Aravind Krishnan decided to combine both his passion for sustainability and expertise in consumer marketing to create Money Grows on Trees, a venture shining a light on the financial side of sustainable living.
What is Money Grows on Trees (MGOT)?
MGOT is a website that shows people how to save money and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time. It is a very niche and unique website because it aims to quantify for a consumer the financial savings and the carbon savings that they can make from any initiative. The site provides knowledge that people currently don’t have to empower them to make decisions that are win-win for them. My product is information and I want to educate and inform people. For example a family of 4 could save over $5,000 over 10 years by simply switching from an electric hot water system to a gas, solar or heat pump system.
How did your project come to life?
I had been working in marketing for financial services (insurance industry, banking) for about 10 years when the idea came to me. I was at a stage in my career when I wanted to give back to the community and start a project in sustainability. I searched for a project in which I could apply some of the learnings that I had got from my corporate world to everyday households and influence their view on sustainability. Lastly, I had done extensive research for myself in order to reduce my own carbon footprint and I thought I could reuse it for a broader purpose.
Coming from a business background I didn’t want my venture to be based on donations or government grants. A lot of websites I came across in my marketing days used a “content marketing” business model, where they would generate revenue while creating a lot content. Using the same business construct would enable me to keep the information free. I wanted the website to be sustainable on both fronts!
What is your vision for MGOT?
My vision for MGOT is to start a movement in which everyone can do something meaningful regardless of their level of affluence. We live in a consumer society and we have things like fast fashion, fast food, fast everything, and goods are a lot cheaper now that they were 30 years ago.
I want MGOT to change the way people think about what and how they purchase. Meaningful change for me would be to get people to factor in cost and carbon savings, re-assess their need for stuff and ultimately consider the longer term impact of their purchase. I’d also like people to understand the scale of the environmental impact they can have without even changing their lifestyles. For instance, running a washing machine on cold water instead of warm water can save enough electricity to light an apartment for a year. It is hard to live in the dark for a year, but it is easy to switch your washing machine settings!
How do you generate revenue given you keep the information free?
Our revenue comes from the suppliers with whom we have an arrangement. When the consumer comes to our website and decides that they want to purchase a product from the supplier that we have an arrangement with, we have a disclaimer telling them we will get money from it. This is our only revenue source so we try to be utterly transparent with everything we are doing. We also draw a line on endorsements: we don’t promote any brands.
Which savings come first – environmental or financial?
We actually generally put money first, because it is in people’s interest and as much as we want them to do the right thing, not everyone has spare cash to burn. In most cases there are also alternative and cheaper ways to have carbon impact, such as carbon offsets.
Our savings calculator is built to consider money first. If for example you are shopping for a dishwasher, you can upload names and model numbers to the calculator, how much you will pay, and depending on your usage the calculator will tell you your lifetime costs and CO2 emissions for each product. We base our calculation on a long-term timeframe (10 years), because we expect the appliances to last, and because we want to encourage people to keep their appliances longer rather than having a disposable view on what they buy.
What’s next for MGOT?
Two years in, the current focus is on looking at different business models to monetise the website. I have already developed a successful partnership with a solar panel company, but I also want to look at the many other product lines available, with a particular interest in financial services. We already see with ethical super that your choice of financial product – in this case your super fund – can have a direct link back to sustainability, so I am eager to start a conversation about choosing sustainable financial products.
Who inspires you?
My inspiration for everything related to sustainability came from the ethicist Peter Singer. I love the way he is able to boil things down into simple constructs. In his book “One World” he talks about the ethics of climate change, its impact on the poorest nations on the planet and how our current responses are ethically unfair. This made me realise that as a citizen of a developed nation I should be doing more. I really used that motivation to firstly look at reducing my own footprint and secondly to spread that knowledge to the other 20 million people like me in Australia.
What is the most useful lesson you have learnt so far in journey as a social entrepreneur?
Start small. I had grand visions at the start, I wanted to create this massive work that would define my legacy. By the time I got to the end of 3 or 4 years of planning and research, I was tired and realised it was too much. I would have gotten something to market much quicker if I had staged my approach – I was lucky that no one was working on the same idea.
What is one quality that every social entrepreneur should have?
Conviction. You need to be very passionate about the social impact that you want to achieve and it needs to be for the right purposes. Sometimes it is very easy, especially when you get into the entrepreneurial state, to get lured by the dollar signs. At the end of the day you need to ask yourself “am I still staying true to that cause?”
Most useful lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Start small. It took me some time to understand that it is better to try something small and get feedback early on instead of jumping ahead too quickly. Not everything needs to happen at once and you progress much faster if you go step by step.
As I come from the corporate environment I thought things would work the same way: you do a big investment, you build something and then the customers would come all at once. But when you are creating something it’s a very different process. You need to go for one person at a time, build momentum bit by bit. Patience is definitely a big part of it and you have to set the right expectations. I learnt how to enjoy each milestone and each new connection I’ve made with someone.
What keeps you going?
Everything that I do outside of MGOT. Working on a business by yourself can be a lonely task so I need something else around it: hobbies, friends, family. I have taken a lot of hobbies, such as running, storytelling and stand-up comedy, because I need to feel like I’m growing outside of my own enterprise. I find that if you try to invest all your growth in this it can be very frustrating because you don’t have much control over the outcome of your work. I also still work part-time in the corporate world as a marketing consultant until I ultimately can work on MGOT full-time.
How do you balance everything?
I deliberately made a choice not to work after hours or on weekends because you need your work-life balance, even as an entrepreneur. The way I make this work is by being organised and efficient in the way I manage my life. I have processes and systems in place for everything I do. My second tip is to prioritise what I want to do with MGOT within the time I dedicate to it: I only bite off what I can chew. I usually do a planning session at the start of the year, list all the things I want to achieve, prioritise them based upon the impact they will have, and then run regular check-in sessions through the year. My goal is to maximise the quality of those things to avoid spreading myself too thin.
You joined the Social Impact Hub community about a year ago. Why co-working?
I had been working on my own two days a week from home and I found it a bit socially isolating. There was a point when I realised I needed to get out and meet people. Joining the Social Impact Hub community has provided me with an outlet to meet like-minded people. The great thing is that it has led to a lot more than just co-working: I have met people I could do business with, people have given me great ideas… I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you enjoy the most about co-working?
There is a safety in numbers. Working on your own social enterprise can feel quite daunting. At the Hub, I met other people who were experiencing the same challenges and seeing them overcome these challenges gave me ideas on how to overcome mine. It feels like I am part of something bigger and that has really changed the energy that I bring to my business.
Lastly, what are you looking forward to this year?
Getting married! From a business perspective, it is a critical time for me in terms of financial sustainability for the business and I am looking forward to seeing if the monetisation model I have been working on has got legs. I am going to be launching a number of collaborations with suppliers to test it out this year, and this will determine how much investment I might need for the longer term.
Located in Edgecliff, the Social Impact Hub offers co-working opportunities to Sydney’s changemakers. If you’re in the business of creating social impact check out our start-up friendly rates and consider joining our vibrant community. Contact us to arrange a tour.