Back to New at McKinsey Blog

Four lessons in business-building from our work with Tech for Good innovators

Amine Aït-Si-Selmi

Focuses on digital innovation and is a strategic advisor to banking, fintech, and Tech for Good organizations on scalability and growth.

Hamza Khan

Coleads the Marketing & Sales Practice in the UK and Ireland; leads digital and growth transformations in both B2C and B2B environments.

Giuseppe Sofo

Focuses on value proposition for fintech startups in UK and Europe. Supports founders and tech businesses to grow and reach financial sustainability.

The Tech for Good movement is all about applying technology to areas like job security, health, education, safety, and elsewhere to improve lives and livelihoods. Nesta, one of the UK’s leading innovation foundations for social good, launched their Rapid Recovery Challenge in September 2020 to identify and support organizations that promise to improve access to jobs and financial stability for people living in the UK, focusing particularly on those impacted by the economic shock delivered by COVID-19.

For the last two months, we have supported Rapid Recovery Challenge semi-finalists pro bono by helping them refine their value propositions, plan their customer distribution, and review their business models.

To them, success means social impact.

Sustainable scalability and ‘reach’ were at the core of these conversations; the more support to vulnerable users, the higher the potential for impact on people’s livelihoods and career development. When we asked them, ‘What does success mean for you?’ many said their core focus was to reach and help as many people as possible with their solution. To them, success means social impact.

What consistently stood out from our workshops with social entrepreneurs was the passion of the founders and their teams. They are driven by missions bigger than themselves and dedicate their entire energy to support the most vulnerable. This energy and willingness to serve others is contagious.

As we await the announcement of the challenge’s finalists next month, we wanted to share what we’ve learned through these conversations in hopes of helping other Tech for Good innovators scale their solutions and bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people possible.

Know your customers; understand their needs and where their attention is.

Your customer base is often not a single, homogenous group. The wider the group you aim to serve, the harder the path, but you don’t need to serve everyone at the same time. To improve effectiveness, organizations can focus on specific customers, reverse engineer their specific needs, and map where their attention is. This simple exercise refocuses the effort of the organization into what really matters for their target users. For instance, a semi-finalist was targeting a very wide group of users, some of whom were more tech-savvy than others. As such, they decided to explore non-digital channels, too, in order to adapt and optimize their outreach impact.

Do less to do more, especially where it matters.

Understanding where to best direct your limited resources is a difficult art to master. This is especially the case when you are in an early stage of your organization’s maturity, when resources are limited and a clear product or solution has not yet emerged. Many of the semi-finalists (and a lot of companies) have a number of great ideas they could potentially test in unlimited directions. But given the limits of time and resources available, what is often required is bold focus on fewer options, establishing a roadmap, executing step by step, and adapting the plan if needed. Yes, you can do anything—but not everything at the same time.

When partnering with other organizations, be a value-provider for them—and their network.

When scaling a Tech for Good organization, take the time to identify potential partners who share your mission and values. Think about how you can help themwhether it’s developing a product, an initiative for their employees, or a joint campaign that will publicly demonstrate how they live the values you both share. If you find how to contribute to their journey, you may find inroads to a relationship. And when you do, don’t be afraid to ask for their help finding more partners among their suppliers, distributors, retailers, media agencies, or other organizations they know who might be interested in working with you

Your users’ voices are a living proof of the value of your solution.

Stories from satisfied users are rewarding for you and your team; they’re also a useful metric of success. As you see your product fulfilling its mission, you can use feedback from your customers both to understand the impact you create and as testimonials demonstrate the power of your solution. The individual stories of your team members are likely to become the shared story of the organization. Learn how to read them, identify your unique strengths, and communicate them loudly. These tangible, impact-oriented, real-life stories are what make your product distinctive—and memorable.

A 2020 article described how Tech for Good innovations offer innovative paths to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth over the next decades, while improving key aspects of societal living. All of the semi-finalists we worked with on this initiative drove this home in a powerful way. They reminded us that it is now more important, and powerful, than ever to use technology to support solidarity and inclusivity across society.

Find out more about the semi-finalists of Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge here.