Co-founder of Zinc
We feature Zinc, the London-based company builder backed by Localglobe & VC veteran Saul Klein. We speak to Co-founder Ella Goldner as well as to member's of Zinc's first cohort to learn how Zinc aims to solve some of the developed world's biggest social problems.,
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[00:23] Maiko: While many of you are enjoying your summer break, I got a very special summer episode for you on Impact Hustlers. This episode is a special one because it features company builders, Zinc, in London and many of its entrepreneurs that have built solutions to some of the biggest women's emotional and mental health problems. Zinc is an ambitious incubator, inspired by the concept of Entrepreneur First, that started in 2017, and has been backed by a local globe and receive veterans’ sole clients. It is run by former 10 Downing Street policy head Paul Kirby and entrepreneur and former media executive, Ella Goldener. When I first met Ella for this podcast, I asked her why Zinc was focusing on solving problems related to women's emotional and mental health in the first program that started in 2017.
[01:12] Ella: We're looking at the scale of impact. So, we're looking for areas where we can impact at least 100 million people, in the developed world. So, this is one kind of element. The other one is where there's huge unmet demand or needs. And the third one is where innovation and technology can make a difference. So, by kind of, I guess, looking at the world from that lens, you can see a few big problems that you can solve, too many one would say, but probably lots of things you could do. So, that was kind of the starting point. The second thing was that this was our first mission, so when we sat and thought, okay, how are we going to spend the next kind of year and how we're going to spend our time, we thought we'd rather start with something that we feel passionate about, emotionally, as you know, from a personal perspective, and knowing that after that, at some point it becomes, Zinc will be that thing. But before Zinc exists, you need something that kind of gets you going, and you feel really motivated about.
[02:06] Ella: So, that was another element, and both Paul and I felt that these areas specifically, was something that we passionately believed, needed, kind of addressing, and we had our own kind of personal reasons why we're attracted to that. So, that's kind of the second thing. And then I guess the third thing is just the overall awareness, and you know, the narrative, so mental health has been really, you know, in media, everyone's talking about it, the awareness level of the issues was very high. And so that makes it a bit easier for you to, A, attract talent, because people are interested, you know, they're talking about it. But also, there was the sense that everyone is talking about the problem, but no one is talking about it as solutions. So, it was again, it was kind of, riding the wave of people kind of, public talking about the problems, and riding that wave into then serve the opportunity to solve those big problems. So, I guess those were the different reasons why we chose this for our first mission,
[03:00] Maiko: Do you see yourself also as part of a movement to really show that there can be companies build around impact that are profitable, and that can grow and be sustainable, economically, as well?
[03:12] Ella: Definitely. I mean, I think, and again, I think the fact that, for example, even though it was the first time we did it, we put a call to arms, asking people to apply, and we got 800 applications, within a couple of weeks. And I think that is a testament from a time perspective, that there aren't enough solutions that are addressing real big issues in a commercial way. So, that's kind of from a talent perspective, I think people want to do more, they want to dedicate their lives and their time to doing something that is meaningful, that is good. And they also want to make it in a way that is profitable, that is going to give them the ability to have economic kind of, upside to it. So, and not be apologetic about it, so that's one side of it. And then from an investment perspective, I think again, you see more and more investors, moving away from that really black and white way of seeing the world, not enough, one would say, and I guess we are in the beginning of creating that more of a narrative and a movement.
[04:07] Ella: But I think you know, if you think about it, the way to build a brand, the way to attract talent is by I think building companies that solve real issues. And you know, and the only way to gain impact is to think about it in a commercial way, which provides scale and impact. So, I think it's not an either-or thing and we're trying to change the paradigm, and bring, closely together people in the network and in the ecosystem that share that vision, whether it's talent or whether it's investors, or even partners. And I think we've found a lot of people who share that view but as you say, it's not necessarily the mainstream view. But that will be the case in a few years’ time after we've had enough success, hopefully.
[04:48] Maiko: Very good. And you've modeled yourself a bit after Entrepreneur First, like really, on purpose, looking at, not recruiting the ready-made teams, basically investing in them, but really recruiting exceptional talent from across the world, basically not only the UK. So, why is that the approach that you took? And why do you think that can maximize Zinc's impact?
