Entrepreneur Profile: Hans Schoenburg, GiftFlow
We hear it every day in the news – small business drives the growth and job creation in our economy.
Independent’s Entrepreneur Profiles celebrates the people out there changing the world every day. We ask each entrepreneur eight questions to give us a little insight into their vision of the future, and their take on building a company.
This month, we feature Hans Schoenburg, co-founder of GiftFlow, a New Haven-based startup attempting to change the way we think about giving and community.
Eight Questions for Hans
1. What does your company do?
GiftFlow strengthens community interdependence, prevents waste and reduces costs. It connects users into an online gift economy and sharing network where people give or share what they can to get what they need. Users post on their profile a list of whatever goods and services they need and a list of what they can give or share. This can range from an hour of volunteer time to a used bicycle. While the site is still in development, our goal is to build a market of free stuff, a social network of trust, and a community of giving and sharing.
Our main strategy is to build partnerships with non-profits and community organizations. By listing their needs on GiftFlow, they can receive the direct support of their community members. These groups are the nodes of our neighborhood networks and will provide a strong foundation for the GiftFlow community.
We plan to take the “free-list” function of successful sites like Freecycle and Craigslist and channel it into a social network. Stuff that is currently given away to strangers through these largely anonymous sites will now flow through a social network, building a strong interdependent community.
Here is a video of what exactly GiftFlow does.
2. When did you start your company? Why did you decide to start your company?
The members of the GiftFlow team all came to the project for their own reasons, so I’ll just speak for mine. At Yale I studied economic anthropology and came across accounts of Malian gift economies by regional anthropologists. Giving without expectation of immediate return, many people in Mali participate in a below-the-radar gift economy that includes anything from a meal for a neighbor, change for bus fare, child care or food from the garden. They see the gift as a string, connecting families, friends and neighbors in a web of mutual support.
Raised on the Internet, I realized that a gift economy could be supported by an online social network. The Internet could be serve as the memory bank for the community’s informal giving and sharing. A website could strengthen and formalize what is already happening in communities around the world.
GiftFlow started to grow as I met more people passionate about the same idea. Our team now includes Cris, Brandon, Jarus and Regina as well as many more supporters.
3. What are your funding sources?
We are a non-profit. So far our funding has come from various fellowships, grants and donations. Our revenue model will be an optional “Verified Donation” that will give users a “Verified” icon on their profile and preference in search results. We expect to charge $20.
4. What have the top 3 challenges have been in your start-up process?
First, recruiting developers. Our lead developer Brandon Jackson is the MVP of our effort right now, while the rest of our team is working hard to build a network of supporters.
Second, developing a coherent brand and message. While we’ve always agreed on the functionality of the website, how we describe it to the public has been a long, and very useful, debate.
Third, operating on a shoe-string budget. Starting a non-profit website is not easy.
5. Define “entrepreneur”
Someone who is not afraid to work outside of the safety of established organizations and enjoys working with an interdependent small group.
6. Read any good books lately?
The Gift by Lewis Hyde. It is a powerful explanation of the potential of gift-giving to connect communities. Here is a great quote:
“Circular giving differs from reciprocal giving in several ways. First, when the gift moves in a circle, no one ever receives it from the same person she gives it to…When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith” (p.16)
7. What is your advice for an entrepreneur starting out?
Don’t stress out. Get enough sleep, take care of yourself and don’t forget your friends. Keep yourself in a positive mood. It makes it much easier to build connections with others.
8. What’s your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
“I am a laser beam” - Seth Godin
This a great mindset for an entrepreneur to have. The better you can focus and concentrate your efforts, the stronger you’ll be and the farther you’ll go.
If you are an entrepreneur in the Northeast and are interested in being profiled, we invite you to contact us.