January 9th, 2019 / Published in: Interviews
Ben Block, Founder & CEO of GozAround Inc., is a serial entrepreneur and lawyer with a passion for making a difference to those around him. Inspired by the power of technology to build real world relationships, and driven by his love of business, Ben is on a mission to change the way people, business and non-profits connect and do good.
In August 2014, GozAround launched from its base in Edmonton, Canada, with one big act of goodness. GozAround brought together big-hearted businesses from around the city to throw a wedding for a terminally ill mother of five. Complete with a limo, video, photographers, cake, flowers and all – it didn’t cost the couple a cent and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This life changing event was designed to prove the concept behind GozAround…that people and business badly want to make a difference…they just need a better way to find, measure and share their contributions.
In 2015, Ben was selected as a winner of the Thunderstruck Start-up Pitch Competition held at the Expert Dojo in Santa Monica, CA, leading to a stint in NYC and a feature on Forbes. Everything happens for a reason, they say, and that trail of stepping stones lead to GozAround’s first enterprise business user, spanning 70 cities across the globe.
Since then, GozAround has continued to expand its platform and network, with users in over 400 cities on nearly every continent. Building on its core of connecting people with personalized impact opportunities, GozAround now offers powerful tools that allow business to grow by doing good. Through GozAround, socially conscious business better capture and communicate their contributions, unlocking the many HR and marketing benefits that come with doing good. In a world that up to 60% of consumers will pay more for the same thing from a socially conscious seller, and up to 80% of employees prefer responsible employers, it is no longer optional to give back. The question GozAround answers is “how are you maximizing your ROI on those good deeds?” Here’s GozAround’s business landing page.
Ben holds business and law degrees from the University of Alberta, has started, operated and sold several small businesses, and is an entrepreneur to the core. Beyond that, Ben has a passion for helping others. From serving dinner at a homeless shelter, to delivering meals to the disabled, to offering pro bono legal services, and even joining a Habitat for Humanity project in Kyrgyzstan, Ben has a long history of giving back. However, he believes building GozAround has the potential to do more good than he ever could, even in 100 lifetimes. With tens of thousands of volunteer hours already recorded by GozAround users…he is probably right.
Ben lives in Edmonton, Canada with his wife, Krista, and their daughter, a 4-year-old firecracker named Ava.
Carlos Ponce: Hello ladies and gentlemen it’s good to have you all here … it’s 2019 and this is the very first interview of DojoLIVE! connecting experts like you. So welcome to the year and of course as ever we got my fellow teammate Nearsoftian Tullio Siragusa way over there in L.A. This is Carlos in Mexico City, Tullio welcome to 2019 [INAUDIBLE] it’s gonna bring us right.
Tulio Siragusa: Yeah well, a warm happy 2019 for sure.
Carlos Ponce: Indeed, indeed. We should warm up here it’s cold. And last but not least we got our first guest of the year Mr. Ben Block, he is the founder and CEO of Gozaround.com which is a platform for giving back so I’m looking forward to hearing what Ben has to say about his platform and of course Ben welcome to the show… it’s a pleasure and an honor to have you here as our first guest of the year.
Ben Block: Thanks Carlos happy to be here.. but you’re not rather complain about being cold from Mexico City while I sit in Canada.
Carlos Ponce: I was there in March and it was cold indeed.
Tulio Siragusa: [INAUDIBLE] today.
Carlos Ponce: Exactly.
Tulio Siragusa: Okay.
Carlos Ponce: Well, Ben, welcome to the show! Usually I start by asking a couple of questions, tell us about you, tell us about […] a little bit about your history, your background and then of course tell us about Gozaround.
