Young entrepeneurs mix business with charity

Young entrepeneurs mix business with charity

For those who feel most comfortable shopping at 3 a.m., in their underwear, online shopping is extremely convenient.

But that doesn’t mean online retailers have figured out how to cater to consumers’ every need — and to help Israel in the process.

That’s where 19-year-old entrepreneurs Mike Schneider and Bryan Welfel of come in.

Michael Schneider, right, visits the Save a Child’s Heart Foundation in Holon. He and Brian Welfel plan to donate a portion of their profits from their online retail busness to the foundation.

Their goal is to provide people who want to buy electronics with a "no-stress shopping" experience at a user-friendly Website, rather than others they feel come across as cold and mechanical. Along the way, they plan to donate a portion of their profits to the Save a Child’s Heart Foundation.

The organization is based at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, the largest suburb of Tel Aviv, and provides surgery for children in developing and third world countries.

The Hillel of Colgate University, where Schneider is a student, raised money for the organization. When Schneider went on Colgate Hillel’s Birthright Israel trip this summer, the group hand-delivered the money and he saw the difference being made firsthand.

"We got to visit them and talk to the administrators and the kids who just had surgery and the kids who were going to. It was really moving," Schneider said. "Sometimes you donate to charities and you wonder what your money’s doing. But here you see a tangible difference. Each $10,000 directly saves a child’s life."

The experience was so moving that when Welfel asked about the trip, most of Schneider’s response was about seeing this charity in action.

"He asked how it was, and I didn’t tell him the typical stories college students would share. I told him all about the charity and how I wanted to donate."

"And I said, ‘Okay, we’re doing it!’" Welfel interrupted.

"I wanted to donate on my own anyway," said Schneider. "But we could give a more substantial contribution if we did it through CremeCrop than from personal funds alone."

Because they want to wait until they can raise a significant amount, they have not chosen a specific percentage from their sales that will go to Save a Child’s Heart.

"If we say a certain percent and sales don’t do so well, it might not be a lot, so we’re going to wait until we get a good amount," said Schneider.

As for the Website, "Some people go shopping and want to see every camera. But there are some people, who are like, ‘Just give me a camera that takes pictures that look good and doesn’t cost a fortune,’" said Welfel, who is from River Vale. "That’s the person we want to help. We’re just trying to save the consumer money. We’re telling you what you need based on what you want."

The site offers several different products, but unlike other retailers, they sell only one brand and model of each item.

But they aren’t saying people can’t do the research themselves. Welfel stresses that it can be tedious and not everyone has the time or technical knowledge to do it.

"For every two products we put up, we’ve probably looked at 500," said Welfel.

"We stand by all of our products," said Schneider. "And we’re brutally honest."

They aim to pick the best products, reviewing every version and brand they can find, even if those aren’t the most popular ones on the market. For example, anyone looking for an MP3 player won’t find an iPod on the pair’s Website.

"We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but the iPod really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s right — not only is the iPod overpriced with limited features, but purchasing one won’t make you as fun and cool as those shadowy dancers on fluorescent backgrounds from the commercials. That’s why we’ve chosen a player that has more features and costs less — the Creative Vision M," says the Website.

"It cuts into our financial gains," said Schneider, but neither he nor Welfel is upset by that. So far, the entrepreneurs have done very well for themselves, especially considering that when they began, they knew nothing about starting a business.

The initial idea for came from Welfel, who loves to pitch ideas to Schneider, sometimes calling him at 3 in the morning to do so.

"We have a great dynamic," said
Schneider. "He comes up with the ideas and I shoot them down and refine them."

"I’m always coming up with ideas," said Welfel. "Most bad, some okay, some good. And I always pitch them to Mike and he almost always shoots them down. But I pitched this one, and he was silent for a good minute and he said, ‘No, I actually really like it.’ And everyone’s jaws just dropped."

They set a two-week deadline for the launch date, which turned into a year of uphill battles studying business issues such as tax laws, making a bank account, convincing veteran businessmen that they were legitimate, and making deals with companies and distributors.

The result is a Website on which viewers see products with pictures from every angle and their features in plain English. Any term that might be confusing is followed by a lawn chair icon that takes the user to a definition that’s thorough and easy to understand.

"It’s one thing to sell a product," said Welfel. "But it’s another to completely satisfy a customer."

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