On Tuesday 10 May, Bristol’s co-working space DeskLodge hosted our latest Techie Brekkie: How to do well and do good in tech. The idea behind the breakfast meetup was to talk about what is involved when setting up a socially or environmentally minded company over bacon butties and coffee. We also wanted to discuss what the measures of ‘doing good’ in tech are, how this can impact how investors evaluate you, and whether you can really do well AND do good.
To explore these themes, attendees heard from and contributed to discussions with three people at various stages of setting up or growing a tech-for-good business. They were Nick Davies, Founder of Neighbourly – a social platform connecting community and charity projects to business; Tessa Cook, Co-Founder of food-sharing app Olio; and Kevin Ramm, Co-Founder of Crocodile walk to school app.
An appetite for good
There was no doubt from those involved in the tech-for-good industry that people are seeing socially aware companies no longer as something that costs money, but as something that can actually make money.
“People are striving for the way things used to be – community, neighbours. People just don’t know how to change or start”
Nick talked about his successes with connecting community and charity projects with major companies like Marks and Spencer, while Tessa and Kevin discussed helping people to meet their neighbours while cutting down on food waste and encouraging more environmentally trips to school respectively.
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Nick said: “Something is definitely happening. People are striving for the way things used to be – community, neighbours. People just don’t know how to change or start. They don’t believe they have time. We want to make it easy.”
Bootstrapping for good
For those looking to set up a tech-for-good company themselves, Tessa talked about how important it is to keep costs and investment low from the start. She said: “Before we invested a penny in the app, we forced ourselves to come up with the most basic form of contact”. For Olio, this turned out to be trialling the service in Whatsapp to prove it was a service people would use.
Kevin also emphasised the importance of getting your product out there quickly for testing, before you add things you just don’t need, explaining, “We invested in building the technology, then carried out a pilot with 8 schools. We found stuff that we didn’t need to do – be really careful where you spend money.”
Business models for good
Another big topic of discussion was the different potential business models.
Neighbourly decided to become a B Corp – a for-profit company certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
Nick said that becoming a B Corp “really locked into what Neighbourly is”. B Corps aren’t obliged to only look after shareholders and can push back with the environmental and social impacts of decisions and potential changes.
When asked about deciding on a business model, Kevin said: “We looked at being a social enterprise or a CIC, but a limited company is much easier to change into one of these than it is to go the other way. For grant funding, being a charity or a CIC works in favour, but for Angel investment, it goes against you. We thought about who we should be to appeal to parents, and who we should be to appeal to investors.”
Recruiting for good
When asked about the ease of hiring people to work for socially driven organisations, and the importance of paying them well, Nick said: “What’s wonderful is people want to work for businesses doing well and doing good. It becomes less about money. Can we reward people in the right way? We have to. Companies have to prosper and create jobs – it’s important for the world.”
“Having a strong social mission is a massive USP. You’ve got to recruit for your mission”
Tessa agreed and added: “Having a strong social mission is a massive USP – our network and marketing team all found the app and loved it [before applying]. You’ve got to recruit for your mission”.
Reading for good
The speakers also included their top book recommendation. Nick recommended The Founder’s Dilemma, by Noam Wasserman. He said he wished he’d read this – the results of a survey of 5,000 startups – 20 months sooner! Tessa suggested reading The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, for some good advice, and Kevin recommended the book How to Build a Billion Dollar App, by George Berkowski.