Today, meet our guest Naseem Makiya, the founder and the CEO of the social impact software product Impactive. Naseem tells us how sometimes being only a small cog in the engine, one can still have a lasting impact on world processes and events.
Naseem is from Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard and the Y Combinator program. Naseem studied computer science, ensuring a strong technical background, however, then switched to behavioral psychology. Still being interested in technology, Naseem continued learning to code while completing his Master's in Education. Later, he joined a couple of startups, among which a startup called Data Camp and carried on working as a developer for several products for the next five years.
I wanted to contribute a little bit more to society, do something that helps people.
In 2016, Naseem got swept up in the election campaign and got an idea to build a digital tool for civic engagement, advocacy, and mission-based work. He started by collecting feedback from people working in non-profits to understand how to assist their work. It eventually led him to create Outvote, later renamed to Impactive.
“I knew I wanted to build technology to help, but I didn't know what to build, because I wasn't from the space. So I had to work in the space a little bit. I did a contract in software engineering on the side, to understand what was the problem I could solve? What was the product people needed and would pay for?”
What is Impactive?
“When it started out, it was basically organizing campaigns and candidates. But now it's organizing permission-based work. Our platform helps encourage people to participate in the elections. We help people go through the voting process with our tools. And we push campaigns forward. Impactive is both mobile- and web-based.”
Is Impactive independent?
“It's actually only for Democrats. But it is for nonprofit activities as well: mission-based work, fundraising, e.g. climate change, cancer research, doesn't matter who's at the organization. It just matters what they stand for.”
How big is Impactive’s team?
“About 20 or so contractors. But we did the white label app for Joe Biden’s election campaign. It helped the current president get elected. We played one little cog in the engine.”
We've been able to do a lot of pretty big impact work with a pretty small team.
“When you work for yourself, when you are a CEO, you invest in everything. You have to inspire folks, how to convey the vision, how to communicate with folks.”
You got to pick something you're really passionate about, and you really love doing. So for me, what really drove me and, I think, drove the team, is the mission. And the goals we had around, helping protect democracy in the US.
If you feel like quitting
“I think every startup in their life cycle has different defining moments that you've either weren't expecting, or you lucked out. That's happened to us several times, and it's always scary and very stressful.
In 2019, we were two months away from being totally out of money. You're constantly putting the money back into the business to build it the right way and reinvest in the product, so that it can sell better.
You can make your own luck. But it’s both: you can work really hard and fail, and it's really not you, maybe you didn't do anything wrong, maybe there are some things you did differently, but you just didn't get lucky enough.”
How to choose people for the team
“My advice is: hire people slowly. It's worse, if you, you know, just hire too quickly, and it doesn't work out.”
We couldn't compete with big tech company salaries, but we could compete with a mission and an outcome that meant something to people and was rewarding.
Current activities and plans for the future
“We are getting ready for 2024, so we're doing a lot more to push into the nonprofit world, advocacy, helping fundraise for good causes. And, one thing we're doing now is running contests, where a celebrity like Harry Styles, or Alicia Keys, or Billie Eilish, give-away tickets to their shows, if you can get it, you can check your registration or help your friends check their registrations that help get everyone the information they need to vote.
Three recommendations on starting a digital product
- “Definitely, you want a co-founder. But you need to be really careful about who that is, it's even more careful than the hiring process, you're almost like married to that person, you're gonna be working so closely together with them every day, it's gonna be stressful. So you want to make sure you're really aligned. Your values are similar.
- My engineering background helps me understand and manage the process.
- You have to be really persistent, especially at the beginning, not get discouraged and have a positive attitude.”
It's going to be a roller coaster. So you're gonna have good days and bad days, and you're gonna have to recover from the bad days quickly.
To learn about Naseem Makiya’s ideas and tips, listen to our podcast. You will find out more about his work, and how to maintain your digital product/company life cycle.
You may also visit Impactive - an all-in-one hub for digital organizing, communication with supporters, raising money, and getting out the vote.