We wrote this article for Straight Up, a monthly startup resource that tackles common sticking points of early stage startups. Get yourself on the list for the next Straight Up edition here.
Conscious Consumers, a social enterprise startup, first came about in 2009 when a group of University friends banded together to form a charity and create a café guide for Wellington consumers on where to find free range eggs, fair trade coffee and other ethical and sustainable products. Since first launching their café guide in 2010, Conscious Consumers has grown wings and become one of the most successful kiwi social enterprises.
We sat down with co-founder Ben Gleisner and talked about Conscious Consumers’ mission to create a global marketplace for sustainable products and services, and develop innovative tools and services to connect participants in this market. He has a strong passion for wanting to bring about positive social and environmental change and he started right here in New Zealand.
Can you outline the different stages of your social enterprise journey with Conscious Consumers to date?
We first launched the café guide in 2010 – with 100% voluntary time. Since then, Conscious Consumers has grown wings and become one of the most successful kiwi social enterprises. Over $500,000 of grants was secured in the first 4 years, to support a team of up to 8-10 staff. We have accredited over 400 businesses, in six New Zealand regions and attracted over 10,000 consumers using our technology platform. At the end of 2015 we developed the world’s first Good Spend Counter (raising $100,000 on Pledge Me).
Our truly innovative payment-tracking technology allows consumers to make their values visible every time they swipe their Eftpos or credit card and get rewarded for doing so. Businesses are able to effortlessly track what matters to customers, use automated communications to connect in a personal and cost-effective way, and then measure the increases in purchasing. I’m delighted to say we have just secured a large amount of investment in our seed funding round.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a Social Enterprise? How did you overcome these?
It is much easier to get out of bed in the morning to go to work when you are very passionate about what you do. Startup funding can be hard – you need to create a business model. It can be difficult as a social enterprise when some of the benefits you offer are non-monetary (e.g. environmental and social). Being able to measure your social impact plays an important part in illustrating and shining light on the social benefits your business provides to its customers. Initially we were getting funding from councils, government and incubators/philanthropists to help support some of our non-monetary benefits. We started out as many startups do, part-time and based out of a garage, but slowly we were able to build up to charging businesses for our services, and we are now 100% self sufficient.
Are there any key differences between social enterprise startups and regular startups?
Social Enterprises are different from standard businesses. Social enterprises have been created for the primary objective of having social or environmental impact. They can use the business/company model to achieve these objectives, but making profit/revenue is only a means to these ends.
What learnings have you gained around effective business models?
Having a business model is super important for social enterprises. To sustain yourself, you can’t keep asking for public funding or donations. We have a subscription model currently, which works well for us.
What advice would you give a Social Enterprise startup looking to run successfully?
Business model is key! You can supplement some of your revenue with donations etc. in the short term, but if you want to have a big impact you need to be looking to sustain yourself off revenue from paying users and customers.
What do you find most rewarding about running a Social Enterprise?
Our vision is a world where consumers and businesses prioritise people and the planet. We believe a greater focus on people and the planet will help address some of the great challenges we are facing as a civilisation. Running a social enterprise gives you all of the awesome parts of a standard startup (innovation, autonomy, excitement) AND also we’re able to do good in the process.
To date, tell us what impact Conscious Consumers has had on people, business and the environment? What can we do to help or get involved?
See below the impact we’ve already had!
Consumers can sign up for free: www.countmein.nz – Our current focus for businesses is the hospitality sector, but we’ll shortly expand to ANY retail industry! Connect with us on Twitter @Conscious_NZ
For more insights from local mentors and startups, get yourself on the list for the next edition of Straight Up – Creative HQ’s monthly startup resource that focuses on a different topic startups struggle with each month.