MDE30

Hermione Taylor wants to make one thing clear, she's a big fan of charity fundraising, but....“when the cause they are trying to tackle is driven by behaviour change, money is not what they need, it's action.” Hermione is founder of The Do Nation and Do Good For Business, platforms that encourage people to change the world with actions instead of financial donations. She was recommended to me by Guy Jeremiah from Ohyo Bottles (#MDE 15) who told me she had done some really interesting things. And he wasn’t wrong.

Hermione says she sort of fell into setting up her own business. While studying at Edinburgh University she says she realised that sustainability really fired her up. She found it hard to get going on the career ladder in this area so instead I went to London via Canada, doing odd jobs and eventually doing an Masters Degree in Environmental Policy at Imperial College where she wrote a thesis on behavioural change and climate change pledge schemes. “I never dreamed of setting up my own business,” she laughs.

Waste not, want not

At Edinburgh Hermione had worked as a waste auditor at Edinburgh Zoo, “which saw me donning boiler suits and weighing rhino dung!” She then did an internship at a sustainability consultancy, working on a much larger scale, writing CSR reports for large companies. All these experiences gave her the perfect background for her later career: “It was the two extremes: the zoo was hands-on and small scale and the consultancy was big impact on a big scale but quite intangible. I realised I wanted to do something somewhere in the middle.”

When the recession hit and jobs were thin on the ground, Hermione and her friend Sara headed off to Morocco on a sponsored cycle ride. “I wanted to use the cycle ride as an opportunity to raise support for sustainability,” she says, “but I felt uncomfortable asking people for money. People were getting so tired with endless sponsorship and I didn’t want to be that person.” But most importantly she felt there would be a real irony in it. Asking people to give me money for me to give to a charity so the charity could spend it trying to change people's behaviour is a bit ludicrous.”

Deeds, not words

So the pair decided to ask people to sponsor them with actions. “My brother went vegetarian, my uncle planted trees, my sister started walking up stairs. People gave up flights.” Hermione says she was blown away by how it worked. In the end, 216 people sponsored them, saving as much carbon as 84 flights from London to Morocco. “I really realised the power of actions,” she says.

Five years later she has a company whose slogan is “Make Sustainable Living Mainstream” and is all about showing people that individual actions can add up.

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The Do Nation is the charitable arm (a bit like JustGiving with deeds pledged instead of money) and the main focus of Do Good For Business is on working with companies. A lot of companies want to be seen to be doing the right thing and more and more are realising that this change is driven by employees. Moreover, employees want to work for a company that cares.

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 Embrace the change

Hermione has realised that sometimes you have to rethink your original business goals. She laughs, “When we first launched the site, one of the first users was a guy called Mike who was running the London Marathon. His wife was sustainability manager at Innocent Drinks. She said, ‘What we would love would be to have internal competitions between the floors.’ I was insistent that internal competitions within a business would never be enough. Well, we came full circle and now that’s our main focus and it blows me away how powerful it is.”

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The business has gone through a few gradual changes like this. For example, says Hermione, “I was naïve about how long and how much money it would take to build a good website. We worked with an agency but it was hard to make quick iterations so then we had to hire a web developer, but that was expensive.”

And then there’s the matter of company structure. Originally The Do Nation was a company limited by guarantee so they could register as a charity or CIC. This, says Hermione, “was partly because I had some very pure beliefs about business and I didn’t want too much focus on profit and not enough on purpose.” But this meant they couldn’t raise investment either. “We needed a bigger cash injection than grants alone but we were in this weird middle ground.”

Hermione adds, “We had this sponsorship side that wasn’t going to earn us money and then we had this business side. We got some great support from places like The Cabinet Office, Nesta and Unltd, but we still needed more.” So they set up a new company, limited by shares, to run the business side, called Do Good For Business, for which they raised investment at the end of last year. Now, 10% of the profits earned are given to the non-profit side.

