How many levels would it take to reach 7.4 billion people?
I feel really good when I’m able to help someone. I also feel good when I’m helped. But it’s a different feeling. When I’m helped, I feel in debt to the person who helped me.
People help other people for many reasons and interests. In business, we may pay for help with money. But sometimes, money is not in the equation, like when you get advice from a mentor or you’re introduced to someone. That’s when you hear the expression: “Pay it forward”.
Remember the movie? In case you are too young, here’s something amazing Kevin Spacey did a long time ago, before House Of Cards or being accused:
The concept is pretty simple:
If you help three people, who then in turn help three more people and so on, we would be able to help millions.
The math behind it
If you have a friend who is an engineer, then you know that we love to calculate stuff. Random stuff. If I’m at a concert, I wonder how many people paid for the ticket to figure out revenue, and then profit based on nonsense costs. Well, maybe I don’t go to concerts often, but I go to coffee shops and it’s the same.
We were doing the same with our upcoming project at Beta Labs. We wanted to build something with social impact, with the goal of taking the Pay It Forward movement online, so we asked ourselves this question:
How many layers on the chain would it take to help every person on earth?
If you’re not like us, and you “hate math”, just skip through this until you reach the answer, we thought some people needed to see it to believe it.
Awesome! Let’s refresh those Calculus and Algebra concepts to find out the answer. First we need to figure out the general formula to a specific amount of people. We can do this by understanding the initial 3 levels, taking into account the one who starts the chain:
1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Which can be represented as:
3⁰ + 3¹ + 3² + 3³ = 40
So if we want to know how many levels would be required to reach a specific amount of people, we get to this equation:
3⁰ + 3¹ + 3² + 3³ + … + 3ⁿ⁻¹ +3ⁿ = X
The summation can be represented as:
To make things easier, you’ll need to trust us on this:
Now, the rest is simple algebra:
It would only take 21 people to complete the chain.
We were surprised to find out how small that number was. After building apps used by millions of users, we’ve seen the power of word of mouth. My last Medium post was about the importance of designing for growth. If you’re building something for consumers, I recommend you give it a quick read.
The problem with apps that go viral is that only the creators are able to visualize the power of word of mouth on an internal analytics dashboard, while each user doesn’t realize how many new users he or she helps bring in the end.
This motivated us to build a platform to promote, track, and visualize good deeds online. It would also track the total amount of referrals (also showing the number of invited by the referred). But what could those good deeds be?
Good Deeds Online
We found many ways to do good deeds online. The most interesting one was donating to charity while buying something awesome. But there’s something that took complete ownership of our attention:
Some of us knew about the Amazon smile program (smile.amazon.com), but just didn’t use it. Others had no idea it even existed. In case you don’t know about it, it enables you to support charitable organizations by donating 0.5% of your purchase. Prices are the same as when shopping on regular amazon.com.
Amazon Smile dashboard. Credit: https://goo.gl/hgLJit
Amazon Smile is really transparent, as it let’s you see how much has been donated, both individually and throughout the beginning of the program. As you might expect, we asked ourselves:
How much would Amazon Smile be able to donate in Q4 if everyone used it instead of amazon.com?
Amazon’s revenue in Q4 2016 was $43.7 billion. Taking into account that Web Services sales account for $3.2 billion, and that not all products can be bought on smile.amazon.com, it’s not crazy to say that at least $30 billion could be bought through Smile for the same price.
This means at least $150 million dollars could be donated to charity these holidays.
These Holidays, Choose Wisely
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, retail sales between November 2016 and January 2017 totaled $1 trillion dollars only in the U.S.. Deloitte is forecasting a 4 to 4.5 percent increase for 2017. E-commerce sales were $93 billion, and Deloitte forecasts at least $111 billion for 2017 season.
If only 1% of sales during November and December this year were donated to charity, it would make $1.11 billion.
There are many many brands that donate a portion of their proceeds to a special cause. And they donate much more than Amazon’s 0.5%. Donating to charity is part of their brand concept. As an example, IvoryElla.com donated more than $1 million to date to save the elephants in Africa.
A lot of friends told me something you might be thinking as well: “It’s for tax deduction”. In case you don’t know, an approved 501(c)(3) organization allows donors to reduce their own taxable incomes, by deducting the amounts of their donations given. The important thing is that the company is making sure donations are being done as advertised, and that’s already making a huge impact.
We believe that donating a portion of sales is a great mechanism to sell things that customers love, while at the same time “helping them help”. We agree with danpallotta, the way we think about Charity is dead wrong. If you haven’t seen the TED talk, here’s why:
Pay It Forward
The main goal writing this was to help with one big problem: Awareness. You can make a huge impact this year. At no extra cost.