Win-Win works with professional athletes to combine charitable giving with gaming; it’s called “gamified giving” and it makes donations more fun and engaging. Mike T. Brown is excited to become a part of Houston’s innovation ecosystem, so is moving his company from Silicon Valley to H-town. And that’s not all he’s doing!
Joey: Hi, I’m Joey Sanchez with Houston Exponential, and this is HXTV, championing Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Our guest today is Mike T. Brown, Founder and CEO of Win-Win. Hey, Mike, thanks for being here.
Mike: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited.
Joey: Excellent. So, first off, what is Win-Win?
Mike: Great question. Win-Win, what we’ve recognized is that charitable giving is a bit outdated. People wish there was a better way to do it. Win-Win combines giving with gaming to make donating to charity a lot more fun and engaging. We do that by working with professional athletes, initially, and the athletes are hosting an online game tournament on our platform. Think of it as a pick’em challenge or March Madness bracket, hosted by J.J. Watt, for example. J.J. would, in this example, promote it out across social media to all his fans, fans would come into our platform to join this tournament. The tournament, as I said, is a pick’em challenge, so you would literally just be predicting who is going to win upcoming NFL games for NFL Week 7, for example.
You predict who is going to win and when you join the campaign or the tournament, you have an opportunity to donate to the J.J. Watt Family Foundation. You can donate any amount and you earn some perks and incentives in part of that, and what you’re competing for in the game is not money, but instead experiences that money can’t buy, like having dinner with J.J. after the game or field passes, a number of different things. We like to call it Gamified giving, so it’s just a new and engaging way for fans to be able to donate, athletes are able to raise awareness and funding for a cause they care about, charities receive money and new donors, and then we make a little bit of money in the process, so it really is a win-win.
Joey: Nice. I see that Win-Win and Gamified giving. Is this a new concept or is this something that is already out there in the market?
Mike: We believe so. The way we’ve kind of taken the best elements of gaming and combined them with giving, I think is relatively new. There are some folks that are definitely doing some great work from a charitable fundraising standpoint. There’s crowdfunding, kind of like the GoFundMe’s of the world, which I think are great. There are online charity raffles, auctions, but I think as we’ve thought about some of those more antiquated models, it’s not that fun, it’s not engaging, it doesn’t really motivate people to do it over and over and over. We looked at the gaming industry, particularly fantasy sports, and how engaged people were. Through my background and experience, being able to work with athletes, being a former athlete, I recognize a synergy between these two different industries, and we created Win-Win.
Joey: Gamified giving, Win-Win. What are some of the unique prizes, what are some of the unique games that you guys have already done in place?
Mike: The Gamified giving, the competition is kind of the core piece of it. People are competing. You’re not winning these experiences, or these prizes based on the size of your donation. We democratize the giving process. You can give any amount and you’re winning these things based off of the game, the predictions that you’ve made. People have been able to unlock some pretty cool experiences. I’ll tell you one of my favorites, early on, we worked with Patrick Peterson from the Cardinals and he is an LSU alumnus. He came up with a great idea to take the top three winners on the leaderboard on a private jet with him from Arizona down to Baton Rouge, and they got to go to the LSU vs. Alabama football game, Saturday night, sideline passes, locker room tour.
If you go on our website, you’ll see a clip of that and it was just a phenomenal experience. The money that was raised went towards flood victims, or the folks that got displaced during a big flood that happened in Baton Rouge at the time, and so it was a way for people to raise money to support those folks, and win such an epic experience. We’ve done other things like sideline passes at a football—Monday Night Football game, and they get to meet Malcom Jenkins after the game for 15 minutes. We’ve done courtside seats at a Laker game, so there’s a number of things that we’ve done. And mind you, this is all part of our beta program, so I’m really excited about unleashing a lot of great ideas that we have.
Joey: You mentioned J.J. Watt and your professional football network. What other professional athletes have you worked with in the past and who are you looking to work with now?
Mike: To date, we have over 150-160+ NFL players and NBA guys. I think they all come with a different level of influence. We haven’t worked with J.J., I just use him as an example sometimes, and I would love to work with him. I would certainly love to get more plugged into the Texans, the Rockets, the Astros. In fact, fun fact is that Bill O’Brien was a coach of mine in college. He was at Duke University and so I’m looking forward to getting back into the fold with Bill and the team there. Some of the guys that we’ve worked with to date that I’m so proud of; Malcom Jenkins, Captain of the Eagles, two-time Super Bowl champion, has been a partner from day one, but also he decided to invest in the company, which I thought was phenomenal because I wasn’t asking for capital.
We were just talking about how we could be of value, and a savvy guy like him sees the value in what we’re doing so he invested. We’ve worked with Jaylon Smith from the Dallas Cowboys; Golden Tate, who is now with the Giants; a number of guys that we’re just proud to call partners and just continuing to grow that out. One thing I will add is we’re starting to now vertically expand. We’re starting to now work with the teams as an entity themselves, so now you can imagine a Rockets hosted Win-Win tournament raising money for the Clutch City Foundation or whatever the organization is they choose, and you win some really cool stuff in the process. We’re working with entertainers, artists, influencers, so it’s an exciting time and we’re just continuing to grow that partnership network of ours.
