This week we are really pleased to be joined by Iranthi Gomes and Jarkko Oksanen from Inventshift. A online global marketplace, Inventshift has built a community around social/ impact entrepreneurship for businesses which create a positive impact. We’re over the moon that they managed to squeeze in time to talk to us before their updated platform goes live next month which will see the whole process run smoother and much quicker.
1. First can you tell us a bit about your job? What does your company do?
Iranthi: I’m the Co-Founder of Inventshift. Inventshift is an online global marketplace for services highlighting positive impact businesses. My role involves planning, marketing, outsourcing to experts and managing everything unexpected that gets thrown our way as a start-up.
Jarkko: I am the other Co-Founder and responsible for building the technology, tracking and marketing tools for the business.
2. What brought you to this area?
Jarkko: We’ve been in startups and business, I love the passion of startups; trying to make a big difference with a small budget, but then again I don’t love just running after money. Then I found this idea of social enterprise, which is basically ‘business for good’, it hit me very hard. It’s something we’ll probably be doing for the rest of our lives.
Iranthi: It is pretty similar for me as well. I was a part of Rotaract which is a global community service club in Sri Lanka. I acted as the Community Service director where I worked with a lot of kids and enjoyed it. Like all not-for-profit organisations funding is raised annually, and you always have to think about the next year which isn’t a very sustainable model. Early last year, Jarkko and I ran a startup in Melbourne which is a global mobile coffee chain. Down the track we learnt about social enterprise and explored more about the models. Being involved in not-for-profit and profit it made so much sense to merge them together.
3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical workday schedule look like?
Iranthi: We don’t really have standard hours, we could be working ten hours today and four hours’ tomorrow, so it really depends. Regardless of the hours, a typical work day would start with a cup of coffee or chai latte, laptops, multiple calls and meetings.
Jarkko: Since we’ve just come to London it varies a lot, if we find a nice co-working space that’s open until late then we’ll be there for a long time.
Iranthi: Yeah mostly because we work from co-working spaces, cafes and at home. When going for a meeting we discovered these hotel lobbies’ in London that act as co-working spaces which later converts into an environment with music and even a dance floor. It’s great to work through the week not being in the same place.
4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
Inventshift has three parts to it:
a) The Marketplace
The idea is to help many businesses that have no proper hubs around the world to be found, compared and bought. Our emphasis is on giving social enterprises a larger chance to show with lower fees, and normal businesses a higher commission.
Categories of service based businesses will be listed from around the world. When businesses list themselves on our marketplace they automatically convert into a social business as they will be contributing a percentage to the fund to help and grow other social enterprises, charities and projects.
We believe that social enterprise is the future of business. This is to encourage consumers to purchase from social enterprises or business creating positive impact instead of regular businesses.
b) Resource bank & community
The resource bank was created for the purpose of educating people about social enterprise and forming a global community.
The resource bank will consist of all things related to social enterprise, such as, the largest social enterprise directory, social entrepreneurship event calendar, blogs and articles with updated industry content, social enterprise job board and videos of interviews with social entrepreneurs.
c) The Fund
The Inventshift fund is the ‘social driver’ of our business.
When a customer purchases a service via the marketplace 5-10% of the revenue will be directed to the fund. On our funds website you can see that when every transaction is made, the percentage contribution will be displayed as a line item along with the name of the business and customer. After paying for the service, the customer can decide which project receives the contribution depending on the cause they like.
Jarkko: An example of a case would be; you’re ordering catering, you order catering through our service and they have a contract but the price is the same as what we have on our own website, but then 5-10% of that goes to our fund and you as the customer can choose where that goes to. It could be supporting poverty for example.
5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?
Iranthi: Mine would be setting up the coffee chain, the first proper business in Melbourne that we created.
Jarkko: Yes, running the coffee chain, that would probably be mine as well but tech wise I finished building a search platform for us that is not live yet. It’s sort of like Airbnb but enhanced so it’s super-fast, I’m very proud of it and it’ll be great when it’s ready and people can see it.
6. Where is the after work hangout?
Iranthi: We’re very fresh in London so we don’t have a place yet in particular but it all looks exciting, everything is so pretty. Come ask me in about a couple of months and I’ll probably have a favourite place. In Melbourne there’s a place we love called Dumpling Plus at Highpoint shopping centre, which has the best Chinese food. Right opposite there’s a cafe called jasper’s coffee which smells like you are in a coffee roastery. Have your Chinese food and then head over for a coffee after.
7. Who is your professional role model?
Iranthi: Growing up I watched my father as a businessman. There were many things I knew I would do differently but it was through him where I knew that I’d want to get into business one day. Professionally, I would say Richard Branson. I read his autobiography as a teenager and that’s what made me say “this is it!”.
Jarkko: Yeah I have a classic one too which is Elon Musk. I enjoy the fact the he tries to break the borders, not minding the risks, he invests his money and he’s been on minus many times but he still figures it out.
8. You were originally based in Australia before coming over to London, what in your opinion makes Australia a good country for starting out?
Jarkko: The government has lots of perks for start-ups, for example R&D; where after each year you get 45% of your R&D budget back from the government, which I’ve never heard of in other countries. Australian cities are very far apart with 9 hours from to another so that’s a bit of an issue, but that also makes it a big community when you go into a city.
Iranthi: And every city works very differently to one another when it concerns support systems. They are supporting a great deal for social enterprises too.
9. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
Iranthi: Definitely VR! we were at the Slush conference in Finland last month and Finnair had this whole VR experience setup to test. I was able to walk on the wing on their new Airbus A350 through VR and it was amazing. Slush 2016 was very focused on discussing VR and AR. It was incredible to hear about all the future developments they aim to do.
Jarkko: I would say Machine learning, like when you do something and it improves the platform on its own, that’s something I’m very excited about.
10. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employee?
Iranthi: Flexibility – being able to adapt to any situation, Optimism – it’s always nice to hear an employee say ‘yes’ rather than ‘I’m not sure’.
Lastly I would say opinionated, because I wouldn’t be hiring you if I didn’t think that you meet criteria to handle the job, your opinion matters.
Jarkko: When I look for people, I want them not to ask me everything. I want them to look at the bigger picture and get their own ideas in there, someone who takes initiative. Especially in a start-up because we don’t have the manpower to give tasks to everyone, we just say ‘this is the goal, let’s do it!’.
11. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
Iranthi: I have heard so many people talk about what they want to do in life, some being great ideas and some not. Then the same people find out that someone else had created and turned that same idea into a success. Then those same people talk about how “this guy stole my idea”. No matter whatever it is, if you believe in it just give it a go. Get your idea validated, get started and adapt along the way. Also, don’t be shy and regret later. If you need help, ask for it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Jarkko: Focus on one thing, I had an issue where we were thinking of four businesses at the same time. So now we are not running the other businesses, we are just a part of it, so just focusing on one thing and doing it at 100%.
Inventshift are looking to partner with more service based businesses so check out their website or contact Iranthi@inventshift.com to see how you can get involved!