Change is almost a boilerplate theme for many startups’ stories: Events like pivots and personal financial sacrifices dominate these narratives. Less often heard are the cases where physically moving a company has altered how it operates and positively affected its fortunes.
But that is the story of WeDidIt. Since moving to Buffalo from New York City in 2017, WeDidIt quadrupled its revenue compared to the year before, thanks in large part to its new environment.
The company, now entering its seventh year in operation, provides a software-as-service fundraising platform to nonprofits. At its simplest, it lets nonprofit organizations raise money online on mobile phones or tablets—think an updated version of canvasing clipboards, complete with revenue and donor analytics. WeDidIt also assists organizations identify potential donors, based on their habits and personal interests.
Although the company had a solid product and was in existence a long time by startup standards, things weren’t as sunny just a year and a half ago.
In mid-2016, WeDidIt seemed to be doing well: The nonprofit fundraising platform had landed high-profile clients such as Amnesty International and the Natural History Museum. It had refined its product and business model after taking part in a series of prestigious accelerators, and was now in its third year at Digital Future Lab, an incubator run by New York University. WeDidIt also enjoyed press coverage many startup founders would die for, including accolades from TechCrunch and Inc. The Wall Street Journal had even named WeDidIt as a contender for its Startup of the Year a couple of years prior.
But despite this outside validation, WeDidIt found itself in an increasingly difficult position, mainly due to growing competition. More than a dozen similar products had cropped up, each vying for a share of WeDidIt’s niche.
“Every time we tried to sell an organization our solution, they would bring up the fact that they were evaluating WeDidIt against six to eight different products,” said co-founder and CEO Su Sanni. “When you’re competing head-to-head with many other products, it’s really hard to build a business and to differentiate yourself in a way that will be meaningful for the company.”
WeDidIt’s three founders—Sanni, Vice President of Sales Ben Lamson, and CTO Bryan Liff--agreed some kind of drastic change was necessary, but they weren’t sure what. They had made a major shift before--when the company started in 2012, it began as a KickStarter-type platform to help match donors with organizations. In 2014, following guidance from mentors at the Dreamit Ventures accelerator, WeDidIt shifted to the B2B, services-orientated model it continues to use today.
The three knew, however, that any sort of change would require both time and money to overhaul their product, marketing, and processes. The Futures Lab in Brooklyn provided a supportive environment and free office space for WeDidIt but, unlike Dreamit and the 500 Startups accelerator, it didn’t provide capital. WeDidIt had to seek out funding elsewhere.
While searching for opportunities, Sanni learned about the 43North competition. He convinced his co-founders to enter, noting that, in addition to the obvious advantages the prize money could offer, moving upstate would give WeDidIt access to a different group of investors. WeDidIt got a lot of attention in New York City, but it was still a small fish in a very big pond and, as such, was having difficulty attracting people who could financially back it, because as Sanni says, it “wasn’t the most sexy company,” and its focus on nonprofits made it unlikely to become a unicorn—a billion dollar company.
Sanni’s partners soon realized that “it was the best move for the business, and we were happy to … move to Buffalo,” Sanni said.
Read more about the advantages moving to Buffalo had for Su Sanni here.
So Sanni and Lamson relocated to Buffalo with some members of the WeDidIt staff, while Liff stayed behind with the rest of the team in New York. They quickly discovered that Buffalo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and members of the nonprofit community would be supportive of their efforts.
“(They) … completely opened their doors and welcomed us to the city,” Sanni said. “It was relatively easy to get a business up and running, because we had many people rooting for us.”
After winning $500,000 in the competition, WeDidIt started hosting events to pitch its products to established Buffalo-area foundations. Sanni noted that this would not have been possible in a larger city, or in one that was not as welcoming to entrepreneurs.
In part, it was this closer access to potential customers—something that was harder to establish back in New York City—that contributed to WeDidIt’s dramatic increase in revenue. After moving to Buffalo, WeDidIt reached out to Buffalo and Western New York-area nonprofits rather than marketing to organizations across the country, as it had in the past. This allowed it to achieve a higher conversion rate.
Also, Sanni and Lamson began to approach fiscal sponsors, a type of nonprofit focused on the financial and administrative aspects of charitable work. They discovered that their product was a better fit for this organizational model, something that differentiated them from their competitors.
It’s been a little over a year since WeDidIt moved to Buffalo. The company continues to retool its product and business strategy, and has hired two-full time employees from the Buffalo area: a marketing manager and partnership coordinator. Sanni, for his part, has been giving back to the Buffalo community and meets with high schoolers to tell his story in the hope of serving as a role model for young, black, aspiring entrepreneurs.