Chideo CEO Todd Wagner

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The visionary entrepreneur shares how his new digital platform, Chideo, works to change the world for the better.

Dot-com pioneer Todd Wagner blends his entrepreneurial spirit, business expertise and philanthropic commitment to create some of the media industry's most successful digital, intellectual and physical properties. His new online platform, Chideo, is designed to raise money for causes that celebrities support. Wagner first made his mark as co-founder of—in partnership with fellow Indiana University alum Mark Cuban. After selling it to Yahoo!, they fused a passion for entertainment with their business portfolio, resulting in ventures that span content creation, distribution and exhibition. He was also behind such films as Good Night, and Good Luck. and Akeelah and the Bee.


Tavis: Finding a new way to engage and encourage people to change the world for the better was what motivated movie producer and Internet entrepreneur Todd Wagner to create a new digital platform called Chideo, which is all about raising money for important causes championed by celebrities.

Let’s start by taking a look at a short clip introducing the Chideo concept, and then we’ll let Todd Wagner explain how it all works.

[Chideo promotion clip]

Tavis: Todd, I’m excited, first of all, to have you on the program. Good to have you here.

Todd Wagner: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: But excited – I jumped so fast because I’m so excited about what I think this can do, how revolutionary I think Chideo can be, so let me start with the obvious question. What is Chideo?

Wagner: Chideo is charity and video smushed together, is the name. So it comes from charity video and stands for Chideo. But what I really think it is is I think of it almost as kind of an old-fashioned phone booth, phone tank, where people are calling in, right?

Where you’ve got 60 people standing by the phones and waiting to hear what it is that somebody wants. So it’s as if – it’s what do I want to know, what do I want to see, what do I want to find out? It’s having 70 celebrities standing by the phone saying, “Okay, what is it you want to know?”

What I love about this platform is it’s all about fan empowerment. If there’s one thing I think the Internet taught us 20 long years ago, when Mark and I first started, is that the consumer is in charge.

The beauty of this platform is that they decide the things that they want these celebrities that they passionately follow to do, but it’s all in the name of charity.

Tavis: The Mark that you referenced – because he’s your friend, you slid right past it – that’d be Mark Cuban. So he and Mark have been partners for a lot of years, and here’s my chance for a plug: Another Indiana University connection – Tavis Smiley, Indiana, Todd Wagner, Indiana, Mark Cuban, Indiana – go Hoosiers.

All right, anyway, back to what we were talking about. (Laughs) So we know what Chideo is now, and you started to give us some sense of how it actually works, but tell me more about how this actually works for fans.

Wagner: Well, it’s kind of think about, depending on who it is, you come on and you can search for a celebrity that you follow or a charity that you’re passionate about, but it also has the ability for you to make suggestions or ask a question, if you will, of a celebrity.

Then I can come on and vote on it, and the whole idea is that over time, the votes go up and the celebrity then knows oh, that’s something people want to know about. That’s something they’re interested in.

So it could be anything from Don Henley giving you a drum lesson. It could be Condoleezza Rice basically saying what was it like to give President Bush bad news.

It’s giving you something you would not otherwise be able to do, and you’re doing it, it’s like getting this fun, vicarious thrill, but you’re also giving back by doing it. So we think about this as democratizing fundraising. It’s taking it out to the masses.

Fundraising in this country has been stuck at 2 percent of GDP for 40 years, and online giving, even though we’ve had the Internet now for a long time, is it about 8 percent of total giving.

So what we’re saying is what if we thought about it differently. What if we entertained you? What if we made it fun? I call it the smiling child, not the crying child. Instead of trying to guilt you, let’s entertain you, and that’s how we think about it.

Tavis: You think that this has the capability not just to democratize fundraising but to innovate the way we fund-raise?

Wagner: I absolutely do. Two funny stories, or interesting stories to me. When I met with President Clinton, I got about halfway through the pitch, right, of what we talk about, and he looked up at me and he goes, “Todd, I’m in.”

Tavis: That’s because Clinton is always two steps ahead of everybody, so. (Laughs)

Wagner: Exactly. It was a very interesting thing. He asked me about well, how big do you think this can be, all these kinds of things, because he saw what the potential could be.

