News & Views

Interview / Alexandre Mars, Epic

by Emily Hare
Contagious speaks to Alexandre Mars, founder of Epic, about why giving is becoming increasingly important to businesses, and how his non-profit start-up is building tools and recommending charities to make donating easier and more transparent

What is Epic? What made you found it?

Epic is a movement. It’s a marketplace for supply and demand. We understand that people should do more and we build solutions for them. Pro bono.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always looking at point A, where people are, and point B, where they want to go. If the gap between A and B is wide enough, then you can build a business to cross the gap.

I ask people two questions: have you given money to a charity organisation this year? And everyone will answer yes. But then when you ask people, do you think you have given enough, 95% will answer no. But they say, I wish I had given more. What’s keeping you from giving more? The world is in need, you have the money, you have a big heart, why not more?

The answer is threefold: one, we have no trust for social organisations, we don’t know what they do with their money, we cannot track what they do. Two, we don’t have the time. Three, we don’t have the knowledge. If you take breast cancer in New York, there are more than 120 organisations tackling breast cancer. Which one will you select? That’s point B. That’s what we do at Epic, we build tools to get you there.

What tools have you built? How do they help people?

We have three different tools, called impact solutions. 1: Selection. We target social organisations tackling youth and children issues, in seven regions around the world, including the UK. Last year we reviewed more than 3,500 applications and we spent seven months selecting just a few of them using a 3-stage process that leverages due-diligence, expert networks, and on-the-ground analysis. It’s a very hardcore, thorough methodology to get to this small number, like a venture capitalist does. We select about ten social organisations every year to join our portfolio.

The second tool is for monitoring and tracking, we’ve built a mobile app where you can get your own portfolio, so you will see your donations and how many lives have been impacted. Then we go way deeper with newsfeeds, providing information from the organisations you are funding. You have data, content, video, but the app has been built with the same user interface as you’d use to book vacations or buy a new car. That’s what we provide to donors.

The third piece is the experience. The right side of your brain is numbers, it’s data, the left side is about the passion, the impact. We give donors the opportunity to visit the social organisations they support: seeing your social impact with your own eyes is such a powerful experience. We’ve also shot VR movies that capture the local social issues, the importance of the work of our portfolio organisations, the challenges they face, and the success they achieve.

The average cost to impact one life is $60. Every time we are able to find $60, the life of one kid will be changed somewhere around the world.

How has Epic been using Virtual Reality to share information about the projects it works on?

VR brings you into the action, so you’re part of it. We are all control freaks now, so it’s super important to share everything with the community. Maybe it’ll be different five years from now, when you’re used to it, but for now, you have this feeling that you really are in the field, on the ground. This helps users to see that their money is being well used.

What is Epic’s overall goal?

The goal of Epic is to make giving the norm, because we will only be able to really tackle the injustices that we witness in our world if we change people’'s mindsets to give more.

What are the shifts that you see happening in society that make what Epic’s building so relevant now?

For years we have been busy trying to adapt to this tech disruption. There’s social disruption coming from this new generation. They are different, they care about different things, they talk about social media, social innovation, social ventures, social beauty. They care about giving. We were in Stanford, and 20% of the grads from there want to work in the social sector. When you talk to CEOs or HR leads, the first question that this generation asks is for a description of the job, the second question is what compensation they get, and the third question is what the organisation is doing and how they are giving back. And if they don’t have the answers then this generation will go to the next potential employer.

How can businesses contribute to Epic’s work?

We believe the corporate world should do more, and we are providing them with tools. We are going after businesses, encouraging them to sign the EPIC Sharing Pledge by donating a percentage of their profits. One percent of your profit is painless, but if you start doing this, it will be even easier for you to recruit great people and keep those people. We believe the corporate world is where everything is. Local and national governments do as much as they can but their budgets also have limits. The corporate world is better positioned to give.

How is Epic funded?

I’m self-funding everything – the money I made running businesses and selling those businesses [including Phonevalley, sold to Publicis and ScrOOn, sold to BlackBerry] – I’m using that to self-fund everything. We have a team of 30 people now and should be 40 soon. People understand that we are doing this because we want to change lives, and it’s important for our model to be pure.

Are there any other ways that Epic is enabling donations?

Yes. Transactional giving for instance is when you buy something online for $52.20, and you click on a button to round it up to $53, so you can round the change up. You can implement this if you are a restaurant, a bar, a hotel. We also love the round down or payroll giving. That’s when businesses allow their employees to round their pay check down to the nearest pound or dollar. For example, you get $2,500.25, you can give away the 25 cents, the organisation can match this, if they want, and then you can decide as an organisation where who to give that money to.

How do you see social good evolving?

We are pushing people to do more, we provide the tools to get there, but it’s a trend. Social good is more and more important, it’s a mission for more and more people. In three years from now, 50% of the global workforce will be a millennial. What I’m telling you about will be the norm, and businesses that don’t understand that will soon become irrelevant.

Our goal is for giving to be everywhere, and when people can, they should do it. Success, whatever it means, is different for everybody, but when you are at the top, you need to share it. Being successful is one part of the equation, the other part is what are you doing with that success? 15 years ago, ten years ago, five years ago even, it was fine if you weren’t doing anything with that success. Being selfish was ok. It’s no longer ok because you start being judged by this new generation, who are your potential employees, your potential customers, your kids.