Stampify cooks up a clever way to donate meals and fight world hunger

11 Feb 2019

Conor Leen. Image: Stampify

Our Start-up of the Week is Dublin-based Stampify, a social enterprise that allows users to fight world hunger.

“Stampify is a social initiative that allows users to donate meals to help fight world hunger by completing a Stampify loyalty card with loyalty stamps from partner businesses,” explained Stampify CEO and founder Conor Leen.

Stampify is an idea founded upon Leen’s experience one evening on the way home from work when he received a free meal from a burrito shop with one of his completed loyalty cards.

‘Our goal is to work with coffee shops and restaurants to create a sustainable solution to the world’s food poverty problem’

He realised that he didn’t actually need the free meal, which highlighted to him the inequality that exists and how we as a society aren’t doing enough to tackle issues such as food poverty.

As such, Leen got five of his fellow Trinity College Dublin (TCD) classmates to get involved and try make a positive change.

The market

“We are targeting students and young working professionals,” Leen explained.

“The opportunity for our target market is to donate to charity at no extra cost. They simply pay for every cup of coffee, receive a loyalty stamp and, once they complete a card, our partners will make a donation to feed a child for a week in the developing world.”

The team

Leen is a recent graduate of TCD, as are the other members of the team.

“At present, I am working full-time for Google; the other team members work for Lidl and Deloitte.

“We all have always had a keen interest in charity, having volunteered in several student societies in university. After graduation, we wanted to continue these efforts, while at the same time venture into the start-up world, so Stampify was the perfect mix of the two.”

The technology

Image of a blue loyalty card with word Stampify on it beside a cup of coffee.

Image: Stampify

Stampify is a physical loyalty card that operates in the same fashion as normal loyalty cards, with two key differences: the card is interchangeable between partners, meaning you can complete the card using different stamps; and, once the card is complete, rather than the user getting a complimentary coffee/meal, the partner makes a donation to partner charity Mary’s Meals in its place.

Appetite for constructive disruption

Leen said Stampify wants to “work with coffee shops and restaurants to create a sustainable solution to the world’s food poverty problem”.

He added: “Our vision is a world where no one is unsure of where their next meal will come from. Our loyalty card is the first step in this; we are currently working on other innovative products to further this goal.”

Leen explained that Stampify launched in October 2018, and in the past few months it has acquired 15 partners and donated more than 1,500 meals.

“We are looking to expand rapidly in Q1 and are always on the lookout for new partners. We are currently looking to raise funding to develop an app, which would improve our ability to scale geographically.”

Leen in

The founder and his colleagues discovered very early on in the process just what kind of a rollercoaster ride start-up life is.

“We have had to pivot throughout our journey, which started over a year ago, at times by necessity and at times by choice. On a few occasions it seemed as if what we were trying to do was outside the realms of possibility, but we persevered and now have a product that I am very proud of.

“The main day-to-day challenge is balancing the running of a start-up with full-time employment. This was something that took a long time to learn, and is still something that we haven’t mastered yet, but we are getting there.”

Realities of social entrepreneurship

Leen has already gained a strong perspective on the realities of social entrepreneurship.

“I think the Irish and European start-up scene is thriving at the moment – it would be very difficult to say otherwise. Now is the perfect time to take a chance and follow your dream; there are so many supports and funds available to start-ups.

“For social enterprises, it is a bit more difficult. Getting funding is somewhat of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, whereby to get funding you have to have a proof of concept, but to develop a proof of concept you need funding. It’s not impossible, but significantly harder, which I feel does act as a deterrent.”

Undeterred, though, Leen has instinctively hacked entrepreneurship. “I’ve learned a lot from Stampify. If you have an idea, act on it. Take an hour in the evening, a morning on the weekends, test the viability and see if it is something worth pursuing. I made such a time sacrifice a year ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Even if it results in nothing, you’ll find yourself flexing muscles you hadn’t before and thinking differently to how you usually would.

“A team is everything. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is one of the truest idioms there is when it comes to start-ups. When I started Stampify I worked alone for two months, and when what were minor setbacks in hindsight surfaced at the time, they stressed me out more than they should have. When you have a team around you, you can work through problems together and take a more structured approach to solving them.

“Don’t spend time doing things you aren’t good at. For me, that’s design and web development. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but when we were designing our card I found myself leading this project. It took up 90pc of my time, the outcome was something that I couldn’t stand by and I just found myself getting stressed. You need to have self-awareness about what you aren’t good at and, instead of putting your head down and trying to force something, involve someone who is good at that thing.

“Have a work-life balance. I know this is hard, especially when working a full-time job on top of a start-up, but it’s important to have ‘you time’. This is time away from your start-up, where you can be with friends/family and relax. Your start-up shouldn’t always be on your mind. It will be most of the time, but it’s important to be able to make time where it isn’t.”

He concluded: “When you have your idea and you’ve worked on it, just launch. There’s never going to be a perfect time. We delayed our launch so many times. You will learn more about your idea and yourselves once others can interact with your start-up and give feedback on it.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years