Wellington based start-up Conscious Consumers is changing the world through purchasing power, by making buyers aware of how ethically they are shopping.

Ben Gleisner, co-founder and CEO, recently talked to us about his company and how he found working with Simmonds Stewart during Conscious Consumers’ first capital raising round.

the conscious consumers story

After completing his master’s degree in environmental economics at Victoria University, Ben worked as an economist at the Treasury in the areas of climate change, welfare reform, and energy efficiency.

While at Victoria, Ben and a couple of friends (including Melissa Keys, also a co-founder of Conscious Consumers) thought about helping people make socially and environmentally responsible lifestyle choices – from finding a café that uses fair trade coffee, restaurants offering cruelty-free produce, to businesses that care about their workers.

In 2010, 42Collective Incorporated (a registered charity) established Conscious Consumers under its umbrella. The founders (who were all involved in 42Collective) started out with A4 pieces of paper in café and restaurant windows, informing socially conscious spenders about the ethical elements of the business. Being a charity ensured they focused on their mission (making it easy for you to find and support businesses doing good for people and the planet), and allowed for government and philanthropic grants.

They then crowd funded $100,000 in mid-2015, to further develop the Good Spend Counter, which is technology that tracks app users’ spending on registered payment cards.

In early 2016, Ben and Melissa led a restructure of Conscious Consumers, transitioning the venture to a registered (non-charitable) company and commercial enterprise. The company also raised $600,000 as part of its first capital raising round. This has allowed the founders to scale Conscious Consumers as a business whilst maintaining their strong commitment to their original mission. The majority shareholder in Conscious Consumers is now 42Collective which remains a charitable incorporated society focused on making it easy to live socially and environmentally responsible lifestyles.

While Wellington is a desirable home (attracting a range of creative and IT expertise, having a thriving foodie culture, and a small city social consciousness), Conscious Consumers’ plan is to spend the next 15 months validating whether they can replicate their technology across broader retail sectors and in different markets across the globe.

the product

Conscious Consumers assess hospitality businesses and their suppliers against practices that make good business sense, respect people and the environment, and reflect current conscious consumer preferences. It has accredited more than 400 businesses across NZ.

It offers an easy to use app that enables consumers to focus on the things they care about, search and choose the right cafe or restaurant, track their conscious spend, and spend their money in an informed way.

Conscious Consumers also helps businesses learn about what consumers care about and to provide consumers with relevant content and rewards for their choices. Paymark (who currently handles three-quarters of NZ’s electronic payments) provides the secure tracking of the information collected.

The product’s unique point of difference is the distinct insights it provides into what consumers want. Ben notes that the product is all about data, really interesting data and insights that drive business change and help consumers demand the change they want to see through their values.

Ultimately, the Conscious Consumers product benefits both businesses and consumers, promoting responsible, profitable practices while satisfying consumers’ increasing demand for knowledge of the products they buy.

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challenges

Ben says that, while there are plenty of competitors, such as Yelp and Fly Buys, Conscious Consumers’ value driven experience and tracing of spend is a market differentiator. He recognises that it will be challenging to replicate their technology in new markets with existing players, but that’s all part of their current validation.

Entering new markets at the right time, as well as ensuring products are scaled to meet new demands, is really important. All current work is managed by a team of 6, with 3 software developers supported by a range of generous advisors and based out of the Enspiral Development Academy.

Protecting Conscious Consumers’ ideas, brand and intellectual property is equally as important to them as getting to market, and Ben has spent a lot of time ensuring this is safeguarded.

working with simmonds stewart

From the beginning of Conscious Consumers, Ben has had incredible support from a range of lawyers. He makes a point of always engaging lawyers from the start and says it’s important to get your legal foundation right from the beginning.

Simmonds Stewart advised Conscious Consumers on its first round of capital raising which Ben describes as a case study in the ease of raising capital quickly. They were looking to raise $600,000 in 6 weeks (a challenging timetable) and secured $450,000 after 10 days!

Ben notes that Simmonds Stewart made it so easy, particularly working with Fiona MacKinnon and Lee Bagshaw. The pieces came together when they needed to, there was never any stress or trouble, they made everything a breeze.

Ben says that having a suite of free capital raising templates and guides from Simmonds Stewart, including the constitution, founders’ and shareholders’ agreements, and the cap table and employee share option documents, was an extremely helpful starting point for me to get my head around what needed to be done. They were easy to understand and gave me huge confidence in the process and documents; I couldn’t have done this without Simmonds Stewart’s support.

In addition to the confidence in the paperwork, Ben thinks that Simmonds Stewart puts their clients before the investors but still provide investors with a good level of comfort in the process. Ben was keen to engage only with investors who were focused on the mission not the exit. He is thankful for the work Simmonds Stewart has done to build the solid foundation for the company going forward and is confident to enter into the next round of funding.

summing up

In just 6 years, Conscious Consumers has emerged out of a charity with an ethical mission into a commercial social enterprise and technology platform, still with an ethical mission but also with the ability to spread its wings over the globe.

Simmonds Stewart is very happy to have been part of their foundation building and hopes to continue to play a part in changing the world, by supporting ethical and ambitious NZ companies, like Conscious Consumers.

Explore Conscious Consumers.