By Shane Schick

Startups know what it means to be hungry. They tend to be launched by people who work extremely hard for what are sometimes small dividends, at least initially. They have to be very efficient with their expenses and other resources. They know they need to lean on each other for support occasionally, just to survive. They still have it a lot better than the many people in Toronto who go hungry every day — not hungry for success but for actual food. That’s probably why so many of them contribute to HohoTO.

Although it’s a holiday fundraiser rather than an actual company, after three years HoHoTO.ca already looks like more of a well-oiled machine than many other young Toronto tech firms vying for investors and customers. Launched by a group of friends in the local IT scene to help the Daily Bread Food Bank through the Christmas season, the project grew large part through word-of-Web, with the efforts of bloggers, Twitter and Facebook users tapping into their networks to solicit donations, team members or both. This year’s event will take place on Thursday, Dec. 15 at the Mod Club on College Street. ITBusiness.ca is proud to be among the many sponsors.

Shane Schick, editor-in-chief, IT World Canada

What’s interesting about the HoHoTO concept is the way it’s managed to harness the idea of “crowdsourcing” and pull together the time, talent and energy of people from tech, the media and other sectors in not only a dynamic but consistent way. The first tweets about the party started well in advance of the holiday season. As though obeying some mutually agreed-upon policy those involved have been regular in their online messaging but careful not to spam or oversell the party and its purpose. This is the kind of social media marketing that many SMBs still need to learn.

Then there’s the Website, a six-tab navigation so simple it’s nearly impossible not to learn everything you need to know about HoHoTO in seconds, and in particular how to get involved. This is an often-overlooked component of what it takes to make something viral: once you’ve been effective in communicating about your product or service it should be easy to obtain and use it.

Plenty of startups also fail to keep growing their product and service offering once they hit the ground running. Not HoHoTO, which has introduced a number of new elements this year, including promo codes from sponsors that lead to even larger donations; a song-request system and, perhaps most importantly, a “quick start” guide for those who might like to launch a similar fundraising event.

You could argue that it’s a lot easier to manage an annual party than it is to launch a company, but look at what HoHoTO has raised over three years, the people it’s brought into the mix and the profile it’s achieved. Finally, look at its impact on Toronto’s hungry. The sense of mission here is focused and real. If it ever raised enough money that no one needed the Daily Bread Food Bank again, the party wouldn’t be over. There would simply be greater reason to celebrate.

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