Since Day 1 at Upsolve, the thing that has kept me up at night is finding an answer to the question: How are we going to fund this thing?
You can have great ideas about how to make the world a better place, but unless you figure out how to fund your ideas, you won’t actually help anyone.
At first, we just relied on donations and grants to fund our free service. But that had three major shortcomings.
1. We couldn't fundraise fast enough to keep up with demand for our free service.
For our first year at Upsolve, we had just one paid staff member. For our second year, we had a couple more. The reason we were so small is because we weren’t able to raise enough donations to hire more people. And with such a small team, we couldn’t reach the number of low-income families that we wanted to help.
2. Fundraising took up too much time.
Fundraising is a time intensive process, as you need to meet with lots of people to get them to donate. Time that we spent fundraising meant that we spent less time helping people.
3. Fundraising was unreliable.
When applying to grants or relying on charitable foundations, we never knew exactly how much we would get and when we would get the funding. It's hard to hire when your cash flow is unpredictable.
Shift to Fundraising and Earning Revenue
In early 2019, we learned that we could also generate revenue to fund our free service. We realized that people were coming to our site who were a better fit for local attorneys and that local attorneys would be willing to pay to provide a free consultation to these leads. In early 2020, after ending our partnership with Legal Zoom, we began building Upsolve Local - a community of bankruptcy lawyers and law firms across the country.
Being able to generate revenue solved the three shortcomings of relying on just fundraising to stay alive:
1. Our revenue now grows with the number of people we help. As our web traffic grows, we help more low-income families who qualify for our free service and generate more lead revenue to support them.
2. We no longer spend as much time on fundraising. Instead, we focus more on how to improve our product, our customer service, and our content.
3. We can reliably hire people, knowing that we have dependable revenue, free from unpredictable funders, next year and in years to come.
Earning revenue is not and never will be our main goal. We could be generating over twice as much revenue if we shut down our free service and just generated leads for attorneys. But that's not the point of Upsolve. Our north star is the number of low-income families we serve each year, and it always will be.
Earned revenue is the fuel that allows us to better achieve our mission of helping low-income families across the United States. It allows us to attract and retain the best talent, which is critical to addressing the big hairy problem that we're going after. It allows us to hire more engineers to create a better free product, more writers to produce better free content, and more customer success advocates to provide more free guidance.
Earning revenue makes Upsolve a more sustainable, effective, and impactful nonprofit.
Best, Rohan, CEO and Co-Founder