Amy Williams: Disrupting online advertising for good

Less than three years since founding her company, Amy Williams has been named one of the 100 leading global women innovators by the UN Women’s Global Innovation Coalition. Her photo and profile will feature on a billboard in Times Square as part of UN Women’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Lucy Handley caught up with her to find out more…

Williams was on a graduate training scheme at a big London advertising agency when she had a realisation: people really don’t like adverts in general. They especially don’t like ones that pop up when they are browsing online.

Businesses are spending millions, but they aren’t necessarily creating great advertising. “They're just throwing money at a problem without trying to understand why people are ignoring them and why it isn't working. I was just getting increasingly frustrated, I suppose. I had this niggling feeling that just wouldn't go away that I could build something better,” she says.

Amy Williams

In September 2016 Williams posted a job ad online to find a chief technology officer for a different kind of advertising business. One that could make the online ad experience better. Williams planned to make her company different by building a business model with giving to good causes at the heart of it. Daniel Winterstein, a software expert, replied and Good-Loop was born.

Watch an advert that runs using Good-Loop’s technology for at least 15 seconds and the brand will donate to a charity of the user’s choice. In 2018, more than £200,000 was donated to charity via the Good-Loop advertising platform. This year the company is aiming to reach £1 million.

Williams founded Good-Loop on two main principles: “The first is you can make money while making the world a better place. It shouldn't have to be that you decide whether you make a profit, or you make a good impact. You can ‘bake’ social good into your business plan so that is really our guiding star.

“And then there's also another underlying principle which is more specific to [the advertising] industry, which is around creating a respectful and fair and positive online advertising experience.”

Method cleaning products, Linda McCartney Foods and Bose are among brands that have used Good-Loop’ technology. And Walkers Sunbites used the ‘watch to donate’ online video function to generate donations to Care International. Good-Loop also worked with Snapchat on a swipe to donate tool, which Lynx has used.

Diagram showing how Good-Loop's watch to donate technology works

“Every swipe up generated a donation to Ditch The Label, which is this awesome charity that does loads of work around combating male depression and male suicide,” Williams explains.

As well as having social good at its heart, Williams is practising what she preaches with her 10 employees. In a brave move, Good-Loop has an open pay policy, so everyone knows what everybody else earns.

“One of the main drivers of the gender pay gap is that women don't fight as hard for pay rises. They don't get as bullish or as confident at asking for more money. So we decided to keep the policy open, which would just force us as a business to always be sure that we are paying people what we feel that they deserve,” Williams says.

She also wants to encourage more women to work in technology. “I think it's important to make sure that I'm sharing my story in a way that's relatable and helpful. I know from personal experience that seeing other women speak about their journey on panels and at conferences really helped me feel like I could do it too.”

To help increase the number of women working in tech, Good-Loop targets websites that women visit, such as blogs and Facebook groups when they’re looking to hire. “It's really nice to make the extra effort to go to places where perhaps people of minority groups or people [who are] underrepresented wouldn't necessarily be looking for job posts.”

Amy Williams

Williams also wants to make sure that start-ups that do good can get investment. She and Winterstein have set up Invest in Change, an informal network to match purpose-driven companies with angel investors. “When you think about the future and what businesses are going to be the Ubers, Twitters and Facebooks of tomorrow, they all start with angels. If we can we can get more individuals backing companies that have social ideas or social initiatives at their hearts, it means that more of those will have a chance of succeeding. It means that in the future you can start to see more social businesses growing,” she says.

An investor group called the Angel Academe is among Good-Loop’s funders. It’s a network made up of people who want to support female-driven businesses. But investors in European tech start-ups put 93 per cent of their money into companies with no female founders in 2018. Given the enormous disparity in funding for male-run start-ups, does Williams feel any gender bias when pitching to investors in general?

“It's a hard question to answer because I don't know. I don't have any comparative experience. All I know is that I feel like I go into a room knowing that I have to prove myself. I know that there might be particular biases coming in with me. I really think it helps me push myself and helps me really make sure I'm being really assertive.”

It’s a drive that seems to be paying off.

This article is part of Virgin's International Women's Day series

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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