[05:12] Ella: It goes to, I guess, to the point we were discussing before, and you don't, I don't think there are enough companies that are looking at issues from both kind of, social impact or mission kind of lead approach and a commercial mindset. So, I don't think you can find a lot of companies that are doing that and so we thought we might as well create them, that was one thing. The other thing is we've been working, part of our I guess, model is to work very closely with social sciences with academic partners and bring them very early on into the mix, so people can create businesses that are grounded in research in theory of change. And again, I think many times you see businesses that are trying very maybe naively, solve issues through you know, some personal experiences or hypotheses, but they're not really grounded in any research and haven't been tested. And so, it was important for us to be able to create these things by design.
[06:10] Ella: So, if you take kind of the different components of social sciences of commercial thinking of impact, I don't think you have the wealth of, you know, companies that are out there that you can really accelerate. So, we thought we just might as well create them. And yeah, EF is a great model, I think what they're doing is amazing. We've been hugely inspired by what they do. So, we thought, okay, if it if there is a model that works, why not use it.
[06:34] Maiko: There is this quote, I think, "if you want to change the world, the best way is to be a founder, the second-best way is to invest in founders and companies", what is the world in 10 years that you're trying to help create with what you're doing at Zinc?
[06:46] Ella: I think there are a couple of parts to it. So, the first one is, I'd love to see some of those kinds of biggest consumer and B2B brands, one of which will be coming out of Zinc. So, the idea that we're going to create a brand, that is so big and so impactful, that it touches, you know, hundreds of millions of people. So, for me that if that came out of Zinc, that would be great and huge success. The other thing will be that if anyone feels that, you know, there is something they want to be going after, and they want to sole, there is a destination for them, it could be as it could be that will create, you know, on the back of that there'll be others who will do the same, so that's fine. It's just the idea that, people will feel empowered and enabled to create solutions to solve big issues. I guess that would be the second and thirdly, is just create more of, and I know it's an overused word, ecosystem, but create those networks of different parts of the, you know, of the solution, I guess, that are coming together, because you can see a lot of fragmented parts that are trying to solve so pockets of innovation, pockets of talent, pockets of investment.
[07:54] Ella: And in a way, hopefully, within 10 years’ time, they will all be kind of directed together, moving together to solve those big issues. So, I think the more we can collaborate, the more we can bring in. Again, in our little way, we're trying to bring social sciences and commercial investors and impact investors and entrepreneurs and so how do you bring them all to the mix, so hopefully, in 10 years’ time, that will be more of the just the best practice and how people operate.
[08:19] Maiko: I think across your founding team with solely, Paul and yourself, you have like years and years of experience with working with startups, and, of course, have seen a lot of patterns and what makes startups succeed and fail. What kind of patterns, are you seeing any substantial difference with impact driven startups and the startup that you have at Zinc, in terms of compared to let's say, non-impact driven startups? Do you see a substantial difference of the struggles that they're faced with in the early days or anything that stands out that you think that need special support with? Or do you think they're quite similar to any other stuff?
[09:01] Ella: It's an interesting question, and one, I would say, it's the same, because it's really about people's needs and consumer needs. So, you know, it's just different types of needs that we're trying to address, on one hand. And you know, and you want to think about it in a commercial way, in a kind of a venture scale way, so that will be partly, one side of it. The other side, I guess, is that a lot of the people on their program have come here, because either they know someone who had gone through, a kind of mental health experience themselves, maybe it's a time. So, in a way, I think that people on the program have a much more kind of vested interest in what we do, it comes from a very deep motivation, internal kind of passion, which is good and bad. It's good because it gets them going and they're extremely passionate and you can see that they believe in what they do. On the other hand, it's a rougher journey, it's very emotional, they're trying to solve for something you know, of someone who might not be around anymore. So, I think on that, on that side, we are still quite conscious about trying to support and provide some coaching and other services just to get through that part.
[10:03] Ella: I think that's one thing. But overall, I think in terms of the pattern, it's really just people are, highly motivated. So, maybe more motivated than your average entrepreneur, just because it's driven by something that is a bit more emotional. So, I would say maybe that's kind of a different pattern. But it's also early days, so we will see.
