When a couple of Stanford college friends, Matt Pohlson and Ryan Cummins, attended a gala for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2011, they couldn't sit still at the thought of getting a chance at the auctioned prize for the night: a seat next to Magic Johnson at an L.A. Lakers game and dinner with the legendary sports star afterward. But those dreams were dashed for the two young men as the bidding for the prize surpassed $15,000, something no college kid could afford.
That's when Omaze came to light. They thought, "Why not switch from an auction to a raffle? You'd make a lot more money for causes, and it makes the prize far more achievable."
Here's how it works: You can donate as little as $10 to get the chance to do things like grab lunch with Orlando Bloom, land a cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or meet Buzz Aldrin for a tour of the Kennedy Space Center. That's obviously attractive for people vying for the cool experiences, but what about the celebrities and influencers? How do you get them on board?
Pohlson says the secret lies in a combination of persistence, continuous improvement, and a little bit of luck. It also didn't hurt that he and Cummins had great past experience--the two had both done stints at the Clinton Foundation's celebrity-filled Decade of Difference concert, as well as worked with film and with other honorable figures.
As for how the company maintains customer expectations, well, that's been tricky. Here's how the founders dealt with an early setback and the lessons they learned from the experience.
1. Admit your mistakes ...
Just after the company launched, it hosted a campaign featuring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. The winner got to go to a premiere and after-party with the cast. "We had a flood of donations--around a million dollars' worth--come in during the last 36 hours," Pohlson reflects. "We were only four people, we were very young, and we didn't have the tech system that we have now. Our system didn't process all the entries."
The drawing went through, and a winner was chosen without including the last couple thousand entries. When the Omaze team discovered what had happened, they decided honesty was the best policy.
2. ... And then fix them.
"We went out and said, 'Look, we made this mistake. We didn't anticipate this level of volume. We're going to do a new drawing. Everybody who wasn't in the first drawing is in the second, and we're going to make it right,'" Pohlson says.
"Anytime you're dealing with anybody, in your personal life or in any kind of life, if you explain to them why you fell short, and you're honest about it, and you're committed to being better next time, people are usually understanding," he says. "At the end of the day, all a brand is is a promise. It's a promise to deliver, on a certain level of quality that you guarantee."
You must protect that as if your brand depends on it, because it does, Pohlson adds.
3. Always (always) listen to your customers.
To evaluate whether your company has a problem with following through on promises or managing expectations, Pohlson suggests looking to customers' feedback.
"Sometimes there's a gap in expectations of what consumers think that they're getting and what's actually promised to them," he says. "Listen to them. Look to your customer service, look at social, and do all those things to make sure you're not missing anything."
If you do notice a disconnect or miscommunication, identify the gap, and start looking to bridge it.