Blue Dot: Chris Ward
The former Comic Relief director on creating a new currency for good causes – with a little help from Noel Gallagher and Coldplay
Tell us what your business does
Blue Dot is a new digital currency used to reward people who do good things for their favourite charities – sharing on social media, volunteering and donating to any one of 100,000 non-profits globally.
We give out dots to people who have done good. They can then use their dots to access exclusive celebrity products, special offers and great competitions from respected brands.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
After raising £482m for good causes with Comic Relief and 1 Goal, I read that shoppers that year had spent £870m in Westfield shopping centre in London. I wanted to harness the power of big brands and celebrities to enable every charity to motivate more people to do good, every day of the year.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I knew that if we combined the power of celebrities and big brands to reward and engage people who do good, then people would want to get involved.
Our main unique selling point is that people can choose to support any charity of their choice (from more than 9,000 charities in the UK and over 100,000 in the US), unlike a lot of campaigns which only support one charity. We want to bring the power of a big brand association to every charity.
Another USP is that we record a person’s good actions in their ‘Good Account’, which we are hoping to eventually become part of every LinkedIn profile.
What were you doing before starting up?
As well as being director at Comic Relief and then 1 Goal, I have also successfully built and sold two award-winning commercial marketing agencies. It is the combination of my experiences in both the commercial and charity sectors that made me realise the potential for something like Blue Dot.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes, from a young age I knew I wanted to have my own business and I do like being my own boss. I like to work when I feel I’m at my most productive, which could be 3am!
What planning did you do before you started up?
I spent about six months developing the concept and testing it with senior figures from charities, government and the commercial world.
How did you raise the money?
We’ve got a number of private investors from the fields of social enterprise, media and entertainment. Luckily, I have a good track record from my previous experiences, so I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was definitely easier than it would have been with no prior experience.
How did you find suppliers?
We’ve had an amazing reaction so far and had some great people supply exclusive offers, such as Noel Gallagher, Coldplay, Snow Patrol and even Lady Gaga, as well as businesses such as Amazon, Ministry of Sound and Facebook.
Initially it was the team here using their contacts to get offers, but increasingly businesses are coming to us.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
The main challenge is getting people to understand how simple Blue Dot can be. Because it is something new that hasn’t been done before, people often don’t have something similar they can compare it to.
Where is your business based?
We’re currently based in Westminster and share an office with one of our business partners. Before that the team were working remotely from home or coffee shops across London.
How have you promoted your business?
Our marketing is done mainly by other people – the charities, businesses and celebrities that we work with, although we have had some good media coverage as well.
How much do you charge?
I always wanted to keep the services free to charities, so it’s free for any charity to use the site and take advantage of our offers. We do have other services we can offer like a white-label version of our site that can be branded for and locked to a particular charity – we recently trialled this successfully for Children in Need.
Our revenue comes from businesses who buy dots to support Cause Related Marketing (CRM) campaigns or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.
What about staff – how many do you have?
We’ve got a team of five now, plus a web design and development team who we use on a contract basis.
What has your growth been like?
We’ve had great growth in the six weeks since we launched. We are pre-revenue at the moment, but that should be changing very soon!
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
It’s difficult to balance the two, but luckily I have a very understanding family!
What was your first big breakthrough?
Our link-up with BBC Children in Need was massive.
What would you do differently?
There’s lots of things I would have done differently, but I believe you have to sometimes make mistakes to work out which is the right way to go, and as long as you’re constantly evolving and adapting to keep up with any changes that need to be made, you’re on the right track.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and your idea, have confidence and drink lots of coffee.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
We hope to be much bigger, have a much more widely recognised brand and use it to help charities all over the world.
I want us to be the leader in delivering innovative and effective CSR and CRM campaigns for businesses that want to make the world a better place.
No ‘exit plan’ as such at the moment – we’re focusing on building a great business.