How We Built an App To
Track and Reduce Your Carbon Impact
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Michael Capper, and I’m the co-founder of VYVE. VYVE has a very simple goal – to connect consumers with their carbon footprint. Climate Change is the defining issue of our time. It’s regularly in the news, and I believe people understand the importance of tackling it to the future of society. But ask a person on the street what their carbon footprint is, or their climate impact upon the planet and you’ve lost them because they simply don’t know.
We haven’t a hope of solving climate change unless we overcome this, connecting consumers to understanding their carbon impact from the choices they make, and inspiring, motivating them to take action. This is what VYVE aims to do, to enable users to UNDERSTAND, TRACK & REDUCE their carbon impact, initially from travel.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
My career has been spent in the energy and carbon space. For nearly 20 years I have worked in corporate environments, building products and services which help users (consumers and businesses) reduce carbon. I’ve seen the importance of the subject grow over time, but then I’ve also seen it fall away when other events come to the fore (the economic recession of 2008 springs to mind).
One of the things I have always felt is that business tends to ‘shy away’ from consumers in this space. It’s deemed to be either too costly or complex, or that working with businesses is an easier prize to go after. It was something I always wanted to tackle, and we entered a new decade, perhaps the most important decade for our climate. It was a case of ‘now or never’ to take this on, and this is why we built VYVE.
And from a personal perspective, I’ve always liked to build things as well, starting with a blank sheet of paper and growing out from there. I’d built many products and services over time, but were any of them truly memorable to me, let alone to society? Our careers are all too short – so if you’re going to do something, do something awesome. This challenge, this solution, at this time – that’s awesome!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Initially, the biggest challenge was getting traction to get started and actually build the product. My experience is that corporate structures rarely allow for innovation to happen at pace.
Predictable, sustainable returns are often the priority, and risk can be seen as the enemy of trying new things out. I’ve never found them to be environments where they believe in the passion and drive to get the job done. I must say, I got lucky though!
At the time I was working at BP, and it had just set up a new division called Launchpad. It was a business builder, designed to support and scale start-ups to grow at pace. Imagine having the resources, the skills and expertise of BP available to you, but with the freedom to deliver a vision quickly, test and learn so you can hone in on your product-market fit. This is what Launchpad gave us, and I’m truly grateful for that.
But even with that, I never anticipated the personal commitment and drive it would need to get VYVE off the ground. From building our team, designing and building our product, testing, learning, testing, failing – it all takes its toll on you. And if it wasn’t because we truly believe the world needs VYVE, and people need that guide to help them reduce their carbon footprint that spurred us on to make this work.
The realisation that if I didn’t put the hours in, and make this work it wouldn’t happen was daunting at first, but then it became inspiring. So if you can overcome that mindset, then I think you are onto a winner.
Who is your target market?
We all want to save the planet. We all believe in good causes, and we all tell people we recycle, don’t waste food things like that. But that’s the problem – we all say that, but do we really? Intent is one thing, action is another. That was something we realised early on with VYVE.
Recognising that, we’re initially targeting consumers who we see as the early adopters. People who care enough about the climate to act – and actively seek out solutions which help them reduce their footprint. But importantly these are people who are busy, who know carbon is a factor in their life, but it almost can’t be helped, so they want easy effective ways of taking action – it must be easy!
We identified a few target groups. Group One – the ‘Syd’s’ – the people who travel a lot with work. They want to act on the climate, but work means they have a footprint and it largely can’t be avoided. Our Second Group was the ‘Roisins’ – parents who also want to act on climate, for their children, but again don’t know how to act. They will travel differently to the Syd’s (probably car journeys more than air), but the desire to act is still there.
Of course, the big elephant in the room was COVID-19. How can you target travelling people when the world isn’t travelling?! We did lots of research from the beginning of the lockdown about how people travel, and we found that whilst the activity obviously slowed, people didn’t travel – the intent and desire to reduce emissions remained.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We’re looking at a large range of methods to market our business. Obviously paid advertising has its place, and we’re using social media channels to grow our user base, constantly tweaking, optimising and becoming leaner in this space.
My personal desire, however, is to grow organically. Let’s get virality associated with VYVE. We’ve done lots of research and people have told us how they would share information about their carbon impact with networks, friends and family – so let’s build triggers which allow them to do that. We’re trying to solve a problem we all have, we all may not have it, but we all have it – climate change. So building communities to take that on is our goal!
One other element we’re fortunate enough to call upon is our investors. With BP as our investor, we truly can leverage the networks such a company has, through customers, suppliers, partners, industry and peer groups – they are all potential customers for VYVE.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Attracting and retaining customers is so important to us. It’s the measure of a successful business for us. And that means that you never stop learning from your customer base. We’re tracking our customers daily, we’re seeing the flows they are taking on VYVE when they drop off the system, what they like, what they don’t. This is great feedback for us because it means we can learn quickly and adapt. Thinking on our first few months trading i have learnt the following:
- Attracting customers has been a learning curve for us, which we’ve progressed by trying different messages, brands, styles on a range of new platforms. Learn, iterate, and narrow down your options to what works best. It taught me that what I thought was right was anything but and that the only way you’ll find out what works is to test and learn
- Retention is tough! So you need to be brutally honest and see the facts. If customers do use your product as frequently as you would like then you need to learn from that, understand why that’s the case and address it head-on. I’ve found that tough, and I’ve had to face the hard truth that people don’t use your product as much as you would like them too. But it gives solid data to build from and allows you to become better – and always remember that it makes you better
- Talk to customers! They don’t bite, they will tell you the truth, and most of the time encourage you to make the product better. After all, your building something to make life easier for them!
