Like many successful founders, Amy Williams started her business after spotting a significant problem and deciding that she could solve it.
Having pursued a career in advertising, including three years with Ogilvy & Mather, she’d come to the conclusion that online advertising was universally irksome. Given that annoying people is the last thing any marketer wants to do when spending millions of pounds on an ad campaign, that was a costly enough problem to warrant solving.
She also noticed that, while brands were increasingly talking the talk about ‘purpose’, few were actually walking the walk.
Armed with these two insights, Williams established Good-Loop in 2016. The media platform enables internet users to choose to watch an advert for one of the firm’s partner brands, which then unlocks a charitable donation funded by that brand. The idea is that viewers get to feel good about the time they’re spending online and the brand gets associated with worthy causes, resulting in higher engagement.
This win-win strategy seems to be working. Good-Loop has attracted several big-name clients, including Amazon, Coca-Cola, H&M and Unilever, as well as £5m in series A funding last year. It’s also become a successful exponent of responsible business, achieving B Corp certification and partnering with Yahoo to offer advertisers carbon-neutral media opportunities.
But the combined effects of the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-doing-business crisis have destabilised many companies in recent years, with marketing budgets and ESG goals often among the first things to be scrapped. Despite such challenges, Williams is intent on maintaining a strong and cohesive culture in her own organisation as it negotiates this particularly turbulent period.
“My leadership style has been very informed by my experience, which is starting a business at 25. I‘ve never been the oldest or most knowledgeable person in my own company. I love the phrase ‘always work with those who are smarter than you‘. The way I work is very much about trusting people and leading them from behind.
“One thing I’ve started reflecting on is the fact that I‘m naturally very optimistic. There are two types of good storyteller: the one who tells a story from a position of passion and the one who tells it from a position of vulnerability. I‘m the passionate type – the one issuing a rallying cry. That has worked brilliantly over the past few years of complete turmoil, but it can create a false sense of security. At times I feel I’ve undermined myself with my team, because I’ve mistaken optimism for false confidence. I probably still haven‘t quite got it right.
“I’ve definitely fostered a culture of being unafraid to admit to having got things wrong. That’s always been important – there’s nothing worse than a culture that considers being wrong but resolute better than being honest and flexible. That has to come from the top. From the minute I started the business, I was clear about how I wanted to receive feedback. I had to ensure that people knew I was listening. Now I can give feedback to my team members and they know it comes from the same place: we just want to make each other brilliant.”
On hybrid working
“We‘re all hybrid workers at Good-Loop. We learnt a lot about how we operate during the Covid crisis. In March 2020, I was in New York looking at offices with my newly hired head of US sales. By the end of that week, Donald Trump had closed the borders and we were on an emergency repatriation flight.
“The next couple of months were a crash course in how to do business virtually. For two years, whether you were across the pond or across the street, you were on Zoom. It gave us this amazing opportunity to grow in the US but have UK overheads. The US market now accounts for 42% of our turnover.
“I thought: ‘Well, great – we’ll just never have to open an office there.’ Then I looked back at two years of data and saw one key difference: the US had a bigger deal size – on average 2.5 times bigger – but the repeat rate was significantly lower. Although we could get on a Zoom call and talk to people over there, we couldn‘t use it to build a relationship that would offer long-term value. So we opened our US office at the start of this year.
“Now we have offices in Edinburgh, London and New York. These are an important symbol of what we’re building together. They’re not really workplaces; they’re spaces to gather in. The culture in the business is ‘do your job from wherever you’re going to do it best – I don’t care where you sit’. But we’ve carved out dedicated space for collaboration, feedback and ideation. We do all those things in person.”
On three key business challenges
Adapting marketing efforts to the challenging economic situation
“It’s been particularly tough to grow the business this year. For a long time, Good-Loop was an emotional sell. Our sales pitch to potential clients was rooted in the idea that we can make you proud of the work you do. That narrative is lovely when things are rosy, but we’ve changed how we talk about products over the past 12 months, focusing much more on how we help to deliver business results.
“Doing good is the mechanism, but the reason to buy is that online advertising is super-annoying – and we’re making it a little less annoying and a little more positive. We’re going to enable that dopamine hit where a consumer gets to do good with your brand and build trust, meaning that they’ll buy more of your product.”
Keeping everyone motivated in an extended period of uncertainty
“I think preserving energy levels is going to be a big challenge. It’s just been a relentless couple of years for business. People are tired. I can feel it in my company – the energy is low.
“Hitting targets is a big motivator for sales people. We knew enough by September to realise that that won’t happen this year, but we need to keep going anyway. Our sales just won’t be as exciting as they have been. That’s tough – and it’s where you need grit, purpose and belief in what you’re building.”
Conveying the sustainability message more effectively
“Some of the misconceptions that people have about sustainability present a big challenge. So much of the narrative is focused on loss: eat less meat, fly less, drive less – loss, loss, loss. I’ve also noticed, especially in the past year, the narrative that being good for the planet is more expensive. And so it is in many cases. It’s a privilege to be able to afford a fancy organic shampoo, for instance.
“But there are lots of ways in which sustainable behaviour can keep more money in your pocket. Reducing food waste and washing laundry in cold water are two great examples. Our big challenge is shifting to the narrative that you can save the planet and your money at the same time.”