Conscious consumers have become the largest customer segment in eCommerce. These consumers want to buy from companies with brand values that align with their own values. Large corporations have the ability to run green or social campaigns, but it remains difficult for consumers to know if they are truly being authentic. With Virtue, we want to make a social impact by providing both transparency, but also remain accessible for all retailers (large or small).
Virtue has an eCommerce integration with over 20,000 causes to support. This includes environmental and social initiatives, as an example. No matter what industry a retailer is in, Virtue have a cause that aligns with both their brand and customer values. We take care of all payments and also help the brands with their storytelling. Additionally, partnerships that took months to build are now automated in less than 5 minutes.
Where did the idea originate?
The team has a diverse set of experience including; building start-ups, eCommerce, and ESG.
They have seen that companies with good values always outperform the competition, and this is especially true for retail. The reason most brands are not giving back is that they do not know how to start. This is a problem they noticed frequently and decided to find a solution.
The challenge has been around for some time but was exacerbated during Westen’s time at Imperial. While he was working on his MBA, COVID hit. With COVID, people chose to stay home, avoiding unnecessary contact, and started to shop online at a much greater frequency. With more shoppers came more vendors, which gave eCommerce customers more options than ever. When selecting through the thousands of choices, shoppers are now less focused on price and branding, and more focused on company values.
How did the team meet?
The team initially met online during COVID with a few of the members in New Zealand while the rest were in the UK. However, they officially met in person when they all travelled to Tel Aviv to take part in their Techstars Accelerator programme.
Do you have any advisors?
Virtue has a number of advisors. Some of these advisors have been part since early stages in the entrepreneurial journey, while others came on as part of the Techstars programme.
They are great as they all have a unique set of skills and experience to draw from. This ranges from successful experience building eCommerce integrations, to running ESG programs at some of the world’s largest technology companies.
Where are you now and where do you plan to be?
To date Virtue has over 200 online businesses using the service and have recently completed a pre-seed raise. The immediate focus moving forward is to continue to improve the product while increasing our customer base. They are also raising funding for future developments in Virtue. The future funding will be used to hit targets for the very in-depth product and growth milestones.
What support have you had from Imperial?
Virtue has participated in the Experts-in-Residence programme in 2021. The experts they collaborated with, provided a ton of great advice across many facets of the business. Whenever Virtue has a new issue to tackle, such as fundraising or sales outreach, there is an expert available who can help them take the right steps forward.
What’s been your biggest success and challenge so far?
Vritue’s biggest success so far has been growing their customer base. They have over 200 passionate retailers across the UK who are working with them. Virtua has also facilitated over 34,000 orders with social impact helping 28,000 unique customers give back as part of their buying process. In addition, Virtue has recently completed the Techstars Accelerator programme. Getting accepted into the programme was a great achievement, and the accelerator was incredibly valuable to us as a business.
On the other hand, one of their biggest challenges at the start was onboarding social causes and charities to our platform. While they were able to bring 150 causes on over the past year, they now have a new partnership that has streamlined the process. Thanks to a new integration with a major global fund, there are now over 20,000 charities and causes that are now part of the cause ecosystem.
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Virtue advises to try and get people to pay for your product as soon as possible. If you find a customer to pay for an MVP, it is more likely that you can get a lot of people to pay for the next version.