The Power Of Purpose: How Giant Leap, Australia’s First Social Impact VC Fund Is Investing In ‘Missionaries Not Mercenaries’

Will Richardson, Managing Partner, Giant Leap Fund

Will Richardson, Managing Partner, Giant Leap Fund

manda ford

Giant Leap is Australia’s first venture capital fund that is 100 per cent dedicated to investing in impact startups–rapidly scalable businesses that blend financial returns with real and measurable social and environmental benefits. It was founded in 2016 with an initial team of Will Richardson, Amanda Goodman, Peter Cameron, Adam Milgrom and Kylie Charlton. I caught up with Will Richardson, the Managing Partner, to find out more about their thesis of investing in ‘missionaries not mercenaries’, the release of their new Impact Report and how their work links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Hi Will, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about Giant Leap and why it focuses on start-ups as a crucial force for good?

Startups are critical for driving innovation at a rate of change we need to solve complex global problems. Giant Leap exists to back these world-changers and to help build a global culture of unity amongst investors, founders and ecosystem to help solve problems together.

Please tell us how your journey led you to the idea of wanting to fund entrepreneurs who want to change the world?

I helped found the Giant Leap Fund after joining Impact Investment Group (IIG) in 2013 after almost a decade in the corporate world, most of that time was spent in the world of private equity. I hit 30 and felt somewhat unfulfilled by a career focused on numbers, deals and returns.

Whilst in private equity, it didn’t matter what the companies that I invested in did, as long as they gave us a return. It was lucrative but unfulfilling. This reflection led me to seek a more meaningful career, and when I met the team from Impact Investment Group, I had found it. We founded Giant Leap Fund three years later in 2016.

It was inspired by the leadership of Small Giants – the parent company of IIG and family office of Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman – and Australian startup Who Gives a Crap founded by Simon Griffiths. It was also heavily influenced by Kylie Charlton – an impact investment pioneer Australia and SE Asia who sits as a Partner on the fund.

Small Giants has been operating for over a decade, supporting some of the most incredible people, ideas, and businesses seeking to make a positive change in the world. Meanwhile, Who Gives A Crap demonstrated the power of a really smart and genuine founder to help build toilets for those in need. Who Gives a Crap sells environmentally friendly toilet paper and donates 50% of its profits. Its success shows the power a cause can have on consumer and business behaviour. Finally, Kylie Charlton’s involvement revealed a demand from corporate workers to be part of businesses that make a genuinely positive difference to the world.

What is Giant Leap's investment thesis? I especially love this idea of ‘Missionaries not Mercenaries’?

It all ties into the idea that there are very clear and tangible business reasons as to why impact companies will succeed over their counterparts.

Our thesis is that people are at the heart of every successful business. Companies with purpose have an unfair advantage in attracting and retaining talented and creative leaders, managers and employees. This is key, as in the automated future that we’re heading into, creativity will be the last bastion of value. 

Additionally, companies that have a clear mission are magnets for customers. Causes often turn customers into advocates too. We’re saturated in marketing as it is, and having those advocates are crucial for brand cut-through. 

Startups are hard, they are swimming in uncertainty and have limited resource but can deliver leveraged returns. We have a dual purpose of impact and positive impact and want to back founders who also have that dual purpose and won’t trade off-mission just for money. We are looking for founders who play the long game.

That is why we look for missionaries over mercenaries.

What are some of the companies that you’ve invested in and why?

We have 3 themes, so it makes sense to talk about one portfolio company per theme and this ties into our impact report.

Theme one: Empowering People

Applied is a hiring platform that removes bias - over 100,000 candidates have applied on the platform. Last year 446 candidates were hired through Applied that wouldn’t have been hired otherwise

Theme two: Sustainable Living

Glam Corner is Australia's largest clothing hire platform shifting consumers away from fast fashion. Over 116 tonnes of clothing has been diverted from landfill by Glam Corner.

Theme three: Health & Wellbeing

Perx is a platform that uses gamification and behavioural science to increase medication adherence. Results-wise, Perx uses have 86% treatment adherence compared to 50% for non-Perx patients.

Finally, please tell us about the Impact Report and why this is such an important tool for investors?

Impact investing is no longer a fringe trend. In Australia, the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA) found the growth in impact investment has accelerated to reach $AUD13.8 billion. This growth is primarily being driven by new green bonds but also social impact and renewable energy funds grew too.

We hope to see this exponential growth continue across all asset classes and the gold star here would be private enterprise prioritising investment in businesses solving global problems outlined by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as social vulnerability, the climate crisis and health and wellbeing.

We are proud to have published our first impact report which maps our portfolio’s performance to the UN SDG’s and meets the guidelines of the Impact Management Project, the pre-eminent impact investment framework for practitioners.

At a glance, the Giant Leap portfolio has:

●     Placed 446 candidates who otherwise wouldn't have been hired (Applied)

●     Avoided 3,034 tonnes of CO2-e emissions (Switch)

●     Generated $6.9 million gross sales volume for independent retailers (YourGrocer)

●     Divested $2 million funds from direct fossil fuel activity in FY19 (Future Super)

●     Diverted 137.6 tonnes of waste from landfill (Goterra+Glamcorner)

All of these outcomes are directly tied to the UN’s Sustainability Goals, in particular goals;

●     SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

●     SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production

●     SDG 13 - Climate Action

●     SDG 8 - Decent Growth & Economic Growth.

Longer-term, we’d like the phrase ‘impact investing’ disappear. This will take time, but we can see the market heading in this direction. This renewed focus on corporate ethics from both companies and investors around the globe is a crucial step towards this. To achieve this sunset movement dream proving impact works is critical. That is where impact measurement and management comes in.

