Design For Good – feat. Ethical Angel
We caught up with Alexander Fahie, CEO & Founder at Ethical Angel as part of ‘Design For Good’.
The purpose of our ‘Design For Good’ content series is to shine a light on how creative innovation can be a driver for positive change. We feature those that are making it happen, those with grand potential. Truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Ethical Angel’s technology makes it easy and rewarding to give employees experiences for development and positive impact.
Sophie @ ADLIB: Hi Alex, it’s great to meet you! Please can you start us off with an introduction to Ethical Angel and who you are as a business?
Alex: Great to meet you too! Ethical Angel are an employee engagement engine with a social impact by-product. Essentially, it is a platform which allows social causes and skilled volunteers to find each other; while providing data to businesses to help them track the impact that their employees have. Within that, we provide the mechanisms for a broad range of different outcomes that a business might want to achieve, and we do that by ensuring that each individual employee has an amazing and personalised experience through volunteering and e-learning.
We work with charities, NGO’s, non-profits and Social Enterprises to find out where they need volunteering support and then we match our client’s employees from around the world to these companies within these micro-projects.
Sophie @ ADLIB: How did you come up with the business idea and how has it evolved?
Alex: It was meant to be something very different from what it is now, but that is the nature of a lot of start-ups, you adapt the product to the market. Once we started speaking to people it became clearer as to what the product-market fit was, and we adapted from there. We always knew we wanted to do something to support charities and we wanted to build something to make employees feel great. Working out how we could bring these two aspects together, as a sustainable solution, has led us to where we are today.
I think it is really important, especially for start-ups, to experiment and learn from those outcomes, good or bad. We have been able to secure some amazing clients and we are now working with some of the biggest companies in the world.
These range from a huge multinational energy company right down to free personal advertising companies. We are learning how to adapt the product to different businesses so that they can get the best usage from it.
Sophie @ ADLIB: How have you found building a tech start-up, without being technical yourself?
Alex: We have a phenomenal CTO (Tony Pauley), who can interpret a vision into something tangible. I don’t think the founders need to necessarily be tech-focused, you just need to have a vision. As long as you have a vision you can find someone out there to build the tech side. Tony is fantastic and through him, we use a number of developers globally. We have a team of around five developers currently and we plan to eventually expand on that team when the need arises.
Sophie @ ADLIB: How did you go about finding those key people within your business? And do you have any advice for other start-ups?
Alex: I think that is such a great question and is something I wish I had addressed when I first started Ethical Angel.
Finding those experts to support you on the start-up journey will expedite your progress. If you hire the wrong people in those early stages, they will dramatically hinder the growth. So, my advice to start-ups would be that there are plenty of free networks out there which enable you to meet potential experts, board members or advisors.
We personally have a great ambassador group, which has been amazing. So, my main advice would be to really spend time getting to know each potential hire, making sure they buy into your vision, as much as they buy into you as a person. If you are able to create that bond or relationship with someone, whether they are an expert like a CTO or an angel investor or a new employee, then that will hold you in amazingly good stead as you go forward.
Sophie @ ADLIB: How did you navigate the seed funding rounds and do you have any advice for aspiring start-ups?
Alex: We’ve recently closed a seed funding round, so moving forwards for us it is all about taking what we’ve learnt and making it into something better. Then making sure that all the infrastructure is there to support the team in getting more users signed up and active on the platform and enabling us to grow even faster to support more volunteering.
In terms of advice, I would say it always takes longer than you think to close the funding round and receive the funding, so prepare for that. I would suggest, start generating revenue as soon as you can, so that you are not solely relying on that funding revenue coming through.
For Ethical Angel, I had the inkling of an idea of what I wanted to build, I pulled together all my savings and some initial very limited Angel investment, just enough to have been able to start building the product. This really helped, so that we could showcase the product as soon as possible. And in the process of selling the product to investors, you learn more about how it needs to evolve, which can give you some breathing space to some extent.
In my opinion, the seed rounds are largely people buying into you as a management team or you as an entrepreneur and less about the product. I think buying into the founding team, gives the investors the reassurance that when you hit bumps in the road, you will adapt and overcome them.
Sophie @ ADLIB: It’s great to speak with another B Corp certified business. What made you decide to go through the process of becoming B Corp certified?
Alex: As you know, becoming B Corp Certified is quite a gruelling process. I love everything that B Corp stands for. I used to work in finance, which was heavily focused around maximizing profit as much as possible. My personal feelings with that approach are that as a stakeholder, you can become disillusioned very quickly. So for me, having some testimony to the purpose that we see ourselves as fulfilling, or wanting to focus on, was utterly necessary.
We started off as a ‘pending’ B Corp as soon as we became incorporated, which as a start-up you have to do. That ‘pending’ status lasts around 12 months and during that period, we were able to start having a crack at the assessment forms. Which, as you know, are not for the faint-hearted; it is a serious piece of work! It also means that you can scrape from that application process some really valuable insights into the sorts of things that you could be building into your company.
And to make sure that from day one you are in a better position to get fully certified later on. Then, of course, implementing these decisions into your Articles of Association. I think it’s such an awesome thing and I would love to see more businesses striving to become B Corp certified and aligning purpose with profit. The two are important and just looking at how well B Corp has grown in the last 2 years, I am clearly not alone in that feeling, as you guys are B Corp certified as well!
Sophie @ ADLIB: If you could give yourself some advice in those early days, what would it be?
Alex: To have grit. I think grit and perseverance are essential. It is emotionally troubling, it is financially difficult, it becomes your main barrier to social interaction. And your friends and family will be bored to high hell of you talking about it!
So, if I could go back and talk to myself, or give someone a piece of advice I would say, it’s all very well to have an amazing idea, but I think the main thing that differentiates between an entrepreneur and successful entrepreneur is just grit.
Someone who is prepared to put their head down and deal with everything that is thrown at you. And if the business can survive during those early days, when some people would give up, then you should be all right. If you can get through that period and can generate some revenue you should be okay. The way that we measure success is deeply personal, we don’t have to all follow the same path and become Elon Musk or Sir Richard Branson but I think in order for a start-up to do well, it needs to have someone in leadership that has got grit!
It has been wonderful to meet you Alex. Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing more about Ethical Angel’s journey!