What is the Neighbourhood Effect?
The Neighbourhood Effect combines habit-building technology and behavioural science to make local, green living easy. We are building a website and smartphone app that makes it simple and rewarding for Australian households and businesses to reduce their carbon footprints. We help you adopt green habits and connect you to local, eco-friendly products, services and community initiatives.
How did you get the idea?
A few years ago I was working at national advocacy organisation GetUp, running consumer campaigns. I designed and ran a campaign where we helped 4000 people switch to GreenPower, a renewable energy offsetting scheme. It took 5 minutes online for people to switch. We ran the numbers, and in 4 months, that campaign had double the impact of a community solar farm I’d worked on that took 5 years to get off the ground. Another campaign I ran helped 15,000 people switch to a carbon neutral electricity provider. That campaign had the same impact as taking 50,000 cars off the road. I discovered that when our individual carbon footprints are so big, just a couple thousand of us acting together can have a rapid, tangible environmental impact. We can do this by making small changes to our day-to-day behaviour and choosing to purchase climate-friendly products and services.
Just a couple thousand of us acting together can have a rapid, tangible environmental impact.
What’s the biggest win you’ve had so far?
We won some funding early on to pilot our digital platform from the ACT government’s Community Zero Emissions grant program. The ACT has been a great launchpad for us to test our model. Our web pilot, which we released in May in Canberra, helped us secure our first 1000 users. We’ll also be releasing two mobile apps for Canberrans in mid-December. All of these products set us up to test and improve our sustainable behaviour change model effectively over the next 12 months.
What’s your biggest mistake?
Probably not asking for help as often or as explicitly as I should have early on, which meant our progress was slow before we incorporated the business at the start of this year. I’ve learned in the past year that I need to be bold and I need to clearly ask for what I want – people are generally willing to help if they can. Since I’ve started asking, it’s been easier to accumulate resources to support The Neighbourhood Effect and to set up a good team of advisors around us.
How’s your experience been funding your startup?
It’s a steep learning curve and there are a lot of pitfalls you need to avoid. My background in law really helped with assessing the risks and benefits of different capital-raising options. To date, for our seed funding we’ve relied predominantly on grants, competition prizes, in-kind sponsorships and a crowd-funding campaign through ING’s Dreamstarter program which helped us raise almost $30,000 in 4 weeks. We also won a competitive $50,000 tender for a pilot next year, so we’ve been able to bring in some revenue early, rather than having to give away a lot of equity at an early stage. A big turning point was figuring out a way to keep the running costs of the business low and predictable. I don’t take a salary from the business yet and rely on income from freelance consulting to get by. We also chose to participate in a tech accelerator, SheStarts, with BlueChilli, where we gave away 10% equity in exchange for 6-months of world-class web and mobile development, so we needed less money at the outset to build and launch our first digital product.
What needs to improve/change for Australia to become a global leader in innovation and tech?
I’ve found it really difficult to find and recruit tech talent to join our founding team. People who are great at user interface design and user experience, along with full-stack developers with lots of experience building and launching products – these people are like unicorns in Australia. So the general skills shortage in STEM disciplines in Australia has had an impact on getting the right people into our team. We’ve found a good workaround for the moment through our partnership with BlueChilli, but this is a perennial issue for us. So I think bipartisan support for long-term funding of our tertiary education system, and an increase in our spending on education as a percentage of GDP, with strategies to increase participation in STEM, would help Australia to become a global leader in innovation and tech.
The general skills shortage in STEM disciplines in Australia has had an impact on getting the right people into our team.
Do you have any tips for acquiring new users and/or scaling your business?
We’ve done the work to determine the problem we’re trying to solve for our users is one that millions of Australians face. Step one is user research and ensuring you understand the defining characteristics of your group. It’s much easier to reach your users when you know what they care about and what their interests are. I also think that being genuinely purpose-driven makes acquiring users much easier. We’re driven by a clear environmental mission. We genuinely want to help people live more sustainably and we want to do this in a way that is practical and empowering. I think many people respond positively to this and want to support us and see us succeed, so they’re more likely to tell their friends about what we’re doing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Probably taking a holiday, then anything where I can learn a lot quickly while contributing in some beneficial way to society. For example I really like materials engineering. There’s so much you can do through materials engineering to reduce human suffering and solve a lot of widespread environmental problems.
If you could go back to the start, tell us two things you would do differently.
1) I’d back myself and my general approach to problem-solving more and I’d pay less attention to people who aren’t ‘believable’. Read Ray Dalio’s fantastic book ‘Principles’ if you want to understand this concept in more detail. What matters is setting up a system where you can repeatedly test your ideas in the real world.
2) I understand now that having a water-tight routine for taking breaks, exercising, taking care of myself, and socialising, is fundamental to maintaining a good level of productivity and effectively managing the stress of running a business. My success as the leader of this initiative is underpinned by my ability to set reasonable limits around the amount that I work. I learned this the hard way – working too hard and then getting exhausted.
My success as the leader of this initiative is underpinned by my ability to set reasonable limits around the amount that I work.