Meet: Matt Kepple and Annabel Dickson, Founders of Makerble

Hannah Brice Written by
Hannah Brice
Technology can certainly make our lives easier but the impact it can make to help support charitable causes and the disadvantaged is remarkable. Matt Kepple and Annabel Dickson made this happen.

Meet Matt Kepple and Annabel Dickson

With Makerble, Matt and Annabel are helping businesses and charities understand their impact and do more. Here’s their story.

1. Why did you start Makerble and what were you doing before?

Annabel: This is really a question for Matt. We met back in 2008 when we co-founded with others, the Young Funding Network, and back then Matt had the seed of the idea and was already working on it.

Matt: When I was a kid my parents sponsored a child and really loved the feedback and letters they received. In my second year at uni I started to do the same. I sponsored a kid in Honduras and became really vested in his success. But then I ran out of cash and had to stop. It occurred to me that I could recruit friends to donate £1 each towards the monthly amount and we could crowdfund him and others. That idea took off but it was after uni that I realised that this crowdfunded child sponsorship model could be applied across the sector. That presented us with a number of challenges.

Not every charity is set up to provide that level of feedback on what donations achieve. So now Makerble works with charities to change that because we know from experience, and the research now shows, that once charities communicate their impact, the donations start to flow in.

2. What were the biggest sources of inspiration and support when you were starting out?

Annabel: For me it was family and friends who would be really supportive; and over time it became customers who’d inspire me. Just today a new member of staff at a charity said “I can see how this will be really useful’ and my heart smiled such a deep smile; it’s knowing that what we do is useful for them.

Matt: Support came in the form of 1. A start up Loan for £10k. This was a helpful government initiative at the time. A bit similar to a student loan. 2. Inspiration in the form of the Nexters Programme which existed at the time, which was an initiative to bring social entrepreneurs using technology to solve social issues. We met other founders through that which made the notion of starting out feel more normal.

3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting the business?

Annabel: So many! Don’t wait for investors to fund you. There are some incredible investors out there who are wonderfully supportive, but many of the best we’ve met will be inspired if you’re going for it regardless of whether or not they invest, not dependant on whether they do. At the start we didn’t realise this and we hoped that investment would solve all our financial needs. That meant that we weren’t focusing on the business KPIs that would teach us about how we could develop revenue other ways.

Matt: Anticipate that things will take longer than you expect them to and therefore be cautious with your initial spending. For example at the start we hired a developer whom we expected to build our product in three months so we also hired three customer acquisition people doing marketing, business partnerships and charity relations. But these first two roles proved to be very premature because the product took longer to build than three months and so those two people were unable to make significant progress in their roles beyond planning. And actually the funds spent on those roles could have been invested into the product to accelerate the build time e.g. by hiring another developer.

4. What has been your proudest moment/biggest achievement so far?

Annabel: I used to battle trauma related anxiety and depression. I’m now so much healthier. But for me the proudest moment was a small meet we had with a charity where I showed them how to use Makerble a few years back. Up until then I hadn’t had the confidence to chair a meet. I used to hide behind emails. It was simple, small and nowhere near as enormous a moment for Makerble as Matt’s answer, but huge.

Matt: Winning our first Foundation client, Local Trust. They are investing £150 million over ten years in deprived areas across England and have started to use Makerble to help those local areas track their impact and gain insight into how effective their work is.

5. What advice would you give to anyone starting out?

Annabel: Just do it. Get started, ask for advice from those around you. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do and it will cost you more than you know but it’s a fascinating process.

Matt: Build an advisory board because you don’t know what you don’t know.

6. What piece of investment did you make in the business that was worth every penny?

Annabel: Is it cheeky to say ourselves? Our core team of three (us two and our senior developer Anand). I think, when you’ve been at this for a while, and have sacrificed so much, it’s important to make space to look after your basic needs; we’ve so often taken the hit in order to invest in others. But those around us have instructed us to value ourselves too so now we do; and it’s been so worth it. It allows us to focus in.

Matt: Having an in-house developer rather than using freelancers and agencies has been transformative. Freelance developers don’t necessarily have a long term view, they are there to do their job and then move on. Agencies have higher overheads and it’s harder to hold them to account for progress towards deadlines compared with in-house staff. In-house staff are committed and have an ever increasing understanding of what you are trying to achieve. They care about the success of the business and are therefore far more willing to go the extra mile than hired help.

7. Which element of marketing has made the most impact on your business?

Matt: Strategic partnerships have been the most successful channel for us because in the charity sector where budgets are tight, reputation is everything. Charities only want to invest in suppliers they trust and who come recommended. Therefore by working with foundations, event producers and impact consultants who already have good relationships with charities, we have been able to leapfrog the lengthier trust building process that we undergo when finding customers through more traditional channels such as lead generation by sales teams. That being said we are ramping up our investment in content marketing and are already seeing the fruits of this in terms of inbound leads being generated.

8. What does 2018 look like for you?

Both: Consolidating our UK customer base and beginning to expand into America. We have an office in India where our developers are based but over the next twelve months we will grow our product team in the UK. This is contingent on us increasing our investment in customer acquisition month-on-month. However, we are already seeing the dividends in terms of leads generated through the increased investment we have made in the last couple of months, so we’re excited for what comes next.

Makerble is an impact platform, marketplace and social network rolled into one – for charities, funders, businesses and everyone. Definitely worth a look.