Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact

Gathering The World's Impact Ecosystem - Santiago Lefebvre of Change NOW

April 22, 2021 Maiko Schaffrath Episode 70
Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact
Gathering The World's Impact Ecosystem - Santiago Lefebvre of Change NOW
Show Notes Transcript

Learn more about Change Now here: www.changenow.world 

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Maiko Schaffrath:

You are listening to Impact Hustlers and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems, and for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems, such as food waste, climate change, poverty and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one or by taking a small step, whatever that may be towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems.

Today's episode is the first one as part of a special series and partnership where changed now the world's largest event for the planet gathering Changemakers from all over the world. Usually taking place in Paris change now will be hosted exclusively online for the first time from the 27th until the 29th of May. That event brings together. Policy makers, entrepreneurs, activists, and corporate decision makers. To showcase and collaborate on solutions to the world's most pressing problems. You can learn more on change now.world and register for the event. Don't miss out on that. And if you'd like to learn more also over the next few weeks, we'll present some of the most exciting solutions that will be present at change now. And impact hustlers. So listen out for our episodes in collaboration or exchange now. In this first episode, I'm speaking to Santiago. The founder and CEO of change now to speak about the roots of the event and trends in the impact ecosystem. I hope you enjoyed the episode.

Maiko:

Santiago. It's really great to have you on the show today. It's been really inspiring. I first joined Shane's now two years ago hoping to be back this year and it's been really inspiring to see the community that you've built and thanks for making your time. Thank you, Michael,

Santiago:

for the invitation. It's my pleasure.

Maiko:

I'd like to go back to the first moment, I think it was in 2015, when you came up with the idea for change now, and you took it more seriously and started to make plans. How could we pull off a conference like that? And I'd like to go back to the moment where you realize that there was a true problem to be solved. Of building an ecosystem of impact entrepreneurs and change makers. What is the problem that you saw at the time and how did he go about solving it initially? Wow. You

Santiago:

know, sometimes the best way to assess a problem is when you are experiencing it. And so I was in it wasn't 2015. I just. Get out of my inside MBA. And at that moment, I really wanted to join myself as an entrepreneur this field of impact. I was thinking maybe I should try and clean up the Asha and maybe I should do something about energy or about refugees, a lot of ideas. And at the same time, I didn't know at all where I could Meet my peers on the topic, where can I also find funding? What I can have access to partners to media, willing to support these kind of projects. And the fact was that in 2015, the ecosystem was really spread out, and not really organized. And my first idea was to say that, okay What I can do, maybe not doing my own solution, but maybe I can help all those web solutions to find the right place as well, too, to meet at the same moment and the same place to really be part of a bigger ecosystem. And this has been strengthened when I visited the the cup 21 in Paris, the park for the Paris Accords and where a lot of organizations were there. But you. Couldn't really see the solutions emerge yet. What's just about big organizations and countries saying we should, we have to really make a shift, but the solutions were really non-visible at that moment. And still on the social media, we were seeing a lot of those startups emerging and that's okay. This is what we have to do. For example, in the tech industry, you have the us in Las Vegas in for the movies theaters you have you always have big meetups of all the ecosystem, and this is what we needed to create for the impact sector. And that's how I would say the click happened. The idea started.

Maiko:

And let's talk about that first event when was preparing for the show, I actually. Hurt you talking on another show on how difficult it was to pull this off. You had this idea out there, but actually even three months before the first event took place in 2017, you didn't have any budget for it. So you were paying the rent foot station F, which was the space that you hosted the event at you paid it by yourself from your private money. You don't have any budget. And then there was an announcement or a statement from Emmanuel Macron that changed everything for you. Tell us about that.

