“If you’d asked me three years ago what my legacy I was leaving, the honest answer would be “causing the financial crisis, making rich people richer and breaking the heart of two young children.”, began Simon Puleston Jones. A date with California opera singer transformed his life and world view almost overnight and led to the creation of a WokenUp, a new social network that is designed to empower you to build the society and environment in which you want to live, by 2030.
What is WokenUp about?
WokenUp is about empowering you to cause transformational positive change with respect to the social and the environmental causes that matter to you and for the wider purpose of attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030.
How? By solving the problem of fragmentation. For the first time, WokenUp brings you together with the local and global community of other people, companies and nonprofits who care about the social and environmental causes you care about, from climate and sustainability to diversity and beyond. WokenUp creates a purpose-build community in which to exchange your stories and experiences of the action you’re taking and impact you’re making on your causes, and to connect you and your organisation with opportunities to give back and make a difference.
What is WokenUp? The new global social network for those with purpose.
Our community is both B2B and B2C. It is comprised of companies, nonprofits and individuals.
For companies, WokenUp is the place to respond to that change in stakeholder expectations by raising awareness of the action you are taking, and impact you are making, on the social and environmental causes that matter to you and your stakeholders. You can think of your WokenUp profile and posts as together comprising your real-time responsible business report.
With a free to use jobs board for nonprofits, a free to use volunteering portal and the ability to tag your posts by the help you are seeking, WokenUp seeks to become the global home for the nonprofit sector.
For individuals, WokenUp is the place to find opportunities to lead a more purposeful life, to show the difference you’re making and to discover what others are doing on the causes that matter to you.
Why did you start this social innovation?
It all started with a date with a beautiful Californian opera singer, who 365 days later would become my wife! She invited me to consider being life-coached by the company for which she volunteered. Through that coaching, I discovered my purpose. That the most fulfilling moments of my life were when I ran marathons for charity, was a trustee for a mental health charity and mentored dozens of people.
As part of the life-coaching, I was invited to create a community project that breathed life into the statement that “I’m Simon and I’m all about giving back and making a difference”. I didn’t know where to start with that project! I realised I shared that problem with millions of people, i.e. “I want to give back, I want to make a difference on the causes that matter to me. But I don’t know where to start”. I decided to solve that problem as my community project. That project grew to become WokenUp.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
The spark came through that life-coaching, but the specifics of creating what WokenUp is today was a two-year process from inception to reality.
At the outset, I had no idea what it was that I wanted to build, other than the project had to be about giving back and making a difference. I thought it might just be a mentoring network.
The more I thought about it, I realised that nonprofits make a difference on causes, by definition, so they had to be a part of what I’m creating.
Finally, I realised that the corporate world had a massive communication problem – it was really difficult to readily discover what companies are doing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, on sustainability, on diversity and the other causes I care about. That lack of clarity means that the corporate world has no clearly communicated answer when the public ask, “What has the City and Wall Street ever done for us?”.
Remember, this started out as a life-coaching project in my spare time. My full time job at the time was lobbying for Goldman Sachs and other investment banks, as I was running a trade association in the financial services industry.
Ultimately the creative process was, and has to be, collaborative: the more I talked to people, companies and nonprofits about my project, the more and more positive feedback and ideas they gave me. They’d say, “This sounds great! It would be even more amazing if this platform you’re creating could do x”.
WokenUp was clearly solving multiple problems for them, and they were enthused by what would be possible through a purpose-built platform to drive positive change.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
I had I high-profile, highly successful and highly well paid job as a City lobbyist in the financial services industry. I left that all behind for something that was little more than an idea that I could somehow empower you to change the world.
I had a vision, but no concrete manifestation of that vision and did not personally have the skills I needed to bring that vision into reality. I was a lawyer and lobbyist, starting out in a profession for which I had zero experience and qualification: the tech sector.
Having got divorced 18 months previously, I also had very little capital. I’ve invested pretty much every penny I have in this business. Bankruptcy is a realistic possibility.
But I’m not concerned by any of that.
How did I, and do I, overcome my fears? Rather than being driven by all the past tells me that I am, and am not, I wake up each morning pulled towards the compelling vision that I and my team are creating. The vision of millions of people and organisations sharing their stories of how they are making a positive difference in the world. The vision of being the spark to flip society from “me, me, me” to “we, we, we” and “how can I help you?” The vision of those people ultimately coming together through WokenUp to take the action needed to successfully attain the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
How did you bring your business idea from conception to reality?
