BGV Q&A series: CauseHub
BGV Week 2: CauseHub
It’s Thursday night and 15-year-old Jamie Davies is taking time out from school and homework to fine tune the latest hack on his startup CauseHub. By far the youngest team on the Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator, Jamie and fellow co-founders Sanjay Poyzer (23) and Jerome Toole (21) are working on a new product that will disrupt the way we engage in decision making online and make us feel more empowered about the world around us. Just two weeks into the programme, they tell me about their journey so far.
What is the problem you’re trying to solve and why is this important to you?
Sanjay: It’s 2014 and there are great tools for communicating, mass opinion and expressing emotional responses, but people are still dissatisfied at large with their ability to change the world around them. They feel disengaged from decision making.
What is the solution?
Sanjay: We’re creating a platform where campaigners from large NGOs to armchair activists can collaborate and work better with decision makers like MPs or corporate shareholders. The platform will utilise public data and modern web technologies to connect these people and improve integrity of information.
Jerome: We’re still in the research stage; trying to understand a multi-faceted problem. We’re quite different to the other teams here as most of them seem like they have a product whereas our focus right now is on experimenting with different ideas which will come together to form a product later on.
How does this compare with what’s already available?
Jerome: We are challenging the popular assumptions about what types of online activism are truly effective in creating change. Some clear themes from our research so far are that it’s difficult for all parties to trust information online, and that charities would love to communicate and share more information between each other but there is no clear way to do this.
Sanjay: We want to enable people to act online in more meaningful ways than just placing their name on a petition. We want to ensure that people contributing towards a cause can clearly see the effect their action has.
What are your backgrounds? How did you meet?
Sanjay: I met Jamie at a Hack4Good event in September last year where we worked on this idea. I was working for Benkyo Player at the time [on the last BGV programme] and when I told Makoto Inoue what I’d done on the weekend he said that I should apply to BGV. We got the interview and I brought Jerome in.
Jerome: I was freelancing at the time and I’d worked with Sanjay before on a festival called Brainchild. I was looking to move into an organisation that would give me a more networked environment, and this is doing that for me.
Jamie: The prototype we developed at the hack event was an open platform, like a wiki page, with actions on it like petitions and events. We’re extending that idea and kind of treating BGV as a three-month hackathon.
What did you learn this week at BGV?
Jamie: In the last week and a half we’ve built a chrome extension that will pull out key words from a page and then tell you who voted on them and how. For example you can look at a page on the Iraq war and it will tell you which MPs voted on it and what they voted on.
Jerome: Our plan is to try out different ideas like this every week for the next month and then pull together the bits that are solving real problems into a single product at the end of the programme. In this way we’re discovering some really innovative solutions that we might not have otherwise.
Jamie: The main lesson this week was not to get stuck on one idea. We need to be prepared to change and to take everybody’s input and not say no.
Jerome: This week we also learnt the value of listening to the people who experience the problem you’re trying to solve and gaining their insights. We’re in such a state of change right now. We’ve gained a very different perspective from when we started - the first two weeks have been transformative on everything, from design to business models.
Sanjay: In the last week we’ve been doing a lot of research and talking to people. We’ve spoken to two journalists, a campaigner from Priced Out and two NGOs (Friends of the Earth and Share Action). But there’s been a lot of BGV workshops too so in the next few weeks we will speak to a lot more people.
You’re quite young to be on an accelerator. How are you finding it so far?
Jamie: It’s very cool being here. I don’t think other people my age would be doing this.
Jerome: The startup culture is one of allowance, you are allowed to try stuff out and do something risky. While I was at school, I had an impression of the world of business being very structured and far more resistant to risk. But I think a more gung-ho approach is healthy to innovation.
Jamie: They don’t teach you this kind of stuff at school. In computer science they try and teach you a bit of everything, but not what you really need to know, not what’s practical. I’ve already learnt so much here. This is a good experience that everyone should have.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
Sanjay: I think our biggest challenge will be narrowing down and focusing on one product. It’s going to be hard to drop an idea, and we have to trust that the thing that we have picked is the most useful. Believing in the idea is going to be a challenge. But that’s why we’re here.
When you leave the programme, what does success look like to you?
Sanjay: In three months, we want to have something that’s pitchable. In six months’ time we want to have released a product and have a user base – but it’s hard to be specific about this because we don’t know what the product will be yet!
If you weren’t doing BGV, what would you be doing now?
Jamie: I’d still be in school!
Jerome: I’d still be freelancing, doing graphic and web design.
Sanjay: Me too. I was freelancing in web design and development.
What companies inspire you?
Sanjay: Wikipedia, Mozilla and Github.
Jerome: And MySociety.
Jamie: I like Makeshift. Their model of creating and making is inspiring.
You can follow CauseHub’s journey via their blog: http://words.causehub.io/
*Call to action*
The CauseHub team is looking to speak with NGOs and other campaigning organisations, as well as key decision makers in corporations, policy and government. As part of their user research they are trying to analyse different options people have when they want to express something to a decision maker, working out the pain points from both sides in order to make change more effective for everybody.