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Ethan Austin Interview | Smart Business Lessons From A Social Entrepreneur

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Interview With A Social Entrepreneur

Hi Everyone,

Today we have an awesome example of Social entrepreneurship. Young Social entrepreneurship!

Ethan Austin of Newport Beach, CA had his charitable idea realised when he received a chance phone call from a college friend. The tip off his friend gave Ethan even rocked his world, as he packed his bags and left California for Chicago where he now works and lives. Ethan isn’t scared of taking big leaps.

“People who take action inspire me. Talk is cheap.”

Read on to see how dedication and giving your all to your cause pays off in more ways than one, and GiveForward’s goal of giving hope to those in need of medical financial aid.

With GiveForward, you can create a personal fundraising page for ANY person, cause or non-profit you care about and then easily collect donations from friends and family all over the world.

Creating GiveForward.org is a huge achievement by Ethan and partner – Desiree Vargas. One of the finest examples ever of Young Entrepreneurs making a real difference in the world.

I love Ethan’s answers to our interview questions and in particular his answer to our question: Can you share some of the biggest lessons you have learned so far as an entrepreneur?

1: Be flexible
2: Don’t be afraid to launch a product that is less than perfect
3: Everything will take longer than you expect

I could not have put it better myself!

Enjoy the interview and let me have your comments below.


Social entrepreneurship – as defined by wikipedia.org

Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Thus, the main aim of social entrepreneurship is to further social and environmental goals. However, whilst social entrepreneurs are most commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors, this need not necessarily be incompatible with making a profit.

Ethan Austin Interview


1) You’re a co-founder at GiveForward. How did you end up here?

I was in California in 2008 when a friend from college called me up and told she had met someone named Desiree Vargas at a Super Bowl party and that I should call Desiree about a business idea. Desiree, (the real brains behind GiveForward) was starting the company and had been working on it for about three or four months. I had been toying around with a similar idea for a website, but I didn’t have the guts or cash to start it myself. It took me a couple of weeks before I decided to call Desiree, but once I did, we both realized we had similar visions and we instantly clicked. She had already taken the leap to start the business, so it gave me the courage to take the leap as well. Three months later, I was on a plane moving to Chicago to launch GiveForward with her.

2) Can you share some of the biggest lessons you have learned so far as an entrepreneur?

Be flexible – Once your business is up and running, the market will tell you what works and what doesn’t work. You might think you have the best idea in the world when you write your business plan, but 99% of the stuff you’re writing goes out of the window the day you launch. Listen to the market and adapt. Businesses that succeed are ones that are willing to change.

For instance, with GiveForward, we started out thinking that our biggest segment of users would be people raising money for non-profits. We were dead wrong. The people who really loved our site weren’t non-profits. They were people using the site to raise money for their friend or family member’s medical expenses like chemo treatments and organ transplants. At first we fought it and tried to push the non-profit stuff because that was our original vision for the company. But, over time, more and more users kept using our site for medical expenses. In the fall of 2009, we finally stopped fighting it and instead chose to embrace it. We started focusing all of our attention to the medical fundraising aspect of the site around that time and that’s when GiveForward really started to gain traction.

Don’t be afraid to launch a product that is less than perfect – A lot of people are afraid that customers won’t like your product if it’s not perfect. But if you wait until something is perfect, you’re never going to launch it. With GiveForward, our website was absolutely terrible with all types of bugs and glitches when it was first released in 2008. At the time, I’m positive that 97% of people that came across our site probably thought we sucked. But since we only had like 10 or 15 visitors a day, it really didn’t really matter all that much. We had no reputation yet, so we had nothing to lose. The key for us was that the product was out there and we could make incremental improvements as we went along. Since that time, we’ve gone through multiple iterations of the site and we continually improve upon it. Just remember that whenever you see a website or a product, it probably didn’t start off looking the way it does now.

Everything will take longer than you expect. There is no magic wand. Success is not going to happen overnight. If you run your business the right way and treat people with kindness, respect and compassion good things will happen to you.

3) If you were to start again, what might you do differently?
I would reach out to more mentors and ask them for help. It’s amazing what happens when you just ask. There is really nothing to lose and usually you’ll find that people are more willing to offer support than you’d think.

4) What’s next for GiveForward? Where do you see them in say 5 years time?

With GiveForward, our goal right now is to form partnerships with hospitals and cancer non-profits so that we can get the word out to as many people as possible who need our services. Things change so quickly in business that it is impossible to say where we’ll be in five years, but for now our long term vision is that when someone has a friend or loved one who gets sick and needs help paying for their medical expenses, GiveForward is the resource that immediately comes to people’s minds.

5) Are there any other business or charity ideas in the pipeline?
No. Right now I’m really just focused on trying to make GiveForward a great company that empowers people to do good.

6) Do you have any recommended strategies for getting a user who visits once to come back and use your site again – other than of course good friendly service?

If you can make people laugh, you can get people to come back. Give people surprises by adding unexpected bits of humor hidden throughout your website. If you build a vanilla website that looks and feels like every other vanilla website out there, no one is going to remember you and no one will have a reason to come back. You might do a good job at not offending anyone, but at the same time you’re not going to make anyone fall in love with your site either.

When you are creating content for your site, talk in your own voice. Be quirky. Be weird. Be funny. But bottom line — be yourself. You have to accept that you’re going to have some casualties but the payoff of winning over fans is far greater. You need to build a website that some people are going to fall in love with and some people are going to hate. The people who love it are going to tell others. The people who hate it, probably weren’t going to come back anyway.

7) How do you market yourself online?
We don’t spend any money on traditional media or online ads. We’d rather spend our money doing things that make our users really happy. For instance, we send all of our super users t-shirts as a way to say thanks for doing business with us. A walking, talking billboard who can share their own personal GiveForward story is going to be generate many more users than an ad on Facebook would.