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Giant Leap is Australia’s first venture capital fund that is 100 per cent dedicated to investing in impact startups–rapidly scalable businesses that blend financial returns with real and measurable social and environmental benefits. It was founded in 2016 with an initial team of Will Richardson, Amanda Goodman, Peter Cameron, Adam Milgrom and Kylie Charlton. I caught up with Will Richardson, the Managing Partner, to find out more about their thesis of investing in ‘missionaries not mercenaries’, the release of their new Impact Report and how their work links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Hi Will, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about Giant Leap and why it focuses on start-ups as a crucial force for good?

Startups are critical for driving innovation at a rate of change we need to solve complex global problems. Giant Leap exists to back these world-changers and to help build a global culture of unity amongst investors, founders and ecosystem to help solve problems together.

Please tell us how your journey led you to the idea of wanting to fund entrepreneurs who want to change the world?

I helped found the Giant Leap Fund after joining Impact Investment Group (IIG) in 2013 after almost a decade in the corporate world, most of that time was spent in the world of private equity. I hit 30 and felt somewhat unfulfilled by a career focused on numbers, deals and returns.

Whilst in private equity, it didn’t matter what the companies that I invested in did, as long as they gave us a return. It was lucrative but unfulfilling. This reflection led me to seek a more meaningful career, and when I met the team from Impact Investment Group, I had found it. We founded Giant Leap Fund three years later in 2016.

It was inspired by the leadership of Small Giants – the parent company of IIG and family office of Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman – and Australian startup Who Gives a Crap founded by Simon Griffiths. It was also heavily influenced by Kylie Charlton – an impact investment pioneer Australia and SE Asia who sits as a Partner on the fund.

Small Giants has been operating for over a decade, supporting some of the most incredible people, ideas, and businesses seeking to make a positive change in the world. Meanwhile, Who Gives A Crap demonstrated the power of a really smart and genuine founder to help build toilets for those in need. Who Gives a Crap sells environmentally friendly toilet paper and donates 50% of its profits. Its success shows the power a cause can have on consumer and business behaviour. Finally, Kylie Charlton’s involvement revealed a demand from corporate workers to be part of businesses that make a genuinely positive difference to the world.

What is Giant Leap's investment thesis? I especially love this idea of ‘Missionaries not Mercenaries’?

It all ties into the idea that there are very clear and tangible business reasons as to why impact companies will succeed over their counterparts.

Our thesis is that people are at the heart of every successful business. Companies with purpose have an unfair advantage in attracting and retaining talented and creative leaders, managers and employees. This is key, as in the automated future that we’re heading into, creativity will be the last bastion of value. 

Additionally, companies that have a clear mission are magnets for customers. Causes often turn customers into advocates too. We’re saturated in marketing as it is, and having those advocates are crucial for brand cut-through. 

Startups are hard, they are swimming in uncertainty and have limited resource but can deliver leveraged returns. We have a dual purpose of impact and positive impact and want to back founders who also have that dual purpose and won’t trade off-mission just for money. We are looking for founders who play the long game.

That is why we look for missionaries over mercenaries.

What are some of the companies that you’ve invested in and why?

We have 3 themes, so it makes sense to talk about one portfolio company per theme and this ties into our impact report.

Theme one: Empowering People

Applied is a hiring platform that removes bias - over 100,000 candidates have applied on the platform. Last year 446 candidates were hired through Applied that wouldn’t have been hired otherwise

Theme two: Sustainable Living

Glam Corner is Australia's largest clothing hire platform shifting consumers away from fast fashion. Over 116 tonnes of clothing has been diverted from landfill by Glam Corner.

Theme three: Health & Wellbeing

Perx is a platform that uses gamification and behavioural science to increase medication adherence. Results-wise, Perx uses have 86% treatment adherence compared to 50% for non-Perx patients.

Finally, please tell us about the Impact Report and why this is such an important tool for investors?

Impact investing is no longer a fringe trend. In Australia, the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA) found the growth in impact investment has accelerated to reach $AUD13.8 billion. This growth is primarily being driven by new green bonds but also social impact and renewable energy funds grew too.

We hope to see this exponential growth continue across all asset classes and the gold star here would be private enterprise prioritising investment in businesses solving global problems outlined by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as social vulnerability, the climate crisis and health and wellbeing.

We are proud to have published our first impact report which maps our portfolio’s performance to the UN SDG’s and meets the guidelines of the Impact Management Project, the pre-eminent impact investment framework for practitioners.

At a glance, the Giant Leap portfolio has:

●     Placed 446 candidates who otherwise wouldn't have been hired (Applied)

●     Avoided 3,034 tonnes of CO2-e emissions (Switch)

●     Generated $6.9 million gross sales volume for independent retailers (YourGrocer)

●     Divested $2 million funds from direct fossil fuel activity in FY19 (Future Super)

●     Diverted 137.6 tonnes of waste from landfill (Goterra+Glamcorner)

All of these outcomes are directly tied to the UN’s Sustainability Goals, in particular goals;

●     SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

●     SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production

●     SDG 13 - Climate Action

●     SDG 8 - Decent Growth & Economic Growth.

Longer-term, we’d like the phrase ‘impact investing’ disappear. This will take time, but we can see the market heading in this direction. This renewed focus on corporate ethics from both companies and investors around the globe is a crucial step towards this. To achieve this sunset movement dream proving impact works is critical. That is where impact measurement and management comes in.

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