Polly Gowers is CEO and Founder of Everyclick, which has recently launched its Give As You Live service. Give as you Live lets internet users raise funds for their chosen charities for free as they shop online. [Interview]
With every purchase a consumer makes from 1,300 leading retailers, a donation is made to any of the UK’s 220,000 charities, as chosen by the shopper. To date, over £2m has been disbursed to a wide range of charities through Everyclick’s technology platform. Polly has been shortlisted for Director magazine’s Best Connected Women in British Business competition, alongside names such as Martha Lane Fox and Sarah Browne. This is what Polly had to say when we interviewed her.
TNW. Tell us about your background – how did you become an entrepreneur?
Polly: In 2004, I was running a small internet marketing agency that focused on driving traffic to companies’ websites.
One of my colleagues volunteered to organise a fundraiser for Save the Children and I jokingly asked why we couldn’t use internet searches to help raise money for the charity. We realised quite quickly that this was, in fact, a great idea.
I then set about writing a business plan and raising capital to fund the venture and, like many small businesses, began the enterprise from my garden shed. That idea became the Everyclick Platform, which has now raised over £2 million for around 200,000 causes, and we’ve recently added Give as you Live™to our product portfolio.
TNW. What is Give as you Live and how did the idea come about? What is your mission? What are your USPs?
Polly: Give as you Live is a loyalty program for online shoppers that delivers a new revenue channel for charities. Partnering with thousands of leading brands, Give as you Live connects an online retailer’s brand with each customer’s favourite cause, simultaneously deepening brand loyalty and raising money for charity. Give as you Live turns affiliate commissions from every purchase made by a Give as you Live retailer into a donation for the charity of a shopper’s choice. Give as you Live showcases over 15 million products from over 1,300 leading retailers, including Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Selfridges, Tesco, LastMinute.com, Play.com and Waterstone’s. Shoppers can select from over 200,000 UK charities to support with their purchases.
Give as you Live launched in December 2010 to enable a cost free way for charities to raise additional funds. It is a rewards program that works for any brand and any charity and, importantly, from a shoppers’ perspective, it is easy to use.
This year’s Philanthropy Review highlighted that we need to Give More. However, despite the best of intentions, people can‘t give what they haven’t got. Give as you Live is one way of helping to bridge the funding gap.
We wanted to develop a technology that could provide retailers with an easy to deploy loyalty program, help charities plug their funding gap, and enable shoppers to raise money for their favourite cause without giving money or changing their online shopping habits.
We believe that empowering a shopper to raise money for charity through their online actions is an extremely positive way to utilise the online affiliate model. It empowers a shopper to take charge of their “marketing value” and allocate it to the cause if their choice. Not choosing to shop through Give as you Live is in effect depriving your favourite charity of valuable funds.
TNW. How and why did you decide to pivot the business, and how challenging has it been to make the decision as well as roll it out, and how positive would you say the results have and/or will be?
Polly: While Everyclick.com is still going strongly, we launched Give as you Live in a similar vein – we spotted an area where charities could benefit by sharing online revenue: Everyclick with search, Give as you Live with shopping.
I wouldn’t say that it was any easier to roll out the product, but I’ve learnt a lot along the way and was able to work quicker on this new product. We’re also iterating quickly, with the first version of Give as you Live launched in December 2010. We’ve just released a few new product features – including social features and daily offers and discounts, so now there’s even more reasons for online shoppers to shop with Give as you Live and raise money for their favourite causes.
The results have been positive but we have the ability to make even more of an impact –
Shoppers in the UK spent £4.9 billion online during February 2011, an increase of 20% year on year. If these UK online shoppers used Give as you Live, a potential £1.25billion could be raised annually for UK charities.
TNW. How much capital have you raised and how much equity have you given away? Tell us about the challenges you faced, your overall fundraising journey and things you might have done different looking back.
Polly: We have 140 shareholders and have raised over £7m. I retain under 20% of the company.
I wish that when I began this journey that had I understood the that in looking for investors it was not just money that they brought to the table that was vital for the business.
