Doing good through for-profits: Wave and financial tech

M-PESA ATM Withdrawal

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Wave is one of the most high potential social impact for-profit startups we’re aware of, and it was co-founded by someone in our effective altruism community – Lincoln Quirk. Wave allows immigrants to send money from North America to relatives in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia with much lower fees than if they used Western Union or MoneyGram. (Though Wave existing is nothing to do with 80,000 Hours, someone we recently coached chose to work for Wave and help them expand into the UK.)

Why is Wave such an important company? Previously, if immigrants wanted to send remittances, they had to use Western Union or MoneyGram. Both the sender and receiver would have to go to a physical outlet to make the transfer, and worst of all, the sender would have to pay 10% in transfer costs! Lincoln Quirk and his cofounder Drew Durbin have built software that allows instant transfers from a mobile phone in the US or Canada to a mobile phone in Eastern Africa or Ethiopia – and they only charge 3%, a saving of 7%.

For each dollar of revenue that they make, they are saving $2.33 for someone in the world’s poorest countries. Assuming a 20% profit margin, the figure is $12 in savings for each $1 of profit.

The potential positive impact of this idea is huge.

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Podcast with Ben West, who expects to donate tens of millions for charity through tech entrepreneurship


I recently interviewed Ben West (second to left), the founder of Health eFilings. After reading 80,000 Hours’ website, Ben entered tech entrepreneurship – from software engineering – in order to ‘earn to give’. Amazingly, Ben pledged to donate any money he made above the minimum wage. His company helps American physicians file paperwork with the US government, and collect ‘performance based pay’, much more easily. Several other 80,000 Hours alumni have ended up working in his company. You can read a summary of the key points from the interview below.

Summary of the interview

  • Ben West was influenced by Peter Singer’s work when he was young to start donating his income. Four years ago he was a software engineer donating to New Harvest, a meat substitute organisation.
  • He spent almost a decade at a large healthcare IT company, which helped to prepare him for what he’s doing now. He doesn’t think he could have successfully started this company without having experience in the health IT sector first.
  • He learned about 80,000 Hours through a link on the blog Overcoming Bias. Reading our work on entrepreneurship made him willing to consider starting his own business despite the fact that he’s risk averse by nature. He then spoke with some other well-informed people, including Carl Shulman (who volunteered for 80,000 Hours in the early days), who gave him more information about what the path involved.

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One of the most exciting new effective altruist organisations: An interview with David Goldberg of the Founders Pledge

It’s my pleasure to introduce David Goldberg to those who in the effective altruism community who don’t yet know him. He’s behind the Founders Pledge, which in just 8 months has raised $64 million in legally binding pledges of equity, is growing fast, and has got some very exciting (but currently confidential) plans in the works. I met him when I was representing 80,000 Hours at the Founders Forum conference earlier this year and introduced him in more depth to the idea of effective altruism, which he’s now built into the core of the Founders Pledge’s mission.

Tell us about your background

I did my undergraduate work at UCLA in Political Science and Public Policy and then continued with postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge focusing on International Relations. My plan was to get a PhD and then stay in academics and shape International Security policy. However a year in, I realised that the practical impact of my work would be marginal at best, so I finished with a Master’s degree and began to look for opportunities that would actually have a discernible effect on the world. I got involved with Founders Forum For Good — the precursor to what I do now with the Founders Pledge — where I focused on helping social entrepreneurs build and scale businesses. Before all that, I spent a couple years in finance in the US, started and sold a business in Europe, and ran a chain of Segway dealerships in California.

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Learn to code in 16 weeks for free in the UK at Founders and Coders


Ben Clifford

Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?

In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.

If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.

Summary of main points:

  • Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
  • The course aims to make people full stack javascript developers in 16 weeks.
  • The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
  • The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
  • The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
  • Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.

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Interview with Matt Gibb


Matt Gibb has been involved with 80,000 Hours since its inception. Early on, he was influenced by the idea of earning to give and has been pursuing this for the last few years through entrepreneurship. When we spoke to him he was focussed on a company at the startup incubator Betaspring. With, Matt has tied himself and his co-founders to the mast by adding a legally binding agreement to the company charter to donate ? of any proceeds they from selling their stake to GiveWell or Giving What We Can recommended charities.

Charitable Contributions. Each Founder hereby agrees that, upon the earlier to occur of a Sale of the Company or a Transfer of all Company Securities held by such Founder (such time, the “Charitable Contribution Trigger”), such Founder shall contribute not less than one-third (1/3) of such Founder’s Aggregate Proceeds (measured as of, and after giving effect to any amounts received by such Founder as a result of, such Sale of the Company or Transfer) (such amount, the “Charitable Contribution Amount”), to one or more global health-related charities as may be recognized by and or any similar or successor research organization; provided, however, that each Founder shall be entitled to deduct from such Charitable Contribution Amount, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, the amount of any and all global health-related charitable donations made by such Founder from and after the date hereof and prior to such Charitable Contribution Trigger. (emphasis added)

He has some experience as a successful entrepreneur, having co founded Promo Push Ltd. in 2010 an electronic dance music promotion company, now servicing 250,000 customers including Sony Music and a subsidiary of Universal music. We talked to him about his experience in tech entrepreneurship and his views on getting into it for those just starting out. What follows is a edited and reworked version of the interview.

Summary of Matt’s points

  • The best way to learn what you need in order to make a successful startup is by trying, so the best path into entrepreneurship is to aim to start as soon as possible.
  • For those interested in entrepreneurship web startups are a good option because they are the cheapest to start, but the startup costs of new businesses in physical products is dropping rapidly.
  • When starting out as an entrepreneur it is much more important to focus on execution than the idea, because it is unlikely the idea you end up with will be the same one you started with.
  • The demand for technical skills in backend or frontend development outsrips supply in the startup world, so they are very valuable skills to learn if you want to become an entrepreneur.

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Interview with Matt Clifford


In 2011 Matt Clifford and Alice Bentick, left their consulting jobs in McKinsey to found their own non-profit, Entrepreneur First. Their idea is to take about 30 talented and ambitious graduates each year and help them form teams and start companies, in order to promote entrepreneurship as a career path. They have already achieved some impressive results with their first cohort group of 32 graduates founding 11 companies which collectively achieved a market valuation of £22 milion In their first funding round.

As part of our research on the best routes into entrepreneurship we talked to Matt Clifford about this questions.


Key points Matt made in the interview:

  • A high level of technical skills seems to be the most important single attainment of someone interested in becoming a tech entrepreneur.

  • Startups inevitably involve failures and things going wrong, so determination is an important trait for entrepreneurs.

  • If you are interested in starting a startup consider developing domain expertise in a sector other than tech that is ripe for disruption.

  • It remains hard to find good data on indicators of success in entrepreneurship, current research is more qualitative and indicative.

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