Ben Rattray

Ben Rattray

Founder and CEO of Change.org

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 20, 2016

Discussion

Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
Hi - I'm Ben Rattray, founder & CEO of Change.org. I’m passionate about how technology is empowering citizens in a way never before possible and will help address the most important challenges of our time. We just launched Change Politics with the goal of making trust as valuable as money in politics, and think we have a far greater opportunity for political reform than most people believe. I'm excited to talk to you today about all of this and more...
Cuan-Chai Megghross
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@brattray What do hope to accomplish with Change Politics?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@iamcuan shifting political influence from parties and paid ads to the most trusted people in every community in america -- by making it easy for anyone to quickly source candidate recommendations for every office - from city council to mayor to state rep - from the people they most trust/respect. it might seem ambitious, but it is absolutely possible :)
Chaib Yusuf
Chaib Yusuf@chaibyusuf · Creative Entrepreneurship Trainer
@brattray What are the best books you've ever read about changing ourselves & change in countries or organizations or comapanies ?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@chaibyusuf i think the best book on personal change, despite the seemingly silly title, is Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. it's brilliant, and the first two chapters in particular are some of the most empowering and thought-provoking you'll read.
Cuan-Chai Megghross
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@brattray Bernie, Hillary, Trump, Cruz or Bush? Who is your pick as of right now?
Danielle Newnham
Danielle Newnham@daniellenewnham · Founder, The Junto Network. Author
Awesome work you are doing with Change.org Ben, and I know many people whose lives have changed/been made better by using or reading the site. My question is - what petition has personally moved you the most and why?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@daniellenewnham the petition that's moved me most is probably the series of campaigns to end the ban on gay Boy Scouts, which was successful after 9 months and 2 million participants. one thing to note is that it was actually a swarm of more than 100 petitions on the site that helped win this ultimate victory - from petitions to companies to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts to petitions to individual troop leaders to come out against the policy (many of which were successful), and i think this is a sign of the future of effective social movements online - not single campaigns, but hundreds of distributed campaigns that chip away at a much bigger problem (as has been the past with more traditional offline movements).
Mike Coutermarsh
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@brattray hey ben! Love Change.org. I feel like everyone I know uses it once or twice a year. I'm wondering if that's something you've seen as well & how do you go about increasing daily usage (if that's a goal)?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@mscccc YES! transforming our user experience from something that is episodic (where people sign a petition every so often when a major issue arises in the news or something happens in their community) to a more regularly experience is a major focus of ours this year. the opportunity is clearly in front of us - for any campaign that people join, there are a huge number of additional things that happen within that campaign and ways people can participate that we don't currently surface, and for any city, there are hundreds of relevant campaigns that have been started that we don't show people - and we'll be releasing features to address those opportunities in the coming months. (if you have any great product people you want to recommend, we're also hiring! :)
Theoharis Dimarhos
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hey Ben! What have you found makes people sign/share/interact most? What are the tipping points?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@theo_dimarhos we've found two of the most important factors, which won't be surprising, are (1) compelling personal stories (which get people emotionally engaged) and (2) timeliness (which often rides the news cycle). when these are both present, it's a potent mix...
Zach Cmiel
Zach Cmiel@zach_cmiel · CEO, PoKoBros
Hello! Since you just released the new Change Politics platform, what do you think would be the next platform for change.org??
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@zach_cmiel we have more ideas for extensions to change.org than we have time to develop, so we're going to take a first look at the response to Change Politics and go from there. but we think there are a huge number of opportunities for how to empower what will soon be hundreds of millions of people to create change using all of their resources (and not just their voice, which we've focused on thus far), so we'll be exploring these in the coming years...
Cuan-Chai Megghross
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@brattray What advice would you give to entrepreneurs of color?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@iamcuan one of the things not frequently acknowledged in the tech world is how important networks and personal relations are to things like raising investment (which, for almost any tech venture, is a necessary condition for success). this often puts people of color in a disadvantaged position, not out of intent, but because people of color are less likely to have access to these networks (although circumstances obviously vary by person). so the suggestion i'd have is to invest significant time reaching out to individual people (in particular entrepreneurs) to establish the sort of relationships and networks that are crucial for things like fundraising. this certainly isn't a panacea - there are systemic problems like unconscious bias that the industry needs to do more to address - but i think it's a valuable start.
