Why did you create Toucan?
Quite simply, I wanted to create a world where giving is second nature.
2017 was a pivotal year in the charities sector; according to a report by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), it was the first time that millennials became the largest generational giving group in the UK. Millennials wanted to give to more than one cause and 86% of them wanted to donate from their mobile. But this is where the problem lies: 52% of personal charitable donations in 2019 was through bucket collections on the street. In this digitalised world, where we can do almost anything through our phones, one of the most important parts of our society has been left behind. Cash is still king.
There's no digitalised solution that bridges the gap between the modern way we live our lives and the charities we want to help. That’s why Toucan is re-defining and digitalising charitable giving. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the urgency for a digital solution – as half of fundraising in the UK is carried out in person, 91% of charities were negatively affected by the pandemic, so it is imperative we create a new, highly accessible way to support them.
I want people to be able to give on their phone in the same way that they stream music, watch films, or do their banking. At the moment, it's hard to find charities and it's hard to donate. I want to make it easy and engage people to make giving fun, less committal and flexible. Toucan is the only company in the UK to have a library of actual available charities on an app, and to have simplified the search and giving process.
On a personal note, the reason why I built Toucan is because I love apps, tech and payments, but I also want fulfilment in my life. I’m looking to help other people and give something back to society. I started this journey through my own charity, Streets Ahead, and now Toucan is the fusion of these two passions: fintech and social good.
Why do you want to revolutionise the charitable giving space?
Every other industry and sector that involves a payment has gone through a fintech revolution. But for charitable giving, the donation process is still lagging.
I think one of the most important sectors of our society has been left behind in this digital revolution. Why do I want to revolutionise it? I've seen the benefit. Charities underpin our societies, and there are millions of people who rely on the good work that charities do, so if we can make it easier for people to fund these important institutions through fintech, then that can only be a good thing.
I've seen what companies like Revolut and Monzo have done in banking, where they've acquired vast sums of users. I have that dream with donors - if I can acquire vast sums of donors, particularly ones that don't currently donate that we can unlock with a good solution, that can only be a good thing for everyone.
How did the concept of Toucan begin?
I was in a supermarket one day and I was given a plastic token to choose one of three causes to support by inserting it into a Perspex box. I thought that it was a great concept to engage people with charities, but the execution could be digitalised and bring more value. So I went away and built a prototype, which would have been a physical tablet for customers to interact with, and presented it to a supermarket chain. However, when I showed it to my family and friends and they said they’d love to be able to donate like this all the time - by choosing a particular cause in their local area and seeing the real impact of their donation, so I decided to pivot to an app. The name Toucan comes from a play on the word ‘token’, as an homage to that moment of inspiration.
How has the idea evolved since then?
It has evolved every month. Initially, our solution was going to be a supermarket token drop, then it was on an iPad that we licenced out, then it became the app it is today.
One of the things that has changed significantly is that we're now cause focused. We realised that people want to stand for causes, rather than individual charities. The future of Toucan is going to be community-led giving. We want to give people the ability to create their own Impact Fund within the app, so they can share their own personal causes and charities to their followers and encourage them to donate too. We can then give them a detailed, visual report to show just how much they’ve raised, which they can also share on their social media to show how collectively, they’ve made a huge difference.
How did you recruit others on your mission?
When you start any business, you need people to take a leap of faith with you, because all you have is your idea. You need to make sure that your idea is emotive enough for people to join you when you have nothing. They really have to believe in you and what you are going to do. I tried to create an unshakable vision of making the world a better place and talked to people who may have felt unfulfilled in their current roles, and gave them an avenue to find that fulfilment with Toucan.
What hurdles have you overcome?
For me personally, the biggest hurdle has been juggling fatherhood and building Toucan from scratch. I was learning how to be a new dad and splitting childcare so my wife could run her own business too, all while I was fundraising and running a tech business. That really was mentally challenging.
There's a bit of a stereotype around being a tech founder. People assume you have financial freedom and a great lifestyle. It's literally the opposite: I chase slivers of time to be productive, every minute counts, and it’s stressful. We’re a fully remote business, and that can be really lonely – particularly as the leader. I can't pick up the phone and have a moan to anyone that I haven’t had a great day. I've got to be the leader that smashes it, that keeps my team motivated even when the going gets tough.
Collaboration is so much more powerful when you're face to face and when you're in an office together – it fosters a fast-working pace. In a remote environment, we're dealing with different time zones. Melody is in Canada, David is in Sweden, and every conversation we have has to be pre-arranged. Innovation is stifled in a remote business, so that's a real obstacle in a start-up. To get around this, we use Slack a lot to ping ideas to each other and be in constant communication. We arrange weekly meetings that we know is a shared space to be innovative. Keeping any team motivated can be hard, but I’ve known everyone that works in Toucan for a long time.
I know they will be with me in the trenches long-term, so I think making the right recruitment decisions and ensuring everyone understood the long road ahead of us has helped us all to bring our best selves to work every day.
How did you stay motivated during difficult times?
I never dwell. I never take what I feel on one day too seriously. Because overnight, after having a good night's sleep, I wake up in the morning and usually feel completely different. I never let myself spiral too much on the day and I never try to swing emotionally too much – I try to stay stable.
I think the honest answer to how I stayed motivated is the challenge. I see charitable giving as an almost immovable mountain that is going to be very difficult for us to redefine. But the bigger the mountain, the greater the challenge and the more up for it I am. That’s what keeps me going - leading a team to actually change something that seems very, very difficult to do. It’s a bit like boxing; I was never technically the best boxer, but when it got tough, I'd lean in. I know that's my greatest strength: when it's tough, I just lean into it.
What did you do before Toucan?
My first big career move was to set up a boxing club in my local town. I was 21, we had about 250 members and I ran that for two years.
I then moved to the City. I started off as a corporate cold caller and I would make about 150 cold calls a day to Finance Directors to ask if they have international payments. I worked my way up through the business, eventually running European Business Development, Partnerships and Inbound Trading. While I did well, I had this moment where I looked in the mirror and I realised what I was doing had no real social purpose, and I wanted to make a difference to the world.
I decided to set up a charity called Streets Ahead. As a society, we tend to celebrate disruption on an entrepreneurial level but when we see it in children in schools, we try to stamp it out as quickly as possible. I take the most disruptive kids in London schools and put them through a modular soft skill course because I believe with the right support, they could be the entrepreneurs of the future. This, combined with my professional background, has led me to Toucan.