8) Do you have any suggestions for coping with negative experiences?

Ignore the squeaky wheels. No matter what you do, there will always be a small percentage of users who think your site is terrible and they will let you know about it. They are going to tell you 10,000 ways your site could be better. Ignore them. Be polite and respectful when you respond to them, but don’t feel like you need to act upon their every demand.
9) How do you keep your business focus – Do you have any suggestions for entrepreneurs who are experiencing challenging times?

Relish the small victories. In December of 2008, GiveForward had been live for about five months and we weren’t gaining very much traction at all. It was frustrating and at times I thought that maybe we were in over our heads. But around that same time I had posted a fundraiser on the site for my buddy’s two-year old daughter whose mom had just passed away from cancer. I ended up receiving a $500 donation on my fundraising page from a stranger I had met during a jog in LA. This was just a small, tiny victory, but it meant a ton to me at the time. It showed me that we were on the right track and that the technology we were giving people had the potential to change lives. We just needed to get the word out about to people.

10) What people do you look up to and model yourself on?
I’m a big fan of Seth Godin. In fact, if I thought about it long enough, I’d say that at least half the answers in this interview can probably be traced back to some book or blog post he’s written. He’s a smart guy, but mostly he’s a decent person with good values.

11) Do you have any favourite business or related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
Seth’s books Purple Cow is a must read for anyone starting a business. But my favorite Seth Godin book is his newest book, Linchpin. I bought 50 copies of it to give out to my business partners, friends and staff members.

REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is also excellent. Lastly, Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell is a great book on customer service that I would definitely recommend.

12) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Do what’s going to make you happy. If you’re not passionate about your work, then quit and do something you’re passionate about. Life is too short to muddle through without a sense of purpose.

13) Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur starting their first business today?
First, you have to jump in. The hardest part of any business is committing to taking that initial plunge. But once you take that plunge and commit, your business takes on a life of its own. You build on your existing momentum and things get easier each day.

Second, don’t try to be all things to all people. If you’re trying to be all things to all people no one is going to fall in love with your site because it won’t resonate with any one particular group of people. Instead, focus on being really good at one thing and build your company around being the best in the world at that thing.

Third, focus your attention on your existing customers rather than focusing on obtaining new customers. If you meet a customer’s expectations she may or may not be loyal to your company. But if you do something extraordinary to exceed her expectations, she is not only going to be loyal, which will bring you more revenue, but will also tell her friends about your company too.

Lastly and most importantly, treat everyone you meet with kindness and compassion. People can spot the BS pretty quickly. But if you genuinely care about people, you will build a reputation and your business will grow. It’s not going to grow overnight, but eventually things will fall into place and your business will take off.

14) What do you like best about the Internet?
The fact that it levels the playing field. Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can start a successful business these days.

15) What do you like least about the Internet?
Email. It’s a time suck.

16) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Right now, I absolutely love what I do and couldn’t be happier, so I don’t see myself switching careers anytime soon. Will I be doing the same thing in ten or fifteen years? That’s impossible to predict.

Thank you for the great interview Ethan and good luck for the future!

Click Here For GiveForward Website


  1. Hey Athan, that’s very inspiring. Thanks for giving some insightful tips for new enterpreneurs, i am one of them.

    Thanks Michael for having this site, actually even i had an idea of starting up something similar to this site, so i started searching on google and i came across your site. And sorry, I dont have any URL to post at this movement.

  2. Brandon says:

    This was my favorite right here:
    “14) What do you like best about the Internet?
    The fact that it levels the playing field. Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can start a successful business these days.”

    Its so true that as long as they have the successful mindset, that is to say – the mindset to fully commit to the success of the idea, then they will open their mind to the true needs of the business and that “success” will follow.

    Great interview!

  3. Troy Krause says:

    Wow, what an inspirational story. Ethan, you rock. It’s awesome to see how just a couple people can collaborate and really make a difference in the world. I agree that you need to be passionate about what you are doing.

    Thanks for the great interview Michael

  4. Michael J. Price says:

    Great post!

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. jeanett says:

    Great interview Ethan! You guys have always been a huge help and your customer service is reason #1 that I use GiveForward as opposed to any other giving site! Hope I haven’t been too much of a pain for you guys! 🙂

    • Ethan Austin says:

      Thanks for the kind words Jeanett. You haven’t been a pain at all 🙂 Quite the opposite, you were one of the reasons we now offer a fundraising widget! You helped us innovate and improve upon our existing product. So thank YOU!

  6. I really enjoyed the interview. Thanks. Keep your good work up.

  7. Very interesting interview!

    Related, startups and entrepreneurs seeking funding and other resources for their business may also want to join http://www.adwebix.com – an online hub connecting entrepreneurs with investors.

    Members can post funding request ads, create searchable profiles where they can post business needs, source early stage investment opportunities, get more exposure, contact other members and more.

    Members are Entrepreneurs, Investors, Professionals, Startups, Companies looking to grow their business..

    It’s free and easy to use.

  8. A Sitting Duck says:

    Cool interview, we are working on an animation course at the moment, should be an epic product!…

    I’ll let you know soon,


  9. Sean Matthews says:

    Great Interview. This site only gets better and better. Thanks for keeping it up to date with new material Michael.

  10. That was a great interview….
    Keep up the good work.

  11. dude very good idea and inspirable carry on

  12. wat a greate innovation! i lyk da interview

  13. Hey Ethan. I loved the answer to #9. Very inspiring.

    Great interview!


  14. Every day i wakes up to thank God for your life and wisdom; Michael you are a rare seed in our generation. Thanks for helping beginers like us.

  15. It’s really cool.

    just like bizodo.com

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