First, I needed to be clear as to how I proposed to manifest this vision. What’s the product? When I realised that you need to mobilise hundreds of millions of people and organisations if the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are going to be attained by 2030, I realised that WokenUp could only be one thing – a social network. Only social media has the power the mobilise on that scale, globally.
Then I needed money. Other people’s money. To obtain that, I first needed a prototype. A friend of mine who was running a fintech company in London offered me one of his developers, called Ollie, to build one. Ollie and I worked night after night after finishing our day jobs for 6 months straight, to create a prototype.
After 6 months of work, I went to sleep one night and literally dreamed up a better design for WokenUp. I binned 6 months of R&D with Ollie and started again, with an app development agency called Hyper Apps.
We used the Hyper Apps prototype to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube. If I summarise my campaign, it was “Hey world! I’ve got no team, no existing business, no revenue and merely the seed of an idea. Can I have £250,000 please?”. I learned the hard way that the answer was “No, you can’t”. My crowdfunding round failed. We only got £146,000 of interest.
I had a massive collapse of confidence. Had I made a huge, and irretrievable, mistake in leaving that successful City career? What now?
It turned out that I knew many of the people who wanted to invest in the business. I decided that I was going to launch WokenUp if it killed me, so I emailed or picked up the phone to all 56 people who expressed an interest in investing and said “I’m a lawyer. We’re going ahead with closing this round, outside of the crowdfunding platform. Are you in?”. And you know what? Only one of those 56 people decided not to invest.
Now I had £141,000! We used that to build our minimum viable product. I say “our” because I spent the next 6 months building out the start of our team, with three wonderful people who shared WokenUp’s visions and shared my determination to create a platform that empowers you to change the world.
Finally, we needed to start building our community. A lot of coffees and conversations later, we now have a community of 50 nonprofits and companies as launch partners, and users from nearly 50 countries!
We just closed our second funding round, are about to launch our third and have launched a complete overhaul of our platform, with new products coming in the next few weeks.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential
We’re taking a bottom-up approach. We’ve building a community of 50 launch partners and individuals who share our vision, and are inviting them to share WokenUp with their own existing networks, so that we can get growth predominantly by word of mouth and organic community building.
We’re also being approached by an increasing number of individuals who see the impact that WokenUp could empower you to make and are excited by our potential – they’re asking to be advocates for us, so we’ve just started appointing a number of passionate people as Advocates for WokenUp. Drop us a line if you share our vision and would like to help drive positive change!
I have some contacts in the press from my career in the City, but honestly its very hard to break into the press or TV media on a cold-call basis. That being said, I have confidence that we are only ever one interview, or one phone call, away from the opportunity to appear in national and international media so that we can raise awareness of how we’re seeing to empower you to build the world in which you want to live.
Once we have completed our next funding round, we expect to spend significantly on social media advertising and attending relevant conferences and other events.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
By talking to them and listening to them! Our launch partners and hundreds of beta testers were very communicative in what they want, what problems they would like WokenUp to solve and how to best do so. We’re now in the process of raising further funds so that we can implement as many of their great ideas as possible, as quickly as possible.
How do you change the whole system?
If we all look to others to take action, nothing will change. WokenUp doesn’t of itself change the whole system, but WokenUp does provide the catalyst and the environment to empower you and millions of others to build the society and environment in which you want to live at the end of this decade.
What WokenUp does is to bring a fragmented community together for the first time. The community of people taking action on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the wider social and environmental causes that matter to you. By bringing you and other action takers together for the first time, we seek to deepen and accelerate your impact. Your action will generate and inspire further action by others.
Society needs millions of people and organisations to take action on hunger, poverty, health, education, gender equality, clean energy, clean water, decent work, innovation, reducing inequality, sustainable cities, responsible consumption, life on land and under water, peace, justice and strong institutions if we’re to attain the 17 UN SDGs by 2030. We need collaboration and partnership for these goals. More than anything, society needs you to take action, however small.
No action, and no person, is too small to make a difference.
What it the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Keep going! If I’ve learned one thing more than anything else, it is that in order to be the change that you want to see in the world, you need determination and resilience!
Would you like to learn more from other inspiring social innovators?
Check out the Social Innovation Academy – the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. Subscribe to our newsletter, join our private LinkedIn group, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.
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