Creatively Speaking: GoodSearch's Ken Ramberg


In 1988, before the Internet was widely available to college students, Ken Ramberg and his mother Connie, founded a service called JobTRAK. Employers would submit job openings to JobTRAK, who would then fax them to college career offices.

They grew profitable through the '90s, using the Web, of course, and were bought out in 2000 by Monster. This was ultimately bad news for JobTRAK (which became MonsterTRAK and then eventually died earlier this year), but good news for the non profit world. Why? Because Ken suddenly had a lot of time on his hands, which he used to found GoodSearch with his sister JJ (host of MSNBC's Your Business).

If you're not yet using GoodSearch to make money for your favorite charity, it's high time you started. The concept is easy: every time you do a search online through their search engine (which is Yahoo's search engine repackaged), or using their toolbar (you don't even have to be on their site), GoodSearch donates 50% of the add revenue they get from the search to the charity of your choice.

Those pennies really ad up if you get a lot of people naming your organization as the beneficiary. And now they've gone and added GoodShop. Whenever you shop online at stores like Target or Amazon (the Apple Store, 1-800-Flowers, the list is endless), a percentage of your total bill goes to said charity. What percentage? That's up to the store. But some retailers will donate up to 30%!

For some more details, plus an insider's look at the amazing search company, check out our interview with founder Ken Ramberg below.

DI: After you sold JOBTRAK to Monster, I can picture you sitting around going: okay, now what am I going to do with my time. Were there other, competing ideas? Or did you know it was going to be Goodsearch from the get go?

KR: After founding and then operating an Internet company for 14 years, I wasn't intending on starting a new business. JOBTRAK was a great success story, but it was a lot of hard work to say the least. However, after reading about the billions of dollars that the major search engines were generating in advertising revenue, I thought, "What if part of that money could be distributed to worthy causes? And more specifically, what if it went to the nonprofits chosen by the users?" It was such an exciting concept that I felt compelled to jump back in.

We launched GoodSearch, our Yahoo-powered search engine, in late 2005 with the promise that 50% of our revenue (which has turned out thus far to be about a penny per search) would be shared with the charities or schools designated by our users. The site has grown quickly and has struck a chord with people who care about making a difference in the world. In fact, 81,000 nonprofits and schools have now signed on and 100 new causes join us each day!

In this economy, especially, when people want to give but may not have the extra funds to do so, we've created a way to "give without giving." As more and more people spread the word, together we have the ability to make a meaningful impact in our communities.

DI: When Goodsearch went live, how much did it differ from what you'd imagined when you first hit on the idea?

KR: Other than adding the GoodShop shopping mall, which we were not contemplating at the time, GoodSearch is pretty much how I imagined it. What continues to inspire me however is the groundswell of support that has developed around the site. From regular people trying to do good in their communities, to celebrities such as Jessica Biel, Jeff Bridges, Rob Thomas, and Montel Williams who volunteered to make promotional videos for us, the site has taken on a life of its own.

DI: You've now added an exciting new feature, so people can raise money for their favorite charities by shopping online. How does it work, exactly?

KR: In 2007 we expanded our concept by creating GoodShop, an online shopping mall which donates a percentage of each sale to the shopper's cause. More than 1,300 of the very best merchants have joined our effort including Amazon, Nike, Staples, Dell and Best Buy to name a few.

To use GoodShop, you simply select your favorite charity and then click on the logo of any of our partner stores. Each merchant not only makes a substantial donation to your cause, but they've also provided us with thousands of money saving coupons and special offers.

DI: So if I pick up some books at Amazon, and the total comes to $40, what percentage of that is going to my designated charity?

KR: 1.5% of your Amazon purchase will go to your designated charity. To give you a few other examples, 7% from each order at 1-800-Flowers, 4% from Nike and 2% from Dell is donated. Other stores and services are donating 30% or more!

DI: What are a couple of the real big success stories?

KR: The successes are spread across the board. The ASPCA has earned more than $27,000, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation more than $11,000 and Save Darfur more than $11,000.

What's equally exciting is when a smaller organization such as the Blind Cat Rescue in North Carolina, which has earned $3,500, wrote to us saying how vital the money was to continuing their day-to-day operations. Another cause, the Bubel/Aiken Foundation which helps children with disabilities, used part of the $12,000 they've earned to send a group of kids to camp this summer.

DI: Talk a little bit about this cool, new downloadable tool bar. What's the idea behind it?

KR: Thanks for asking. Our new toolbar makes it so that you don't even have to come to our site to earn a donation for your cause. This is a real game changer! You can search the Internet directly from the toolbar and when you shop at any of our partner stores, the donation is automatically generated. It really doesn't get any easier than this.

Our hope is that millions of people will download the GoodSearch/GoodShop toolbar. Don't let your friends or relatives shop without it!!

DI: Does it work on all browsers?

KR: Right now, the toolbar works on IE and Firefox.

DI: What's the hardest part about getting people to switch from their favorite search engine to Goodsearch?

KR: Once people see our sites, they're generally hooked. Everyone has a cause they care about and there's no easier way to lend their support. Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. We've been very fortunate to have been featured in The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Good Morning America, CNN and other press outlets, however our biggest traffic driver still comes from friends telling friends about us.

DI: What's next for you guys?

KR: Right now we're working hard on spreading the word about our toolbar. We're asking everyone to get their friends, family and workmates to download the toolbar, pick a favorite charity and then do some good when they search or shop online.

Just think of the potential if office managers around the country downloaded the toolbar. When they then purchased their company's office supplies online at Staples, OfficeDepot, OfficeMax, etc. the donations would quickly add up!

DI: Planing a vacation from all this?

KR: I'd love to say that we'll be getting some rest soon, but the work that we're doing is just too important. We'll keep working hard until the question "Who do you GoodSearch for?" is part of the vernacular.