Y Combinator-Backed Prizeo Helps Celebrities Tap Their Fans For Charity Fundraising

Prizeo is a startup aiming to channel celebrities’ social media influence into funding for charity.

Co-founders Bryan Baum and Leo Seigal are familiar with the fundraising world, having co-founded a student philanthropy organization while at Oxford. (That’s also where they met their co-founder and CTO Andrej Pancik.) They say the group raised more than $1 million at its charity events, but Baum argued that ultimately, the model was “not scalable.”

The fundraisers are often driven by the chance to meet or win prizes from celebrities, but “even if you’re wealthy, there’s a limit to how much money you’re going to spend,” Baum said. At the same time, there are a lot of people who might want to support these causes, but can’t afford a $1,000-per-plate fee.

Seigal added there are problems from the celebrity standpoint, too, because the process is often “just transactional” — they’re asked to donate something for an auction, but they don’t really get to build a relationship with the charity or with the donors.

With Prizeo, celebrities can tap their broader fanbase (not just the fabulously rich) for donations, then offer prizes for their help. The celebrity decides on the prize and also writes a personal message to fans. And as those fans donate more money, they’re eligible for different rewards, but as long as they give the minimum amount, they can compete for a grand prize, which usually involves some one-on-one time with the celebrity in question. Baum said the winner is chosen by a random number generator: “Everyone’s on the same level.”

But will celebrities actually get on-board? Well, Prizeo has already attracted some big names. For example, the company launched a campaign with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on Friday, where the grand prize is a cooking lesson with Oliver in London, all expenses paid. Seigal said the campaign has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and “inspired hundreds of ‘messages to Jamie’ off the back of a tweet and Facebook post.” Past participants include comedian Stephen Fry and the boyband JLS (whose grand prize was “the ultimate boyband experience” with JLS and One Direction).

prizeo jamie oliver

And while the company has been UK-centric thus far, it’s about to start a bigger marketing push in the United States. The ultimate goal is to create a destination site where a community of fans can find different celebrities and causes to support. And the team is defining celebrity pretty broadly — Seigal said they’re interested in working with “anyone who has any kind of influence in any area.” Baum added that Prizeo is also “a tech platform” with a full set of features, including a simple payment process, sharing capabilities (fans can win additional prizes for sharing the campaign with on Facebook and Twitter), and analytics.

The company currently makes money by charging a 10 percent transaction fee. The team also plans to start working with different sponsors to support the campaigns. Seigal said he hopes to eventually make enough money from the sponsorship side of the business to bring down the transaction fee.

Prizeo is being incubated by Y Combinator. (In fact, the team recorded a brief-but-enthusiastic video testimonial from Fry as part of its YC application.) It has also raised funding from angel investors including Edgar Bronfman Jr. (former CEO of Warner Music Group) and Ajaz Ahmed (founder and chairman of AKQA).