Santiago:

Actually it was really an entrepreneurial adventure with a teacher at insight. Tell me once, what is an entrepreneur, someone who's got an idea, but don't have the money to do it too. Don't have the the connections don't have the experience to do it or the knowledge, but still it goes there and he learns and gather all the stakeholders to make it happen. And it was exactly this kind of adventure for me and for us when we started change now, because none of us really came from the impact sector. We don't, we didn't really have a huge experience in in events and still, we really wanted to create this massive biggest event in the world for, change-makers. Okay. And indeed we were. Approaching to the to the first edition was in September, 2017. And in June, beginning of June, we still have no budget. And we committed ourselves by putting all our savings and money into renting the venue because we needed to have this venue at least to, to move forward, and really at the moment where we're maybe. Being less and less optimistic and almost at the point where we're maybe you thing you're thinking about what we were doing was totally crazy. Tram, I decided to take the us out of the Paris accord and the response of Emanuel McComb, who has made her planet. Great. Again. And this has, this had a huge impact on the French ecosystem in ma and generally in the fridge. Political and corporates fear. And at that moment, a few days after that, we starting having colds entering senior year. Okay. What you're doing here is interesting. So can you tell us more? And that's how we started having discussions and we managed to find the funding just one month. While in mid July, we had the funding to do the event in September.

Maiko:

So you almost actually didn't ever get to the first event.

Santiago:

I tell you yes. Yeah, we were so close. You just drop it down at some point.

Maiko:

How does the funding model work as a traditional kind of sponsorship model where you get different corporates involved sponsoring you plus ticket sales, or has it evolved since then as well? In, in how you're funding does.

Santiago:

Regarding the event itself, we have three revenue streams. The first one are the sponsors. So sponsors, they come a change now with full packages about how they can really interact with the ecosystem meaning that they can come at a change now in showcase, for example some solutions there are helping their in their own ecosystem. They are also showing. And maybe sometimes also scouting and sourcing new innovations too, to put them and integrate them in their value chain. So those are the sponsor activities. Then we have exhibitors. Those are the 200 to 300 startups and companies that come and show concrete solutions. That's super important change now is that you're not coming here. Just you do. To give your opinion or something, you come with a real concrete solution that you show. And the third part are the tickets of the visitors. So those are really the three streams. And now since the first, second edition, now this year in 22 and 2020, we started to develop and roll out diversification strategy meaning that. Our goal I changed now is to accelerate the solutions and to create these really strong eco ecosystem of impact. Having this event is part of the solution, but there are still a lot of failures of the ecosystem that we have to solve. And that's what we're talking now.

Maiko:

let's talk about that actually 2017 as a, in my mind interesting inflection point. Or around that time it's also, at the time I started this podcast, initially I started the first episode at a time and it felt like there was like, this need to do something, and obviously you pulled off this amazing global network But I think the ecosystem has changed quite a bit. I think people take impact more seriously. I think we're finally getting out of the corner of being stigmatized as social entrepreneurs, these like little cute businesses that are not even businesses. They don't really make money. And what's the point of this. Anyways, maybe some charities can do something about it. So I think it's evolved and. I think also from the entrepreneur side, it's been professional, I'm grown and I think on both sides, both investment and society regards that more higher, but also really high quality entrepreneurs like going into the Cisco ecosystem and us saying, I want to. Solve important problems. How do you think the ecosystem has evolved since you first started and maybe how does it still need to evolve further? What do you still see as challenges at the moment?

Santiago:

First that's a great news that the ecosystem evolved because this was really the main challenge at the beginning. I changed now, the idea was to. Remarket the sector because indeed there was for a long time, a big divide between I want to do good and doing social business or doing just a business, and you can really do both. You have to choose. The point for us was to show that actually you can do both and that even for the future you have a lot of. Great business model models that can be gazed on this union of having an impact in finding financial resources and profit to fuel this impact, And at the really beginning when we started changed. Now, I remember that the image we were it telling it, and the story we're telling was that at that moment in 2016, 2017, We were a bit at the same moment. As in this con Valley era, you have people in their garage meeting just in it's meters, but there were not really networks of business sponsors for them or investors et cetera. So really early stage in the Silicon Valley story and that now we needed to. To make the big shifts so that we can have a new ecosystem that will be as strong as the one in the Silicon Valley and tech space. And I think that this is the switch that happening. People are not now lugged down and closed in their garage to to make a beta project. They are now really starting to industrialize and have a big, much bigger ambitions for their solutions from the beginning. And I think that was the. The really big shit we'd needed in this field.

Maiko:

And I think since then, we've seen actually quite a few companies having breakout successes and being like more impact unicorns as well. Like not just high evaluations in terms of money, but also really high impact solutions coming out. What other lessons do you think are there to learn for impact entrepreneurs based on your experience watching the ecosystem? Let's say for somebody that's early on in their journey that wants to solve a social or environmental problem, what would your advice be to them to set themselves up for success?