Finding investors who’s ambitions are aligned and who have skills and connections that will accelerate the business is as vital as the funding itself.
Everything takes longer than you expect so ensure your investors are prepared to continue to back you. When you find the right ones it’s a privilege to work with them.
TNW: . What is social enterprise, and would you describe yourself as a social entrepreneur? Is it harder to raise investment for social enterprise, and have you noticed many new players in that space?
Polly: Social enterprises at their simplest are businesses that have social impact at their core, not just profit. Everyclick is a social enterprise, raising funds for charities while also generating profit to be able to continue developing our software and deliver a return to our investors, and we work hard to meet all these aims.
Social Enetrprise in my book is about having that additional bottom line. We have the same business metrics as any regular commercial organisation but we also measure our social impact. That makes it a great business to be involved in.
As a company we give 50% of all advertising derived revenue to charity. So profit is something we have to work doubly hard to achieve.
Yes it’s been tough getting investment but we have a great team, a good product that we constantly innovate and refine and have a dogged determination to succeed. I have no idea whether it is easier or harder to raise funding for a social enterprise.
All I can say is that it is a privilege to now have 140 investors that include some of the most successful business and technology brains in the UK. They include Geoff Squire, OBE the previous worldwide CEO of Oracle and current Chairman of Informatica and Kognitio. Dr Steve Garnett, ChairmanSalesforce.com EMEA, Sir Peter Vardy and Lord Stanley Fink.
It’s taken a lot of meetings and many “No thank you’s” to get to this point, but you just have to get up and keep going. If you really want it you will get there, as long as you are prepared to dig deep and have a very thick skin.
TNW. How many people in the team? How have you found the best talent, and how do you retain them? What would you say are the key challenges for entrepreneurs when building their team?
Polly: We have a dynamic and experienced team of 15 who build, run and support Give as you Live. You can see them all here. On a day to day basis I am privileged to work with a talented team of control freaks who are passionate about their area of the business.
Geoff Squire, OBE has recently joined us as our Chairman. Geoff brings significant experience to the table having been worldwide CEO of Oracle. He is also currently Chairman of Informatica and Kognitio.
I work at giving employees responsibility and a sense of how their role contributes to the success of Give as you Live. It’s tough to strike that balance with a new product as there are so many moving parts.
We are only as good as the sum of the whole team and each team member has different agendas – get them all aligned and the team goes faster.
TNW: How large is your board? What would you say is the ideal board for a tech/web start up, in terms of diversity, size, dynamics, skills?
Polly: There are a board of 8 which is big enough. We have great depth of knowledge from Geoff Squire, OBE and Dr Steve Garnett in relation to building and scaling technology companies. Other board members bring specific skills in the legal, accountancy and sales areas that are invaluable I am privilege to work with people of a very high calibre.
Although our board is plenty big enough I would like to see us add a person that brings significant retails skills. This is something we will address within the next 12 months.
TNW: What are your tips on building a scalable business? What would you say are the most important entrepreneur traits for success?
Polly: Robust easy to use technology is the key to making a scalable business. We’ve built our products in house, rather than outsource to agencies, which means we can iterate faster and our tech team is close to the customer feedback thanks to direct links to the charity support team.
The most important entrepreneurial traits for success are determination, passion and resilience.
You’ll face plenty of tough obstacles along the way, so make sure you build something that you are passionate and knowledgeable about, gather an equally passionate team around you and have the ability to keep going no matter what, even when others around you are saying otherwise.
TNW: What would be your main advice for women seeking investment?
Polly: Investors look at the person running the business as much as the idea itself, so you have to demonstrate the passion and determination you have. Even more important is to be able to show traction: How many customers do you have? How many sales have you made? What made those sales happen? What is the most cost effective route to market? Quantitative and precise KPI metrics such as these will impress potential investors much more than qualitative feedback or a vague vision.
A good idea is one thing, a vision is vital but more important than that is the financial model that drives business growth and scale.