Stop trying to beat competitors and win customers and aim to maximize happiness and empowerment instead. logo2-150x150By Danae Ringelman (Co-founder, Indiegogo)

Here in the SF Bay Area tech startup scene, when some founders are asked their long-term goal, they jokingly answer “world domination.”  It’s trite, but if there’s even an ounce of truth there, I believe a founder’s chance of success is reduced.

The lows of entrepreneurship are simply too hard to weather if your motivation is any bit superficial. So to ensure starting a company is your means to an important end (e.g. solving a meaningful problem) and not the end itself, I encourage every fellow founder to do the 5 Whys exercise.

From there, my advice would be to drop all thoughts on world domination (even sarcastic ones) and spend your energy on world empowerment.  It not only sounds nicer, but based on my experience starting Indiegogo, I believe it’s a better long-term business strategy.

At Indiegogo, empowerment is literally our mantra. Those of you who have visited our San Francisco headquarters know what this means (those who haven’t, can check out the image above). And our empowerment seems to be working, with over 150,000 campaigns from nearly every country of the world and in every industry having tested or raised money for their dreams on our platform.

No, we’re neither perfect nor done by any means, but we’re on our way, so I’d like to share some tactics on how we’ve started turning a word on our wall into a long-term strategy. Hopefully our learnings will be helpful as you set out to join us in the quest for world empowerment.

Deliver Customer Happiness, not Customer Service

Our customer empowerment work is led by the Customer Happiness team, who play a powerful role at the company. Their goal is simple: to empower. How do they start? By answering questions directly and authentically. One customer recently went out of her way to thank us for being “real human beings with intelligence and empathy.” She added, “If only Indiegogo’s culture could be replicated across the business world, imagine the millions of people who could throw away their tranquilizers and blood pressure meds!”

But Indiegogo’s Happiness Agents don’t just handle customer support questions. They also inform our product strategy and our educational offerings, and help keep their fellow employees happy.

Empower Happiness to Empower Product

For the Product team, the Happiness team serves as their eyes and ears for what works, what doesn’t, and what we need to try next. When a product works, people come back, and when it doesn’t, they don’t. It’s that simple. The feedback and impressions that our Happiness Agents collect from customers provide essential intelligence that we incorporate into product improvements.

For example the Indiegogo Outpost, which we announced this week, came directly from customers sharing that they wanted a way to host their Indiegogo campaign on their own website too.

Empower Through Scalable Education

The Happiness team doesn’t just educate customers one-on-one, but also turns their lessons into educational materials for everyone to share and use. For example, our popular Crowdfunding Field Guide, provides a step-by-step guide to running a strong campaign. All content was distilled down from the thousands of customer help requests we had received to date.

Soon we’ll be launching the Crowdfunding Playbook, which adds insights and statistics data-mined by our Data Science team (who sits right next to the Happiness team) from our 150,000+ campaigns to date. The Playbook is a comprehensive resource developed to help campaign owners, funders and partners, before, during, and after a crowdfunding campaign.

Preparation is the number one key to funding success, and as an equal opportunity platform with a mission to empower all people to fund what matters to them, ensuring equal access to educational materials improves the chance of success of all our campaigns. That’s why sharing high-quality, customer and data-driven educational materials is the ultimate scalable growth strategy for us.

Empower Your Empowerers

Indiegogo Happiness agents also liaise with other parts of the company via our Internal Happiness Ambassador program to keep everyone here happy. Through this contact they also make sure that the customer perspective is included in decisions, and bring back news that customers might want to know– for example regarding in-progress trust and safety updates and new product rollouts.

We even have a “Happiness Happiness” program, to keep the Happiness team themselves happy. The team does something fun together each month, often with a customer– like when we all went to the Indiegogo-launched cheese shop Mission Cheese and sampled their amazing cheeses.

Empower Your Empowerees to Empower Others

We have learned a lot about empowering our customers, but the biggest recent lesson is that we can’t do it all ourselves. Fortunately, we are in a great position to empower the world in a truly scalable way by enabling people and communities to empower themselves without us.

Customers have often asked us to hook them up with professional consultants, and consultants have asked us how they might reach our customers, so we’re empowering our empowerees by launching the first Global Crowdfunding Network, which will allow everyone engaged in crowdfunding to connect with and help each other create and run great campaigns. This many-to-many solution promises to truly empower everyone in the industry.

Investing in customer empowerment is not a cost center to avoid, it’s a critical factor for your company’s scalability, product’s growth, employees’ happiness, customer’s success, and ultimately your industry’s health. Customer empowerment also keeps us from over-depending on expensive and inauthentic “customer acquisition tools” to grow and scale.  Even the vocabulary of those services makes me cringe; what customer wants to be “acquired”? And ultimately, customer empowerment is just the right thing to do. As our parents taught us growing up, “Always treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.”

At Indiegogo we invest a lot of resources and work hard towards the goal of world empowerment, and I believe it has served us well. We know from experience that happy customers share and empower their friends to follow their lead. That’s why you can’t ask for a better tool than a Happiness Team when it comes to building awareness and growing and serving your customer base. When the customer is empowered, everyone wins– it isn’t a dominance relationship where the company wins and the customer loses.

Not to get too competitive here, but that’s why I think that in the long run, the forces of world empowerment will dominate the forces of world domination.

35ec35cAbout the guest blogger: Danae (@gogoDanae) co-founded Indiegogo and leads the company’s Customer Happiness division. She was listed on Fast Company‘s Top 50 Women Innovators in Technology in 2011, and AWNY awarded Danae the “No Apologies” Changemaker award in 2013. Prior to Indiegogo, Danae was a securities analyst at Cowen & Co.