Santiago:

The first advice I would give is the same advice to any entrepreneur is that Being an entrepreneur is very hard. And so my first advice is to never go there alone that you always have to try to have a partner from the really beginning. I know even my stuff. So I had a first experience in entrepreneurship in in the tech industry. And it was really hard, and when I finished this, my first idea was okay, I wouldn't, I want never start again alone. And I really stick to that idea even when I had. Via the change in idea. It's only when I started to have someone believed in this vision also that, okay. Okay. Let's take some time. And we started to discuss and build the the ID together and then other co-founders came in via the the team built around that that story but never started again alum and then I think that the other. Advice for me is that You need to talk about your idea pretty soon, so it could, it's a bit counter-intuitive because people can think that if you have an idea, you will be, someone will stole your idea. No. But from my experience what you have to do is do you start challenging the idea as soon as possible in your work as an entrepreneur is first of all, to find the right Mo predict market fit, and so you have a super expensive way to do it, which is you build a product and you try to sell it. Or much cheaper, which is you have an idea and you start selling first the idea. And if people buy the idea, they're more probably willing to buy the product, and yeah. You just started to talk about what you want to accomplish to people. I would say, learn first in a, really in the, in a field where you have a lot of trust and confidence and then more and more you go. And once you have something that is pretty strong, then you can go much more public about it. Of course not. You don't have to go public right now, but at least you have to talk about your idea.

Maiko:

I think that's a really important lesson that I see many. Early stage entrepreneurs. I'm doing some work or UCL here in London, and they have student entrepreneurs coming out of the university. I see them do very often not talk about the idea, keep it for themselves. And most importantly, not talking to customers and actually really understanding the customer problems. I think one thing I see in social impact a lot as that people focus themselves only on the social or environmental issue and not so much on the customer problems. I think the magic happens where you unify both, where you already solve a problem that customers really care about. And also at the same time, have a positive thing impact on a social or environmental factors.

Santiago:

Right? Definitely. I think that's something in what you're saying. That's super true is that the intention you have behind your action is super important. If you have a pure intention of really solving an issue and. Being at the service of it goes and that in that this is super authentic and visible from the, for the other stakeholders, then you have a tremendous capacity to align people in align support in what you're doing. So everything started by fine emission, which you are really would say that committed and engaged for,

Maiko:

Let's talk a bit about Shane's now over the years and any success stories. Is there any success stories that you can share, whether they more broader or specific startups or connections that were made a change now that kind of Where do you find finding for you? And that kind of gave you this moment of ah, this is why we're doing this.

Santiago:

Okay. Definitely. Yeah. A lot of stories like that, and just to make it quick. So change nester in 2017 we were 2000 participants at the moment. One year after we were 6,000 and for the third edition really beginning of 2020, we were 28,000. With 1000 solutions coming from the planet from all the world. And so also just to say that the ecosystem really changed in the, in this time, because two years ago it was impossible to gather so many cells solutions and people have, because it's not the same for that. And we managed to bring these. Huge amount of of different stakeholders and key players. We had a lot of feedback on what happened at the event, and that's great because we, the first thing there are two ways to, to answer that the first way is we can just have qualitative feedback. And the qualitative feedback mainly here is that you have people who are coming. From their own scare which can be you have people coming from the really business era in in, in And I would say business domain, I don't know what to say about and on the other way, as you and the other side, you also have more the activist branch and what's good. Is that a change? Now we manage to have everyone talking together because I think that this is really a part of the solution. Of course there are some discrepancies, et cetera, but the first thing to to know is to try to understand that. At some point we are, most of us all saying the same thing, but with totally different words. Okay. And so that's the first step. And then we can build first actions and create collaboration, the second one, and this is really more practical is that you to count. The number of successes for the startups coming at change now. And so every year we do a survey of what happened at six months earlier at the event and this year, something that is super significant is that there is a project that changed a low in France. Okay. Just for the the story. So we had the mini, one of the, what, the minister of environment one of who came a change now it was the secretary for environment queen person. She was working for, I think she has been working for a year and a half to try to have the big companies doing the laundry machines. To have a technology that will capture the micro fibers of plastics, can the water and the industries the corporations were saying, okay, we don't have this technology that doesn't exist. That's too expensive. I changed now the minister Mets planet cure. Which is a UK and Slovenia and a company, a startup doing exactly that technology. And so one week after she did again, this big meeting with the startup included and things to that she managed to put in the low that in 20, 25, now all the new lumbering machines have to have these kind of technology. So no more plastic goes into the water.