Ben Block: Sure. About myself, like I said I’m here in Edmonton, Canada. I’m an entrepreneur by nature and a lawyer by training, and I’ve been practicing, I’ve had a number of businesses since […] probably my very first business when I was 8 years old I set up a bookstore on the sidewalk, and I had a whole bunch of different undertakings along the way. I won a student entrepreneurship award as I made my way along, while I was in law school I started a print and design company, and started getting into web design and development which was sort of my first taste of the internet business but as I finished law school I realized there’s no real way I was gonna be able to still run that business … we had eight employees at that time but it still needed a lot of my attention and I had to make a decision so I sold that company and started my legal career but didn’t take very long for my entrepreneur itch to come up again and I was looking for opportunities and was luckily working on a very supportive firm at that time when I had this idea for Gozaround that really just sort of is a combination of my desire to help and do things that matter that i think a lot of people have and my excitement and passion for business and also the power that the internet has to connect I think create real-world positive results and it’s kind of this intersection of a whole bunch of things that matter to me so that what brought me to Gozaround.
Carlos Ponce: Thank you so much, Ben and I just keep silent for a second because I couldn’t help but thinking or remembering that what Gozaround comes around so I assume that there’s something behind this idea, right?
Ben Block: Yeah that’s exactly right, that’s where the name comes from. I remember sitting on the couch in my house thinking about this idea and what can we call it, and that’s exactly right and it really sort of strikes to the spirit of the site is what you put out is what you get back and I sort of a fundamental level believe that people want those opportunities and want to do things and i know I can think of instances in my own life that can seem really small but they’re really powerful that you remember distinctly what it feels like to do something for someone for no other reason than because you could, and I think we have this kind of interesting spot in the history of, you know, human kind that we have like access to every kind of information instantly on our fingerprints and this like ever sort of present desire to do things that feel good and matter and help and so on, but for some reason I don’t think those two have fully connected yet, that technology hasn’t as a fully sort of facilitated our desire to do good things with personalized opportunities to do that, in ways that actually work for us, some that we want to do, and can do and we kind of have this like information overload at the same time that we get asked and we hear about problems, we turn on Netflix, and theres like an unlimited number of documentaries that tell us about all these horrible things going on the world and they make us hurt and then you guys feel powerless sometimes where we turn on the news and I hear people say “oh, I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing”, that’s depressing in itself, and I think we should better connect people, not with just problems that I can’t do anything about but things that I can – like I say – can do, want to do, I’m capable of doing, and that’s really what Gozaround is all about and when people do that I think when you put a positive karma out there it will come back.
Carlos Ponce: Excellent, thank you so much, Ben, that for elaborating on that a little bit. Now, before I pass on the mike to my teammate Tullio what was about… I’d like to ask you about your chosen topic of the day, which is, let’s see…today your chosen topic is “Using Tech to Grow By Doing Good”. Now, how to unlock the ROI its social contribution through better measurement [INAUDIBLE] so tell us about that… why did you choose this particular topic, what do you want to say to us about this?
Ben Block: Well is sort of builds on what I was just talking about… is that I think all of those personal traits we see in business more than ever, social contribution, you know, social branding, cause marketing this sorts of things are just grow [INAUDIBLE ] all the time driven by market forces like consumer price tolerances and employee [INAUDIBLE] that kind of thing, are pushing businesses to want to do this kind of stuff… frankly, have to do this kind of stuff but especially in mid and smaller sized companies, they don’t necessarily bridge the gap between the action, the contribution and the awareness and out of that comes the ROI, [INAUDIBLE] talking about, so I think there’s a really big opportunity in that for mid and smaller companies to sort of better capitalize on the good stuff they might already be doing and that’s what I hope to talk about.
Tulio Siragusa: Cool, Ben, I find that always super useful to ask about the business model because that’s really spells out what the company focus on, can you give us a little bit of a flavor of the business model is a profit or nonprofit how do you make money at this and can you give us a little background on your targeted customers, a little bit around that if you could.
Ben Block: Yeah, sure, that’s probably one of our most common questions like people are like, oh cool nice idea, how do you make any money on people doing good stuff so yeah there’s a huge freaking component to what we ‘re doing obviously we don’t charge individual anything to be involved, we have a big feature set for charities a CRM volunteer recruitment and recognition, a whole bunch of tools that’s totally free for them as well that’s our way of giving back, but how do we actually make money is essentially SAS model to businesses its priced according to the size of the company, and we provide companies with tools to better manage employee volunteerism encourage that promote ,manage it, donations, grant making, for example lot of companies get hit up for donations or sponsorship all the time, we have tools for them to better receive those to vet them, to decide what they’re going to support and make those decisions and more of data-driven way rather than, yeah sure i guess you asked me at a good time sort of way, and then gather sort of reporting data and so on or metrics out of all that kind of activity so that suite of tools is priced on a SAS model to companies.
