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How is He Getting Corporate America to Donate to Armenia?

The center of my gut tightens when Dominick laughs back in protest. My intrigued smile hangs agape for more than a moment, lingering on the word I just used to describe his company: a “start-up.”  

It’s an unexpected misnomer in a culture where a “start-up” teeters between Zeus-like admiration and cult-like followership, with both angles viewed as compliments. Becoming a founder of one such “start-up” is a life goal for many, a bar pickup line for some, and a front page success story for a few.

Through his earnest grin, Dominick explains, “I know it’s a start-up! But to me this is a night and weekend side project. I don’t know where it is going to go.” 

His proclamation is less of a testament to his humble attitude and more of a conviction of his insightful vision. 

Refer Me Start Up Founder Dominick Tavitian from Washington at MIASEEN Studios
Dominick Tavitian at MIASEEN Studios. Dominick moved from the Seattle area to Los Angeles in 2022.

As we nestle into a pair of matching tan chairs, I’m elated that I’m already getting a slice of Dominick’s world view, an esoteric pie that is dense and rises with each experience.  

In November of 2022, amidst increasing job layoffs in America, a looming global recession, and an already demanding day job as a Product Manager at Affirm, Dominick Tavitian launched his “side project” Refer Me. 

A potentially-disrupting product for the digital job listing marketplace, Refer Me is a website that pairs candidates applying to corporate jobs with current employees of those companies, with the intention of finding current employees who will refer candidates to those jobs, increasing the candidate’s employment chances. 

A hundred questions swirl around the question of “how.” 

But what you should be wondering about is “why”. It isn’t what I first thought either. 

Corporate America and Donation Matching

Dominick’s childhood glistened against the backdrop of a waterfront suburb east of Seattle known as Kirkland, the name notoriously adopted by Costco for their Kirkland Signature brand products, my favorite Kirkland item being none of them. 

Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft lead a list of corporations that famously started and hold their headquarters in Washington, with an argument to be had that this capitalist quartet innovated and altered how Americans navigate their daily lives.

In Kirkland, the aurora of entrepreneurship was embedded into Dominick at the family level. 

“My grandma had her own wedding dress shop back in Jordan. She would do custom dresses for the king, queen, and princess of Jordan. And I think that really trickled down into my family. So when they migrated to America, she and my dad launched another shop in Washington.” 

Being indoctrinated into the family business is a common phrase for many first generation Armenian-Americans, though it is not an accurate caricature of Dominick’s story. 

“My father came (to America) around 20 years old, and immediately started his own commercial vehicle dealership. Growing up at a young age - I'm like a little baby - I would go to work with him every week. Every Saturday there I was, washing cars when I was four or five years old. I've got a bunch of old photos of me.” His tone rings with no hint of self-pity or self-righteousness, but of thankfulness. 

Dominick Tavitian in Kirkland, Washington
Dominick working at his father's dealership in Kirkland, WA.

“You just learn how to be a natural leader and deal with circumstances. You're learning on the job.” Dominick was by his father’s side as he transitioned into real estate and property management, tending to anything from cleaning units to doing the books. 

“There was a moment (in high school) where I said, ‘Hey, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ I think growing up in that environment makes you a bit more mature. It made me really think about it. So I kind of changed up. My high school approach was to go to college a little early.” 

Dominick forgoed a traditional senior year of high school and took advantage of a Washington state program that allows students to enter the college arena a year early, all while taking the traditional Armenian route of earning his real estate license at his father’s recommendation. 

While obtaining his Computer Science degree at University of Washington, Dominick split his college days as the first employee of Flyhomes, a real estate startup that in 2021 raised a $150 million Series-C round valued at $800 million which included investments from Andressen Horowitz and Spencer Ranscoff, a co-founder of Zillow and Hotwire.com.  

During this quintessential time, he learned what it took to build a product from the ground up as an engineer, how tactics that don’t scale can turn into customer acquisition growth, and what the inner workings of institutional investing entail.

With graduation looming in 2018, Dominick had his heart set on working for the consulting juggernaut McKinsey and Company, a firm that typically pulls prospects from Ivy League schools and personal connections. Despite University of Washington housing one of the top Computer Science programs in the nation, Dominick was without an orthodox name atop his diploma and without a personal referral into the company. A job never landed for him. 

Making his mother happy by keeping him in Washington, Microsoft hired Dominick to their product leadership team working on Microsoft Edge, the web browser which has officially replaced the retro Internet Explorer. Dominick thrusted himself from a scrappy start-up into Big Tech, with a second aha moment around the corner.  

As an incentive to employee acquisition and retention - and a tax deduction - Fortune 500 companies will often fulfill donation matching with employees. While many corporations have philanthropic divisions and specific finances dedicated to corporate donations for foundations, lobbyists, and politicians, donation matching - also known as gift matching - focuses on micro donations that support nonprofits that individual employees are passionate about.  

While the terms are specific and nuanced to each company, The Walt Disney Company reportedly will match an employee’s donation 1:1 up to $25,000, Apple will match 1:1 up to $10,000, and Johnson and Johnson will double your donation 2:1 up to $20,000. 

