This week’s start-up to watch is global change platform ChangeX, which connects people with the best ideas and like-minded people so they can work on causes they’re passionate about.
“We’re making change as easy as possible – if you want to improve your community in areas like education, healthcare, the environment or inclusion you go to Changex.org,” says founder Paul O’Hara.
“ChangeX connects you with the best ideas — like CoderDojo, Foodcloud or Fighting Words, whatever you’re passionate about — with the knowledge you need to run your project(s) and with like-minded people
“Once you’re involved it’s your online tool to organise all your activities, like building your teams of volunteers and doing your fundraising. It’s where you connect with people who help you through challenges and keep inspiring you.
“The easier we make it for people to find and start proven ideas that have an impact, the faster those innovations will spread across communities, countries and continents. We scale ideas at speed.”
O’Hara said that there are people in every community of Ireland who have the potential to lead change.
Many of them – 5pc of the Irish population — are already engaged in bringing about change.
“So our target market is change makers, existing and aspiring. In numbers, we see 175,000 potential users per month in Ireland and 350m globally.”
“Before ChangeX, I was a co-founder and director of Ashoka in Europe.
“I spent several years identifying and investing in social entrepreneurs. At Ashoka I discovered great social innovations across Europe, but they spread too slowly.
“To better understand how to accelerate the spread of these ideas, I experimented with importing ideas into Ireland through Change Nation, which I founded in 2011. This all gave birth to ChangeX.”
O’Hara says that the ChangeX platform is being built step-by-step, particularly by learning from the feedback of its first users and the social entrepreneurs it works closely with.
“We’ve started with building a great discovery experience for people, to make it easier to find the ideas that they care about most and that could improve their community.
“We now go deeper and make the platform your 10-minute quick-start for a community project. Filling out one short form brings you to your starter kit. You then get a personal mentor and your own mini-homepage where you can start building your team and soon will be able to start fundraising for your project.
“What’s crucial is what the user doesn’t see, what’s happening in the backend, where we create the right connections between people, locations and ideas to build a personalised experience for users.
“We tailor packages of ideas depending on where people live and what their interests are,” O’Hara explains.
The global platform for active change
O’Hara says the ambition is to be the world’s No 1 global platform for active change.
“In 10 years, 1bn people will benefit from ideas that wouldn’t have made their way to their community if it wasn’t for ChangeX. And we will be able to measure the social impact the ideas bring to a community.
“We’re in the middle of our #ChangeX100 campaign that we kicked off in April. Within 100 days we want to make 100 teams start one of the ChangeX ideas in their communities. “Only half way through, we have already recruited 52 teams.”
“Only half way through, we have already recruited 52 teams.
He said that traffic to the ChangeX site is growing quickly, averaging 50pc monthly growth for visitors and engagement on the site since it went live in September 2014.
“We’re aiming to close our seed round at the end of July. We’ve secured 50pc of our target lead by John O’Farrell, partner at Andreessen Horowitz and Albert Wenger and managing partner at Union Square Ventures. We’re looking for 10 founding investors.
“With the next round we will build out our product team and community features, continue to test and refine growth engines, test revenue models, and expand to the UK as our first international market.”
Making the change
O’Hara says that for start-ups to work founders need to dive in with both feet.
“I had forgotten how stressful start-ups are. It’s a daily rollercoaster — there are many nos along the way — and you really have to manage your psychology and stress to succeed. You can afford to make mistakes, but you have to get a lot of things right concurrently. We’ve had a long list of challenges, but here are a few.
“In the early days, we were a part-time team, working virtually and mostly voluntarily – that made it really hard to progress quickly enough, it was frustrating for everyone, but we got an MVP to market that looked promising and it gave us the confidence and secured us the resources to go full-time. The core team are now all sitting together, paid and full-time, which makes building so much easier.
“We’ve had some very stressful financial periods, but we’ve survived them and we’re deeply committed to building something big and financially self-sustainable. A strong revenue model is critical to sustaining our growth and we have a few options to experiment with.”
Only build something that you are passionate about
O’Hara says the start-up scene in Ireland has come a long way in just a few years.
“I remember the early Web Summits and the sector was not nearly as dynamic and thriving as it is today. It’s buzzing right now; we’re based at Dogpatch Labs and you can feel the energy.
“That said, we need some break-out successes and ideally successes that have been built primarily from Dublin. There is still skepticism that you can build billion-dollar technology companies from Ireland, but I believe it’s absolutely possible. It’s possible to build the team here, finance travels, and one has to go global to have customers from anywhere.”
His advice to fellow start-ups is: “Only build something you’re passionate about; work with people you like; get as much financial runway as you can and use it wisely, have the ambition and belief that you can build a global company from Ireland and leverage Ireland’s assets.
“As an aside, I really wish more founders would chose to work on important problems.”