Humble Bundle COO Discusses Reaching $100 Million Raised for Charity

Humble Bundle announced on Friday morning that it had raised over $100 million for charities worldwide. Prior to the announcement, COO John Graham took some time to speak to Shacknews about this milestone, Humble Bundle's beginnings, and where the company goes next.

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Humble Bundle has been in the business of bringing games to the gaming community, while also raising money for charity since 2010. Less than ten years into its existence, the company has reached a major new milestone. Friday morning, Humble Bundle revealed that it has raised over $100 million for charities worldwide.

Living up to its name, Humble Bundle had humble origins, the brainchild of co-founders Jeffrey Rosen and John Graham. The first Humble Indie Bundle was released in May 2010, offering World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Penumbra: Overture, Lugaru HD, and Samorost 2. It raised over $1.27 million for both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play. Humble Bundle has since gone on to raise money for hundreds of charities, including Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Cancer Society, and many others.

More recently, Humble Bundle has instituted a feature allowing users to select from a list of thousands of reputable charities to send their money. It has also expanded beyond indie games. In the past seven years, major gaming companies, ebook publishers, comic book publishers, and software providers have done business with the company, allowing Humble Bundle to serve customers of multiple stripes. The Humble Store was founded in 2013, allowing people to purchase games at any time and give a cut of their purchase to charity.

Rosen and Graham are proud of what Humble Bundle has accomplished and continues to accomplish. Graham recently had a chance to chat with Shacknews via email to celebrate the $100 million milestone, as well as offer an idea of where Humble Bundle goes from here.

Shacknews: Walk us through how Humble Bundle first came to be. How did you guys come up with the idea? And how did you go about making it happen?

John Graham, Humble Bundle co-founder and COO: The short version is that we were game developers ourselves and wanted to get the word out about our upcoming game. The original "Humble Indie Bundle" was something we came up with that seemed crazy enough it just might work.

Shacknews: What were some of the early challenges you faced when Humble Bundle first started?

Graham: It took six months to put together the first promotion from start to finish across building the scalable web site and making sure each of the five developers (of which our studio Wolfire Games was one) understood wild experiment they were embarking with us on and had ready Linux, Mac, and Windows ports for their games.

We got it launched, but the next challenge was the sheer size of the thing. We were hoping for maybe $100,000 dollars in sales but 11 days later found that we had done $1.27 million in sales across 130,000 [bundles sold]. We had pulled many consecutive all-nighters just to launch this thing and now we were pulling consecutive all nighters to administer customer support (manually using a shared customer support alias in Gmail) and also to blog about the incoming real-time stats, like the fact that Linux users were twice as generous on average than Windows users with Mac users being right in the middle.

Shacknews: As Humble Bundle grew, how were you able to get bigger publishers on board with the idea?

Graham: As the size and frequency of our promotions grew, so did our reputation. After a series of indie bundles, we launched the Humble THQ Bundle at the end of 2012. This was the first time we had worked with a major publisher to create a bundle.

I can remember going to successive E3s and having the conversation shift from "What's a humble bumble?" to "So how many promotions can we run with Humble Bundle this year?" in just a few years.

Of course, the charitable giving part of our promotions is itself a huge motivator for the publishers and developers we work with. I think it often ends up being just as important (or even more important) to them than their anticipated revenue.

Shacknews: When did you realize it was time to open up the Humble Store? How is running a day-to-day retail site different from overseeing the weekly bundles?

Graham: The Humble Store launched in the fall of 2013 when we realized that we were continually building all these amazing relationships, but that we could only promote content in these hyper-curated two-week bundle bursts.

The Store has been a great way to make sure you can always find the game you want on our site, often at a noteworthy discount, even if we don't have a bundle running at that time.

Shacknews: Humble Bundle had, no pun intended, some humble beginnings, but now it's grown far beyond anything anyone expected. How has the company adjusted to running the various corners of the site and managing the main weekly bundles, the Store, and the multiple new additions, like Humble Monthly and the additional weekly bundles?

Graham: We have come a long way from the days of living at home with our parents while working 16-hour days to only be able to launch two bundles per year. It is really thanks to the hard work of all of our amazing employees, about 60 people now. We have automated a lot of the tedious stuff and have an amazing operations team that are experts at building products. We have a lot of checklists now, that have documented the knowledge from hundreds of bundles.

Shacknews: How were you able to get so many charities on board, to the point that now users can select which one they want to donate to?

Graham: I can remember Jeff's first phone call to a charity we were asking to join us in the first Humble Indie Bundle. Jeff was going through the details of pay-what-you-want plus charity: customers name their price and can even choose how their contributions are allocated among the developers and individual charities. The content was $80 of indie games DRM-Free for Linux/Mac/Windows, etc.

And they finally cut him off and said "So let me get this straight, you want our permission to give us money? We approve. Let us know how it goes!" A couple weeks later, when we were able to hand deliver them a check for about $180,000, everyone was blown away.

Curating charities into our promotions is not usually a difficult conversation.

We've also gone a step further. By integrating the PayPal Giving Fund's charitable platform we now get to work with over 35,000 501c3's and counting and users on our site can actually manually choose charities they want to support as they purchase from our bundles or on our store.

Shacknews: What was a charity you were particularly proud to bring on board?

Graham: Bringing the ACLU, Doctor's Without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee together for the Humble Freedom Bundle was definitely a high point. We are very proud of all of the charities we have been able to help across our many promotions. I don't really want to have to choose among a list of noble missions like providing clean water, food, education, preserving civil liberties, scaling affordable health care, etc.

And I am very proud that the Humble community has been able to make such a big impact with this $100,000,000 milestone across so many worthy causes.

Shacknews: How do you see Humble Bundle growing in the future? What's next for the company?

Graham: We announced our new Humble publishing initiative at the beginning of this year. That plus continuing the growth of our many other verticals should keep us pretty busy. But this $100 million for charity feels like just the beginning and even bigger things lie in store for the Humble community in the future.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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