Cuan-Chai Megghross
Cuan-Chai Megghross@iamcuan · Angel Investor, Brainyloft
@brattray What was one of the most moving stories to you that was posted on Change?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@iamcuan one of the most moving campaigns on the site was actually the first one we saw that went viral, started by a woman (ndume funda) whose partner had been subjected to "corrective rape" in south africa (an awful practice where men will rape lesbian women to try to turn them straight). ndume started a petition to get the government to take action, and despite having no connections she got 170k people from 150 countries to take action, embarrassed the government, and got them to pass a national task force to investigate and stop the incidence of corrective rape in south africa. this was the first campaign that showed us the incredible potential of even the seemingly least powerful people on earth to have immense impact.
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@brattray what has been the most memorable or stand-out moment of your career to date?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@ems_hodge when the Boy Scouts of America announced they would accept gay scouts for the first time in history, following a massive number of change.org campaigns on the topic
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@brattray who are some of your inspirations? Both in work and life in general?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@ems_hodge anyone who dedicates much of themselves to social change can't help but be inspired by MLK. the thing about his life that i particularly find inspiring is following one of the first bomb threats he received, at which point he recalls facing the decision of how much to give himself to the cause of civil rights. he recognized that if he continued in a leadership position he'd be putting his life on the line for what he believed in, and risking everything. but he also recognized he had a unique opportunity to do something historic, and made a definitive decision to do whatever necessary to fight for change, regardless of the consequences, and without regard to his own life. it was a remarkable and inspiring decision that should make all of us question our purpose and what we care about so much that we'd be willing to put our life on the line to fight for.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Ben! Thanks for joining :) We've talked personally about community building and the need for men's groups. Can you outline a bit your thinking behind this topic? What's the need here and why is it important?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@eriktorenberg thanks. btw - to everyone else here, erik is awesome and you should hang out with him if given the opportunity. to your question, one thing i find remarkable is how important community and connection is to human fulfillment and well-being and how little we invest in it. one of the biggest challenges of our generation is dislocation and disconnection (in particular with the decline of the church, at least in urban areas in america), and one of the things i hope occurs (and i hope to help make happen if i can get the time...) is to start a movement of small groups of people who meet regularly to create intimate community and grow - both individually and together. i think this is one of the biggest opportunities for improving human happiness available to us today.
Alex Carter
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What has been the most challenging obstacle or problem for change.org and how was it solved (or if it's unsolved, what do you think it would take to solve it)?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@alexcartaz the most challenging obstacle early on, particularly outside the US, was convincing people that starting and joining campaigns online could lead to real offline impact. the way we've addressed this is by clearly demonstrating, every day, in the media and via our site, that these campaigns can and do often win - which progressively has gotten people to believe in their own power to make a difference, and therefore gotten them to win more and more campaigns (now more than a dozen a day, and growing...)
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@brattray If you could change just one thing in the world right now - what would it be?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@ems_hodge the influence of money in politics. working on it!
Jonny Miller
Jonny Miller@jonnym1ller · Cofounder @Maptia