Tulio Siragusa: So how are companies managing that today i know theres company to have social responsibility and if some contributor percentage of the employees time that they can go and dedicate to social good causes including time off, etc, i’m not particularly sure how there managing that, what’s typical today ands hos is this different and how does this solve a problem potentially.
Ben Block: Sure so there’s existing software tools that exist in that space to any or your hit some of the common programs right on the head, what exist our there is, can i say inferior that a little braggy, but in that it operates in a very siloed way first of all, it’s an internal software tool that the ownership, the employee doesn’t really have a lot of sense of ownership over where as we use a linkedin sort of approach that every employee has their own profile and record of what they’ve contributed that if they leave the company they don’t lose it, and why does it company care well they ultimately want the employees to participate and giving them some sense of ownership over their contributions, i think in thousand with that and then an incoming employee kind of brings with them their own history and so that’s a bit of a unique model for us and through that we believe there’s efficiencies to connect more directly with charities we again we have i think about 500 charities or so, right now using the platform to engage or share their need and sort of this networkd cross-pollination of information and so on is really unique and of course it’s a quantum leap over the either Zero management htat a lot of midsize or smaller companies have like these software products i’ve referenced are typically used by really large businesses like thousands or tens of thousands of employees, what is a 200 or a 500 even thousand person company have, sometimes the answer is nothing sometimes the answer is a spreadsheet or a PDF or an email chain or something like that and so it’s where we really have a sweet spot is to help companies that first understand the need for the program, maybe have the program like you mentioned to you and, but need the tools, they need the platform to act like the bigger companies do.
Tulio Siragusa: I think that’s awesome, so you’re serving the needs of both right, the company can organize itself and track how its contributing or giving back, and the employee can take it with them so that they can continue to track how there performing against maybe a commitment that mates themselves, i like it, im wondering, i’m curious, im listening to you i started thinking , wow, how many companies it would actually benefit if you had like of social responsibility score for example, alright you showed up and interview and say here’s my social responsibility score, are you seeing more companies keenly interested employees that also or people interested in giving back, is that a thing that’s happening. Or can you share a little bit about if that’s a trend or not or is that something that perhaps is a decided thing.
Ben Block: Yeah and that sort of transparency is interesting in both direction honestly the employer i’ve had a few companies say: boy it sure would be nice that if this got to a point that instead of at the bottom of the CB it was three bullets of these are the things i do in the world and i have no idea if they actually do or did a good job or showed up or whatever, if they had a Gozaround profile link and i can go see what they support and what they’ve contributed to or feedback they’ve got and so anything, they like that from that perspective you know obviously, that’s a down the road vision but the other side of it is the business – how many businesses tell us they care, you know and or maybe you’re sitting across the interview table and say to the candidate, you have any questions for us, yeah, what do you guys offer for community programs, well this would be a way for the candidate to validate as well what is that company really socially active or the client or the you know whoever it is and out of that transparency it seems a little scary at first but i think it’s a good thing, for both direction, on an individual level but also on business level well.
Tulio Siragusa: I sincerely hope that happens because i think that’s a fantastic way to keep both parties accountable to their words right. [INAUDIBLE] one thing give back it’s another thing to actually have a record of it showing that you have.
Ben Block: It’s an interesting thing just to give you some insight into our thought processes is people there’s an element of fear in what you just said is that oh crap what if i don’t do enough, you know and i think one of our jobs you well as a society but also as Gozaround as a business is to say if you do anything that’s awesome and so if you have one hour on your profile or you volunteered at ao homeless shelter one time or you know, that’s great like, that’s a place to start and in aggregate thats a huge impact that people can have and i think just me and okay like its okay to do a little bit because a little bit is more than nothing, and you should share that little bit because it encourages your friend to do a little bit and that rolls down the line and you know, big great things happen by a collection of small actions like whats is that, there’s a quote that i will ruin to that effect but that the sum of all of these little actions is much more powerful than people sitting afraid, feeling like i need to change the world myself or i should do nothing.
