After spending a decade working in Finance, and now nine years into his time in the social impact sector, Vinay Nair is hoping Lightful helps drive more impact and positivity in the social sector.
Hi Vinay, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Thanks to everyone at YHP for featuring me! My career so far has been split into two different sectors; the first decade or so was spent working in the private sector in finance and for the last nine years I’ve been working in the social impact sector. My career has been driven by how we can take tools and learnings from the private sector and apply them to the social sector to drive more impact and positivity.
How did the idea for Lightful come about?
The idea began when myself and two friends, who also worked in the social impact sector, Carlos Miranda and Johnny Murnane were reflecting on why the latest technology seemed to be out of reach for charities, social enterprises and other beyond profits. We realised that whilst technology had been transforming and disrupting so many industries like food, transport and e-commerce, this was not the case for the third sector - the sector which we believe deserves it most. Sure, the top 100 charities in the UK might be well-served but for the vast majority, which includes 180,000 charities and 90,000 social enterprises, there was and is so much more that technology, digital and social media can be doing. We wanted to make the best technology affordable and accessible to the beyond profit sector.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
It’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride! One of the biggest challenges we faced was building something that is both affordable and best-in-class to a sector that is typically constrained by time, resources and money. It then became about finding the right partners who were able, and willing, to support us on this journey. We needed to find the right people who were committed to the sector and who had the best technical expertise to help deliver these solutions. It’s still something we continue to do even now.
What is Lightful? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Lightful is a technology for social good company. We believe that charities, social enterprises and ‘beyond profits’ are doing the most important work and their stories deserve to be heard. That’s why we have a whole host of creative and digital services - one of which is a social media management platform to help charities and social enterprises reach more people, build stronger relationships and raise more funds.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Our funding has come from two different avenues: investors and clients. Our investors include ourselves, friends and family, high net worth individuals and angel investors; all of whom believe in creating positive social impact. And of course, we have a number of clients who we run bespoke projects for, our social media management platform customers, as well as clients that require the services of Lightful Labs, which is a research and development division which works on larger, more innovative projects.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their start-ups?
Being resilient and keeping momentum going is key. There will be encouraging meetings where you feel like people have really resonated with what you’re trying to achieve but then nothing comes of it - and that’s ok. Don’t let those experiences discourage you from continuing to be proactive and initiating other meetings. Ultimately, it’s important to find investors that both believe in you and have the financial means to support you; it becomes much less of a transaction when this happens.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
As my colleagues and team will tell you, excitement is definitely not something which I have a shortage of! When you start working with clients who see you addressing their biggest challenges, as well as helping them achieve their objectives, it’s an incredibly rewarding feeling. I am fortunate to be working with such brilliant people who share our values and are committed to achieving positive social impact - and that’s amazing.
How did you initially get traction?
The traction has come largely from listening to our customers and using ‘Human Centred Design’, which is a method that helps identify their pain points and what they need. Engaging them in this structured way has been invaluable.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
The most crucial thing was finding the right people and ensuring that they are motivated, focused and share your vision. Of course there other important elements such as setting and clearly communicating your strategy; ensuring there’s enough money in the bank; and making sure that you’re delivering unbelievable value, much more than a client might ordinarily expect. For Lightful specifically, it was important to ensure the technology we use is best-in-class but all of these factors come back to people, who are the lifeblood of any organisation.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
What a great question! I have to say there have been so many highlights at Lightful; from raising our large Series A funding to delivering projects for partners big and small, such as Comic Relief and Woman’s Trust. But there is one highlight in particular that springs to mind: in February we ran a campaign called #ReclaimSocial, which is a movement to reclaim social media for good by sharing positive stories and, therefore, drowning out all the negativity. Online we had huge success - we trended on Twitter, had 19 million impressions and we had celebrities, individuals, companies and charities all using #ReclaimSocial to share positive stories.
We also had pro bono support from Outdoor Plus who run large digital billboards around London - they kindly showed our #ReclaimSocial messages on seven billboards. The special moment for me was when I went across Battersea Bridge and saw to my left on Cheyney Walk a splash of purple on the huge #ReclaimSocial billboard. It was very humbling and I felt very proud of what the team had achieved.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Lightful team for 2018?
We will continue to build on our #ReclaimSocial campaign because, as we said, it’s a movement. On the ReclaimSocial website, you can read all the positive stories from individuals, organisations and great causes to see how social media can be used for good. In terms of the platform, we’re continuously rolling out new features for our clients. We are also working on new, exciting partnerships with our Services and Labs divisions. 2018 is set to be a really big year for Lightful and we’re excited to see our ambitious plans come to fruition. So, watch this space!
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Remember that it’s both an incredibly exciting and challenging journey. If you have that fire, passion and wholehearted belief in what you’re creating, you should absolutely go for it. Here are my three pieces of advice:
1. Remember to always strike a balance between your self-belief in your vision or product whilst still listening to the experts you’re working with as well as your customers.
2. Identify your values and go out of your way to live by them - not just talk about them. There will be times when your back is up against the wall financially, operationally or otherwise and being clear on what your values give you a sense of clarity, belief and hope.
3. Focus on your well-being because looking after yourself means that you’ll bring your best self to work. And of course, your colleagues’ well-being is so important too. I’m guilty of not following my own advice on this though so I’ve made a resolution this year to make more of a conscious effort to work on finding a better work/life balance.