[10:21] Maiko: After talking to Ella, I had a chat with some of the founders in Zinc's first cohort. Here's Madeline Evans, founder of Level, a well-being platform for the workplace, she explains how she found out about Zinc and why she joined the program.
[10:36] Madeline: Zinc, I think, actually hits a real sweet spot for me, and it came at the right time in my professional career. So, I've always been, I would say, impact and community oriented. I grew up in a family of a teacher and head of facilities at the university. And that, you know, that's kind of been my focus. I mean, I went the professional route, I started my career in private equity and then I was leading in B2B, Product and Business Development at an online media company. But I had always felt like I had an entrepreneurial urge and wanted to be creative, but in a way that was going to, you know, have impact me commercially as well. When I saw Zinc advertising, I think it was actually on Twitter, about okay, you know, this is it. Actually, we need more of these programs in the world that help people bridge the gap, from where they are in their professional career to launching mission focused businesses, immediately applied.
[11:27] Maiko: Next up, Julian Wale, Fiona Veloce and Melina Perianez, founders of Safety Focus, Navigational App, Amble, explain why they joined Zinc.
[11:38] Julian: On my own, I think it stayed more from a personal experience, also with my mom and like getting through all the suffering that was happening, and also had the opportunity just after my MBA and having done engineering to say, okay, well, actually, I want to start something, and really didn't came as a perfect time for me because of the mission and also because of the structure of the program. And I don't regret it, I think some best kind of, like experience and journey, I've ever been in, just to try to build something, understanding how actually, as a person, you can build something is just fantastic.
[12:07] Fiona: I think for me, it's always been something that's really been close to my heart, I've suffered with my own kind of mental health problems and I really wanted to take part in a program that was using social science, which I have experienced in, to tackle kind of, mental and emotional problems. I studied psychology as well, so it seemed to make sense and I had always wanted my own business. So, I thought why not?
[12:31] Melina: Just to be, kind of, I guess, obviously, the stereotype, I'm a pretty big feminist. And so, you know, half the world's population are women, we know that women are doing things like 70, 80% of consuming, and yet companies and solutions aren't built developed for women. And I've always wanted to do that and when I saw the mission, it made sense, we didn't have to fight for space, we didn't have to defend the fact that we wanted to help women, it was there in the mission, it was kind of this perfect opportunity to kind of, delete and, and look at, kind of what a company is and what a solutions look like when you change the kind of, the user and that we you know, we think that everyone's equal, but we don't all have the same needs and preferences. And this was an opportunity to really think about that diversity.
[13:09] Maiko: And, this is Billie Quinlan, the co-founder of Like Hers, a startup focused on women's sexual health and pleasure, explains why Zinc's mission matters to her personally.
[13:20] Billie: So, I was in a very corporate job and feeling very unfulfilled and started a career change and thinking about how could I do more purposeful and impactful work? So, I started trying to be a health coach and I had a lot of gut issues with myself and was like, okay, let me start here, let me try to understand my own health and then see what that leads me. And then I moved position to my job and started working in learning and development, and which is all about growing people and getting to the heart of what they want and helping them move forward. And I really realized I loved working with women, I really enjoyed unlocking their potential and helping them move forward and progress and seeing how much they could achieve and really believing in themselves. So, I decided I wanted to kind of continue with my health coaching business and launch it specifically for women and help them transform their physical and emotional health.
[14:12] Billie: And then I went on this incredible trip with a charity called 109 World and it was all about women empowerment and sexual violence in the Congo. And it was a just a short trip to learn about, the issues facing in the Congo, but then also the issues closer to home. And there are 35 women on that trip and 80% the women there have experience sexual violence, and they were from the US, from the UK, from the Nordics. And I left that just kind of, overwhelmed with how dire the situation is and what women are experiencing and exposed to. And I'm just really frustrated and angry with this and I really wanted to say, how can I have a bigger impact? Health coaching is great, but it's kind of like one to one, how can I really explore this and have a more impact, on more women to help them unlock their potential and empower them. And that's when I stumbled across Zinc and I saw the job description, I saw what they were trying to do. The mission was all focused-on women obviously and I just thought this is a perfect opportunity to get the mentorship and to meet likeminded people that would help me on the journey I'd already started on my own.
