Founders’ Friday: Michael Rausher, PHIL-Athens

Hi, Brandon here again. Today’s featured Friday founder is  Michael Rausher from PHIL-Athens.  I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about the impact that his company has on the Athens community and why he started a company that focuses on giving back to the city of Athens. Enjoy.

Founder: Michael Rausher

Company: PHIL-Athens

BC: Tell me a little bit about your company:

MR: PHIL-Athens connects local businesses with nonprofits in town. We provide a website and mobile-friendly site, which essentially functions as an app that people can download to their smartphones’ desktop, where people go to support local causes they care about without spending their own money. You can earn prizes and coupons offered by business sponsors that provide the donations on our website users’ behalves.

BC: Where did the idea come from?

MR: It started with me and my two best friends. We met during our freshman year at UGA and started brainstorming ideas about the business during our junior year. We wanted to do something beneficial for the city of Athens. We saw the university as a great resource because there are so many people who go here, and we saw the potential for a lot of support from that audience for the Athens’ community. We wanted to figure out a way to spur greater community involvement, so we decided to establish a company that helps remove the barriers that discourage people from donating- lack of time and lack of money. So we created a website that allows anyone to donate instantly, from anywhere, at any time and at no cost to them.

BC: Why should your target audience use your product and not someone else’s?

MR: To my knowledge, there is not another company in Athens that does what we do. I do not believe there are any other websites where you can donate to Athens nonprofits and win coupons to local businesses for your charitable click.

BC: What motivated you to get started?

MR: Wanting to do something that was business-oriented and that could be sustainable, but at the same time help people. I did not just want to volunteer my time, so I created a business model that involved helping improve lives and that had the potential to scale.

BC: What have been some of your biggest challenges so far?

MR: I would say when I first started the company there were a lot of challenges because I didn’t have any startup experience. I believe this led to us struggling initially with our IT development. Also figuring out what ways were most cost effective to grow and run a company was a challenge. I found that as a young person starting a business, it was not uncommon to encounter service providers who would try to take advantage of the company. They assumed that because we were so young we didn’t know anything, so they would mark up their prices 300% and then tell us that we were “getting a steal”. To confront that, handle it, learn and move on was a challenge. However, I consider myself fortunate and glad to have gone through these challenges because I learned a lot from all of them and regularly utilize the lessons learned.

BC: Where do you see your startup being in the next year?

MR: I would like to double the amount of money that has been donated to our website, so I would like to hit the $30,000.00 mark. I would also like to double the amount of sponsors and business that we have partnered with.

BC: Would you ever consider selling your company if the right offer was presented?

MR: That is a difficult question because it would depend on where the company was, who was offering to buy it and what was being offered. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibilities of ever happening, but it isn’t something that I am actively pursuing. It is not a goal, but it is not something that I would dismiss without giving consideration to.

BC: What has been the high point in your journey of building your startup?

MR: There have been many high points. A lot of the fulfillment I get from the company is in helping people. The most rewarding high points I can think of involve philanthropic aspects. Any time that I have been able to help a nonprofit organization that was in need of financial resources, I have felt as if the impact I helped create may change lives and that is always a highpoint.

BC: Has there ever been a point where you considered giving up on your startup?

MR: No, not really. Whenever you start a company, there will always be people telling you that you can’t do it and that you have no idea what you are getting into. Even though the latter statement is true, it has never made me question not doing this.

BC: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?

MR: Hanging out with friends, spending time with my dog, cooking and going downtown.

BC: What would you say to someone who is considering building their own startup?

MR: Make sure you have a thorough business plan with a timeline, projections and very detailed budget. You should know that however long you think its going to take, its going to take at least double that. Whatever you anticipate your budget to be there are probably costs you haven’t thought of. Also, you want to have a great deal of resources as far as people you can turn to when you need help concerning legal, managerial, and other advice concerning your business. You want to make sure you have a circle of advisors or contacts you can draw upon when you need someone’s input because you will need that.

BC: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your startup?

MR: We’ve donated over $13,000 to date, and our website is a place where you can take five seconds out of your day to give back to our community without spending your own money. You can earn great coupons and basically everybody benefits at no cost to themselves.

Brandon Clayton
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