My latest interview is with Sobia Hamid, founder of DataGiving. Based in Cambridge, DataGiving is a new way to encourage charitable giving by revealing the real world impact of every donation. DataGiving’s core mission is to activate ethical giving and pioneer a new age of philanthropy. Read the full interview below:
You're the founder of DataGiving, give us a little bit of info of what you do?
I am the chief product designer and also in charge of marketing.
Is it a not for profit?
No, we are a limited company.
How do you generate revenue?
The DataGiving Charity Impact widget generates a range of user data, such as searches and donations made to causes. This information is useful for understanding audiences and engagement levels across causes. Data can be purchased via a number of paid for packages that vary according to the amount of data you get access to.
How did the idea first come about?
Whilst a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, I won the TedxCam 2010 Open Data Challenge Hackathon, with a web data mashup that highlighted the impact of money invested in high- tech start-ups versus grassroots microbusinesses (www.ventropy.org). Following this, I wanted to develop a way for people to quickly and easily find out the impact of their own microdonations for charitable causes. This lead to developing DataGiving.
80% of businesses fail in the first year & you've been going 2 years now, what do you think has been key in helping you get to the stage you're at today?
Perseverance, listening to customers, keeping an open mind, being ready to pivot if need be, and finally make the most of the fact that you’re just starting out, if you’re nice you can get plenty of free support and help along the way.
What did you study at Cambridge & has that helped in running your own business in any way?
At Cambridge I did a Ph.D. in Genetics. Obviously the core subject hasn’t impacted on the development of DataGiving, but the skills I developed whilst at Cambridge have been invaluable in thinking creatively, being innovative and managing complex projects. Furthermore, my scientific training has equipped me with an analytical mindset and curiosity that I’m able to apply in wider contexts.
How has being based in Cambridge & near the university helped your startup?
Cambridge is an amazing ecosystem for fostering talent. Student-run societies such as Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, for which I served on the committee, give students access to a wealth of knowledge, contacts and resources for developing a start-up. Being able to draw on this learning and the contacts I developed has been invaluable over the years. It’s also hugely satisfying when you’re able to finally put into practice everything you’ve learnt, and seek support and advice from the people you’ve met along the way. Cambridge has a culture of giving back, people who are now successful are more than happy to offer advice to young start-ups over a cup of coffee, because they remember how it felt to be in that position and how important this is.
You also started a meetup called 'Data Insights Cambridge' tell us a little about that?
Data Insights - Cambridge is a multidisciplinary community of leading data experts looking to share insights from data, and meet people facing similar challenges. The community is a varied mix of academic researchers and industry professionals from diverse data fields. Backgrounds include computer scientists, data analysts, machine learning, statisticians, data visualisation, business intelligence, entrepreneurs, and just pure data enthusiasts. Data Insights - Cambridge facilitates sharing and networking via monthly events centred on high quality talks by leading data experts.
When running your own business how important do you think networking is?
Whilst it’s important to stay focussed and not get too distracted, networking can be a fantastic way to regularly bounce your ideas off a range of people, learn from what your peers are doing, and garner support for your product or service early on, it makes it easier when you finally launch and want to get customers, investment or build partnerships. I would also recommend every once in a while going to an event or conference that’s out of your immediate field. I’ve had some of my most helpful conversations with people who work in totally different areas, and found partners I never expected I would have a common business interest with.
Did you plan to come out of uni and get a normal job or have you always wanted to start your own business?
I absolutely wanted to start my own venture, but I had to be realistic. As an unfunded start-up DataGiving wasn’t going to pay the bills. I got a job working for a Biotech for a while, then ended up winning another competition (this time in Open Innovation), from which I joined a Pharmaceutical company to develop strategic research partnerships. I’m now working freelance part-time reviewing science books, and continue to work on DataGiving the rest of my time.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, but be open to taking constructive advice. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey - very often you’ll be the only one who fully appreciates your idea and understands the long-term vision. Being able to communicate and sell your idea to investors, customers, partners, employees, etc. is a key component of success. Learn to tell your story succinctly and engagingly, and have an intuitive understanding of who you’re speaking to - what is valuable to one person might not be to another. Finally, try to step back once in a while and appreciate how far you’ve come. You might not have reached your ultimate goals just yet, but undertaking the journey is an achievement in itself, so be proud of accomplishing the smaller milestones as well.