Q&A: How GoodSearch.com and GoodShop.com Co-Founder Ken Ramberg Turned Online Shopping and Browsing into a Social Venture

Cyber Monday is upon us, and in the spirit of giving and rampant consumerism, mbStartups would like to point out that it is possible to support the economy as well as local charities just by surfing the Web and buying stuff at Target. GoodSearch.com is a Yahoo!-powered search engine that automatically donates a portion of its advertising dollars to local charities that sign up for the service. Its sister site, GoodShop.com, tracks purchases made at participating retailers from its online mall and donates up to 30% of its online sales to non-profit organizations, with coupons and deals for the shopper. Since the company’s launch in 2005, 1,600 retailers have climbed on board to help more than 94,000 charities meet their fundraising goals. mbStartups recently asked Ken Ramberg, Co-Founder of GoodSearch and former President of JOBTRAK how he and his sister JJ Ramberg turned browsing and shopping into a social venture.

How did the partnership with Yahoo! come about?

A few years after selling JOBTRAK to Monster.com in 2000, the idea for GoodSearch hit me: “What if people could support their favorite cause just by searching the Internet, something that they do every day?” If even a fraction of the ad dollars generated by search engines could be distributed toward good causes, a major impact could be made.

I had a strong relationship with the management team at Yahoo! and approached them with the idea of “powering” our search engine. One of the keys to making GoodSearch a success was to ensure that we provided high quality search results. Yahoo! took a shot with us and the partnership has worked out very well for both of our organizations ever since.

How has GoodSearch grown since you launched in 2005?

The growth has been phenomenal. 95,000 nonprofits and schools are now on-board and close to 100 more are registering to join us each day! In terms of traffic to the site, we’re averaging close to 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

What is most exciting, however, is that our audience has grown largely via word-of-mouth, the blogger community, and a number of celebrities, including Jessica Biel, Montel Williams, Jeff Bridges, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. It you search Twitter for the word “goodsearch” you’ll see a tremendous amount of activity!

We’ve disbursed donations to nonprofits now for five years straight which has given us a lot of credibility in the marketplace. A few success stories include the ASPCA which has earned $37,000, the Cystic Fibrosis foundation has earned $15,000 and St. Jude Children’s Hospital which has raised close to $14,000 not to mention tens of thousands of other organizations.

In addition, last August the US Patent Office granted us a patent for our technology which further helps to validate our system and gain the trust of the nonprofits and our user-base.

Between ad revenue on GoodSearch and e-commerce on GoodShop, which brings in the most money for charities and why do you think that is?

They’re running neck-and-neck. While GoodSearch brings in donations in small increments (we donate about a penny per search), with GoodShop up to 30% of the purchase price at 1,600 top online retailers and online services is donated. In both cases people can see the amount raised for any given organization on our site at any time.

What makes the two sites so compelling is that people can support a cause without changing their behavior. However, to even further incentivize shoppers to use GoodShop, we’ve posted thousands of money-saving coupons and free shipping offers from our merchants. People can thus save money at their favorite stores and support their cause.

How did you recruit so many big retailers like Target and Macy’s for GoodShop?

As you probably know, retailers large and small are becoming more committed to “doing good.” There have been a number of studies that show how consumers are more loyal and will even switch to brands and stores that are socially and environmentally responsible.

While many retailers manage corporate social campaigns that support a specific cause, what has drawn them to GoodShop is our ability disburse funds on a very local level, to the nonprofit or school designated by the specific shopper.

We’re thrilled to be working with so many name-brand retailers including Amazon, Macy’s, PetSmart, Nike, Bloomingdales, Best Buy, eBay, Gap, J.Crew, Apple, Staples, Target and more.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are thinking about launching a social venture?

I think the most important thing to remember is that your product and service has to be top notch. While we are lucky to be in an environment where customers understand the value of social ventures and are very supportive of them, being a company that “does good” will not make up for having an inferior product or service.