Madison Mikhail Bush founded POINT in 2016. She wants to expand her startup to 12 new cities in … [+]
Madison Mikhail Bush didn’t need any extra motivation to build her company in Ohio. But when a West Coast venture capitalist told her she was “bombing” by basing her startup in the Midwest, it certainly struck a chord.
Now, a few years later, POINT, the Columbus-based app that wants to make volunteering as easy as getting an Uber, is eying expansion – and at a quick pace come 2020. Mikhail Bush, its founder and CEO, wants to grow to 12 new cities next year. And that conversation with the VC? She’s done her best to block it from memory.
“I think ever since that happened, I was like, ‘I am going to build this company in the Midwest,’” Mikhail Bush said. “[I’m] glad he saw the potential, but POINT was a tool we were developing for communities across the U.S. that have less resources than San Francisco. Yes, I think we’d have had an easier time launching and fundraising in San Francisco, but I’m not sure if we’d have built the product our communities – across the country – need.”
POINT, which officially launched in 2016, was an idea born out of frustration, Mikhail Bush said. She had all this tech available at her fingertips, but when it came to volunteering, those opportunities seemed harder to find.
“I just was mad, honestly, that I could order food in bed at 11 p.m., or I could book a room anywhere [in the world] from my phone. But I couldn’t do something good,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘I want to help, I just don’t know where to start.’ We’ve made POINT a starting point to do more good. The pun is completely intended.”
With POINT, users can pick from causes they care about, find an event and go.
It’s an oft-repeated company mantra: there’s even a hashtag (#dogood). With the free app, users can pick out causes they care about (animals, conservation, poverty), find an event (sorted by date), click and go. Mikhail Bush compared it to ClassPass, the fitness subscription service, but for charity. But POINT isn’t just an app, she said. On the nonprofit side, the dashboard allows organizations to post events, manage volunteers, track organizational data and access live reports – kind of like a mix between Salesforce and Eventbrite.
The goal is to keep the service free; and if that’s not ultimately possible, to charge nonprofits at cost. To make money, POINT is working on a corporate platform.
“Once we got into all this, we realized there’s a lot more innovation that needs to happen in the nonprofit sector,” she said. “Once we made the app, a lot of nonprofits said, ‘This is great. It addresses one of our problems, but here’s 10 others that we really need help with.’ I think it’s unfair that for-profit organizations are using AI [artificial intelligence] and robots, and nonprofits, they’re still using pen and paper, because they don’t have great software or great technology available.”
Mikhail Bush balks at the idea that her company could be labeled a disruptor. Unlike apps like Uber and Bird – i.e. companies that tend to just show up in a city and compete, head on, with more established, incumbent businesses – POINT is a community partner, Mikhail Bush said. “Another tool in your toolbox,” she added. When POINT expands to a new city, it will offer an early access event for nonprofits. POINT will also have a local manager in place to act as the company’s face.
“No one’s throwing elbows at taxi drivers or the traditional ways of doing things. We think it’s wrong, in this sector, to come in and say, ‘Here’s an app, forget everything you guys have been doing for the last 100 years.’ We really want to make sure we’re doing it right.”
So far in Columbus, POINT has signed up 7,000 users and over 150 nonprofits, like Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics. Megan Modene, volunteer manager for Special Olympics Ohio, said POINT makes it easy to connect with volunteers the organization wouldn’t typically reach. She has been using the app for the better part of a year.
“It has that fast-paced, on-demand feel, and it’s quick to use, which is not common with volunteer software,” Modene said. “The dashboard is really clean and has some cool features – you can view volunteers, check them in, email them, and you can verify hours from the dashboard, so I don’t have to do anything extra, like write a letter. We love it. I’m all for anything that saves time.”
To prove it’s all in on Ohio, POINT is expanding in the Buckeye State first. It’s currently recruiting nonprofits in Cincinnati. A public launch – which will officially open the app to users there – is planned for early next year. POINT will move to Cleveland thereafter. In all, Mikhail Bush is eyeing 12 target cities for 2020. While the list’s largely Midwest-based – like Indianapolis and Pittsburgh – it includes the likes of Washington, D.C., and Seattle, respectively.
And if its aforementioned corporate platform plan pans out, it could make for an even busier 2020.
“As any company, there’s so many levels to what we’re doing. We started as this charity tool – and now it’s this full-fledged tech company. I never meant to be a tech company,” Mikhail Bush said. “People always tell me, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t existed before.’ It’s messed up that it hasn’t. I say all the time, ‘I’m not really smart.’ I’m just doing something that everybody thinks should already exist.”