Crowdfunding / Philanthropy / Retail / Startups

How two former Yu-Gi-Oh! pros plan to make ‘charity checkout’ smarter

Johnny Li and Patrick Hoban met through the Japanese card game. Now, with an equity crowdfunding campaign, they're looking to build Parvenu into an AI-driven force for good.

Charity checkout raised $440 million in 2016. (Photo by Flickr user Natasha Miller, used under a Creative Commons license)

When customers check out at retail stores, a screen sometimes pops up, prompting a charitable donation. In 2016 alone, such “charity checkout” campaigns raised more than $441 million.

But what if those charitable asks were smarter?

What if when you bought dog food you were prompted to donate to an animal shelter, rather than, say, the Salvation Army? What if when you were picking up your grandpa’s Alzheimer medicine you were asked to donate to research for a cure?

Parvenu cofounders Johnny Li and Patrick Hoban say their company’s ability to “personalize the act of giving” will make you more likely to give, leading to increased philanthropy at the checkout lane.

“We’re taking the way existing charity checkout works to make it more data driven and smart,” Li said.

Johnny Li. (Courtesy photo)

Johnny Li. (Courtesy photo)

The startup is now attempting to raise $250,000 via equity crowdfunding site Wefunder by the end of July. If successful, Parvenu will target local chain retail and grocery brands that have existing charity checkout systems. Rather than competing with a retailer’s charity of choice, Li said Parvenu plans to give customers the option to donate to local charities based on their purchases.

“Shoppers want to be engaged by the causes that actually matter to them,” Li said.

Hoban, 25, is no stranger to raising money, as he spent a year as a fundraiser for charities in D.C. before Parvenu. Li, 29, worked as a technology consultant in Houston before quitting his job and moving to D.C. to launch the company.

Before their professional partnership, the pair drew on their first experience as teammates as Yu-Gi-Oh! players, a Japanese trading-card game that challenges players to make the best deck of cards. The two played professionally and met through the game, where they travelled monthly to compete in tournaments. When Hoban retired in October, he had become the No. 1 player in the competitive card game of 2 million players.

Patrick Hoban. (Courtesy photo)

Patrick Hoban. (Courtesy photo)

“We thought that the strategy and resource management of the game could also work for a startup,” said Hoban. “The best way to get ahead is to do something no one else is doing, by building different decks that weren’t played.”

While charities inevitability benefit from donations at checkout, Parvenu’s focus is on the retailers, who will receive a transaction fee from every donation. During peak traffic times, retailers may receive a higher percentage than the proposed 10 percent baseline transaction fee.

If Li and Hoban meet their target fundraising goal, they plan to build a small team beyond themselves and a part-time strategy advisor. They first plan to test five markets in D.C. and Virginia, with future expansion to national retailers.

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