Image Credits: BOOMPower Pty Ltd
Why and how did you become a ‘Conscious’ business?
BOOMPower became a conscious software business because we believe the quickest route to solving the two biggest social and environmental issues of our time (poverty and climate change) is to use business models for good. Our clients use our software to assess, buy, and monitor energy solutions such as rooftop solar, batteries and energy efficiency, and we use profits to support specific initiatives, which seek to address climate and poverty challenges.
How do you define ‘Conscious’ in your business?
To us, being conscious means demonstrating that business can and should be a force for good. In other words, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism, or a profit motive, we simply need to harness that motive in a new way. For us, increasing profit means increasing positive impact – be that accelerating the uptake of clean energy solutions through software-as-a-service, or increasing the flow of resources to tackle poverty and climate change.
Tell us how you bring alive some of the Conscious Capitalism tenets in your business.
We like to use profit-sharing in new and creative ways. For example, we supported and co-designed a live crowdfunding event with the Give Where You Live Foundation, where our $13,000 donation match-funded donations on the night, and additional philanthropic support to create a fund of over $70,000 for three social enterprises.
What is your business purpose? And how do you instill this purpose through the business, internally and externally?
Our business purpose is using software to make solar and energy efficiency solutions quick and easy for clients, and more broadly to accelerate the global transition to clean energy. Our company’s mission provides focus to the work we do (on our platform), and the discipline to focus on our clients. In other words, if we aren’t making clean energy solutions easier for our clients, we won’t do it.
What challenges have you experienced as a conscious business that a straight capitalist business might not?
Since establishing BOOMPower’s precursor (Energy for the People (EFTP) – a consulting business which has been replaced and automated by the BOOM! software), we’ve found that having a “social purpose” beyond our company’s core business means we are sometimes perceived as being “anti-capitalist” in some way.
Also, the challenge of sharing a proportion of our profits has led to some interesting conversations with potential investors! It’s a good way to find values-aligned people and organisations – or at least avoid those who aren’t aligned…
Because our sole purpose as a business is not also our social mission, we are not able to certify as a “social enterprise” either, so we have often been stuck between two realities. The birth of “B Corps” in Australia has allowed us to overcome some of these challenges – BOOMPower has now finalised its application to become a certified B Corp (EFTP was for many years), and we’re very much looking forward to rejoining the community!
Do you ever experience a “mission-market tension”? How do you navigate this? And what advice do you have for others facing the same?
Committing to invest a significant proportion of our profit in social causes does mean less financial resources available to build the core software business. However, we believe in the long run, this is a false compromise. In other words, we believe companies that give back to the communities they work in will be more successful, longer lasting and achieve more sustainable profit than those that simply aim to increase their bottom line.
Giving back also makes us feel good as individuals, helping to maintain our motivation and focus on the work we do.
Do tensions or trade-offs between different stakeholders ever come up? How do you deal with or balance them? Any words of advice for others facing the same tensions?
To be honest, the tensions and trade-offs to date have often been in our own heads! As we navigate the process of seeking equity partners and investors, in particular, we’re conscious that our profit-sharing mechanism could conceivably impact the level of investment we can raise, and the perceived value of the company (by reducing the future dividends available). However, it also provides a level of discipline during these types of discussions, as it naturally means potential investors self-select, to an extent.
When it comes to clients, it’s never really been an issue, as we focus on providing a best-in-class service, rather than trying to get customers based on our social impact. For our clients, social impact is great – but without a top class service, our clients would go and work with others anyway, because they need to do their day jobs! Perhaps that’s a word of advice for others…
If you were starting business all over again from the beginning would you do anything different? Tell us more – what and why.
Think seriously about the personal risks involved when starting a new business.
There is a tension between “keeping your day job” while you work on the side hustle, and just taking the plunge. In retrospect, we may have taken the plunge too early, and have had to built BOOMPower the hard way – funding a significant portion of software development out of organic revenue, and even artificially low wages in the early stages. However, we also did this out of necessity, due to risk aversion in the Australian start-up ecosystem – we have lost count of the number of times investors said “build the software, show it is profitable, and then we might invest”.
Getting that balance right, or securing early external investment could mean the difference between success and failure.
How do you maintain an ethical and socially responsible supply chain?
BOOMPower actively manages a pre-qualified panel of solar, battery and energy efficiency suppliers, who have all met strict quality standards. This includes analysis of the companies’ financial positions, references from former clients, experience and capability, and ratings from our clients. Our process for pre-qualifying suppliers has been created in partnership with our probity advisors and global procurement experts, ArcBlue.
In terms of ethics and social responsibility, we always recommend social and local procurement evaluation criteria within all procurement processes run via the BOOM! five-stage process (BOOM! Stage Four – Competitive Procurement) and actively work to ensure social enterprises and certified indigenous organisations are able to compete and win work on a regular basis. For example, Bunjil Energy has been a great example of a supply-chain partner who we’re happy to say has successfully won millions of dollars of projects via the BOOM! platform.
