On Thursday October 17th, 2013 OLC attended Startup Grind San Francisco’s fireside chat. Perri Blake Gorman was hosting this events fireside chat with Jennifer Dulski, who is the COO and President of Change.org.
Jennifer Dulski: JD
Perri Blake Gorman: PG
PG: I heard you had an early mentor that was a woman, how did that impact your success?
JD: I get asked a lot about being a woman and being in a leadership role. I believe that growing up in San Francisco helped me with this. On a funny side note, I am also only 5 feet tall. There are more 5’7” male CEOs than total women CEOs.
When I was in high school, I was the coxswain on a men’s boating team (I was the coach on the front of the boat). I was responsible with trying to motivate these guys while they were struggling and tired.
I also grew up around a lot of men so I’m used to being in that type of situation. You get used to it and learn to adapt.
PG: Take us through the transition between having a non-profit and being able to only do so much as one person to getting into Yahoo!.
JD: When I was running the very successful nonprofit, it was working, I was getting very nice letters from parents. It was heartwarming but I was only able to help so many people. This was not the end game I was aiming for.
There had to be a scalable way to do this. The internet was it. I found Yahoo! and that was it.
I went and got my MBA and was one of the first of 400 Yahoo! employees to do so. Together we've seen the internet grow into what it is today.
PG: Before we get to your current job, there was something interesting in the middle, tell us more about that.
JD: Dealmap was the company that was owned by Center’d. I was just honestly just too stubborn to fail. I helped change the name of the company and the product.
I got started there because an executive search firm recruited me. They needed the help.
I started at the end of 2007, just at the end of the investor nuclear winter. We had to bootstrap and make it through the rough times.
I learned how to tell the difference when something is working and not working. As an entrepreneur it’s really hard to do this.
When you start getting cold emails from companies and people you know you're doing something right.
PG: The struggle is the juice of the journey; what advice would you give to early startups?
JD: Being an entrepreneur is like climbing a mountain; some days were amazing, great, sunny, then other days were a storm, I was at the bottom, my backpack was heavy, things just go wrong. This is all part of the journey and the struggle. Great entrepreneurs just keep going regardless if it’s a good day or a bad day. You must keep fighting.
You want to be seen as an inspirational leader in the good and dark days with your team. You know you’ve created a business when people are willing to pay you.
PG: Acquisitions are fun for people.. tell us about it.
JD: We were in a lucky spot. The right product, the right place, the right time. We were the largest local deals aggregator and all the local companies gave us their content.
We had the choice of raising more money or selling. It was challenging to decide what to do. It came down to two options: 1. we wanted to scale the business, we felt that Google would help us scale it millions to people; 2. know your window of opportunity. Somethings are popular at certain times and for only a limited amount of time. If you see your opportunity, do it and sell. So we sold it to Google.
PG: There are a lot of stories like the odyssey. You’re story is like a full circle: startups, Yahoo!, Google and now Change.org. What was your vision and going forward?
JD: It’s like a dream job, both my passions coming together. Scaling a business and changing the world with 45 million victories to date.
There are still challenges we face. We still need to scale with people and the technology.
PG: You want people to have more access to your platform, how do people find out about Change.org
JD: We are a global empowerment platform; we want to let people know that they can have the power to make a change. We grow by sharing the stories of the people who came before them. All sorts of different publications pick up this news.
You’ll see stories coming from people of all different backgrounds and income. This makes people think that person is just like ‘me.’ This allows them to think more proactive and try to make the changes they want to see.
PG: You mentioned majority of people who start the petition are young...tell us more about that.
JD: Yes, a lot of young people do use Change.org and they win. I think a part of it is they don’t know they can't win.
An example I like to give is one of this 15 year named, Sarah Kavanagh, and Gatorade. Sarah who was in high school was drinking Gatorade and was reading the ingredients and noticed an ingredient she didn’t know what it was and did some research on it. She found out that it was harmful and started a petition on Change.org.
She quickly got 150,000 signatures and Gatorade eventually made changes to their ingredients. The best part about this story is there was a scientist who had been working to try and fight with Gatorade to fix this for years and years.
PG: What’s next with Change.org? What would you like people to know?
JD: We are the first of several of business that are in the social good space, and we believe you can do well and make money while also scale. We also hope that our model will inspire others who will be able to follow.
For us as a company, our vision is to create a world where no one is powerless. We want to let people know that anyone anywhere can change anything.
We are launching Change.org for decision makers soon. You can propose a solution to a problem to people that actually have the power to make them happen.
This can be super powerful.
PG: What are the most touching stories that you can share?
JD: We have a lot of touching stories, but the ones that touch me are ones about children and education. Since I am a mom it’s really personal.
A young girl needed a lung transplant, but with children there is a rule that says children can only receive other children's lungs. This was a very rare thing to happen. The little girl’s mother with Change.org petitioned to change this rule. It was proposed in front of a judge the rule was changed and the young girl got a lung and saving her life.
PG: Thinking about the entrepreneurial journey, with all sorts of different reasons to start something, is important to pick something that’s in your wheelhouse?
JD: There are lot of different things you can create, people just need to want it and need it. This is important.
I personally encourage people to make businesses that make the world better.
PG: Thank you Jennifer, for your time, stories and inspiration.