Founder Stories are a series of conversations with entrepreneurs and founders in our portfolio. We will explore the motivation, inspiration, and innovation that drives the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace, as well as provide insight to balance our regular workdays.

In this first installment of our founder stories, we interview Gabe Cooper the Founder of Virtuous, a portfolio company in our Technology for Social Good area of focus. Gabe’s passion for technology and building great software can be seen in the products he creates. After serving in leadership at a large nonprofit, Gabe became a founding member of a successful software consultancy company. He went on to build a series of successful products in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Accolades include Apple’s Top 5 Grossing, Apple’s Design of the Year Award, Starbucks “App of the Week,” and a Microsoft Case Study.

How would you define entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is the bringing an idea from your imagination into reality in the market. It’s the process of creating something that never existed and then making it available at scale.

What are some simple mistakes that entrepreneurs make when trying to grow businesses?

Here are some simple mistakes that I have experienced and observed: (1) Not surrounding themselves with a board and advisors who can help them along the way, (2) Overselling their idea before they’ve validated any of their assumptions, (3) Thinking too abstractly about their business at the expense of executing on the tactical details.

What were you doing before you started Virtuous?

In 2005 I left my position at a large nonprofit to help found a software consultancy (now called Brushfire). Since 2008, Brushfire has been creating custom software for large enterprises (e.g. Intel), start-ups and nonprofits. We have a team of 8 senior designers and developers who act as a high-end “swat team” for more complex sophisticated projects.

In 2009, our team saw the potential of mobile apps on the horizon and shifted much of our business to focus on mobile products. We formed Shotzoom Software and created several award-winning apps including Golfshot GPS, Tiger Woods MySwing, and Golfscape. Our apps included three apps in Apple’s Hall of Fame, a top 5 grossing app worldwide, Apple’s Design of the Year award and 2 Starbucks “App of the Week.

What propelled you to create Virtuous?

By 2014, our team had been working with (or in) nonprofits for 12 years. We had also experienced the excruciating pain of working with nonprofit CRMs. During my stint at a nonprofit our team had developed a nonprofit CRM from scratch – and, at Brushfire, we felt like we had the best team on the planet to build a great nonprofit CRM company (extra cash, great enterprise software team, and industry knowledge).

What obstacles and barriers did you have to overcome in order to get Virtuous off the ground?

Most customers love our product following the demo, but the biggest obstacle in our space is getting nonprofits to move or innovate. Our biggest enemy is institutional inertia. As a result, we have long sales cycles and our product requires a lot of education, which makes it hard to get fast growth in B2B SaaS.

What makes Virtuous stand out from other CRM platforms?

Currently, nonprofits are handcuffed to archaic donor management tools. Tools that see donors as transactions or sales leads – and not relationships. The problem isn’t simply that the current tools are old and clunky. The problem is that non-profit tools are built on transactional sales and accounting principles rather than best practices for expanding generosity.

We believe that these transactional systems may have been sufficient in the ’1990’s when 
1) online giving was non-existent 
2) marketing was non-personal and 
3) the goal most charities was to collect + store data so they could mail a monthly newsletter. But the world has changed in the last 20 years – and the problems with nonprofit software now dramatically limit a charity’s ability to create good.

Our solution is the only CRM designed to increase giving by building personal donor relationships at scale. We use social, financial, wealth and location data to know and inspire donors. Then we use marketing automation (we call it fundraising automation) to but cultivate donors with personalized messaging. Finally, we use predictive analytics to ask for the right thing at the right time to amplify giving.

Describe for us the startup culture in Phoenix. What are some of the benefits and challenges of being a startup in your area?

We have a great burgeoning startup scene in Phoenix. Our biggest assets are the number of engineers and entrepreneurs. Phoenix is a great place to live with a very reasonable cost of living. As a result, we’ve attracted large tech companies and bright engineers over the past 20 years. The primary challenges in Phoenix are the lack of sophisticated tech capital and population density for entrepreneurs in one core area.

What kind of satisfaction can we get from working?

I love building products. I love the feeling of bringing something into the world that never existed before. And, in the case of Virtuous, I love being a disruptive force that helps inspire generosity and empowers charities to operates more efficiently.

Surround yourself with great advisors. You need people around who have your back. I can’t overstate the value of community.

What personal rules do you abide by?

At work, my personal rules are (1) give my team the benefit of the doubt and put others ahead of myself, (2) work hard and give 110%… don’t leave anything on the field but (3) try to be home to have dinner with my family most nights.

Considering everything you’ve learned as an entrepreneur over the years, what advice can you offer to someone who is starting out?

Surround yourself with great advisors. You need people around who have your back. I can’t overstate the value of community.

Have you thought about your own legacy or what you hope to leave behind?

A friend of mine recently said, “one day you’ll only be a distant memory at a Thanksgiving dinner”. Knowing that we’re all passing away can be both freeing and frightening. That said, I want to work fearlessly to create products lasting positive reverberations for generations to come. But at the end of the day, my relation with God, my family, and my friends are the things that truly matter. I’d love to leave behind a group of people who I loved well… and who loved me well

Do you feel a responsibility to create or contribute to something bigger than yourself?

Absolutely. As entrepreneurs, we have an amazing opportunity to create good in our business, our industry and, ultimately, the culture at large. I want to be a part of businesses that create joy for the people that they serve.

What’s next for Virtuous? What excites you about the future of the product?

We’re really pushing into what it means to be a Charity 2.0. Modern charities aren’t okay with the status quo of traditional fundraising. Our new set of features are allowing charities to leverage social data, wealth data and location data to better understand and inspire donors. And then use marketing automation to personalize mail, phone calls, email etc to engage donors and truly drive more generosity.

Share your thoughts