Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with David Hillier

Nonprofit & Social Cause

Donate Your Desktop offers a simple yet effective way for people to raise funds for charity. Founder David Hillier shares his thinking behind the startup.

Charities often go to great lengths to simplify public involvement in their campaigns and the internet has contributed to the ease in which a person can do good – whether it be an online petition which only requires an email address, or a pre-written email where a person only has to add their signature. Fast, convenient actions are hugely popular as they encourage supporters and build loyalty to the charity.

This is a premise that the founder behind Donate Your Desktop, David Hillier, has embraced. His idea couldn’t be much simpler – the computer owner downloads software from the Donate Your Desktop website, chooses a charity to benefit from the advertising revenue, and then advertisers pay Donate Your Desktop a fee to feature an image related to their product or service on the user’s desktop. It costs nothing for the user, with Donate Your Desktop making their money by charging advertisers for the service and in return donating 75 percent of the revenue back to the user’s chosen charity. The service is currently only available in New Zealand, but David is looking to expand in the near future.

David’s experience is rooted in architecture, and he benefitted from on-the-job training at an architectural firm after graduating from the University of Auckland. More recently he has completed an MBA in order to back-up his entrepreneurial skills. Alongside Donate Your Desktop he also runs an architectural visualisation firm called One to One Hundred which provides architectural animations to bring building development plans to life. With a varied skillset and a talent for multitasking, we were interested to hear how David manages his time.

1. Where did the idea for Donate Your Desktop come from?

The desktop background has always been the ultimate advertising space; we look at it multiple times per day, it is a large piece of digital real estate and it is only a click or two away from an advertiser’s website. Nelson Rayner, one of our four person team, just figured out how to get people to open it up – by donating the majority of our advertising revenue to charity, and delivering high quality billboard-style advertising that users enjoy receiving. It really is a win-win-win for users, advertisers and the charities.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

A typical working day is pretty frantic for everyone in the team. We all have full-time jobs outside of Donate Your Desktop – Steve is a structural engineer, Nelson is an advertising creative and graphic designer, Bennor is a contract software developer, and I run my own small 3D rendering firm, One to One Hundred. Steve and I look after sales and management so we are both keeping the desktops ticking over and work towards growing our audience. We are in the middle of developing a world class version of the platform and application which is keeping Nelson and Bennor busy. We are very close to having an investment deal signed so hopefully we will be able to give DYD our full attention shortly!

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Donate Your Desktop?

We’re all young guys so we do what normal young people do. We all enjoy snowboarding, but we definitely haven’t had as much time for it in the last couple of years!

4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

An idea is worthless unless you do something with it, so I think successful entrepreneurs have the ability to just start building. We started by developing a bare-bones application that updated the desktop every day on a Windows PC. Then we kept building and rebuilding until we got closer to a market-ready product. It’s much better to produce something tangible that needs work than spend your time forever planning the perfect product. 

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Perfection. We knew we had a great idea, and we felt it deserved great execution. You can’t help but feel that you only get one chance to get it right, so you continue to change and tweak rather than just get to market. For example, we built two complete websites before we arrived at our current design, and redeveloped the application even more than that. We’re extremely proud of what we eventually launched, but we still had to draw a line in the sand of what we could achieve with our resources. If we hadn’t we would still be tinkering away on a perfect product that had never made it out of development. Now that we’ve validated our product in the market, we have something to attract investors and a good platform to build upon.

6. What motivates you to keep going?

We’re motivated by two main things – firstly the prospect of growing this business overseas and secondly, fulfilling the vision of the business. With a large audience Donate Your Desktop makes a phenomenal amount of money for charity and that’s a huge inspiration! We’ve had amazing feedback since we launched which has given us a lot of confidence and motivation and we’ve also got a host of innovative ideas for the development of the version 2 of the DYD platform.

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I think the biggest mistake we’ve made so far was to expect that social media exposure alone would build a giant user base. Facebook and Twitter are amazing connectors but people’s attention can be quite fleeting when they’re using them. For instance, we had 1500 likes on the site at the same time as we had 200 users. It seems it takes a lot of PR, news, reviews, hype and even incentives to get conversions. If we were to start again, we would want to have more marketing for the launch.

8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

Our five year vision is to have Donate Your Desktop available in most countries around the world. This goal is made more difficult by our business model – local businesses advertising to local residents supporting local charities – but we’re up for the challenge! We’re currently planning a launch in Australia and the UK by the end of this year, and will hopefully use these two markets as stepping stones in America and Europe shortly after. 

9. If you weren’t working on Donate Your Desktop, what would you be doing?

Working on another start-up I suspect!

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

Donate Your Desktop is coming to mobile phones and tablets soon…

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

If you’ve got a great idea, do something about it! Being involved in a start-up is a great experience!

You can read more about Donate Your Desktop here, or visit the Donate Your Desktop website here. There is also a handy explanatory video here