Startups from the world: Trigger

Turning a crazy idea into a real business-2.png

About two years ago I noticed a big change in social media trends in the US. My friends were becoming more polarised to the extremes sides of almost any political or cultural issue. Along with the shift to the fringes came a nastiness and unwillingness to engage in dialogue that I hadn’t seen before. Friends and family were not just disagreeing but becoming increasingly vulgar, hateful, and mean.  Again, I was seeing the same trend from people on all points of the political spectrum. It was becoming increasingly difficult to make any comments or statements without starting an online war.

Most of the time I simply ignored the aggravating content, but ignoring it just left me frustrated. I could ‘unfriend’ people and not see the content anymore, but I didn’t like the idea of shutting myself off. So I started to donate to the opposing side of what was offensive, and letting the person know that they had just triggered a donation that I was sure would annoy them.

I saw a problem, but the solution wasn’t very good. I could only tell people that they pushed me to donating, there was no verification and the process was tedious (going to each individual website). I spent a while brainstorming ideas on how something like this would function, then more importantly, if I could make a business plan around the solution. Creating a solution to a problem is one step, turning it into a profitable business is something totally different.

After I had a rough idea of what I wanted the technology to do – elicit and verify donations via social media with minimal time and effort – I needed to build a business around it. How would we bring in revenue? What’s the cost to build, promote, and maintain this? How do we market the brand?  

Eventually we built a great brand and business model at, a mobile based platform that allows users to instantly donate money. We have some really cool technology and an approach to donating that nobody else is doing. For a very small startup, the response has been phenomenal, both from users/donors and the non-profit organisations we help raise funds.

What we wound up with for the minimal viable product was an app that allows users to donate money via Twitter simply using #, $, and @. When you see a post that 'triggers' you, simply tweet: @ (organisation to donate to) #TriggerGive, and $ (amount to send). We send a confirmation email to make sure you typed the correct amount, and we take care of the rest. It’s an incredibly simple and public way to donate. We're currently working on Facebook integration, a Spanish mirror site, and some major partnerships with large non-profit organisations.

A million questions had to be figured out along the way regarding every aspect of starting and running a business. Fortunately I was finishing my MBA and had at least a basic understanding of the various requirements of a tech startup. Throughout this process I’ve realised three things crucial to having any chance at success: First is an absolute focus on what you’re doing, not just focus in a sense of being dedicated, but having a very specific problem and solution. It’s easy to let the idea/plan drift and offer a thousand extra features, don’t. Focus on the minimal viable product, the simplest version of the problem you hope to fix and nothing else, the rest can come later.

Secondly, somewhat contrary to the focus required is flexibility: the ability to react quickly and pivot. Stay laser focused on the minimal viable product, the problem and solution, but everything else can and will change. It certainly did with Trigger, from project managers to revenue models, if it can change it probably will. If a business is hyper focused on its core mission and open to making it happen any way possible, it’s starting from a strong position.

The third thing I’ve learned on the startup journey is you have to become an expert and learn, research, and read everything. I jumped into an industry I knew little about; most likely it wasn’t the safest bet. But if you are constantly following competitors, the industry, trends, and learning about how to make your company better, you’ll be taking valuable steps towards becoming an expert. And besides, once you get some traction with a business, you become the expert, even if you still don’t really know what you’re doing.

Isaac Alfton

Founder and CEO at Trigger