Founder and CEO of Sustainably
Where did Sustainably come from?
Sustainably was an idea that I had when I was doing a strategy role at my previous company, a FTSE 100 which I helped to scale from 6 to 30 countries in 10 years. I was advising the board on digital strategy and transformation, and doing a lot of research at the time. I was travelling quite a bit to London every week. On the flights, they were asking for donations for UNICEF. Lots of people on the flight had well-paid jobs and not many would give anything. It got me thinking about how everyone has mobile phones and many people in high-paid roles want to do good. At the time, I was influenced by Acorns Investing, which rounds up your spare change to your investment portfolio, and Tom’s Shoes, which has a buy a pair/give a pair model. I was interested in innovative business models and gamification, like Pokemon Go, where you can interact with your environment. At the same time, my daughter was working in ethical fashion, transforming what we buy.
There were lots of influences and lots of sticky notes on the kitchen walls – and it evolved in to a business with input from us both from there.
Where did your daughter, Eishel Quinn, come in to the picture with the business?
With no formal training in technology design, it turns out she is extremely good at it. Her involvement was in developing the product roadmap and creating the user interface, strong brand and messaging.
We had this crazy idea that if we got on to this entrepreneurial programme, we would both quit our day jobs. Eishel was working in ethical retail at Neals Yard Remedies. We got on to the ‘Entrepreneurial Spark Accelerator’ at RBS. So we did.
We thought we’d get all the transaction data from RBS in six months and this will be out the door but that was not the case (laughs). Long story but they were still building their API [Application Programming Interface] at the time. We were sort of ahead of the curve in terms of what the data landscape looked like for us then as we use opening banking data.
How do you work together?
We have a very open working style. It’s hard work and, sure, we have our ups and downs but we have amazingly different and complementary skill sets. Eishel is in charge of the product and design, and I’m in charge of partnerships and investments.
Did you both go to university?
I did a degree in Communications at Edinburgh Napier University, and then a Postgraduate certificate in Digital Marketing. Eishel didn’t go to university, she did a course at Code Clan and is on the job self-taught. She’s way smarter than I am.
What does a typical day at work look like to you and what part of the day do you find the most exciting?
At the moment there is a lot of work around investments and funding. Next week, I’m giving a talk in London so I’m preparing the presentation for that. I’m trying to close a couple of big partnership deals so there’s a lot of writing, proposals, speaking to potential partners and meetings with interesting people! At the moment, we’re working with the University of Edinburgh with the EPCC team [Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre is a supercomputing centre at the University of Edinburgh] on the back-end and data, as we’ll be processing a lot of transactions per second so we’re focusing on innovating our security and our scale-ability. The team is based in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.
Can you tell us how you use and handle data?
We use and have access to the transaction data through opening banking APIs which we leverage to power part of the product. It connects with your card so that every time you shop, we round up your spare change for donation to your chosen causes that you care about and your retailer and employer can match that. That’s a huge volume of data and integrating data into our core functionality. It is very data heavy with the product driven by data focused on data-driven impact. It’s about enabling the individualisation and personalisation of people’s involvement with causes they care about whilst hyper-localising and personalising the CSR [corporate social responsibility] of businesses and matching those together.
Who looks after the data?
We have an internal data science and technology team and they look after it all. The work we are doing with Edinburgh University is more on innovating and scaling up and securitisation rather than handling the ongoing data.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for innovating?
Ensuring the security and reliability, so we are very focused on that. And the pace of change.
What do you look forward to?
Our mission is to make a positive impact, and make it easy for everyone to be able to do small things as part of everyday life. We want to scale up internationally but the basis of what we do is to enable impact. I am looking forward to innovating ways to measuring that impact.
Do you think your line of work is supportive of women?
The team here is very diverse, and we have a lot of women in the team. Because Eishel and I are female founders, it’s been easy to attract women in to the business. Some companies do struggle with diversity but it’s not been a problem to for us to attract a really diverse team.
Is there anything you’d recommend to women and girls who would like to do what you’re doing?
Everything takes much longer than you think so have back up plans to always keep yourself progressing. Have people around you with expertise that can help you. Get advice early on and get your customer validation continuously. Business is all about people – network and build relationships and partnerships wisely.
What has been the best opportunity from your career?
Getting We Work as a partner, as they are global. They are there to help us as we expand, and they fit in to our ethos in terms of making positive impact in local communities. Pitching to them and securing them as an investor has been a great experience.
What are you proud of?
For Eishel and I to have this vision and then make it a reality, that has been great. I’m immensely proud of that.
Is there anything you wish you could do more of?
In an ideal world, everything would happen quicker. I am hungry for things to materialise and to build, expand and innovate. In reality, planning and implementing is always takes longer than you think.
Who inspires you?
Richard Branson. We’ve met him a couple of times and he’s been so successful and continues to be so, but he’s also very humble and a nice person, and always has wise words of advice.
What do you do when the working day is over?
We have two dogs. We walk them at the park and the beach, and relax with them.
It’s all about data-driven impact