We speak with Aaron Simpson to learn about his evolution from luxury lifestyle magazine owner to the creator of the world’s first carbon-neutral app monetisation network and how to build a business with purpose.
“I’m a massive believer in social capitalism,” explains Aaron Simpson, founder and chairman of app monetisation network Kindred, “and I think the next generation of entrepreneurs must seriously think about adopting a social capitalist outlook on creating a business.”
Simpson, 50, qualifies this statement by saying his generation ‘hopefully’ will share this vision, but for young business owners it is upgraded to a ‘definitely’. “This generation I think has stepped back and looked at what our generation has done – and we have to correct it,” he adds.
Kindred’s USP is that it is claimed as the world’s first carbon-neutral app monetisation network. The company’s accolades include a Carbon-Neutral Britain citation as well as Social Enterprise UK status, whereby 51% of profits have to be donated to charity. The company released its SDK (software development kit) in the last quarter of 2021, effectively packaging its technology for brands to plug in. Gaming engine Unity is one such partner, as well as a leading UK mobile network.
Yet Kindred, which was founded in 2019, is arguably not the name readers will associate Simpson with closest. His primary business for the past two decades has been Quintessentially, a members-only ‘luxury lifestyle management service’ which catered to the whims of the ultra-rich.
Simpson’s co-founder at Quintessentially, Ben Elliot, is now the co-chairman of the Conservative Party. This made the company a press darling – “at one point I think I was appearing in the Sunday Times every week”, Simpson notes – but given the company’s Russian client base, Elliot made headlines of a different sort after the invasion of Ukraine in February, with Quintessentially having since closed its Russian office.
While Simpson remains part of Quintessentially, there was a new step to take. “I didn’t really think that was the rest of my life, spent doing lifestyle services for very wealthy individuals,” he explains. “I’ve always had this niggle in the back of my head about how you can take technology and do really good things with it.
“I turned 50 and realised that my purpose now is to do this for the next 25-30 years – and I’ve put my money where my mouth is and raised money for Kindred,” says Simpson. “On the basis of that, I’ve made it very clear to all investors that this is the core proposition. If you call yourself ‘tech for good’, you must be wholesale and wholesome in that.”
But with a reputation forged in luxury services – a 2021 study argued that billionaires have carbon footprints which can be ‘thousands’ of times higher than those of average Americans – is this an inhibitor to Simpson as he builds Kindred?
“I don’t personally take the view that all billionaires are evil,” says Simpson. “There are certainly plenty of people who are extremely rich that have died poor by giving it away. Unfortunately society takes the view – especially in Britain, I suspect America less so – that the richer you are, the more corrupt you probably are. But that’s not true.
“In the end, Quintessentially has been and continues to be a fantastic tool as a network for me to help develop the principles I want to do with Kindred,” adds Simpson. “I don’t have to hide behind any sincerity. I’m completely honest and upfront about this.”
This passion for building a business with purpose certainly comes through in the conversation, as well as the opportunity available to Kindred. Not surprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic meant eCommerce market numbers skyrocketed. Statista figures predicted that the UK would spend £141.3 billion online in 2020, up almost 35% on the year before. By 2025, average revenue per user (ARPU) is forecast to touch £2,500. Simpson notes the British market for Kindred was ‘exceptional’.
The figures Kindred is eyeing up, therefore, do not amount to chump change. The company already has a global reach of more than two million users, and more than 32,000 brands in 52 countries. Simpson is targeting 25m-30m users by the end of the year, translating to up to £80m a month raised for charities and good causes.
This ties in with another impact of Covid. In October 2020, researchers involved in the Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer gave a dire warning that one in 10 charities could shut down within 12 months. A year later, government-backed research found the landscape had smoothed to a degree, although more than 90% of charities polled admitted a negative impact from the pandemic. Simpson describes this as a ‘horror story’ and sees the third sector as an area where Kindred can make a ‘seismic difference.’
As leaders have told Sustainable Future News, ethos is vital – but so are making the right business decisions. Simpson describes the social enterprise ethos as ‘going back full circle’ and emphasising community. “I raise money for investors [who] are bought into the concept that profitability is not as important,” he says. “It is important, but it’s not as important.
“If you give 51% of [profit] to charity, it is not going to affect your exit value – it is going to stay the same because it was the same profit,” adds Simpson. “But you are building a community, and you are building a business to support that community.
“It’s similar to the concept of building a business that is based on capitalistic ideals, but ultimately services the community it delivers to – and that is a social enterprise.”
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