Tulio Siragusa: Well it’s an interesting ops interesting observation, because i mean there’s been studies that suggest companies who actively give back and people actively give back tend to be more successful than those who don’t, and it’s almost becoming sort of like you know if you don’t read books you’re doing yourself a disservice, if you’re not participating actively and doing something outside of yourself or someone else you’re doing yourself a disservice as well i can see a trend that’s changing, what are you finding as the most the biggest challenge in terms of adoption,you mentioned some of the fear in terms of what if i don’t do enough but what else are you seeing out there that you see is hurdle that needs to be overcome.
Ben Block: Yeah i think for us i’ve done a few thing like quite frankly i had to get over the fact that just doing good thing isn’t necessarily enough to get people to do something new or people are all busy, and what we’ve had to ask ourselves is how do we allow people to engage with the things that they already care about or they already want to support so were not perceived as you know you have to well before for you or after you get home from work you pick your kid up you make diner, you tie all this and by the way you gotta go volunteer now, we need to were working towards is helping people today this is a place to go whether its just to get informed about the things you care about, we’ve started to integrate cause based news so you tell me i care about education homelessness and animals, well in the same news feeds and this actually is even live yet, you’re going to see volunteer opportunities fundraising opportunities and stuff were already doing, but also just news about the causes you care about for you to stay connected to those and then ideally start to ask people okay wont record things or capture things that you are volunteering already, you volunteer your kids school, lets record that and capture that, let’s invite your school to participate for free so they can communicate their needs to the parents through Gozaround an efficient sort of intelligent targeted way and basically slowly putting our minds to how do we reduce the barriers to people engaging with this and five people the opportunity to participate from their couch if we can or and when their schedule opens then get out and do something that’s kind of a bit of a long answer but sort of basically tapping into where how do people want to give back and how do we facilitate that in the best possible way and the tech in the tech environment.
Tulio Siragusa: Yeah that’s great i’ve been with a few nonprofits both as a volunteer and also as a board member and i got to tell you the bound to your management is it’s a big task, it’s obviously you know, is a big challenge and this would have been super useful to have it before you go to ask the audience for some question i want to understand if you could explain to the audience how does this get set up right, so if i’m an individual how do i sign up, if i’m a business how do i sign up, how does the actual platform work like in connecting interest and so on and so for.
Ben Block: Sure from an individual perspective it’s no more difficult than signing up for facebook or linkedin basically you just go click sign up, create a profile for free, give us a little bit of information about what sorts of causes you’re passionate about, what sorts of needs you like to contribute with like i care about the environment and i like to do physical task, because i want to get some exercise okay, and i’m in L.A. so then we will push to you opportunities that suit that criteria and not things that don’t, i’m going to that idea of lets not create noise on opportunities or needs that don’t suit and ask people to do things that do from a business perspective were a little bit more hands on with that we you can sign up and create your profile but in reality our experiences most companies want some help getting going so we create the profile set up any programs that may already exist like you have from studio hours off to volunteer or some companies will do a grant if you volunteer hours we’ll give 400 bucks to whatever you want, these types of things so we´ll help configure all of that, and sort of hold your hand while we set this thing off on the best possible foot.
Tulio Siragusa: So and there’s a third part that is rhyming there’s the charities themselves the organization do you extend the platform to them as well how do they integrate this with their own bond to your systems its not something that’s in your roadmap as well.
Ben Block: Yeah i’m glad you brought that up, so yes the third user type is shared using those two of yo, if you have any non profit watching right now you can just go and sign up again for free and if you have a EIN charity number and the states you can even accept donations through the platform that’s not even available inc adana where i am yet, but it is in the US and its all free set up your profile you can start posting within a few minutes of what needs you may have, will push those out too again uitable or targeted volunteer in the area or sometimes it’s even a volunteer component sort of mode up between will push that away as we get responses again, its all free use the platform to accept those with the volunteer event schedule them if you like for there’s a whole bunch of tools that are there again free, you can sign up right now.
