Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Interview with Jim Carol, DonateGames.org
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
What would you do if your child was diagnosed with a terminal illness? That nightmare happened to Jim Carol, a serial entrepreneur who was co-founder and CEO of San Diego's PacketVideo, when his son was diagnosed with cancer. However, out of that experience, Jim channeled that frustration into a nonprofit, DonateGames (www.donategames.org), aimed at helping children with rare and neglected diseases. We heard the story behind the nonprofit--as well as its brand new online store--from Jim.
First of all, talk about how DonateGames works?
Jim Carol: We accept all donated games, good, and gear, and resell those and dedicate that money to support children with rare and neglected diseases.
Tell us the story of how you started the organization?
Jim Carol: I'm a serial entrepreneur. I was founder and CEO of one of the world's fastest growing software companies, PacketVideo, which created the software which is on billions of cell phones now. I retired from there in 2003, but I've always been an entrepreneur and run lots of businesses, and have always been in technology. However, in 2006, my own son got cancer, and I was thrown into the sad state of affairs that goes into that.
We decided to move to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant for my son, to save his live. While we were there, we saw how much the kids played videogames, because they were isolated, and what it mean to them. I'm a serial entrepreneur, I've built business around me, and I wanted to take what I knew, and give back by creating a technology company that could be a powerful social enterprise, which could generate lots of money from donated games and good, and direct that to helping sick kids and their families. I realized at that point that there are 20 billion dollars a year of video games sold in the United States in terms of games and gear, and decided I could create a trusted repurposer and recycler of that games and gear.
How long has the organization been around?
Jim Carol: I first started working on the concept in 2007, and we filed for our IRS determination letter in 2008. We really started operations towards the middle of 2009. The first thing we found out, is that we were getting donations from all over the world. We were getting donations from as far away as Afghanistan, from the embassy in Kabul, from New Zealand, from South America. It kept growing and growing on a grassroots basis, and by 2010, it had just taken off. We have just filled a warehouse with brand new games and goods from major publishers and manufacturers, and have just opened up an office and retail space. Plus, we have just rebuilt a very powerful online store through a donation. It has just exploded. Anecdotally, having built one of the fastest growing companies in the world, this is taking off just as fast. We're faced with the same challenges as any business, which is how do you scale it, grow it, build best practices, and get every single penny of that to helping people.
How do you help those kids?
Jim Carol: We gave 20,000 games away to kids last year, working with people like the Make-A-Wish Foundation to distribute them through their 17 offices. We like to fund Make-A-Wishes, particularly for kids with rare and neglected diseases. We also send a good deal to Seattle's Children's Hospital, where they are working on a cure to Graft-versus-host disease. We've also sent money to the Progeria foundation, sent money to the Chordoma Foundation, and others. 80 cents on every dollar we've raised went to a cause or to a family that was suffering.
How would you compare running a social enterprise versus your experience in the commercial world?
Jim Carol: I'm still president of a software company, which I run in addition to DonateGames. it's every bit as demanding at DonateGames. I find I'm running as fast as I would with a fast growth software company building really advanced technology. The difference, which I find incredible and inspiring, is that with a nonprofit there are so many people trying to help, and so many people who want to pitch in. I'm humbled by the goodness of strangers and the kidness of people. People want to help. Even in tough times, when people don't have money, they want to help a charity, and they can send in their old video games. It's incredibly inspiring, and we've also been able to hire lots of young people fresh out of college, and give them jobs. We're hiring some very smart people--valedictorians and others with lots of success--who are coming out of school, but want to give back in a rewarding way. It's the highest calling, really. I think that if you can create a business which successfully makes the world better, it's really fun.
What are the big challenges in running this for you now?
Jim Carol: It's the amount of work, as with any enterprise that grows quickly. If you're doing it property, you're stretched to the seams, and you keep growing, which means you're always a little bit understaffed. So if you experience that, it's a good problem. We're expanding--we just had a warehouse filled with goods donated to us in February, and two major manufacturers sent us 17 pallets worth of new stuff. However, as with any goods, if you don't move them quickly, you don't get as much as you can out of them. We try to be responsible with that, but we do have the good problems of a very strong growth company.
Do you sell those games through your site, or do you sell through partners?
Jim carol: We have a whole new suite of technology that does more than we've ever done which we're announcing shortly. We're now allowing you to donate a game, and also to buy a game. You can help by donating, but you can also go to our site, and buy what we think is going to be the best prices in the world for both new and used stuff. You can also use our site to buy downloads, as of March 2nd. The story there is we had a horrible online store, and I was spending five or six hours every night picking, packing, and shipping games. So, I called Digital River, which has a world class store, to help us do it right. Since November, we've been building that new store, and starting this month we'll be doing sell to zero sales. In our warehouse, we have thousands of brand new and used games. We'll have once-a-month sell to zero sales, where we'll sell them for very deep discounts. The second thing you'll be able to do, is you'll be able to go into a store, and download games. Rather than having a game site get the commissions, instead, that goes to sick kids. The other thing that is really cool, and we'll see how the market responds, is we've got price crawling technology--so if we don't have the one you want because someone hasn't donated it, you can put in what you're looking for, and it will scour the Internet and find the cheapest price for you, anywhere in the world. Normally, people would get an affiliate fee, and we will also donate that to charity. We've obviously gotten traction with people who want to donate and help, and now we're giving them a whole new series of ways to help. If you want to buy a game, you can come here and you can buy it cheaper and help sick kids. if we don't have it in stock, you can use our crawler/spider and get guaranteed lowest prices, and still help people less fortunate.
It sounds like you have your hands full--and it sounds like you're also running a software company still?
Jim Carol: I am running a software company, which is running just as fast. It's even bigger than last time, where we created close to a billion dollars in market cap. it's just going crazy. But, because of what I've been through when my son was diagnosed as terminal, it's all good. It's no pressure, and I can handle both. It's just been a matter of being able to take the ego out of it and what has to be done, because I don't want to limit how big DonateGames can become. I want it to be one of the biggest social enterprises in the world, because people get it, everyone supports its, and with the infrastructure I think we have a winner.