Seven Founder Lessons on Running a Tech for Good Startup
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Seven Founder Lessons on Running a Tech for Good Startup

Olivia Wasson
Written by
Olivia Wasson
Posted on
December 15, 2021

Earlier this year we started a ‘10 Questions With’ interview series with some of the most successful founders in our portfolio.  From a digital healthcare platform for the LGBTQIA+ community, to an iconic hot-pink aeroponic container farm, the ventures in this series are a snapshot of the innovative ways technology can be used to contribute to a sustainable planet, healthy lives and a better society.

They also gave a rich insight into just what it’s like to launch, run, and scale a tech for good startup.Here are seven key lessons that emerged.Featuring,  Aparito CEO Elin Haf Davies, Commonplace CEO Mike Saunders, LettUs Grow MD Charlie Guy, Nuw CEO Aisling Byrne, Spoke CEO Ariana Alexander-Sefre, and LVNDR COO Josh Armistead. Click here to watch the recordings of the original interviews.

Trust is key to building a strong founding team

Charlie: In terms of important qualities for the co-founders, teammates, or anyone you bring in at that early stage of a business? Number one has got to be trust. You may be going into business with someone you haven’t worked with before, but knowing that you trust that person has to be the number one consideration. This doesn’t necessarily mean having the same ambition, but understanding each other’s ambition. Then having enough empathy to know when that ambition may or may not diverge in the future, and talking about it openly. Josh: ​​We’re lucky in that we have 3 founders with complementary skill sets, but this comes with the need to collaborate and trust each other. I think this is the most important aspect of a co-founding team. 

Find teammates with complementary skills

Ariana: There’s no specific quality in finding a team. It’s just about finding complementary people. You need to know who you are, and what you bring. And then you need to make sure your team brings complementary things. Don’t bring a mate in who shares a load of similar traits and skills as you, because within a year you’ll overlap. Mike: I’ve certainly been lucky enough to find people who have skills and experience that I don’t. Putting those things together gives you a broader understanding and collective ability. 

Running a purpose-driven company also means embracing these values within your team

Mike: The thing I’ve found the hardest, and the most interesting, is the importance and difficulty of creating a strong, purpose-driven culture. It’s something  you have to work at every day, and you can’t set it from the centre or from the top – it has to be something that everybody in the company owns. As you’re growing and taking on more people, you have to think about how they’re motivated, how you can lead them effectively, what leadership actually means, and how things change as you expand. Charlie: It goes without saying that honesty and openness have to be important, and they’re enshrined in our values in LettUs Grow as well. 

Always ask for help, but take advice with a pinch of salt

Aisling: If there is anything that you don’t know – which is probably 97% of building your business, find someone who does and ask for their help. What I’ve learned is that if you ask someone for their help, and they meet with you, the default is that they want you to succeed. They are helping because they have been helped in the past, and they recognise the benefit of helping people. Everything moved so much quicker when I realised that I don’t have the answers to everything, but somebody else might. You become better as a founder because you’re able to delegate, and learn that you’re not going to have all the answers to figure it out.Having said that, you will get lots of advice from lots of different people. I used to take all of it, both personally and professionally. I would feel that if they must know best. It was a big change when I learned that there’s always going to be feedback, but you don’t always have to take it. You can disagree. As a founder, you understand your business better than anyone else.

Expect to be a jack of all trades and have a willingness to learn

Charlie: At the early-stages you have to have flexibility and an ability to pick things up that are new and give them a go, even if you’ve never done it before. You might not get it right, but that willingness to keep learning and not be knocked down if you didn’t get something right straightaway is important because there’s so many things that you’re going to get wrong. Elin: There’s different chapters, and as you go through the different chapters, you need to become aware of different things. You sort of become a jack of all trades, master of none, because you need to be able to switch from discussing IP legal issues of your contracting, to financial investment, to a staff recruitment, management and performance review. But I think you find a way through, when the need to know that piece comes along. 

Running a tech for good startup is rewarding, but also challenging -  be mindful of the commitment and have something that reminds you why you’re doing it

Aisling: If you don’t have a strong mission, you’ll just give up. Building a business is incredibly tough, if it was easy, everyone would do it. And getting through every new experience is equally tough. You think it gets easier as you go on, but it actually gets harder emotionally as there’s more at stake, more people involved and more expectations. To push through those times, I go back to the True Cost documentary – it’s all about the fashion industry and what’s wrong with it. Ariana: The main reason I’m running this startup is because I feel so deeply in my soul that there is an urgent problem that needs fixing. And for some unknown reason, I feel a sense of responsibility to help fix it. If you can live your life happily, not feeling like that, then great! If you do really want to run something, you need to know and feel very deeply about why you’re doing it. Charlie: I think it’s worth reflecting on how absorbing the whole journey can be in terms of the impact on your life. It affects your life pretty much every single day, even if you’re on holiday or down at the pub, someone will be asking you about it. If you want to launch your own high growth company, it’s important to acknowledge that it will be all-consuming at times. The plus side of that is that it creates opportunities above and beyond your normal career aspirations. 

When impact is baked into your business model, being commercially successful helps you generate more positive impact.

Aisling: You’ll be spending a lot of time with the mechanics of the business, and all these things that aren’t the reason you started. When you’re very deep in it, you’re trying to prove that this can be scalable. I think what BGV does really well is say, “Don’t think of it as your projections of revenue, think of it as, if you are going to affect and change the lives of people globally, what do you need to scale at that point.” Coming back to that, and coming back to your mission helps realign you.

If you’re an aspiring tech for good founder and interested in applying to BGV for funding and support, you can find out everything you need to know about what we look for and what we offer here.  Join one of our virtual Q&A sessions to meet the BGV team and find out more about the process of applying.