Auction-goers dial their dollars with Gesture’s technology
Crain’s Chicago Business – June 2013, Lisa Bertagnoli, June 01, 2013, Photo by: Tori Soper
Jim Alvarez of Gesture LLC expects to conduct 755 fundraisers in Chicago and 13 other markets this year.
In 2011, Jim Alvarez attended a fundraiser and saw guests using smartphones to text silent-auction bids rather than scribbling on paper bidding sheets. The sight sent his entrepreneurial brain into a tailspin.
“As soon as I saw it, it was clear to me,” he recalls. “This is the future.”
Mr. Alvarez is CEO of Gesture LLC, an Oak Brook-based software outfit that enables attendees at nonprofit events to use their smartphones to bid on silent-auction items via texts, plus contribute to paddle raises and text-to-donate campaigns.
Mr. Alvarez launched Gesture by licensing the technology from its founders. His first gig was for Rush University Medical Center in May 2011, which he got by cold-calling. The event’s auction raised twice as much as expected, says Kelly Parker, assistant director of special events at Rush.
By the end of 2011, Mr. Alvarez had added 57 fundraisers. In 2012, the total rose to 295. He expects to conduct 755 in Chicago and 13 other markets this year and more than 2,200 in 2014 in part by adding six more markets—Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Houston, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Gesture will post revenue of about $3.5 million in 2013, he says. It has 34 full-time and 200 part-time staffers, who attend galas (in bright red polo shirts) to help guests get started and troubleshoot if necessary. Mr. Alvarez also controls the technology. Weary of bickering with the software’s founders over changes, he introduced his own this year.
Gesture differs from its primary competitor, Indianapolis-based BidPal Mobile Auctions, which launched in 2008. BidPal requires clients to use its own device, an iPod Touch, and it takes a percentage of an auction’s proceeds. Gesture charges a flat fee, based on gala attendance and the size of the auction catalog, which allows organizations to keep more of the loot.
Mr. Alvarez holds down costs by paying sales reps only on commission. That also has allowed him to expand with less risk.
Doug Porter, CEO of Oak Brook-based Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago and Northwest Indiana, began using Gesture three years ago for the nonprofit’s multiple silent auctions. Gesture has boosted net proceeds by about 20 percent and has made auctions more efficient:The annual Big Mac Under Glass silent auction offers six sports jerseys, not 12; fewer jerseys mean more and higher bids, Mr. Porter says.
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