Read on as Anne-Marie talks about getting a startup going during the dotcom crash, shaping your own company’s culture, and building a sustainable business for a social purpose.
What inspired you and your co-founder to start JustGiving?
In 1999, Zarine Kharas, our CEO, spotted the opportunity to use the web to better connect good causes with people who care. When she and I met, I was running the UK branch of the humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres and looking for a low-cost system that would enable the charity to accept donations online. Such a system did not exist. So I joined JustGiving full time and we launched JustGiving a little over a year later, in February 2001. Nearly fourteen years on, JustGiving is the fastest-growing social giving platform in the world, with 10 million users and $3.3 billion raised for good causes to date.
What has been your biggest challenge being an entrepreneur?
Nearly running out of money. We closed our first round of funding shortly before the dotcom crash, so we had to make every penny count thereafter. Being very early was also a challenge. Charities were very sceptical at first, and it took us a long time to demonstrate how valuable online giving would be to them.
What have been your biggest challenges being a woman in the tech industry, driven by men?
I am probably going to disappoint you here, but I can’t think of a single occasion when I have felt that being a woman put me at a disadvantage. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that men and women have very different opportunities and experiences in larger firms – just as in wider society – and those issues are real. But if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to grow a business from scratch, as Zarine and I have done, then you have a unique opportunity to shape its culture and choose the people who work with you.
If you asked me what had been essential to the growth of JustGiving, I would say that it had little to do with the fact that it is run by two women. I’d argue it has a lot more to do with a set of highly unusual investors with a very long-term orientation who have always encouraged us to keep investing and focusing all our energies on creating a great product and a great place for people to work and grow. In short, if you build a great product, and take genuine care of your customers, the financials will follow. A lot of investors say this, but do not act accordingly. Ours have done so consistently, and all of them are men.
What can the JustGiving platform offer users that other charitable platforms can’t?
At its core, JustGiving enables everyone with a cause – whether it is helping find a cure for cancer or fund a new roof for their community centre – to raise more money than they ever thought possible. People and charities raise more money on JustGiving than any other platform – £360m this year alone – because it helps them reach more people and inspire more support than any other application.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments in your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Proving that it was possible to combine social purpose with running a sustainable business. Our for-profit-for-good model has enabled us to keep investing in innovation to a much greater extent than we would have done if we ran JustGiving along charitable lines.
What advice would you give to girls/women interested in working in tech or starting their own businesses?
Two different questions there. The first, about starting to work in tech: if you are looking to move into a tech business, don’t worry too much if your first job is not a perfect match for your existing skills, or looks slightly odd on your CV. Once you have a foothold in a tech firm, new opportunities will open up. As for starting up a new business: building a core team up front is key. Know your strengths and weaknesses and find people who complement you right from the beginning.
Keen to join a massively growing, for-profit-for-good company that’s just moved into some amazing new offices in London Bridge? JustGiving is hiring right now for their product and tech teams! Take a look at the opportunities they’re offering.