a larger base of people to make sure the burden didn’t fall to just one individual. This would help ensure faster progress and no stagnation if that one contact fell through!
About the Company / Product:
- Why did you decide to start that particular company?
Education transformed my life, and yet there are over 300 million children who are not in enrolled in basic education. I wanted to fix this social ill through an online giving marketplace for education, where every dollar counts. Our focus is on democratizing philanthropy and making giving an active act through blogging, 1x1 giving, letter writing, and transparent updates.
- How big do you see your company growing in the next 5 years?
We’ve doubled in size nearly every single year in terms of donations raised, volunteers engaged, students and schools helped, partnerships formed, and donors registered. We expect to continue this trend.
- How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?
We’ve adopted an innovative model of “crowd-sourcing” philanthropy with the lowest operating costs in the industry by using a 100% volunteer base. Not only do we emphasize 1x1 relationships and come up with innovative social media strategies to build awareness and funding (EX: www.50dollars.org, www.marktheworld.org), but we focus on building grassroots partnerships that help innovative education causes and schools one village at a time. We focus on support projects and schools that have a unique method of generating impact – it’s not about simply throwing money at a problem, but really understanding the fundamental social ills preventing access to education.
- What do you do better than anyone else in the industry?
We’re better at harnessing social media, engaging our volunteers, and seeking out the best grassroots organizations to partner with. We leverage the creative arts to promote our campaigns and have truly developed a community around giving – to engage all our stakeholders and revolutionize the philosophy of giving itself. We take our motto very seriously – “Give to Learn, Learn to Give”. By giving, you discover something about yourself and your ability to make a difference.
- What is the biggest challenge your company is facing right now?
Scaling is definitely a challenge especially since we’ve grown so substantially.
- What is the biggest success you have had, and how did it come about?
We’ve kept our grassroots identity and have helped so many amazing students and schools around the world! In two years of operations, we’ve raised over $130,000 to support over 2,635 students in 20+ different countries through 40+ grassroots partners. To date, we have 4,000+ supporters on Facebook, Linked-in, and Twitter, 1,700+ registered donors, 12 chapters started at universities, high schools, and various cities, 30 core team members and 90 volunteers globally. In addition, Givology received the Intelius Award for “Best Student-Run Social Enterprise” and a “Top Education Non-Profit” rating from Great Non-profits, and has been featured in MTVAct, Nicholas Kristof’s book Half the Sky and his blog in the NYT,, among other media publications.
- Was there one thing that you did when starting the company that turned out to be a waste of time?
In general, I’ve learned that rather than just doing too much talking and daydreaming, it’s better to act!