Hi @brattray – thanks for doing this! I thought change.org's ‘Year in Review’ was truly inspiring, thank you for creating such a powerful platform and community! Sorry to be greedy but I’ve got a couple questions for you (feel free to only answer one!) 1) I read that one of your favorite things is to watch Change.org take off in new countries… and am curious how you encourage your petition creators to share their narratives and evoke a sense of compassion in readers/viewers? What tools or technology do you think have the potential to help to bridge the empathy gaps that we see in global culture today across both geography and time. 2) I know that change.org reinvests 100% of profits back into the mission of empowering ordinary people… which is fantastic! What do you think you have achieved as a b-corp that might not have been possible in a non-profit status? Is there anything about the process or your current structure that you might have changed in hindsight?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@jonnym1ller great questions. on #1, as you note, one of the most effective ways to mobilize people (online or off) is by using personal stories to illustrate how what might otherwise feel like an abstract or distant issue impacts real people's lives. so in every country in which we have offices (currently 18) we use tooltips and product guidance as well as actual written advice (via automated and sometimes personal emails) to encourage people to share their personal stories when they start campaigns. i think that by enabling everyday people to do this and to spread their stories faster and further than ever before, technology can actually build empathy and connections in a way that is often overlooked. per my note above about the petition about 'corrective rape' in south africa, nobody woke up that morning thinking about that issue and how they wanted to take action. but when they heard about the story of the incident and saw the personal narrative of ndume, they felt compelled to take action in defense of someone thousands of miles away and figuratively a world apart.
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@jonnym1ller on #2, what being a b-corp allows us to do is to move at greater speed than a nonprofit would be able to (since we are not wedded to commitments we've made to funders about years-long programs and can therefore iterate and pivot much more rapidly, as needed based on incoming data), and at greater scale since we have access to more capital (nonprofits can't easily raise chunks of money in investment rounds in the way we've been able to, like our $25m round last year to accelerate our growth)
Danielle Newnham
Danielle Newnham@daniellenewnham · Founder, The Junto Network. Author
Another quick question - how did you end up with the awesome founding team you started Change.org with and what role did each play early on? I interviewed Adam Cheyer not so long ago and learned about his involvement then...
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@daniellenewnham every CEO says that finding the right people to work with is the single most important factor in their success. but that's because it's true :). i was relentless in finding the best possible founding team, and approached this by asking all of the smartest people i knew who they would want to work with, and then systematically meeting with each of those people and selling them on our vision.
Tommy Kuntze
Tommy Kuntze@tmyknze · UX Designer
Thank you for taking questions today @brattray! I'm a huge fan of the work Change.org is doing. I'm curious, what kind of process do you use to decide what to build (such as Change Politics), and what role do you see Design playing in the execution of those initiatives? What, if anything, would like you like to improve there?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@tmyknze we choose what to build based on both expressed and anticipated user needs. the former is actually the easiest part - we look at data and input from our users and respond by addressing those explicit needs. the harder part is the latter (anticipated user needs), which Change Politics is a good example of. for this, what i personally do is look for big problems that exist in the world that are both important and which can be uniquely addressed with something that has recently changed that opens up a new opportunity that didn't exist before. for Change Politics, that new opportunity is the fact that 80% of people will walk into the voting booth in 2016 with a smartphone, which i think represents the single biggest opportunity for transforming politics we've seen in decades (if not longer). and because it's an incredibly important problem to solve (the fact that people generally don't know who to vote for and therefore rely on party and what they remember from paid ads), we decided to invest in addressing this new opportunity. and regarding your question about design -- ultimately the success of any consumer product is in large part a function of design, so it's of incredible (and often-times under-appreciated) importance.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@brattray what's something you used to believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@bentossell i used to believe that the best way to reduce the influence of money in politics was to reduce the amount of political donations. i now believe the best way to address this problem is not to reduce the amount of money, but to make money less relevant (by making it less influential in gaining votes than trusted recommendations from friends).
Kate
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
What's one of the most meaningful interactions that you've had with a user of Change.org or the new Change Politics?
Ben Rattray
Ben Rattray@brattray · Founder and CEO, Change.org
@katesegrin the most meaningful recent interaction i had was with a woman named Jaha Dukureh who started a petition against the awful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). she has an amazing personal story (she had been subjected to FGM when raised in The Gambia, was then sent to the US to marry a 40-year-old man when she was a teenager, and then fled to start a life of her own in America despite knowing no one), and her campaign recently led to historic change in her birth country - the announcement by the President of The Gambia that they would ban FGM, which affects millions of girls there. she is now one of the most prominent people in the world fighting against this practice and has the potential to impact hundreds of millions of lives, and was an honor to meet. (there are many others, but too little time to type...)