His Business Model? Pay $10 to Meet a Celebrity, Raise Millions for Charity - OZY | A Modern Media Company

His Business Model? Pay $10 to Meet a Celebrity, Raise Millions for Charity

His Business Model? Pay $10 to Meet a Celebrity, Raise Millions for Charity

By daisy Carrington

SourceOmaze/Matt Pohlson


Because sometimes an unexpected outcome can result in a moment of genius.

By daisy Carrington

It started with a charity auction. Matt Pohlson and his business school buddy Ryan Cummins — both filmmakers turned aspiring social entrepreneurs — had been invited to a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. Unlike everyone else in the room, they were not high net worth individuals. Rather, they were broke grad students. 

“We were, you know, the type of guys who get invited last minute to fill the table,” says Pohlson. With a sense of hope, and perhaps a dash of naïveté, the duo aspired to win one of the hot-button items in the evening’s charity auction: a chance to play basketball and watch a Lakers game with their childhood hero, Magic Johnson. 

“There was nothing we would rather do then play basketball with Magic Johnson. Even to this day that is true,” says Pohlson. Alas, the two friends were quickly outbid. On the drive home, they noted that the auction didn’t make a lot of sense. It was only available to the precious few high rollers in the room, and they observed that there was so much potential to have used the experience to raise more money. It was at that moment that inspiration struck. What if they democratized the charity auction model, and opened it up to people from a range of economic backgrounds? Instead of selling to the highest bidder, they would raffle the experience online, for a very reasonable $10 entry fee. 


“That moment was definitely an aha moment,” Pohlson says. “That drive home, we were animated and excited, screaming, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it! This will work!’” 

That car ride became the foundation of Omaze, an online platform that has shaken up the traditional fundraising model, and raised over $100 million by raffling once-in-a-lifetime experiences, from watching the series finale of Breaking Bad with its stars — Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul — to riding in a tank and crushing things with Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Listen to the interview above to find out how two onetime filmmakers with over $200,000 in debt took a gamble, and launched a business that is reaping big rewards for the nonprofit world. 

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