Helping Nonprofits Communicate

After a stint on a public TV pledge drive, these entrepreneurs knew there was a better way for nonprofits to communicate.

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Description: Provider of online constituent relationship management software and services for nonprofit organizations
Founders: Vinay Bhagat, 36, & David Crooke, 34
Location: Austin, Texas
Projected 2005 Sales: $20 million

The Sound of Business: Austin, Texas, is known for its music scene, but it has also built a reputation for innovative technology. While so many tech startups were sprouting in Silicon Valley, Convio decided to launch in the Lone Star State. "We could build a business more economically here than we could on the West Coast," explains chief strategy officer Vinay Bhagat. What he and David Crooke, Convio's CTO, built is a for-profit company that uses the internet to improve the way nonprofits communicate and work with their constituents.

Money Matters: Bhagat and Crooke met while attending school at the University of Cambridge in England--a long way from Austin. "We had dreamed and talked about one day starting a company together," says Bhagat. Years later, after reuniting at Trilogy Software in Austin, they got their chance. The Convio concept was born when Bhagat volunteered for a public TV pledge drive and was amazed at how antiquated the fundraising system was. He was confident that his idea to build an internet system for nonprofits would fly. Says Bhagat, "What attracted me to this idea was that it could be a neat way to combine building a business with having a real impact on the world."

Without a Net: When most entrepreneurs start a company, they risk losing capital if the venture fails. While Bhagat left his high-paying job to self-finance six months of research into Convio's business concept, Crooke risked being deported if the business didn't get off the ground--he was a British citizen who left his job to found Convio, despite the fact that he didn't have a green card. A $4.6 million round of venture capital from Austin Ventures in 1999 allowed the founders to breathe a sigh of relief.

Role Models: Crooke's role as the technical force behind Convio hasn't changed, but Bhagat made a big move in 2003 to bring in an experienced CEO while he switched over to the chief strategy officer role. "I put my ego aside," says Bhagat. With the founders' focus, drive and passion, Convio has helped nonprofits raise over $175 million and put e-philanthropy on the map.

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