Change.org Raises $25 Million Without Aim of Startup-Sized Exit

Change.org Inc. might be the only Silicon Valley startup that doesn’t have dreams of a blockbuster initial public offering. It still raised $25 million from investors.

The company, whose website lets people organize petition-based campaigns for social change, can now count Bill Gates, Twitter Inc. co-founder Evan Williams and Virgin Group Ltd. founder Richard Branson among its investors. Change.org -- part of a new breed of mission-driven, for-profit companies called benefit corporations -- has raised $50 million to date.

Change.org will return money to shareholders eventually, because that’s the only way to make good on the promise of its business model, President Jen Dulski said. Still, avoiding public markets in favor of other methods of financing, such as private secondary stock offerings or stock repurchases over time, could preserve the company’s focus, she said.

“We’re aiming to show that social impact and financial success can work in tandem,” she said in an interview, comparing the approach with that of athletic-wear maker Patagonia Inc.; Warby Parker, the e-commerce website that donates a pair of eyeglasses for each one ordered; or Etsy Inc., a site for sellers of handmade goods.

San Francisco-based Change.org has 80 million users, compared with 35 million during its 2013 fundraising, and is active in 196 countries, the company said. People use the site to create petitions that others can sign, pressing for social or political change. The most popular petition as of yesterday asks U.S. Congress to pass a law to equip police with body cameras, and has more than 58,000 supporters.

Hiring, Mobile

The new round of capital will help Change.org “make sure we’re scaling the company as fast as we can,” Dulski said. That means hiring more engineers, investing in its mobile application and expanding internationally.

Dulski is competing for engineers with other startups promising get-rich-quick opportunities in technology. One Twitter engineer, for example, recently posted an e-mail from a recruiter promising that if he went to another startup, he could get “a quick million on a fast and furious exit,” where “all you need to do is show up.”

While Change.org pays employees market rate, the company is also looking for other qualities, Dulski said.

“People say very consistently three things that matter to them in a job, and it’s not always money,” she said. “They want work that is meaningful, to grow in their careers, and to be surrounded by people they can learn from.”

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