June 19, 2024

Prototype: Serving a Cause, 25 Cents at a Time

Mr. Fradin, a high school senior and budding entrepreneur who lives in Studio City, Calif., is the creator of CherryCard.org, a new Internet start-up that seeks to make it easy for consumers to give money to the charities of their choice.

Last week marked CherryCard’s soft launch — very soft, because Mr. Fradin is still lining up retailers to participate. As of this weekend, thanks to a group of sponsors that include NBC Universal and the Milwaukee Brewers, anyone who visits the site will be given 25 cents to spend for a cause. But the underlying mechanism of the venture — retailers distributing CherryCard vouchers that customers can redeem and donate to charity — has yet to materialize.

“It’s a chicken and egg thing,” Mr. Fradin says, referring to his simultaneous need to attract consumers to use the site and retailers to pass out vouchers. While he believes his youth is an asset, not everyone he has approached sees it that way.

“One business owner said, ‘I just don’t see any big retailer wanting to take the chance on an 18-year-old kid,’ ” Mr. Fradin recalls. “But who better to get people excited about something than kids? We’re excited about everything!”

Over the last year or so, Prototype has featured many a creative company and the adults who run them. This month, we lower the median age significantly with Mr. Fradin, who lives at home with his parents and younger brother and will be attending Brown University in the fall (one of his application essays was about pirates).

Why should we care about rookie entrepreneurs like him? Steve Mariotti, the founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, says they aren’t just inspiring — they’re essential. “Since all net new jobs over the last 30 years have come from start-ups, we’d better be seeing young people willing to take these risks,” he says, adding that the Internet is an especially powerful tool for them. “They have an intuitive understanding of how social media has changed marketing and branding.”

Here’s how CherryCard works: Participating retailers will hand out business-card-size vouchers to their customers after a purchase. “Redeem this card at CherryCard.org to give $0.25 to the cause of your choice,” reads a typical card, which is printed with a code.

Later, after a consumer logs in to the CherryCard site via Facebook and types in that code, the card’s monetary value is deposited in their account, which they can draw upon to give to charities (which are not charged to be listed on the site). Right now there are 35 charities, and Mr. Fradin hopes to add many more.

So who pays? The retailers do — a minimal fee per card goes to CherryCard (though Mr. Fradin is waiving it at the moment to encourage companies to sign on). When a consumer redeems a card, the retailer who distributed it is also charged its face value.

Mr. Fradin believes CherryCard can be financed out of retailers’ marketing budgets because it identifies them as socially conscious enterprises. Their logo will appear on the CherryCard site and will pop up on consumers’ Facebook pages when they donate.

“It’ll say, ‘I’ve given this amount to World Wide Fund for Nature courtesy of’ all the different places you’ve gotten the cards,” Mr. Fradin says.

Mr. Fradin has been fascinated by business since he was 9 and his grandfather, an accounting professor, taught him about the stock market. He counts Warren Buffett and Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms Shoes, among his idols and likes to quote Arianna Huffington on cause-based marketing (when he isn’t making a reference to the Swedish data guru Hans Rosling).

Mr. Fradin has spent about $2,000 of his own money on the CherryCard project, but he needed more than money to make it a reality. The Internet connected him with two other teenagers who helped him develop the site. He found 18-year-old Kris Mendoza, a graphic designer who lives in Lynnwood, Wash., (and is headed to Western Washington University in the fall) on a site called Dribbble.com. Mr. Fradin met CherryCard’s programmer, Will Cosgrove from Fort Worth, Tex., through a twist of what he calls “computer-generated fate.”

While trying to build the site himself, Mr. Fradin hit a roadblock last November. He sent a plea for help to Aardvark, a social search engine that quickly pairs people seeking information with those likely to have answers. Mr. Cosgrove was working on his college applications when Mr. Fradin’s query popped up.

“Anything was more exciting than working on those essays, so I looked at it,” recalls Mr. Cosgrove, who is also 18 and will attend Texas AM in the fall.

In a later phone call, the two hit it off, and Mr. Cosgrove — who, like Mr. Fradin, is working without pay — is now a limited partner (he owns 10 percent of CherryCard). Sure, at the moment that’s worth nothing. But that’s O.K. when you’re 18 and live with your parents.

CherryCard is not the only site of its kind. Last fall, SocialVest.us began with a similar goal: enabling charitable giving through everyday purchases. Unlike CherryCard, though, users of SocialVest must register before making a purchase. Also, SocialVest relies on credit and debit card or electronic purchases, whereas CherryCard works even with cash or check purchases. But SocialVest has scores of retail partners, including Staples, Sephora and Saks Fifth Avenue. And it’s run by people old enough to buy beer.

Some of these professionals, though, are impressed by Mr. Fradin. “The program that Noah has created generates immediate consumer connectivity between the Milwaukee Brewers and deserving charitable organizations,” Rick Schlesinger, chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Brewers, wrote in an e-mail. The owners of the team, Mark and Debbie Attanasio, are friends of Mr. Fradin’s parents.

Mr. Fradin expects a flurry of visitors to CherryCard this weekend, lured by his offer of 25 cents to play with. But he knows the clock is ticking: people will quickly lose interest unless retailers get on board. Still, he sounds undaunted.

“We want giving to be a part of every monetary transaction,” he says. “Let’s end poverty. Let’s end world hunger. I really do think that’s possible.”  

E-mail: proto@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c9cfbe6b5d62617a81cc3fc0830ef502