Joey: Awesome. And so, going off of that, you were a former athlete. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your trajectory into Win-Win.
Mike: Yeah. I like to call it tackling to tech. To your point, I was a former athlete. I came from humble beginnings; I grew up here in Alief in the city of Houston, graduated from Alief Taylor in 2005. I always told people that I just so happened to know how to tackle people. For me, I did very well in high school from an athletic standpoint, but also academically. I had a 4.0, president of the Engineering Club, National Honor Society, and so from there I took my talents to Duke University. I felt like I wanted the best of both worlds; playing in the ACC, competing at a high level while competing academically at a very high level. At Duke, I was a two-time All-American, I led the nation in tackles. I was more proud of the fact that I graduated early with a public policy degree. I was headed to law school, but was afforded an opportunity to go tackle some more people on the next level.
I played for the Indianapolis Colts initially, and after a few years I started to make this transition, as I mentioned, from tackling to tech. I got a lot more interested in business, and quite honestly, I thought about just getting my MBA, because I didn’t know what Silicon Valley was, I didn’t know what tech was, a tech startup, and in 2013 all of that changed. I ended up getting into tech after a friend told me about a program in the Bay Area. I went out there and was blown away. I finished number one in this entrepreneurship program run by Tim Draper, one of the bigger VCs in the world, and after finishing Draper, number one, I moved back home, actually, to Houston, and was really trying to get into tech. I spent the next nine months teaching myself how to code, several programming languages, design, and then I said, you know what, I want to go back to the hub of it all.
Quite honestly, at the time, I didn’t feel there was a lot of infrastructure that would support my tech entrepreneurial desires. I moved to the Bay in 2014 and it’s just been a roller coaster of learnings. I’m a first-time founder, really first time just hearing about all of this. I actually worked at a startup first. I think that was one of the good decisions I made. I said, instead of trying to jump right in and start a company, because that’s my only goal, I worked at a startup, a really fast growing one, a $32 million dollar venture-backed company where I came in entry level and within five months moved into leadership. I learned a lot from the inside on how to manage employees, or grow the team, how to fundraise, you know, working with the CEO there.
In 2016, I jumped ship and started Win-Win. We’ve been after it now for about two and a half years. We’ve hit a lot of those early milestones; we’ve raised our first $1 million in the Bay from investors; we went through 500 Startups, one of the premier accelerator programs there. When you talk about learning, it’s been a massive amount of learning over the last few years. Luckily for me, I’ve always had a real thirst for knowledge, which is why I was so attracted to tech in itself, because I looked at it and I said, wait a minute, people are just creating and building things that are making the world better in one way or another, all from an idea. I felt like I had the natural chops to do that, and so now was just kind of formally educating myself through experience. And now we’re full-fledged.
Joey: So, you’re in Silicon Valley but you are relocating to Houston?
Mike: I am relocating to Houston and I’m so excited about it. I started to learn about what’s been really going on down here in terms of just the tech boom and the energy and focus around that. Obviously, we are all aware of oil and gas and energy and the medical center being kind of the happening things here, but with tech, I think there’s so much opportunity. For me, coming from Silicon Valley having had deep experience understanding that ecosystem and navigating it pretty efficiently, when I come down here and I see a lot of the key pieces in place in terms of what it takes to start building up that ecosystem, at least from my perspective, and so to see the excitement and the fervor around the city, from the Mayor’s office, to the Greater Houston Partnership, to Houston Exponential, to Station Houston, to The Cannon, I mean there are just so many folks working cohesively together. I think there’s a bright, bright future for Houston. Obviously, being from here, it made a lot of sense on the personal side, but really, from the company side, there’s already been a massive amount of support for us to get down here. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to do what I love now around the folks that I love.
Joey: You said about the idea, and I see your hat, the Thinking Cap. Can you explain a little bit about the Thinking Cap?
Mike: The Thinking Cap, it’s funny because as I was starting the company, I came up with the logo and all that stuff, Win-Win, and then growing up my mom would always say, make sure you always have on your thinking cap. And so, when I was—literally, we were just coming up with the kind of company swag, if you will, and the Thinking Cap was one that I just started wearing it and it kind of started to grow its own legs. Honestly, I think about it and I say, if you really want to win in life, you’ve got to have on your thinking cap. You’re got to be always thinking, and progressing, and looking, and acquiring knowledge. And so, for me, it’s a way of life. The Thinking Cap is not necessarily related to the company and what we do, but it’s more of a model and an understanding of what we always want to achieve, which is the Win-Win. We actually rolled out Thinking Cap Camp where we introduce inner city youth to STEM and code technology by combining it with a more traditional football camp mixed with a kind of code academy. We did this at the Super Bowl in Minnesota, and we partnered with the Vikings and Microsoft and it was an amazing experience. The Thinking Cap is definitely, from a brand standpoint, is on the rise for sure.
Joey: Excellent. Well, here at Houston Exponential we are excited to work with you to help bring your knowledge from Silicon Valley, bring it here to Houston, and just final thoughts, thank you for being here today. That wraps up my discussion with Mike T. Brown, from Win-Win. I’m Joey Sanchez with Houston Exponential TV. Thank you.
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