Prashan Paramanathan

 

CEO - Chuffed.org

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Interview by Tim Carroll

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture?

Starting a new business for me was more something that snuck up on me, rather than a spark. I wasn’t on a hunt to be an entrepreneur, or to get into the startup world. It just started as a side project and then people liked what we were creating, our ambition grew and then one day you wake up as a VC funded company, taking on the world from your London office.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I worked in the nonprofit sector for many years before Chuffed.org and the thing that always bothered me was that we worked with so many amazing organisations that nobody had heard of. I really loved what they were doing and wanted to figure out a way to connect them with this large swathe of socially conscious people who wanted to contribute but were getting bored with charity muggers and traditional charity fundraising.

How did you choose your company name and why?

Naming a company is really tough. Not only do you have to get something that fits your brand, you have to get the domain name and the trademark – you normally end up with two out of three. We spent weeks coming up with Chuffed, but in the end it was perfect – it captured the emotion that we wanted donors to feel when they used the product, and what we wanted to change about donating. It shouldn’t be a drag – it should make you feel chuffed.

Where did your organisation’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

We started life as a charity and raised a $460,000 grant from the Telstra Foundation to get off the ground. That took dozens of no’s from so many others before we got a yes, but the persistence paid off. When we converted structure into a Public Benefit Company, we went about raising a seed equity round. That was a long bump ride, but we shared our experience here. Ultimately, we raised a $1.1M round led by leading Australian VC firm, Blackbird Ventures. It was the first time that any Australian tech VC has invested into a social enterprise.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

We’re a big believer in the idea that creating a great product is the best investment in marketing. While we do do some digital marketing, a significant portion of our customers are word of mouth referrals and repeat customers. We’re increasingly doing more “educational acquisition” where we’re acquiring customers through the fundraising education activities we do as part of our social mission.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Our customers. I love our customers. They are just so many wonderful people on Chuffed.org doing amazing things and the fact that I get to help them is such a privilege. I really love hearing how passionate they are about changing their patch of the world. It’s a rare job where every single customer you’re dealing with is trying their hardest to make the world better.

How do you conquer those moments of doubt that so often stifle or trip or stop so many entrepreneurs with great ideas...what pushes you through?

A bad combination of stubbornness and a feeling of responsibility to my team and my customers. The doubt and fear is always there – it never goes away. You just learn to realise that to create something new means pushing into a space of doubt and fear. It’s part of the territory.

Excluding yours, what business or organisation do you admire the most?

I have a lot of admiration for the high growth social enterprises like Enterprise Learning Projects, Hello Sunday Morning and Hire Up, who are trying to solve really big social problems and create great businesses. Not only that, but I think they’re creating the next generation of purpose led businesses that our kids will want to work at. If we have enough of them succeed, we might just move all businesses towards realising that their purpose and responsibility is towards society as much as it is towards their shareholders.

Besides money, what are your favourite ways to compensate people?

Great people very rarely are incentivised by money. They want to be part of doing something great, something that’s worthy of the limited time that they have in their lives, something that creates a better world. Of course you have to pay people decent salaries, but the best way to compensate people is to give them a job with a higher purpose.

If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Tell people that you’re going to do your idea. The social pressure will make you act much faster, and the feedback and reactions will be useful in both refining your product and testing your resilience. Also, listen to people who give you advice, but be very selective on whose advice you take.

Where you see yourself and your business in 3 to 5 Years?

The big goal for Chuffed.org is to make giving to charity as fun as buying a pair of shoes. If we can do that, it no longer become a chore or an obligation, but something that I enjoy doing. The shoe analogy goes further. We’ve found that campaigners are creating great gifts and experiences as part of their campaigns, so that in return for donating a specific amount to a campaign, you might get dinner with a celebrity or a cooking workshop. If you extend that out, we could end up being the new Red Balloon, except where all the money goes to great social causes.

In one word, characterise your life as an entrepreneur?

Discovery