[15:13] Maiko: All the founders you just heard from went through an intensive six-month program, starting by not even knowing each other, and then exploring some of the biggest problems related to women's mental health. Finally, towards the end of the program, they started to create actual teams and actual startups. Madeline, the founder of Level, who you just heard from explains the problem Level is trying to solve.
[15:38] Madeline: You've really seen in the past, couple of years, the rising epidemic of workplace stress. 60% of UK workers report being stressed out by work, that's actually 64% of women, so a little bit more. Women who are aged 25 to 34 are twice as likely to suffer from burnout now than in 1990. And 50% of millennials, say that they're thinking about leaving their job because they're feeling burnt out from work. Our mission is to eliminate burnout, by empowering women and the men who will join us with the skills to be the leaders of today and the future and to create a more positive vision for work. The concept that we're working on is quite simple. So, we're looking at positive marketing, something that's actually scalable and has both B2C and B2B to see opportunities. We're creating what I'd like to call, kind of the head space, for personal development. For example, bite sized content, practical exercises, targeting those life skills, emotional, practical, into personal, that we all just really need right now.
[16:42] Maiko: Fiona from Amble explains why the world needs yet another mapping app for smartphones.
[16:47] Fiona: Well, there's millions of maps on the App store, but most of them have been built by men. And actually, they assume that I want to get somewhere the quickest and they don't actually take into account my comfort. So, we, kind of thought to ourselves, how crazy is it that you can have custom based anything else, but there aren't maps. And actually, one of the biggest kind of things that we were finding with our users was that people are afraid, people are constantly mitigating risk and changing their routes and doing it very subconsciously. And myself and my co-founder Melina and, we're both kind of chatting about how we do it all the time, I take a different route home than I do than when I leave the flat in the morning, because I don't want to walk past certain places at night. And it's really frustrating when I go to new places that I'm constantly on edge. So, actually, why doesn't my map already tell me how I can feel more comfortable whenever I'm going to my own home or going to somewhere that I'm not familiar with?
[17:37] Maiko: Julian elaborates on what Amble's current focus is, that will make the app successful in the long run.
[17:43] Julian: I think right now is about building the best product ever. And so, I think there's a strong focus about, of course, understanding the users and spending a lot of time with users, but also technically building it and making the best out there because that's the only way we can actually bring that strong added value to the users. So, for me, at least like all about that product, and how to make it the best possible. And in part, I mean, there was saying, actually, how do we actually make a business out of that.
[18:10] Maiko: And Amble has big goals, Melina explains the company's 10-year plan.
[18:15] Melina: Well, we joke about buying Citymapper, that's our 10-year goal. But I think like fundamentally, like women are our first mission and it's a clear target market. And we really relate, and we feel that kind of as co-founders why it's necessary. But we're looking at all different groups, so in 10 years’ time, we're going to be mapping spaces for people living with disabilities. we want to look at the elderly and children. And so, we're really talking about mobility and movement for everyone. And I think that's why overall, our vision is about changing the way people feel and move. Because it's about cities, it's about reclaiming cities and kind of reconnecting communities back to public spaces.
[18:50] Maiko: Let's hear again from Billie, who together with her team is working on like an app that allows women to discover their sexual pleasure, she explains why there is a need for sexual experiences that are focused on women's needs.
[19:03] Billie: My co-founders and I came together in October and we bonded over female sexuality and female pleasure, and how we all believe it's like a fundamental core to who we are. And yet we're never told about the enjoyable side of it. So, sex education stops the consent, if it even gets that far, it's not even mandatory in the UK until 2019. And no one says to you know, that sex should be enjoyable. And that sex starts with yourself, it starts with understanding your body, it starts with masturbation, and it starts with like unlocking your own desires and really learning what brings you pleasure. And that's crazy. You know, we were sat around a table like, how is this the situation? And then we kind of said, okay, well, the women that are learning about their bodies, and the women that are exploring their sexuality and kind of and masturbating and where they're going, what's arousing them, what's getting them stimulated, and encouraging them to do that.
[19:55] Billie: And actually, it's porn. But it's porn, that's for men. So, we have seen a 2.7% increase globally of female users on the porn hub alone, but porn wasn't designed for women. It is very, you know, it's very male-centric. And we believe, it’s time that we cater for the 51% out there, the women because we know that more women than ever are exploring their sexuality, and they deserve something that's tailored to them that really allows them to lean into their imagination, explore it shame free, and become sexually empowered.
