When Zach Hagopian and Jonathan Kazarian decided to host a Dana-Farber fundraising event with friends at the Boston Aquarium in 2014, they hoped to get around 150 people to show up.
One Facebook event listing and several networking efforts later, and 850 people had RSVPd.
The excitement of raising a lot of money was quickly followed by anxiety over the logistical planning of the event. One of their biggest concerns was the idea of managing a paper raffle system and silent auction.
Knowing that most of their attendees would be millennials, the two 26-year-olds took to the internet to find a technological solution to their raffle problem. Unfortunately, the services they discovered were all way out of their price range, so they had a friend create a bidding system based entirely on text messaging.
The event ended up being a smashing success, and Hagopian and Kazarian knew their mobile bidding idea was a big part of it. Over the next year and a half, Accelevents was born.
These days, Accelevents offers a full mobile solution that gives customers a personalized web page and phone number for donors to track bids, make donations and check out all from their phones.
“When users start bidding, they can view all of the information on an item, like images, descriptions and the current highest bid,” Hagopian explains. “Then, throughout the night, or however long your auction period is, you get instant notifications if you’ve been outbid.”
The Boston-based company has already been used at more than 400 events by thousands of people around the world to raise money for tons of great causes.
Accelevents Stands Out
Hagopian and Kazarian are not your typical startup founders.
The two childhood friends had limited experience with technology prior to founding Accelevents.
Hagopian, who also works at the customer service company dunnhumby, handles most of the marketing and sales while Kazarian, who works for the investment firm Windham Capital Management, is focused on the system design. The remainder of the company is made up of CTO Drew Dresser and a revolving door of three to five people who work on the software.
“We’ve built a lean business, which has allowed us to bootstrap everything,” Hagopian says. “That’s how we’re planning on going forward, at least in the near future.”
The small size of the company has also allowed them to keep things cheap for customers, which has been essential for attracting people hosting smaller events. Users can currently create their entire service page and won’t be charged until the event begins.
Another way Accelevents tries to set itself apart is with its customer service. Using Intercom, which creates a chat box widget on their website, the team provides 24/7 live support. The founders’ direct involvement in customer support has also helped them fine tune their product.
“John and I agree customer service is a huge part of the company because it helps build trust for the product,” Hagopian says. “We’re still on almost every conference call with our customers, and we’ve used those experiences to roll out new features. It’s a cliché, but one of the biggest things about running a business is listening to the customers and using those touchpoints to create a product people love.”
An Evolving Startup
Earlier this month, Accelevents launched a full ticketing platform that Hagopian and Kazarian hope will allow the company to compete with larger companies outside of the fundraising vertical like Eventbrite.
“The ticketing platform really makes for an end-to-end experience, because now an attendee can buy a ticket at home, arrive at an event and once their ticket is scanned, they’ll get a push notification with a link to our customer’s event page,” Hagopian says. “It will ensure everyone at your event has the information open or accessible on their phone, which will hopefully make engagement and participation skyrocket.”
Accelevents has already been used to support massive events held by prominent organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Best Buddies and Dana-Farber, but the biggest fundraiser the company has been a part of wasn’t a physical event at all.
A popular YouTube channel recently held a live sweepstakes that attracted roughly 250,000 views from people across five continents. That episode showed the possibilities for a digital company like Accelevents to reach an audience that would be impossible in a traditional fundraising effort.
As for the founders’ original Dana-Farber event, that became an annual occurrence, and its growth seems to be following the trajectory of the company: This year’s fundraiser collected more than $100,000 for the cancer institute.
On nights like that, with old friends partying next to a surging donation tracker, it’s hard to argue Accelevents hasn’t already accomplished a lot.