Maiko:

I think it's so often about showcasing what's possible. And I think very often, obviously I've been working in a corporate environment. I think the mindset very often can be, Oh no, it's not possible. We don't know how it's gonna work. But then actually being exposed to entrepreneurs that are doing it right now, they just need those connections. Amazing to hear.

Santiago:

So that was a success. Also some fun funds that found their own money to, to raise their events, so we are also helping firms to find bigger financiers and vendors.

Maiko:

Let's talk a bit about the role of corporates. And this is a good example, right? How corporates and startups can work together to bring about positive change. I think my personal pet peeve has always that I'm not a huge fan of CSR and the definition of we're going to do whatever we do and make our money with that. And then we have a small department that's gonna donate a bit of money here and there, and it's gonna. Allow employees to volunteer their time were just all good stuff. But I think the problem is that there's too few corporate still like taking the transformation seriously and thinking about how can we actually build this into the course or of how we make money? How can we make sure that the way we make money sustainable and. The more positive impact we have, the more money we make and the more money we make, the more positive impact we have, which is a massive challenge that with the, and the change. Now, you obviously see a lot of corporates. You have a bunch of partners as well. Do you see a shift happening there now? Is there like a higher amount of corporates taking this really seriously and not just putting this as a nice CSR activity? How has that shifted over the years? What do you think?

Santiago:

The first thing we and this was pretty interesting is that we expected the CSR to be or first contact in the companies. And actually they were not the people who were our first contact was the innovation. In the company. And first that was a good Sino, meaning that he started to be clear that impact. Wasn't just an issue about about I would say mitigating the responsibility of the company, but it was much more about building the strategy and the next business models of the company. That's what it means when it's taken. When impact goes into the innovation area and then now the shift is going further is that we are talking less and less to innovation directly, but more to really a strategy. And. I would say NCO is also the companies, so this is also going to appear a level now of how we can use it, should get those topics into the real strategy of the company. So the shift is really happening. Now I think that the results, a lot of challenges, to overcome what will happen also at the board level, because even if the CEO or the direction wants to move forward on that day, they still have to the board members, the shareholders. So there is this challenge. Then you also have the all history of your company. You can really just. Change what you've been doing for 50 10, 20, 50 years, so that this transition also needs a lot of time and resources. So I think that's why also we feel that the commitment is here and at least it's really starts to be here. And still the movement is not really perceived in some branches.

Maiko:

What would you recommend to impact focused startups? Like the one that you mentioned that doing this filtration technology, that's that could be used now in washing machines, or what do you recommend to them to. Make collaboration of corporates and sending to cooperates a success and set themselves up for success.

Santiago:

Two advice. The first one is really to not hesitate to go for it. Today, the. We see a lot more collaboration between corporates and startups in the impact field than before. I think that companies are super open to have discussions about it. And we've seen, for example in do you think that in the delivery in the delivery value chain today, there is a lot of Startups here in France that are three or four competitors trying to have these these way of the envelopes and for also all the deliveries you can just send back the the envelope. And so it's not just, it doesn't go to the trash and lapis, which is the. The male, the, yeah. In France has done partnerships with almost all of them, saying, okay, we want, we really believe in this concept. So we give an opportunity to others to scale up and to learn and to develop their solution. And then we'll see what happened. But at least we really accompany this. Big trend of the sector. So do not hesitate because companies now I think more and more are open to experience this kind of thing. And the second is that if you really have an issue knocking on the door of the biggest companies, you should also aim at mid sized companies because their management is much more flexible and these can move much quicker. Than sometimes in a, in B corporations. So yeah. So do not hesitate to go and to see it at both levels.

Maiko:

Looking at the ecosystem that you have build up, you actually mentioned that you pretty much didn't have any contacts in the space when you first started, you had this vision and this dream, and a lot of hard work went into this. First of all, I would be keen to understand. What do you think was actually your unfair advantage or what actually made you succeed despite all these factors keen to understand that? What do you think has maybe in you as a person or your co-founders as well that you brought on or anything that why did he succeed? If you didn't have a network, you didn't have to funding. What was it?