Dominick’s very own Microsoft matches 1:1 up to $15,000, resulting in a potential $30,000 going to any specific nonprofit, half of which comes from corporate America. 

Dominick while at Microsoft with the now defunct "Clippy" Microsoft Office Assistant.

With the onslaught of the 44-Day Artsakh War, Dominick and other Washington Armenians assembled personal finances to take to their Big Tech companies. With Big Tech jobs known for their Big Tech salaries, Dominick was a part of a group that organized well over $100,000 of personal donations to be made to Armenia Fund

Instead of simply sending money through the silo of a URL, each individual brought the donation to their respective company for a donation match. In the end, a few hundred thousand dollars were sent to Armenia with the help of these corporations. 

The Seed for Refer Me Grows

As these donations were being sent, the idea for Refer Me began to bubble. 

“Hundreds of thousands all got doubled from one event. I thought, ‘What if we got this consistently?’ And that changed the frame. I just kept coming back to referrals and a hypothesis of getting a bunch more Armenians into cool jobs, and what could that do to better our socioeconomic status and credibility. That has historically changed communities.” 

And there the mission was: help Armenians get big corporate jobs in hopes they take advantage of corporate donation matching. 

You could potentially improve an individual’s life by helping them up the corporate ladder, and alter their behavior from donating alone to donating in tandem with their company, doubling or even tripling the funds going to Armenia. The well-being of everyone is improved by a simple shift in perspective. 

Double the Donation, a firm that assists companies with automating donation matching, cites from their 360MatchPro database that $2 - $3 billion is donated annually in the United States through gift matching, with $7 - $9 billion donations left unclaimed by matching. Could Armenians begin to take further advantage of these funds?

The first problem to solve, however, was getting more Armenians into these corporate positions, the most difficult step in the socioeconomic process.

Despite there being far from a plethora of Armenians in Washington, Dominick’s father ingrained Armenian language and cultural preservation into Dominick and his fraternal twin brother Sasha. The scarcity of Armenians in their Seattle diaspora was not lost on them, or the value of helping other Armenians. 

Any Armenian Dominick knew would help another Armenian get a job at their company if they knew about it. He dove into how to get an Armenian employee to know about the Armenian applicant and connect the two to get the applicant a referral to raise their employment chances. 

Dominick - now working New York hours while on Pacific Time for the fintech company Affirm  - began stretching his late afternoons, evenings, and weekends into engineering a self-serving product that became Refer Me. 

So, How Does It Work? 

You find a job on LinkedIn or a career page you like. Let’s say there’s a job at Google that you believe is perfect for you. But thousands of other people are applying for the job. There’s probably no chance you’ll get it, right? Who are you to get the job over other qualified candidates with equal or more impressive work experience and education. 


40% of all hires are a result of a referral, while only 7% of applications come with a referral, as job marketplace Zippia writes. 

So let’s go back to you. You read this article and think you should maybe see what this Refer Me is all about. You type Refer.Me into your Google Chrome and not Safari because you’re a model applicant. 

You find a calming interface on the site and a Referrals tab in the top navigation menu, which you quickly click leading you to a seemingly endless list of companies Refer Me has partnered with. Google is top of the list, but you search it anyway because that’s the way you are. 

In clicking on the Google tab, you create a candidate account and add your dream job posting’s URL into the submission form. “What is the bio section?” you yell at the computer hoping that we hear it. We hear a noise and pause our music, and tell you the bio is Dominick’s way of heightening your chances of a referral match, an avenue for current employees to connect with you and vouch for you. Relying on an “-ian” or “-yan” is a good start, but your bio will definitely help other Armenians find you.

Refer Me blasts your resume and bio to its registered referrers who have the opportunity to refer you to Google through their internal system. 

But what if you don’t get a match? Refer Me has already rolled out its career coaching and resume building services, helping you improve your job application and career directions to help you achieve your dream job outcome. 

While Refer Me refuses to make bombastic guarantees on your hiring chances, you are statistically closer to climbing up the corporate ladder, even amongst widening job freezes and layoffs. 

While the Refer Me product is for everyone, it started as a way for Dominick and other Armenians to help fellow Armenians get a foot in the door. 

“Refer Me democratizes referrals,” Dominick proudly states. “Refer Me has been able to attack this horizontally where I can lift every Armenian up horizontally to get them access to bigger jobs or better jobs. Then they're going to help their friends, who are going to help their friends. And then once they're in better big companies, they’ll do donation matching (with their Armenia donations). Then it's a trickle effect.” 

It is a bold thesis to stand by. 

In a diasporan culture where everyone is some sort of entrepreneur and wants to pave their own path, it may take more convincing of stubborn Armenians to make this perspective shift. It is a shift that may take time. Perhaps not a shift of many, but a shift of few. 

“You know, at the end of the day, as long as I help give access to people who want to work at these companies and can fill their skill gaps, that's the end goal,” says Dominick. “Obviously my personal goals would love to create one of the biggest candidate finders for corporations in the world, right? And give people quality candidates. And to be a place long term where if you're a freshman in college or you want a career switch or you don't know where to start, you can come to Refer Me.” 

I have never heard an idea executed like this to improve our people. Maybe it’s worth a shot?

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