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Online storage startup GoodCloud seeks to shake up file sync and share market for charities

Third-sector-focused online storage startup GoodCloud has set its sights on disrupting the file sync and share market by making the technology far more accessible for charities and their volunteers

Cloud storage market newcomer GoodCloud is on a mission to provide charities and social enterprises with a tailor-made, cost-effective means of managing their online data repositories.

The Stevenage-based startup was setup two years ago by Russell Marriott and Jason Ellis – who serve as the firm’s CEO and CTO, respectively – in direct response to the various, recurring data-sharing and management challenges they saw charities coming up against while working in the third sector.

Marriott has held several senior fundraising-related roles during his “30-odd years” of working in the charity sector, which is one he claims is sorely underserved by the technology it has to rely on to function.

“Particularly over the past 10 to 15 years, cloud storage and the internet has played a much bigger role and is being used far more widely [by charities and social enterprises],” he told Computer Weekly. 

And it’s not difficult to see why, given one of the enduring selling points of cloud technologies are that they allow users to access data and files from anywhere and on any device, and charities typically have a diverse and geographically spread workforce of paid and volunteer workers.

At the same time, charities are – understandably – cost-conscious, meaning the more expensive, enterprise-level cloud storage services are typically off-limits to them, while the usability and functionality offered by freebie online storage offerings typically falls short, he added. And for a sector that is reportedly worth £90bn a year in the UK alone, that is just not good enough.

“There are around 170,000 charities in the UK, and the top 10 charities account for nearly 80% of the income generated by the sector. There is a lot of money there, but it’s all skewed towards the bigger charities, such as Cancer Research, that are bigger than most of the companies that donate to them,” said Marriott.

“The vast majority of charities are small entities that are maybe [staffed] by one or two people working in a backroom, for example, and they cannot afford a big enterprise-level cloud platform. So they use Dropbox or Google because it’s there and it’s free for one person, but once you start scaling it up to more users it gets expensive.

“If you want extra users, you have to pay for each one and that all starts to add up. The average hospice, for example, has got 4,000 volunteers.”

Problems can also arise if said volunteers are not particularly tech savvy, which can expose shortcomings in the user interfaces of certain enterprise-grade cloud storage services, he continued. “They can be difficult to use if you’re a volunteer and you’re presented with lists and lists of filenames, rather than pictured or more user-friendly graphics, for example.”

To remedy this, he and Ellis created GoodCloud, which Marriott describes as a “secure, inexpensive way for charities, social enterprises and SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to share files”.

Marriott met GoodCloud’s resident designer and coder Ellis 20 years ago while working on “numerous” charity-based projects, and they both know all too well how frustrating a user experience this can be for volunteers.

“I used to work at an online advertising agency, and I did a bit of [work] at Ministry of Sound as head of design there, and then I set up on my own, which is where I met Russell after I worked with him on numerous projects, all charity-based, as a designer,” Ellis told Computer Weekly.

“Basically, GoodCloud was born out of frustration of trying to get good quality images, files, assets, the correct logos in the correct format at the right time, which is surprisingly difficult. Not just with small charities, but even medium-sized charities. It’s quite difficult to get them to supply you with what’s needed to make their communications better.

“It’s designed to be something a volunteer could look at, work out easily how to use, as it’s very graphical [to look at], with drag and drop functionality and version controls, for example.”

As is the case with most startups, the two years since GoodCloud’s inception have been spent extensively testing, developing and refining the service with a select group of charities, ahead of its official launch around two months ago in February 2021.

“Our first website went live two years ago, which was very wireframe, very beta and we got 20 to 30 charities testing on it, so we could pivot, finding out what they wanted to use, before we officially launched the site properly,” said Marriott.

The website and all of the data that GoodCloud users entrust the service with will be hosted in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud. “There is no way we could have our own datacentre, and everyone is using one of the big four [cloud providers] nowadays anyway, and AWS has been very good to us because they see the potential. They have given us the best part of $100,00 worth of cloud credits to use [to run the service],” said Marriott.

“Another thing with charities is, even if they are very small, the first thing they want to know about is GDPR [the General Data Protection Regulation] and whether this cloud service is secure. Because we’ve got the credibility of AWS behind us, they know the data is safe and we’ll never be down.”

While the service is up and running now, Ellis said the company is now setting its sights on building out GoodCloud’s functionality, including adding plug-ins for third-party cloud-based services such as online messaging platform Slack, workflow management tool Monday.com, and customer relationship management offering Salesforce.

“We’re working with the charities that are using GoodCloud now on their ‘wish lists’ to see what they want to see next from the platform. That’s the benefit of going in early [as a user] on something like this, because it means you’ve got this ability to try to meld it to the way that you want it to work.”

The company has also its eyes firmly set on overseas expansion, with the US and India among the top pick of countries it would like to move into first, confirmed Marriott.

“The size of the market in the UK is big, and in America it is even bigger, which is where we plan to go next, as there are in excess of 1.5 million charities, and in India there are two million charities. And that’s before you get to social enterprises.”

Another area the pair are committed to growing is the company’s charity arm, known as the GoodCloud Foundation, that it hopes will go on to become one of biggest charitable foundations in the UK.

“We’ll give 25% of our net profit back to a charitable foundation to distribute funds. So this is hard cash that will go through our charity foundation to help the dogs, the donkeys, the hospices and so on,” said Marriott.

“Within the next four or five years, we plan to be one of the largest charitable foundations in the UK. And hopefully if we scale up as we think we can, that’ll be around £30m to 40m a year back into charities,” he added.

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