Start-up plays key coronavirus lockdown role despite funding blow
The founder of a start-up which lost £1.5m funding as a result of coronavirus says he remains resilient as the firm serves its two millionth free public health ad to its users.
Sam Jones left his job as Brand Manager of Red Bull to launch the tech start-up in 2018.
Inspired by the complexities of people’s online ‘fingerprint’, and who profits from the personal data collected, Gener8 was born – allowing users to tap in to the profit made my online advertisers.
His Gener8 browser extension – presented as a more ethical and personalised alternative to an outright ad blocker – allows its users to select the type of ads they want to see, tailoring them based on their interests.
Each ad seen creates a token for the user, which can be converted into currency and either donated to a charity or withdrawn.
Since the first day of the UK lockdown, Jones said the firm has displayed close to two million NHS and Stay At Home ads to its users for free.
And this despite losing out on over a million in funding as a direct result of the pandemic.
“We were in the final stages of closing £1.5m of funding from major institutional investors just as COVID-19 struck,” Jones told BusinessCloud.
“This was an unfortunate blow, but capitalism is a full-contact sport and there is never time to lick your wounds.”
Jones said the firm has had to move quickly and make tough decisions as a result of the pandemic, cutting costs, furloughing team members and exploring new revenue opportunities.
But he also wanted to do what he could to help ease the effect of the outbreak.
“We took some time for self-reflection and thought deeply about how we can help,” he said.
A three-point plan was devised: supporting the NHS and Public Health England by providing them with ad space free, supporting charities by encouraging fundraising through the platform, and releasing free data for businesses to help them better understand what users are doing differently online.
“We have also reached out to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ask whether there is anything we can do to support them,” he said.
The plans have already resulted in thousands being raised for charities including NHS Charities Together, Age UK and FareShare.
It has also served close to two million ads to its users on behalf of the NHS and Public Health England, reinforcing to its users messages like obeying lockdown orders and washing hands.
While this has been a tough time for Jones and Gener8, by his own admission, the entrepreneur said it was not all bad news.
On the lost funding, he said the firm has pushed forward and closed a more modest round from its existing investors and a VC firm, allowing them the opportunity for continued growth.
Its team, though dislocated, has transitioned well to remote work, thanks to its cloud-based infrastructure. And the data collected since coronavirus began will provide new insights for Gener8 and others.
Jones said Gener8 has analysed data across more than 31 million browsing sessions to identify changes in people’s behaviour, and will publish the findings for free.
As the world spends more time online shopping and streaming, he hopes that the data will allow businesses to learn and adapt to new online behaviours.