Why I don’t want to gamble with giving

Erik Bergman, founder of Catena Media and Great.com, discusses his journey from becoming a millionaire overnight at the age of 28 to dedicating himself to charitable giving.

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It was Thursday, February 11, 2016 – which just so happened to be my 28th birthday. Not only was this my most memorable birthday to date, but it was arguably the most important day of my life.

To grasp the importance of this date, we need to go back to my childhood.

I come from a wonderful and loving family in Sweden. Financially, however, we were a typical middle class family and lived outside of the city. There were no schools close by, and I ended up in the district with the most exclusive schools. Growing up as a middle-class kid surrounded by affluent peers made me feel “poor.”

As a result, I began to associate self-worth with wealth. This misguided perception of “value” left me constantly yearning for more – more ventures, more stuff, more money.

So, here we are: My 28th birthday, and I wake up preparing myself for what I know is going to be a life-changing day. I would finally reach the summit; it’s the day I’ve been dreaming about since grade school. I was becoming a millionaire.

I walked through the doors at the Stockholm Nasdaq Stock Exchange with my business partner, Emil Thidell, and we prepared to ring the closing bell. Our business, Catena Media, was valued at approximately $200 million and the moment we rang that bell, I made $15 million.

Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the story and not the end. I’d quickly learn that money wasn’t what I needed all along – I needed a purpose.

Finding myself and my purpose

After that day, my life changed forever. I expected money to solve my problems, but it couldn’t. For as young as I was, I felt old and unhealthy. I was burnt-out and worst of all, unhappy.

I had sacrificed my time, personal life and health to get to where I was, and I was over it.

In 2017, at 29 years old, I decided to step down from my active role at Catena Media. I needed to step away and re-center myself physically and emotionally. It was during this time that I truly discovered my passion for helping others.

My first real experience with philanthropy came from a $13,000 donation I made to help build an education center in Ghana. At the time, I didn’t have any connections to the small village of Busua in south Ghana, but I was introduced to the IT for Children Project which only needed $13,000 to finish an IT education building for the town’s children – and since I had the means, I donated.

After it was finished, I decided to take a trip to see the village and the building that I helped fund. The education center was like a spark of positivity and happiness in an otherwise gloomy environment. Instead of the gray, steel-barred buildings surrounding it, the IT for Children center was bright and vibrant, full of promise and hope.

This trip completely changed my perspective on philanthropy. It was such a cathartic experience seeing 70+ children flock to our voluntary IT class after their regular school hours. How many children do you know that would go to a voluntary class after school?

You could feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, yearning and passion in these children – something I used to relate to. It was at this moment that I realized that my true purpose was to use my resources and expertise to do the most good in the world.

Learning the importance of giving effectively

Now that I had the altruistic bug, all I wanted to do was help. Unfortunately, I had yet to learn the importance of strategic philanthropy and the disproportionate value between causes.

I eventually learned about an overseas sex trafficking charity that aimed to rescue children who had been abducted and used in underground sex trafficking. Their cause was undeniably important and struck a chord with me immediately. They stated that with a $1,000 donation, you could save one child. I donated roughly $100,000.

Afterward, I began to look at this in more depth. I realized that rescuing a life from sex slavery might then lead another innocent child to be abducted to replace the one I had saved. While I couldn’t know for sure, the uncertainty of whether I was ultimately causing more harm than good made me rethink my approach to charity.

It was during this phase that I discovered effective altruism and eventually, Founders Pledge.

Creating a great giving machine

The more I dug into charitable giving, the more excited I became. I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: give.

Now, I just needed a way to give more and give more wisely.

This notion of wanting to give more is the genesis for Great.com. I had a substantial amount of money – but it would ultimately run out if I continued to give it all away. I needed a way to generate more money that I could then donate.

I knew the gambling industry inside and out after almost a decade of building Catena Media, a leader in the iGaming world. I thought, why not create another one. So, I purchased Great.com and decided to start a new gambling affiliate brand that would donate all its profits to vetted charities designed to help mitigate the global climate crisis (which we determined to be one of the most impactful and pressing global issues).

I also remembered the mental and physical drain of building my first affiliate brand, so I wanted to approach the culture and work ethic differently, too. Not only does Great.com give 100 per cent of its profits to charity, but we operate a completely flexible and transparent organization.

We prioritize employee health and wellness – we let employees set their salaries, choose their work commitments, and encourage vacations and digital hiatuses. In addition to wanting to give back to great causes around the world, I also want to redefine the way we approach work and organizational culture.

Since our inception, we’ve contributed more than $325,000 to great organizations like Clean Air Task Force, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and, of course, Founders Pledge.

Why I joined Founders Pledge

I started Great.com to do the most good possible. Founders Pledge’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs to do immense good – naturally, I felt that being a member of this community would help us achieve our goals better than we could alone.

The dedicated research team and streamlined infrastructure would give us the resources we needed to make better strategic decisions related to philanthropy. Also, as a young and ambitious organization, I relished the opportunity to join a global community of over 1,400 like-minded entrepreneurs who I could potentially network and partner with for future projects.

Not only am I striving to do the most good in the world through Great.com, but I am growing a personal brand as an entrepreneurial philanthropist to educate and inspire others to give more and give more wisely. I see joining Founders Pledge as an opportunity to further this mission in addition to its value for Great.com.

If you’re reading this and want to learn more about me or my projects, reach out to me on Instagram, Twitter, or email (erik.bergman@great.com).

  1. Finding myself and my purpose
  2. Learning the importance of giving effectively
  3. Creating a great giving machine
  4. Why I joined Founders Pledge

About the author


Erik Bergman

Erik Bergman founded performance marketing and lead generation company Catena Media in 2012. Catena Media went public on the Swedish stock exchange in 2016 and was valued at $200 million. Passionate about charitable giving, Erik founded his new venture, Great.com, in 2018, an organisation that uses creative digital marketing techniques to generate revenue from the online gambling industry and donates 100% of its profits to vetted charities around the world.