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our culture starts with a mutual understanding that we are here to build something special! We respect each other’s opinions, we listen, we learn, we disagree (respectfully). If you can do that, you’ve already got the makings of a brilliant team. But more than that, we wanted to set some principles about our business, about how we work and why we work, so came up with the following:
1. We’re here to change the world, literally
2. People care. Our job is to make them care enough to act
3. We relentlessly focus on solving our users’ problems
4. We’re human, so we’ll make mistakes. But we learn from them
5. We set ourselves the very highest standards of being a team
6. The planet needs VYVE, so we give 100% of ourselves, all the time
7. No one remembers a process, they only remember the outcome
8. We bring simplicity and clarity in a complex world
9. We operate transparently, ethically and fearlessly in pursuit of doing good
10. We are proud to be a business helping to solve climate change.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We’re a digital-based tool available on iOS and Android phones. It’s very interesting though because until we started VYVE I never really considered the support systems which we use, which I have found just as important, particularly in the early days. We use the following tools:
Mixpanel: For event tracking and learning how our customers use our product this is absolutely fundamental. The value of understanding how our customers use products shouldn’t be underestimated, and it’s something which I would encourage any company to follow obsessively.
Appsflyer: For understanding how our customers reach us, Appsflyer really helps us understand the channels.
There is one other tool which I’d like to reference, Airtable. We’re capturing user feedback daily, it’s so important to us. And then organising and prioritising that data so we deliver solutions our customers want is crucial, and Airtable really helps us with that.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If i started the journey again, there are a few things i would tell myself to focus very hard on from the beginning:
- Pace: You need to move quickly, really quickly. Every day you are burning money, so limit that time as much as you can. You’re not getting value until your learning, and every day your learning brings that little bit closer to product-market fit. We have gone quickly but could have gone quicker in the early days I believe.
- People: Surround yourself with good, positive people. There are enough energy drainers out there, avoid them like the plague! Have people around you who believe in your company and want to focus on it.
- Product: Invest in your product, but that doesn’t mean you need to finish it. Keep it lean, learn, test, then develop and move forward. But constantly work at it – because if you’re not, you can be someone else working on theirs!
But above all for me, I come from a corporate environment. I’d spent 20 years developing products and services which spent 90% of their life on a PowerPoint. That normally happens because businesses want to be 100% sure before committing. But the realisation is that you’ll never get the perfect product, nor should you. Try new things, see if they work, or if they don’t – don’t fear them not working either. That’s the difference between start-ups and corporates. And you have to live it before you really understand it.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I’m not a big fan of labels, and entrepreneur is a term which I’m not really sure what it means.
If I consider the work I’m doing at the moment though, and what I enjoy about it, it’s the ability to make a difference which gets me excited. I get up every day to make a difference, to achieve. And of late, my attention has begun to move towards a legacy, and what you leave behind. I’m currently doing a role where my every decision and action has a consequence.
We’re trying to build something special, at a pace which the world can benefit from. I don’t think there are many more environments where you can really do that than being in a start-up.
Does that mean I need to be more ‘entrepreneurial’ and take more risks – absolutely, yes it does. But you don’t achieve much in life by sitting on the sidelines watching others take that risk, so for me, that’s really important.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Uncertainty! All of the good things you want to achieve are balanced off by wanting an element of security, for yourself and your family. And at first, that was quite a disturbing thought for me to settle on. But the more you do this, the more you realise that there is an equal risk in not doing it, and the learnings you get along the way make you much more adaptable and agile to the world – so it’s really a good thing.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m going to be honest – I’ve never really been a reader of books. When I started out on this journey there were a lot of books people suggested, but I knew if I was going to read, it needed to be books where I would genuinely have an interest in. So I focused more on books which were grounded in reality and gave examples of real-life happenings.
Examples of books which I read included Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (Nike founder). To read about his experiences, how he started the company, the challenges he faced, the resilience he needed to get over problems which came to him was very inspiring to me. But most of all it taught me that determination and resilience go a long way in this world – so with both of them, you have a chance.
If I were to give advice to people on what to read it would be to focus on the things which interest you, the people who inspire you and the companies which you recognise, or can associate with. You’re doing this to add to your experience, so it needs to be meaningful to you – otherwise, I don’t think you’ll learn much or it won’t sink in.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I want VYVE to be one of the world’s leading businesses which users turn to in reducing carbon. This means in three years time I aim for us to be in 30+ countries around the world, with at least 5 offices geographically split.
We want to have 5m+ users on VYVE, and I think it’s very achievable once you find your fit. To motivate and inspire people around the world requires an in-depth understanding of how people respond to things in different countries, that’s why we’ll need to be more regional.
But above all else, we need to reduce carbon! The world simply is at the point of no return and we need to act now. In my opening comments, I spoke of how we need to connect consumers of the world with their carbon footprint, and that’s what we’re doing at VYVE. We have a long way to go, and we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, so whilst it’s great to think longer-term – acting now, this minute is what we strive for.