Just Raised A $1.1M Seed Round

By Prashan Paramanathan

29th March '16

Today, we're so happy - chuffed, one might say - to announce that we've just closed a $1.1M seed investment round in led by Blackbird Ventures, Bevan Clark (RetailMeNot, LIFX) and the Telstra Foundation. As part of the round, Blackbird and Startmate co-Founder Niki Scevak will be joining the Board.

Where it all started

I first met Niki back in late 2014. Susan Wu from Stripe had introduced us and somehow between the two of them, they decided to put me on stage at a Startmate/Stripe event. The line up included John Collison (who was running a billion dollar startup), Jake Lawton (co-Founder of LIFX that had just raised $12M from Sequoia), Y-Combinator alumna, Lauren McLeod... and me. If you want to know what Imposter Syndrome feels like, that's the line up for it. At the time, I had no idea why I was up there, and no idea why they were being so nice to me. I'd only later realise that that was just the type of people they were.

Over the next year, I went back to Niki several times for advice. Each time, I walked away buzzing with thoughts that I wanted to share with the team - that I knew would make our product better. I remember saying to Liv that if we could just find a way of bringing the collective brain of Blackbird into the organisation, it could really take us to the next level.


So when we first pitched to Blackbird, and they said no, it was pretty devastating. The next 85 pitch decks, and the next dozen or so no's we got from various VCs and Impact Investors didn't really do much for our collective self-esteem either (aside: thanks partners for putting up with us through this).

In a strange way though, we were probably lucky. Had any of those other funds said yes, the emotional toll that fundraising takes, could've just pushed us to take money that we knew in our heart of hearts wasn't the right money to take.

By the second Blackbird pitch, our international business had boomed, our unit economics were looking healthy and well, we had a slightly better clue what a pitch was. Oh, and this happened: just raised a $1.1m seed round

Social Benefit Company + VC = ?

Of course, money isn't just money. It isn't neutral. It changes an organisation. And to be honest, we were worried about how taking commercial money might change How it might corrupt our social mission.

Truth be told, it has changed us. But not at all in the way that I was worried about.

It's made us more focused on how best to deliver on our mission. Because if you believe that delivering on your social mission is the thing that will deliver better financial outcomes (which we all do), what we do becomes really simple - figure out how to best deliver on our social mission of transforming the nature of non-profit fundraising.

This is where we're starting.

  1. Fundraiser education: we're going to play a much bigger role in educating the charity sector about how they can transform their fundraising and take advantage of the opportunities that crowdfunding presents.
  2. Donor movements: we're going to play a much more active role in educating donors about the issues that effect our society through stories told by crowdfunders
  3. Grow: we want to support way more campaigners around the world to build their own audiences and to access ours

In short, the investment lets us play a much bigger role than just a transactional platform. It lets us help more non-profits transform the way that they do fundraising. It lets us help more donors engage, understand and act on the issues they care about. Simply, it lets us get a huge step down the path of delivering on our mission.

Thank you for helping us get this far. We can't wait to build something with you that's even better.

- Prashan, Liv, Seb, Dave and entire family. 

A couple of notes

While this round is exciting for us, we're also excited for what this means for the social enterprise sector. As far as we can tell, this is the first time that a major Australian tech venture capital firm has invested into a social enterprise. We're hoping that this is a sign of things to come, rather than an anomaly. If we can open up the four (yes, 4) $200M tech VC funds in Australia (and the many more commercial angel, VC and non-tech funds in Australia and around the world) to investing in enterprises that make the world a better place, we could radically transform outcomes for so many people. If you think that's a pipe dream, you should check out Collabfund and Social Capital.

Also, we'll always reserve a special place in our hearts for our friends at the Telstra Foundation, who backed us when we weren't much more than a Powerpoint presentation. They've led the way in how corporate philanthropy should support the social enterprise sector - derisk early stage social enterprises using philanthropic grants with the view of growing them to a stage where external investors would invest in them. Unlike so many Foundations that do crazy things like only support social enterprises with DGR/tax-deductibility status, or use social enterprises as mentoring opportunities for their middle managers, Telstra have unrelentingly acted in our best interests. They've continued to back us, and others, regardless of our legal structure, they've always taken the attitude of being there to serve us - not assess us, and they've been willing to give us feedback when we didn't realise we needed it. I think in time, the rest of corporate philanthropy will follow the lead that Jackie and Nat at Telstra have set.