When Brandt Kucharski ran into two high schoolers who sold candy apples and raffle tickets outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago, he felt compelled to help. The sisters, Heather and Hayley Hagopian, were seeking to raise funds that they would use to buy gift cards, cook meals, entertain, and decorate hospital beds for children suffering from serious medical conditions such as cancer and those recovering from procedures such as heart transplants.
Kucharski had joined a start-up to lead the accounting department six months prior and knew he could apply his business principles to increase the girls’ impact. Yet his involvement not only expedited staggering growth for the girls’ grassroots charity, known as the Holiday Heroes Foundation, but also for the young company where he worked—Grubhub.
Today, the nearly $3 billion online restaurant-ordering company serves more than eight million people across more than a thousand US cities and London, but when Kucharski arrived at Grubhub in 2010, the company had fewer than fifty employees. He credits his wife, one of the first salespeople for what is now Internet radio giant Pandora, as his inspiration for the move.
“I watched her and a handful of people build a company from the ground up and all the excitement she had taking the big risk,” he says. “I wanted to replicate that for myself.” As part of the Chicago start-up community, she introduced him to Grubhub founders Matt Maloney and Mike Evans. They hit it off, and the company’s future exponential growth was set further in motion.
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Seven years later, Kucharski is now corporate controller for the company’s 1,500 full-time employees, as well as board chairman of the Holiday Heroes Foundation, which has undergone its own growth spurt. The nonprofit transformed a few thousand dollars of the Hagopian sisters’ funds into almost $1 million in revenue—a benchmark that Kucharski predicts will be surpassed this year. The foundation has since expanded to fifty hospitals across the Midwest, and its annual fundraising gala jumped from about 150 people in its first year to more than a thousand attendees in 2016.
Early on, the team decided to approach the gala differently than most other charitable organizations, according to Kucharski. They emphasized networking rather than simply offering dinner and speeches. He explains that attendees get the chance to pass out hundreds of business cards in addition to drinks, appetizers, and entertainment to create a win-win situation for all partners involved.
“Not only are you supporting a charity, but you’re also enhancing your own career to further your business and make great connections here in Chicago,” Kucharski explains. “And now we have people who are beating on the door to attend our gala.”
This year’s casino-themed gala, named Heroes of the Night, took place at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications and was sponsored by heavy hitters including Grant Thornton, BMO Harris, Armanino, Holland & Knight, and Wintrust. Establishing these business relationships is a central facet of Kucharski’s philosophy for dual growth. “The reason why we’re successful is we took a business approach in getting great advisers and mentors involved, like how Grubhub had venture capitalists who backed us,” he says. “We identified key people who might be able to support our foundation and set up strategic meetings with them.”
Considering Kucharski’s accounting background, he also applies a metrics-based approach to growing Holiday Heroes. “We built a database of people who might be able to influence our foundation, then branched out from them and targeted marketing communications,” he says. The team focuses on the pipeline and measures the effectiveness of different forms of outreach from e-mails to one-on-one meetings.
Then, they evaluate touch points guided by a key performance indicator (KPI) mentality. This includes measuring web traffic and analyzing the mind-set of donors. “How do we get people who gave $50 last year to give $100 this year? How do we get people to give $10 a month in a new campaign, and what strategy works?” he says.
Yet the corporate controller ultimately judges the foundation’s success by how many families it touches. Holiday Heroes now partners with numerous hospitals, businesses, celebrities, and more to bring smiles to more than 2,500 kids facing chronic illnesses, as well as to their families who often travel long distances for each hospital visit.
“It cripples the family, and what we’re really trying to do is give them some joy, hope, and love in the moment they need it,” he says. “Maybe it’s just something like a home-cooked meal for a family that lives on fast food or playing with these kids—to make them feel like kids—is really amazing.”
The foundation hosts themed hospital parties, creates craft kits, organizes toy drives, establishes fundraising partnership events like Midwest Fashion Week, and more to ease the heavy burdens endured by families with hospitalized children. All of these activities aim to reduce each child’s pain and stress while also promoting healthy social development and recovery.
Kucharski passionately leverages his controller experience as a major business partner to benefit children in need of comfort. “I’m energetic about what we do at the foundation, and I can’t hide how much I love the work,” he says. “At Grubhub, too, my employees know that I care and value them, and I’m here to grow their careers and advance the company in any way possible.”
Kucharski sees coinciding trajectories for the public company and the nonprofit organization; both high-growth futures excite him. He predicts Grubhub will continue to mature in the industry, tapping into the 95 percent of the market that still calls on the phone to order takeout, which culminates in a total addressable market of more than $200 billion in the online food delivery space in the United States. As for Holiday Heroes, he has his sights set on expanding the nonprofit foundation nationwide in the coming years. He credits both teams for their tremendous support and vision within untapped markets
Looking back, Kucharski says he’s glad that he wasn’t afraid to take a gamble. When he joined Grubhub, online ordering was in its nascency and the company had the task of helping to define the industry as it grew and refined its own ultimately successful business model. Kucharski saw a lot of promise in the company and advises other business leaders to take the risk if they connect to the mission and believe in its potential—just as he did with Holiday Heroes.
“When I first met the two girls, no one else was doing what they were doing in real time,” Kucharski says. “There are other great foundations that raise money for cancer research or to cure leukemia, but that process takes a long time and it’s been ongoing for 40–50 years. These girls were having a direct impact and helping children in the moment, and we’re continuing to make a difference by showing love and support every day.”
Brandt Kucharski earned his master’s degree in accounting from Northern Illinois University. He worked as a certified public accountant for Crowe Horwath and Sagin before joining Grubhub as its controller. Kucharski was part of the executive team that helped lead Grubhub’s successful IPO in April 2014. He formed the board of the Holiday Heroes Foundation in 2011 as executive chairman and is also on the board of the Chicago Leadership Alliance and ReaLync. He loves to play beach volleyball but admits that he used to play it more often prior to the birth of his daughter. Still, he looks forward to each summer in Chicago to play at the city’s beaches.
BDO is proud to serve as Grubhub’s preferred financial due diligence provider on several acquisitions and wish them continued success. Providing end-to-end M&A advisory services adding value to the outcome of each transaction, BDO’s Transaction Advisory Services practice was recently ranked the fourth most active provider of diligence services in the United States based on deal volume reported by MergerMarket, as well as named the Due Diligence Provider of the Year at the British PE Awards.