Same thing with Secretary of State Rice. She had a very interesting story about having learned a piano piece, because obviously she’s a concert pianist, and having done that, and the small amount that the event actually netted.

So there’s all of these kind of stories that every celebrity who is very passionate about a cause or two has, when they have gone through the rigors of fundraising, the time intensity, what it might actually net.

So the whole idea here is what if we could kind of make it a little more frictionless, what if we can make it fun. That’s really the point.

Tavis: I guess that speaks to, then, why there is such a huge swath of celebrities who’ve already jumped at this opportunity. I was just looking at the list. I’m pleased to be one of the ambassadors.

But I get why these celebrities are jumping at this opportunity to do some good, because it is fun, it is innovative, and it does – there’s an ease that comes with this that makes the process – makes it doable. But give me some sense of the range of celebrity that you’ve signed up for this.

Wagner: Well we’ve got over 60 celebrities. We’ll probably announce another 10 or 20. As you know, we’re launching to the public tomorrow. But it’s everyone from Bradley Cooper to Morgan Freeman to President Clinton to chefs, to NASCAR drivers, to UFC fighters.

The whole idea was everybody is a fan of something. Let’s give things to people that they are interested in and allow them to participate in the process. We set it up with – the technology is complicated. Our job was to make it easy.

So the whole point is that the celebrity can push two buttons and be able to interact with their fans. For the fans, we hope it’s fun. We hope they come on and say, “Hey, this is kind of entertaining.”

We’re in a world now where last year, a $3 billion industry for basically social gaming online. You’re in an iTunes industry that’s $12 billion and growing. People are used to going like this with their finger.

They’re used to pushing a button and $1.99 goes away, or 99 cents, and they download or they watch. We want to tap into the behavior that people have to be entertained and try to do something good with it.

Instead of kind of like I say, instead of kind of trying to push somebody or guilt them, let’s try to make them have fun while they’re doing it.

Tavis: People like you and Mark Cuban don’t do things just for the fun of it, although you guys have a lot of fun. But there is also, there’s a greater good you’re trying to accomplish here.

Give me more of what you think you can accomplish here, and how revolutionary – I’m asking the Bill Clinton question on television.

Wagner: Yeah.

Tavis: What do you think you can do here? How revolutionary can this be for fundraising?

Wagner: I think it has the potential to be a very big thing. Now look, we haven’t done anything yet, but we’ve spent a year building the platform. I know for sure we’re going to work really hard to try to make this work.

Any time you’re doing something that I view as beyond what people are used to – as you know, any time you’re entrepreneurial with something, people’s first reaction is no.

Then it’s like well, let me understand it, and then eventually they adjust to it. So in the fundraising world, in a lot of cases, right, people are used to no, I know how to do this.

We do a fundraiser, we shake a few hands, we do a meet-and-greet. This is a whole different way to think about it. But I view it as the future. It’s no different than when Jeff Bezos started Amazon and they were selling a few books online, and everybody said, “But I can already buy the books over here.”

But technology is a funny thing. I always say it never goes as far as you think it will in two years, and it always goes further in 10. So at some point you wake up and bam, it’s happened.

So I’m not saying this is the answer, but I do think this is the future. I do think – anybody with a smartphone or even a connection to the Internet anywhere in the world is now a potential donor.

So if you’re someone that has fans all over the world, you have the ability to reach them, because they sure aren’t going to be able to buy that $10,000 table at the charity event.

That’s the whole point of this, is getting it out to a lot of people, and let them feel a part of the process.

Tavis: Never bet against Todd Wagner. Anything he puts his hands to, it pretty much turns to gold, and I am predicting big things, as are others, Bill Clinton on down the line, for this new fundraising tool for charities in this country and around the world, called Chideo – charity and video, Chideo.

So let the word go forth to the entire charitable fundraising community that there is a new tool available to all of us to try to do some good and make the world a little bit better place to live when we leave it than when we inherit it.

It’s called Chideo. Launches tomorrow, so go online and check it out, and I think you’ll be as impressed as I am. Todd Wagner, we have you to thank for all this.

Wagner: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to have you on the program, and thanks for your work.

Wagner: Appreciate it.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: March 3, 2014 at 2:21 pm