Three George Washington University students, operating out of their dorm room, have concocted a plan to give away money.
The trio of roommates crafted an online sweepstakes — now with more than 98,000 entrants — with the goal of raising at least $5,000 in advertising revenue. They plan to split the proceeds between themselves, one or two lucky winners and one charitable organization.
It’s a homework assignment they gave themselves, with no grades but lots of public feedback.
“This is fun for us, because we get to use all the crazy marketing stuff that we’ve learned,” said Max Friedman, who studies computer science and finance at GW. “It kind of incorporates all the things that we love about business.”
The idea for the site, which they named We Give Two, was born when the roommates — Friedman, a 20-year-old junior, and sophomores Liran Cohen and Ari Krasner, both 19 — were snowed in two weekends ago.
Friedman and Cohen, also a computer science major, wanted to use the time they were stuck indoors programming a website.
They were tossing around ideas for attracting advertising revenue to their as-yet-unborn site when Cohen said something like: “What if we took all this money, and we gave it back to people?”
And Krasner, an international affairs student, jumped in: “What if we added a charitable element?”
In keeping with the weather, Friedman said, “It really just sort of snowballed from there.”
In the first few hours after their website debuted, more than 5,000 people typed in their email addresses for the chance to win the money. Advertisers noticed the traffic, and they paid more money. The pot grew larger, and more people entered. (Entries are free, and there is no purchase necessary.)
The students have been happy with the progress so far; they plan to run the promotion until a scheduled prize drawing on Feb. 27. “We’re trying to figure it out as we go,” Friedman said.
They sell their ads on the cheap — $10 a day for a small spot, $20 a day for a large one, with discounts if a buyer opts for multiple days. They started by soliciting a few friends’ businesses as their only advertisers, then watched enthusiastically as the number of entrants soared and new advertisers followed.
More than 50 businesses have paid for ads for at least a day, Friedman said. On Monday, 30 businesses had paid ads on the site.
The roommates programmed their site to tell advertisers precisely how many people saw their ad that day, and how many people have entered their email address for a chance to receive the money at the end.
The cash will be split four ways, Friedman said. The three creators will keep 35 percent, which they hope to use to fund their next creative project. Fifty percent will go to the one randomly selected winner among all the entrants. Ten percent will go to the charity the winner chooses.
Entrants also have the option of referring other people to the site — and if someone they refer wins the sweepstakes, they get the remaining 5 percent of the pot.
The creators have been coming up with more ideas as they go: Each day, they post a featured charity, and they encourage their advertisers to donate to that cause when paying for ads. They’d like to put a special border around the ads from companies that do choose to make a charitable contribution; they’d like to increase the cost of the ads; and they’d like to run more sweepstakes in the future — maybe on a daily or weekly basis.
“We literally were like, ‘Let’s see how big we can grow this thing,’” Friedman said. “The fact that we’re almost at 100,000 entries is crazy to us.”
This story has been updated.
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