Tulio Siragusa: Great please they need to go do that as someones whos participated in that its definitely neat, Carlos, want to open this up to some questions?
Carlos Ponce: Yes, actually i have a question and in, i was you know given the nature of you endeavor, you know, i think it takes a, whoever gets engaged and it Gozaround in terms of being part of the team i think that besides being a tech enthusiast i think there needs to be or there should be from my standpoint some kind of connection to the mission of the company, okay, so in that sense my question to you would be, i mean, how can i put this, how do you go about know finding good people, you know, the ideal people school to work with you to build nos just a great product but also to build a great mission a great, you know everything that you can bring to society so you need to align people to your mission how do you go about matching the tools, the two traits you know, technology and addition is that difficult to accomplish?
Ben Block: For us as a team do you mean?
Carlos Ponce: Yes.
Ben Block: Yeah, i’ve been pretty lucky in that way quite honestly, fate or the universe or whatever has brought good people along and one of the advantages of a sort socially social enterprise or a social tech idea like ours is people want to be a part of it, if there’s an opportunity and i’ve just been very interesting i alluded to it in some of the notes i sent you before the show of the stepping stones, again, i’m really good at remembering partial quotes, but there’s a Steve Jobs quote about like the stepping stones of you life makes sense when you look back on them, and that’s pretty true for this and i’ve been lucky enough just in my travels to meet people that become part of our team like in new york , one of our mentor that i’ve met had that pitch competition and took like more interest in us, than he should and when i went to New York i met both a writer who would feature us in Forbes and a n accountant who just loves this so much he became a sales person for us just because he want it to spread and one of our angel investors is a judge and met our UI designer in a coffee shop in Vancouver and she just love it you know like i could just be lucky in that way and you can sense pretty quickly if somebody gets it and it resonates with them and the believe its agreed this is an important and potentially powerful idea, they can they get on board with that.
Carlos Ponce: Thank you so much Ben, and that’s we at Tullio we are a few minutes away from wrapping up times, usually times goes by really fast, so id like to pas on the mic back to you wrapping up and then the four finest questions.
Tulio Siragusa: Yeah if anybody have any question, you just go on Twitter.
Carlos Ponce: Of course.
Tulio Siragusa: Just submit them while watching those and we can we can submit questions to Ben on that as well, Ben this is a look your lawyer by trade you could have chosen any given career and you give a profession, you alluded to this a little bit when we first started but i’m curious as to what gave birth to this for you personally what’s the journey been like, why this, you know, what was that moments like,i want to go do this, it’s a very noble thing you’re doing,but i’m curious as to what gave birth to this idea and why this drives you personally to do it.
Ben Block: Yeah it’s really just came out of my, i think own experience , oh yes ive know like i’ve had so many sort of intersections with the idea sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint, as the first, but actually it was when i was workings as a lawyer you know or the firm i was at the time i decided, okay i used to be a really active volunteer while i was in school, and i did a lot and that’s easy when you’re in university, there’s just so many opportunities in that but i was in this busy career and i said i want to go do something like that again it’s been quite a while and i couldn’t believe how difficult it was, like why am like as a lawyer the only product i sell is time, and i’m spending an awful lot of it just trying to figure out how to give it away and so i was going a different charity site so let’s try to figure this out , like this is crazy like i can go AIRbnb and book an apartment in Mexico City in no time, how is it this hard to find a way to volunteer in my own backyard, and so out of that just kind of came, and ir sort of guides with this idea ands fascination i have , that at the same time, there’s all this organize volunteering that were familiar with, but what i also have find interesting is that each of us have a unique set of like skills and abilities and network, and so on that we readily share with people we know, but we would probably share with people we don’t if we knew they needed it and it’s like maybe there’s as we speak somebody across the street who needs to move a couch or something and they just there’s one of them and they need a second guy at the other end, i will happily help them do that but i don’t know, and i think this the internet has the ability to do that and mobile devices and so on, can create these connections and opportunities to use this capacity that we already have to connect with the need that are out there, and i was just like okay this is it this has got to be my idea, it really hits what my values it hits my passions for business and i just i want to do something so i’m not gonna try now what am i ever going to so yea, that i did.