In with the in crowd

Crowdfunding with Crowdcube fitted with the company’s model in terms of “small actions adding up to making a big difference.” Says Hermione: “Having lots of people buying into our business and being our advocates felt like the right thing to do.”

But crowdfunding isn't the quick fix that everyone thinks. “It’s physically quick,” she agrees, “but what you don’t realise is that about three months of planning goes into it before you launch and you have to submit detailed business plans." Whilst the process may act as a deterrent for some, Hermione thinks it's great for the investors that such a level of scrutiny is applied before a company can try to raise money. It's a strength she thinks the crowdfunding platforms underplay - investors don't necessarily know about it.

The company attracted individual investments ranging from £10 to £30,000, all of which got equity in the business. And investors ranged from users, to clients and supporters who had been behind them from the beginning, to friends and family. They raised £167,000 and the target was £150,000. “It was quite nail-biting,” laughs Hermione, “but I now know how we could have got there faster…” She ended up writing a detailed blog on the whole process - there's a link below if you're interested in reading more about Hermione's crowdfunding experience and the lessons learned.

The ups and downs

rsz_hermione_taylor_snow_copyThe ups of setting up a business like this are considerable, says Hermione. “It sounds cheesy but seeing our users’ stories makes us remember why we’re doing it. Yesterday I was flicking through some comments and realising that thousands of people are changing their habits because of our website.” The highs can be unexpected too, she says, “The other day I had a round-table with Will.I.am!”

The downs are few but they’re there. “It can be hard work when you don’t have a boss to say ‘Well done you’re doing good. Keep it up.’ The challenge is making sure you have a strong team and making sure you’re doing your best.”

The Do Nation now has six full-time staff (at the beginning of last year it was just two): “We can go for team lunches now and everything!” Hermione is looking to recruit someone to take over the charitable arm of the organisation (check out the job spec below if you're interested!) as her focus at the moment is Do Good For Business. In her experience a company really needs about 50 or more employees for Do Good For Business to be effective, but above that number there's no ceiling. They've done work with corporate clients as large as Siemens, and also work with quite a few universities.

I loved talking to Hermione this week. Her business has such an innovative and positive approach to the sustainability challenge - truly inspirational!

Resources

Links

The Do Nation

Do Good For Business

Crowdcube

Hermione's blog post on her crowdfunding experience

Job Spec for Head of Do Nation's charitable arm - Chief Doer!

Favourite business book

“I never got into reading business books. I like dipping into blogs and going to talks and learning from people first-hand. There are some fantastic books out there, however, a lot of people spend their life reading about how to run a business without actually doing it.”

No book then!

Favourite quote

“’Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" Margaret Mead

Productivity hacks

“I used to be a massive fan of Excel and Word and I had very simple tables on Word called my worklist and then I discovered Trello and it revolutionised my world. It’s an online to-do list tool. You have different lists and people assigned to them and different boards. We have a main Today board and Next Week board and that’s what all of our to-do lists are on. I can look at my own list and if I am wondering if someone else has a bit of free time I can ask them. My notebooks used to be filled with to-do lists but you don’t have a date on them. You can search and see when you did something.

We also use Slack within the team. It’s like What’s App but on your computer. You can have different threads. We have a marketing channel and tech channel and design channel. They are all user-friendly and have a tone and sense of humour to them that I like.

Pipedrive is our sales and CRM system.

How to contact Hermione

[email protected]g.uk

On Twitter @The_DoNation


INTERESTED IN A CAREER IN THE SUSTAINABILITY FIELD?

Inspired by Hermione's story? Want to make a change? Good timing! At the end of May we are running a 3-part masterclass on How To Develop Your Career in Sustainability. Led by market expert Shannon Houde, and with input from leading sustainability recruiters Acre Resources, this is shaping up to be an essential event for anyone interested in developing their career in this field. Places are limited, so find out more and reserve your spot while there is still availability.

Eventbrite - HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CAREER IN SUSTAINABILITY - SERIES OF 3 WEBINARS

I really hope enjoyed the interview with Hermione, whether you just read it here or got the full experience on the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!