World Changers: Sheeza Ahmad Shah, CEO UpEffect

Impact. That's what came to mind when we first met Sheeza Ahmad Shah, CEO and Founder of UpEffect

UpEffect is a crowdfunding platform with a difference - it is dedicated to raising funds for projects which make a social impact. And it's seriously good at it (the business is backed by the prestigious Mass Challenge).

We caught up with Sheeza to get inside wisdom on what it takes to be a start-up founder, how to keep motivated amidst sleep deprivation and endless To Do lists, and what making an impact really means to her. 

(We can't wait to launch our crowdfunding campaign with UpEffect in the near future - keep an eye on our blog for updates!)

1. Describe yourself in 3 words

Driven by impact.

2. Describe UpEffect in a tweet

UpEffect is a crowdfunding and support platform for products combining purpose + profit to tackle today's greatest global challenges.
3. What made you take the leap to setting up UpEffect? Did taking that jump scare you? If so, how did you manage that fear?

There are a number of crowdfunding platforms in the market but very few doing it well.

Due to minimal vetting, the leading platforms have an exceptionally low success rate (over 90% of their campaigns fail) and data has shown that 9% of campaigns have failed to deliver a single reward to their funders. Also lack of support availability means most ideas are unable to benefit from these tools, particularly social good products that get drowned by mass-market targeted campaigns. 

So in 2014, I set myself with a financial savings target - if I was able to meet this, I would go full-time with the venture in April 2015. Fortunately, I met my target and took the leap to go all in with building a space for incredible ideas to flourish. Having enough capital to keep me going made going full-time a lot easier, in fact I remember being more excited than scared. Of course, since then there have been many moments where I have thought "should I have saved a little bit more?” Knowing money will dry up soon and ultimately determine the future of the company can act as a huge driving force. 

4. What would be your top three pieces of advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

1. Train your mind to treat failure as your saviour - without falling down, you can’t possibly know how to rise. There will be hundreds of no's during your entrepreneurial journey but all it takes is one yes. 

2. Validate. Without getting direct feedback from your potential consumers, you will never know how useful your solution is. 
3. Figure out how the business will survive without public funding, grants and donations. 

Build a financially sustainable model for your social venture, your impact will be limited and short-lived without an independent revenue stream to keep you moving forward without spreading resources.

5. What does social entrepreneurship mean to you?

The creation of value for a problem impacting communities using a financially sustainable model.

6. Why do you think so many people of our generation are choosing not to pursue corporate roles, but instead want to pursue purpose-driven careers?

Consumer trends are shifting towards conscious spending - more and more people expect products to come from fair trade and ethical processes. Also, there is now more awareness and tools available to solve problems that were once deemed impossible for the young to tackle.

Purpose-driven companies have become an enabling tool to impact the world. The new generation is more focused on doing, I think we’re all tired of waiting for results from top-level governmental bodies and want to see change happen now, today.

7. What is UpEffect's core offering, and what is your vision for UpEffect?

UpEffect is a rewards-based crowdfunding and support platform for products addressing today’s greatest global challenges. We vet companies based on their purpose and profit, impact KPIs and credibility of team. Selected companies then benefit from our network of crowdfunding experts, social entrepreneurs, marketers, videographers and much more to help them convert their idea into a tangible campaign.  We're dedicated to supporting social change - be it environmental, social, healthcare - to bring people together and provide them support to harness their innovations into rewards for everyone involved. 

We plan to impact hundreds of untapped communities that are underserved by financial platforms to enable anyone anywhere in the world to leverage our tool to launch a product and address a common societal problem.

8. What's the best part of what you do? And the toughest? 

The most exciting part of my work is meeting awe-inspiring entrepreneurs hustling everyday to solve social problems. Having the opportunity to promote them and impact communities makes it incredibly worthwhile. 

I would say the toughest part has to be finding energy to stay motivated when things aren’t going as planned. It’s very easy to give up, in fact one of the biggest reasons startups fail is because founders stop trying. It’s important to not feel defeated during the lows of the journey and remember the original vision to keep you going.  

9. We loved the comments you made in a recent interview about the importance of bootstrapping for young businesses. Why have you chosen to pursue this path with UpEffect, and why do you think other start-ups often ignore this option?

Raising capital and gaining traction for a project or an idea can be a daunting task for startups. Traditionally, entrepreneurs do one of two things: 1) seek loans and pay high interest or 2) spend months pitching to investors and end up sacrificing a slice of their equity pie. Given that startups need to focus on accelerating growth, raising funds and gaining market validation has become a huge problem for early-stage companies. 

Most entrepreneurs are unaware of crowdfunding and those that have heard of it, are unfamiliar with the success formula. There is now a big push coming from investment funds that are encouraging startups to validate their ideas through a crowdfunding campaign before they consider investment capital which is why we see more and more startups crowdfunding their way to success.

10. Being a start-up founder is probably one of the toughest roles around - how do you keep yourself motivated?

Though running a startup requires long hours, late nights and more importantly, very little time for turning off, if you’re working on something that you love, in whatever role, career, capacity, it will never feel like work. It’s just something that you enjoy doing but the best part is you get to enjoy it every day. Working on something that you love is the key to motivation.

Thank you so much Sheeza!

This interview forms part of our World Changers series in which we profile inspiring young social entrepreneurs. Finished reading this post? Check out our interviews with yoga entrepreneur Abi and lawyer-turned-business-leader Tamaryn for more inspiration.