Tulio Siragusa: I think it’s interesting and im wondering if this the case do you think that a lot of charities are little bit behind and the adoption of technology and i asked this question because you know, my linkedin profile i listed the ghints im willing to do volunteer for, and in years i’ve never had once anyone reach out, say hey we need help it’s almost like they’re not using these channels, are you finding that that’s part of the problem.
Ben Block: Yeah, actually like you asked me before about adoption on that side of the equation that has been a little bit more difficult than i expected because i assumed if i take a user type like charities that have a need like volunteers and fundraising and give them tools to do that for free there should be like an avalanche of users and they’ll drive everything and off we go, well i think the desire for a techno, tech adoption is strong in the charitable sector, but what is drain is time, and it’s really hard just to find the time to adopt a new system or to experiment with linkedin or you know or ask them hey here’s GozAround it’s free you should try it well, yeah but i have so many things to do i’d like you know that kind has been a delaying factor for that sector its not as much desire but you’re right they do, lag in some areas and i thinks it’s just a function of capacity and i think i hope we can help them with that.
Tulio Siragusa: Okay, so you’re disrupting the status quo obviously and it’s a lot of on tiers so their motivation is i mean you already have a way of doing it, but it just seems like common sense to we live in a digital society are leveraging this kind of technology would be really helpful, im hoping that some nonprofits will listen today or another day and realize why we need to get on board with some of these, i will certainly recommend you guys to a few that i know, i think the timing is fantastic, love what you’re doing it’s always were running out, were out of time, it’s always like that just when it starts to get interesting we ran out of time, i have one last question for you we let you go, doing this kind of startup with you know this journey, any words of wisdom you have anybody whos sitting on the fence thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, anywhere to wisdom you’d like to share about your journey and you know what is it what doing and network doing it, please share with those might be listening or on the fence.
Ben Block: My temptation is good to say like go for it, but my advice would be to be aware it is difficult, there’s you should google or email me Bennetgozaround.com i will send it to you, my wife found it it’s this graph and it says the emotional journey of doing anything great and if you can picture a bell curve flipped upside down, it starts up at the top with i got an idea and it has these interesting kind of funny hash marks as you slide down, saying this is harder than i thought and then you get to this thing associated in it says the valley of despair, and then you’re just like is this ever gonna work what have i done, i am like as for me as a lawyer i think to myself whats is my opportunity cause of this, what am i doing and then you start to get like glimmers of encouragement and it’s funny on this chart the first line is well, this still sucks and is like yeah, it’s really hards and then you get there and then the ideas eventually you’ll get there and you need to ask yourself i think like your idea i know you research that and you’ll figure out if you believe in it its think there’s a market and all that but i think what people need to ask themselves is can they endure that process like it is longer and harder than you probably think and every overnight success story you’ve ever heard of probably isn’t and so like strap in for that prepare yourself for that, expect it and then i think you’ll be able to get through more i guess with the strength and the endurance you need and the persistence and so on, but be are that the journey is not a easy one don’t let that stop you but knowing.
Tulio Siragusa: Invaluable, invaluable lessons and wisdom thank you for sharing that with us, thanks for joining us today loved it when it please let people know where they can sign up and they could also check the landing page GozAround i’m gonna definitely sign up myself i love the concept and the idea and i encourage everyone to do the same and wish you much success in this endeavor.
Carlos Ponce: Tullio one quick announcement before we go is about next week we have another great interview right here in DojoLive! Same day, same time were going to be speaking with Jonathan Chou the founder and CEO of Beetoken which is a platform for and i quote the future of home sharing so yeah , that’s very cool, thats were gonna be that’s where were gonna be chatting with next week, Chou CEO Betoken the future home sharing.
Tulio Siragusa: Is this the community home guy?
Carlos Ponce: Yes,he is the one.
Tulio Siragusa: That’s a cool topic.
Carlos Ponce: Sure, alright so well, im sorry, Ben well the only thing left for me to do is just thank you, big time and were gonna be in touch and i’m going to encourage you to stick around for a minute when we go off the air and a word for the audience again, thank you for having watched this episode DojoLive! Connecting experts like you. See you next time, next week.