Oscars moment: Socialsuite wins Salesforce PitchComp to take home US$100k in prize money

Socialsuite's Dr Clara Ong (third from left) and Damien Hajda (fourth from left)

The husband and wife team behind Socialsuite – an SaaS platform that enables not-for-profits to measure and prove their social impact to funders – overcame a controversial ‘Oscars moment’ to win Salesforce World Tour Sydney PitchComp (7 March) and take home US$100,000 in prize money.

[Related: “It was very intense”: Sydney start-up PractiFI crowned winner of 1st Salesforce PitchComp]

Competing against the founders of gamified banking platform Moroku and events management solution Dashcord, Damien Hajda pitched Socialsuite to a judging panel consisting of high-profile investors Steve Baxter (River City Lab, Shark Tank), Kara Frederik (Reinventure) and Niki Scevak (Blackbird Ventures).

During his rapid-fire, five-minute pitch, Hajda explained that he and his co-founder Dr Clara Ong developed Socialsuite to address a global problem – namely, “billions of dollars” are being wasted because social service providers are not equipped with the metrics to demonstrate the effectiveness of their initiatives to funders.

He described Socialsuite as an online marketplace where organisations that are trying to solve social issues, such as unemployment, poor education, lack of healthcare youth disadvantage, poverty, can source metrics to analyse the effectiveness of their programs and produce a social impact report containing data that can be used to inform program improvements and attract funders.

Noting that Socialsuite had locked in 42 not-for-profit clients to date, engaged Brad Gurrie as a CEO and is on track to turnover $1.8m next financial year, Hajda said the startup would have an addressable market of $26 million in Australia, $376 million across the US, Canada and the UK, and $1.1 billion across OECD and developing countries if ten percent of the market signed up to the platform.

When PitchComp MC Derek Laney (Head of Product Marketing, APAC, Salesforce) later announced a tie between Moroku and Dashcord, Frederik called a time-out on the competition, stating: “we think there may be an error”. Suspecting a technical problem with the app the judges had used to score each pitch, Laney jokingly referenced the 2017 Oscars, where La La Land was mistakenly announced as best picture instead of Moonlight. Following a hurried recount process, Socialsuite was announced as the winner, with applause from the audience shattering the tension that had been mounting.

Shortly afterwards, Hajda and Ong spoke with Dynamic Businesses about Socialsuite, including the preparation that went into the pitch, funding plans and their user base.

DB: How did you prepare for PitchComp?

Hajda: We were lucky because we’re currently in the middle of a funding round, and we’ve already been working on the answers to all the tough questions that have come our way. Getting grilled by VCs was good practice for PitchComp.

Ong: Yes, we’ve had some amazing feedback from the potential investors and that helped shape Damien’s pitch. Having said that, while we understand there’s a real market appetite for Socialsuite, being able to convey that to the judges and the audience in under five minutes was definitely challenging.

Hajda: Five minutes is an extraordinarily short amount of time in which to address not-for profit sector, including the mind-boggling amounts of cash that get sloshed around, and the solution we provide. It was a tough ask!

DB: What was a key pitch strategy?  

Hajda: What we found with a lot of pitches we’ve done in the past, is that if people can just see the product being used, it does a better job than 50 slides – “Here’s what it does and a customer would use it like this”. It was a bit of a risk doing a video and a demo because they always chop up a presentation but I think that being the only startup that showed our product with a use case played to our advantage with the judges.

DB: Would you improve anything?

Hajda: I practiced my pitch to get it under five minutes but I crammed in so much that I didn’t give myself enough time to account for unexpected things, like judge’s reactions or my presentation clicker going off. So, if I had to do it again, I’d give myself a bit more leeway.

DB: You mentioned a funding round…

Hajda: We’re looking to close a $1.5 million round, with the right investors, in the next month or so. With that money, we want to get some really solid, statistically significant data around our cost of acquiring customer versus lifetime customer revenue so that VCs, at the Series A level, would be confident backing us. We think our Series A will be in about 18 months. People say getting VC investment is jet fuel for a startup so we need to make sure we’re ready.

DB: What is the Socialsuite origin story?

Ong: We came up with the idea while I was working in WA’s resources sector at the height of the mining boom. A lot of money was being sloshed around without accountability for the social impact. Working in regional and indigenous communities, I saw that funding wasn’t being used in a way that would lead to real change. So, Damien and I began talking about ways to make the sector function a lot more effectively.

Hajda: Officially, Socialsuite kicked off about three years ago. Since then, we’ve been growing our team.  The wrong people can cause a lot of damage to a startup, so our approach has been to pay the right price for people who are really good.

DB: Is funding the key motivation for users?

Hajda: We’re working with some inspirational organisations, like Global Sisters, which helps refugee women get into entrepreneurship. They’ve told us that securing funding is secondary… first and foremost, they want to know that they are helping their beneficiaries and doing good for the community and, if not, what it is they can do to change.

DB: Who are some of your key clients?

Ong: Australia Post is one. They’re doing some pretty amazing corporate social responsibility programs and are an inspirational corporate to work with. They don’t just want to do it as a PR or marketing exercise, they want to measure the impact and ensure the service providers they work with are having an impact.

Hajda: We also love DOXA, who’ve said funder engagement has gone through the roof since they started sharing their social impact reports.

Ong: The last one we want to touch on is the YMCA Bridge project in Victoria. They are one of our early adopters and their program manager really puts his heart on the line to keep youths out of juvenile detention centres.