[20:29] Maiko: What do you describe, like as porn or does it go beyond that?
[20:33] Billie: We see our platform, yes, it's porn. But we also see it as being a place where you can educate, and we can educate women sensibly and correctly in a way that porn doesn't. Porn is artificial entertainment, it was never meant to be educated, yet more people than ever going there for education, because, their questions are being answered. And so we were originally kind of positioning it as education through fear of how people will perceive porn. And that's what we're trying to do, and it was actually a female VC that said to us, position this is porn, it is porn, it's exciting, you're smashing through to do, and people are looking for porn, they want this. And actually, you're not going to be chalk and cheese, you're not going to resonate with everyone. Some people would be horrified by the concept of what you're trying to achieve. But the women that gets it, and the men that get it, will love it and will buy into it. We have to be smart about who we talk to, because there is no point in trying to speak to everyone, this isn't something that crosses everyone that where they will, they will love it. It's like Marmite, you love it, or you hate it. So, we are going after people that, get it and share our vision and our passion for sexual well-being.
[21:39] Maiko: When it was really about, Like Hers' long-term goal, she revealed ambitious plans.
[21:44] Billie: Ultimately, what we want to create is better sex for everyone, and a better understanding of your body. And a couple of our early users, to the test, our first prototype, have used the prototype in ways that we weren't even expecting. So, one of our early adopters was listening to the audio erotica, listening to this person as well, erotica, in a car on the way with her hubby. And she was giggling, and he was like, what are you giggling at? She said, I'm listening to this, this prototype. So okay, put it on the radio, let's hear it together. And she was initially hesitant and thought, okay, let well, let's do this. And he got so aroused that he was like, I can't focus on driving, turn it off. They later use the prototype during sex. And she rang us that this is the best sex I've ever had. It was amazing, not being distracted by a visual, not being distracted by a video, but just being able to be immersed in the audio experience and let that like take our imagination away. So, we've had a really positive response, yeah.
[22:38] Maiko: If you got inspired and would like to find out more about Zinc, check out their website on zinc.vc, that's zinc.vc. They're currently recruiting for a second cohort, which will be focused on unlocking new opportunities for people and places that are hard hit by globalization and automation, and very relevant topic. Here again, from Ella Goldner, the co-founder of Zinc, talking about what exactly they're looking for, in people that are interested in joining the next cohort.
[23:10] Ella: I guess, above all, is this kind of drive and passion. So, you know, and it's not just I guess, for us, it's any entrepreneur, you want them to really believe in what they're doing and want to do something that is meaningful, and they want to dedicate the next few years of their life. But for us specifically, will be around, you know, the missions that we're kind of promoting. Second thing is kind of buying into our vision that you want to gain that impact, you want to work in a commercial setup, you want to believe in the model that it's okay to think about charging people for those services, to help them whether it's mental health or you know, education or loneliness, whatever is coming. Then the other thing is that we're looking for people who are quiet, we call them spiky. So, as opposed to any kind of general management type of role where you are going, you need to be really well rounded and 360 actually, we look for people who are really good at one thing, either, they're really like great tech people, or they are product people, or you know, they do sales extremely well.
[24:07] Ella: So, that's kind of another point that I think, which is quite unique is we believe in the multidisciplinary approach. So, we are trying to create these very unconventional combinations. Sometimes, in some of our teams, you look at them, and you think they would never, ever get along. But for some reason, it works like magic, they all buy into the values, into the mission, they all believe in what they're trying to achieve and then suddenly, it all comes together. So, I think, it's kind of having that very specific, unique set of skills that you have that you want to bring to the table and use that, and have a point of view, that's really important. So, it's not just that you buy into it and you want to change the world, but you have a strong point of view about how to do that
[24:45] Maiko: You can apply directly on the website. Just as a reminder, that was zinc.vc. That's it for today's episode of Impact Hustlers, we'll be back in a few weeks with our next season and we'll be launching new episodes much more regularly. So, stay tuned to learn more about entrepreneurs that are solving the world's biggest problems. Thanks very much.