Santiago:

I think it's a succession of a lot of small things that crystallized at some point. But the first thing is that I believe that being a turtle challenger and eh, in someone totally new to the sector was a real advantage because when you are totally new, you can. You don't have Y you can have these role of being apart from any competition, existing competition in the field. I just wanted to create this really open and welcoming event to all the players that were existing in the field without any judgment, without any history background. So this was for me, a real advantage. Yeah, so a neutral, totally neutral role in this. And so that was also helping going further, I would say on the business side and further in the in the impact side to to have a larger range of people at the event, that's the first thing. Then also I think that the No we came as a team with a lot of diff diverse experience. We put their experience from the entertainment industry for the the entrepreneurial part more on the marketing and media. And we tried to have a mix that was a mix that was totally unique. And we tried to convey this value of uniqueness in everything you've done.

Maiko:

I've seen a lot of events in social entrepreneurship specifically, but more kind of the traditional definition of really a clear cut. Maybe also share a tease or kind of small scale social entrepreneurs. Obviously there's huge events and entrepreneurship startups. If you think about web summit and things like that. And I think you'll really brought these two worlds together and they were merging already anyways. But you came at the right time with a really compelling concept and I think. Very much, from my perspective, you really created a web summit for impact, and it's amazing to see that. And it's amazing to see girl I've got maybe one or two more questions. I think looking back at the journey over the last few years I have one question, more focused on that journey. What do you think was the hardest bit of making change now? So successful to where it is now. What's been like the biggest challenge for you to overcome

Santiago:

definitely the spending Fen, the really hard part in building a building up a company know And we did the three first years on the way or funding. So our activity and that's, what's a really challenge because I actually, when you see the numbers we had to multiply by through the first year we we moved, we had a growth of a. Multiply by three, the size of the event the first year. And then we multiplied again by five, between two and three, and growth is extremely demanding in terms of resources of money of time. And I think that having this growth where some was maybe the most demanding experience I had in my life, in terms of. Being always focused on it and to try to keep the good amount of energy, just you to be able to keep it a bit balanced, because this is also long run effort. And so you have to keep balanced in that. And I think that for all the team that was a tremendous adventure and Ybor. Intense and demanding. So I would say it's difficult to just to say this was a very difficult moment because during the three years, until we we managed to raise fans a drink 2020 and with these fans, now we really have more ambitions of growing and we're seeing of David diversifying with all actions do to help impact. It was a really the real. Difficult part,

Maiko:

got it. The last question I have is looking into the future, and I know in these times it's even difficult to look into the future a few months ahead. But I want us to dream a little bit. And from your perspective, if you think about the change now in 10 years time how does the world actually look like in 10 years, if you succeed with your mission that changed now?

Santiago:

Wow. That's a huge question.

Maiko:

Climate change is solved.

Santiago:

Yeah. I think that at least we what I really would like in 10 years time is that. Really have a a dashboard of all the big metrics that we really need to cover to make the world a sustainable place, and so you have this dashboard of all the in real time of. Your carbon emissions in the planet and that the trend starts to, to, into, to go down. Today we are using two planets every year and every year, the dates of the earth day is coming closer to the beginning of the year. This is an exception in 2020 because of the college. But otherwise it's just going closer and closer to the beginning of the year. And I really would like. To see a real trend going backwards, and earning days. And this is what I hope really for the that will happen in the, in, in the next decade.

Maiko:

Yeah. That's the very definition of sustainability. Being able to make humanity work, using the resources on one planet, not on two or three or four. It's been really inspiring to talk to you will actually be. Doing something new on the impact hustlers podcast. And we're doing a little partnership. We've changed now by covering actually some of the innovations that will be presented a change now when the conference takes place here on the podcast. So for everybody listening to this do keep an eye out. We interview entrepreneurs and change makers, that you will also be able to see a change. Now, I think if you're in social impact and change, you definitely need to be a change. Now, I think it's just nowhere on it. And do check out the show notes for details on the change now, website and tickets for the event, which is now scheduled for may, right?

Santiago:

Yeah, exactly. End of me from 27 through 29.