Tell me about Donaco, how’d the idea come to you?
Donaco is a company that I founded 3 years ago before graduating from Imperial College London. The word “Donaco” stands for donation in a universal language called Esperanto. I had the idea while reading about the Syrian refugee crisis during my daily commute. I constantly found myself frustrated as I didn’t know which charity to donate to and how to maximise impact – the process was also quite lengthy with many unstandardized forms. I thought, “there must be a way to leverage the intent that people have when reading articles online and bridge it with an immediate civic action.” Donaco set out to connect donors to charities when they are most likely to donate and bridge this gap between intent and action.
The non-profit sector is a massive market that raises £50bn every year in the UK alone. With changes in demographics, regulation and shrinking government funding, it is currently undergoing a digital transformation – COVID has simply accelerated this trend. Unfortunately, charities don’t have the skillsets or adaptive tools to fundraise efficiently online. As advertising budgets are growing, out of every £1 spent on digital, charities get on average only £0.70 in return.
This inefficiency problem is what we’re trying to solve at Donaco. Instead of offering another fundraising platform, we are building a B2B platform to automate online donor acquisition across multiple channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc..). Charities simply enter their budget & a few parameters – our data-driven solution empowers charities of all sizes to plan, launch and optimise digital campaigns in minutes, not weeks, while maximising performance and amplifying impact.
Were hackathons and competitions a pivotal part of your journey?
Yeah, competitions and hackathons are great at first. A few months after having the original idea, I actually joined a Hackathon called 3Hack at Imperial, sponsored by Microsoft. We didn’t win but someone from Microsoft approached us as they liked our idea – they mentored us for a few weeks and suggested that we apply to their national competition, the Microsoft Imagine Cup UK, which we ended up winning. This gave us the support/validation of a leading brand and kick-started our journey.
Competitions forced us to think about our business in a structured way and taught me how to pitch in front of an audience, which was helpful. At first, people pushed us to do competitions a lot and we won quite often, but it can be false validation – you are not actually building real traction or growing your business, which is a trap many entrepreneurs can fall into. At some point I decided to stop taking part and focused solely on our customers and actually testing assumptions that would allow us to grow our business.
What was your greatest challenge in making Donaco a reality?
At first going into an industry that I wasn’t familiar with posed many challenges. It took me time to understand the intricacies of the culture that charities have. I started off the business thinking that I have an idea, but it still took me time to understand the problem from the charity’s perspective and build a product that works in this industry. Having not worked in other industries prior actually enabled me to take a fresh perspective on the sector, which is lagging notably in digital, and critically assess it to identify areas of growth.
Our advisory board has also been key in finding a good balance. Not only have they been pivotal in guiding the product journey & anticipating potential problems, but they’ve also connected me with other experts that have now formed part of our team. Having a strong advisory board was really important to me as I wanted to gain their invaluable insights through their years of experience.
How did you manage to understand the problem in the industry better?
I spoke to a lot of people. It was hard for me with my background to get a good understanding of the problem to be honest. However, as soon as I onboarded other people who had experience in the sector or an expertise such as marketing for instance, I could gauge how charities were thinking. I also noticed that if you reach out to people as a student or young founder, people want to help you – even extremely senior individuals.
We also adopted a lean methodology to develop our idea inspired by Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup. We had to test some of our key assumptions – one of them was that publishers and charities would be equally interested in our platform. Quite early on, we realised publishers required proof points that we didn’t have at this stage – we had to pivot. We started working closely with charities as early clients to gain a richer understanding of the needs that charities had. Having UNICEF as a partner early on was monumental; we were able to use their reach and resources to test our product further and set our course for the future. The process was, and still is very much: listen, ideate, build, measure, learn.
What’s one of your strengths that have been crucial to your journey as an entrepreneur?
I actually did my master’s degree in electrical engineering and management. I disliked the engineering side of things, but I wanted to study it to understand how to make a product from a technical level and how to take it to the market. On top of having an analytical mindset, I now have a really good understanding of the building blocks required to develop a product; for Donaco, I got a grasp of the bigger picture really quickly, which helped us with development.
Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs in the social impact field?
As a young founder, you might question whether you should gather industry experience prior to founding your business. Although there is no clear answer, my advice is that it depends on the mindset that you have. If you go in with a mindset where you acknowledge that you don’t know everything, surround yourself with people of expertise and welcome their input, it’ll be much easier for you to be successful. The impact space has had a huge growth recently and generates more interest – it’s a great time to get involved. Just make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people.
Michael Moses can be contacted through his e-mail email@example.com. They are also looking to expand the team with a young and dynamic social media/marketing lead and a business development manager who are both keen about the impact space!
If this sounds interesting, feel free to reach out with your CV and a short paragraph (100 words max) about why you are keen about the tech and impact space.