Omaze raises $30M after expanding beyond celebrity campaigns

Omaze, the startup that became famous for its celebrity-centric fundraisers, is announcing it has raised $30 million in Series B funding.

Some of the company’s best-known campaigns include opportunities to meet Michelle Obama, meet “Star Wars” cast members and visit the set of “Star Trek Beyond.” (I’ll admit that I threw my hat in the ring for that last one.) But co-founder and CEO Matt Pohlson said that in recent years, the Omaze model has shifted away from “talent campaigns” to include fundraisers offering prizes like an Airstream Caravel or a trip to the Four Seasons resort in Bora Bora.

Pohlson said he became interested in this model after a campaign combining a chance to meet Daniel Craig and win an Aston Martin, which made him wonder whether the Aston Martin would be a big enough draw on its own. Shortly after that, in 2018, he had a near-death experience during surgery, which he said only strengthened his conviction to move the company in a new direction.

Pohlson recalled the surgeon telling him that he’d flat-lined for four-and-a-half minutes, with extremely low chances for survival, and that he only pulled through because of the “love and optimism” coming from the family members in the room with him.

“Because of the one-in-two-million chance I’m getting, I want to put as much of that out in the world as I can,” he said. “The way we do that is through the money we raise and the optimism we spread. Doing that with talent limits the scalability.”

Plus, by organizing its own campaigns, the Omaze team gets to “pick the causes we’re passionate about,” rather than being limited to the causes that celebrities want to support.

At the same time, Pohlson hastened to add that Omaze would never have been able to move in this direction without the help of stars who attracted a big user base, and he said the company continues to pursue talent campaigns as well — they’re just one part of a larger strategy.

With COVID-19, the company had to delay some of its prizes. After all, celebrity meetings and elaborate vacation getaways don’t make a lot of sense right now. But, Pohlson said, “People get it.” And overall, the pandemic has actually increased interest, giving people “a deeper desire to give back” while also making them “want to dream more than ever.”

The performance of the average Omaze campaign has quadrupled over the past 18 months, Pohlson said, while revenue has increased by 500%.

Omaze previously raised $12 million in Series A funding. The new round was led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Causeway Media Partners, BDMI, Tusk Ventures, Inherent Group, Gaingels, Penni Thow’s Copper, Guy Oseary and Pegasus Tech Ventures. Thow and Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck are joining the company’s board of directors.

“Omaze is unmatched in their ability to empower world-changing charities as a leader in experiential giving and social impact,” Thow said in a statement. “I am honored to join the Omaze board and help them realize their vision of becoming the first for-profit company to give $1B to charity in a single year.”

Pohlson said that after Omaze’s expansion started with cars, it recently launched luxury home campaigns. It will use the new funding to expand those campaigns while also introducing additional campaign categories. He also noted that the company recently launched in the United Kingdom, with plans to expand into Western Europe and Asia.

And although Omaze has already raised more $130 million for charity, Pohlson said that one of his big goals (as Thow mentioned) is to make it the first for-profit company to donate $1 billion in a year.

“We want to pave the way for other social entrepreneurs,” he said. “There seems to have been this false choice between being able to do good in the world and also having a lot of economic opportunity. Our culture has trouble with people being rewarded for doing good. [At Omaze,] we think that holds back people from doing good.”