How do you bring the purpose through your culture? What makes it stick?
To date, we’ve tested out staff, partners and even Directors through collaboration and working together before they become part of the BOOM! team. We don’t ask them to do volunteer work, but we do look for them to be proactive about finding opportunities to work together, and demonstrate their passion for what we do, both on a day-to-day basis and the social impact which is separate to the day-to-day.
We’ve found this approach works really well, as it helps us identify who is going to add value, who is truly engaged in what we’re aiming to achieve for our clients (selecting, buying and verifying solar, batteries and energy efficiency quickly and easily) and who fits into the culture. We’re a virtual team, too, so being self-sufficient and self-motivated is a must. We find out who is capable of working this way very quickly! It’s not for everyone, and it’s best if we all find that out quickly.
When is it most difficult to maintain your purpose? And how have you navigated that?
Our business purpose is to help our clients to select, buy, monitor and verify solar, batteries and energy efficiency quickly and easily. Our whole business, and the BOOM! software is built around this aim.
It’s always more difficult to maintain our social purpose, particularly when we’re busy on our core business. Ensuring we create social impact effectively means working with and through partners who have clear impact and aligned aims and objectives themselves. We think we’ve gotten this balance with the Community Housing Industry Association and Give Where You Live Foundation, but we’re also open to any new opportunities to help people at risk of being left behind.
What are you working on or most proud of?
We’re most proud of the work we do with traditionally “hard to reach” markets, where the high cost of consulting, lack of time and available resources has often been a barrier to selecting, buying, monitoring and verifying solar, batteries and energy efficiency.
For example, our work in the social housing space, where we work with several of the largest housing associations in the country (nearing 30,000 buildings between them) has directly supported these conscious organisations to help hundreds of their tenants by installing solar and air conditioning, as well as batteries where it’s viable, and now monitoring and verifying the outcomes. We are in the early stages of replicating that success with similar markets (childcare and early providers and NFPs nationwide) which is an exciting phase for us.
Of course, we’re proud of the work we do with all our clients – whether they be multinational companies, national food and drinks manufacturers or small and medium sized businesses, but helping the most vulnerable in our society tops them all!
How do you measure how conscious you are? Or how do you measure the impact of being a conscious business?
From a business perspective, we are increasingly able to benchmark and analyse the impact we make through our customers, by using the BOOM! platform’s “Stage Five (Verification)” capabilities. Anonymously, we calculate and communicate the impact of the solar, batteries and energy efficiency installed by our clients using the BOOM! platform’s quick and easy five stage process. Given we focus on “clean energy”, this is a conscious decision to leverage our platform for the purpose of promoting solar and the rest as the best solution, now and in the future.
We’ll be communicating and using the verification capabilities far more in future, helping our clients benchmark and measure the energy solutions they implement across their own properties and portfolios against others, and comparing buildings within their own portfolio.
In terms of our social impact, we ask those we donate through to provide feedback on the impact we’re having. For example, the Give Where You Live Foundation will be providing detailed information on the impact of our $13,000 donation to three social enterprises in Geelong in late June 2019 (through a live crowd-funding event – great fun!).
What has been most helpful for moving the conscious dial in your business?
Working with organisations whose values align with ours – they keep us honest and on track in terms of our conscious impacts (either direct or indirect).
Is there a business that has been your role model?
For me, the likes of the locally-owned Intrepid Travel – the amazing Geoff Manchester in particular, who was really generous with his time during the early years of BOOMPower (or “Energy for the People” as it was back then). They have used what they do as a travel company to consciously make a difference to local communities wherever they work, and by supporting women in particular. I’d love to think we’ll be as successful and conscious as Intrepid in the future.
What is your future focus as a conscious business? What goals have you set for your business for the coming short term and long term? And how are you planning to get there?
Our short-term goal is to continue growing the company’s national footprint, helping clients select, buy, monitor and verify (and then go back to selecting again) solar, batteries and energy efficiency products and solutions quickly and easily – so they can focus on their day jobs! By continuing to do this, we think we can accelerate the uptake of clean energy, help tackle climate change and support our clients (a true win-win-win!).
In the long-term, we’d love to use our profit-sharing mechanism to create direct impact, and highlight issues we care about – such as microfinance for indigenous or social enterprises to create or increase their own impacts.
What are your hopes for the future of business? And what is your call to action to other businesses?
We need to find and expand business models and solutions which create value for companies and society as a whole. Only by finding ways to use the system we all work and live within can we quickly make this world a more equitable, safe and healthy place. Businesses should be leaders in this space – we owe it to our clients, our families and our communities.