How to Get Your ‘Tech for Good’ Project off the Ground

Robin NICHOLS

5 min reading time

A plate on a heart motif

A short Q&A with the non-profit SOSFood on how they launched their ‘tech for good’ idea

Coming off the back of the Paris-based events Futur en Seine and Vivatech, one theme stood out: tech for good. After all, how often do we give the limelight to tech ideas with a philanthropic slant?

One of these great ideas that CALLR decided to support was SOSFood, a project recently launched by students of the coding school Le Wagon. Currently undergoing a 2-month test phase in Paris, the service’s aim is to help food-insecure people find the nearest soup kitchen…entirely via SMS.

I sat down to pick the brain of one of the project’s co-founders, Rafael Millán, to uncover some tips for tech for good entrepreneurs.

Photo of co-founders of SOSFood

Rafael Millán and Paule-Emma Duloir explain how and why they chose to use SMS for their project at CALLR’s offices.


Robin: First, what brought you all (Rafael Millán, Paule-Emma Duloir, Xuan Bich Mai Thi and Moufid Jaber) to Le Wagon?

Rafael: For my part, I wanted to kick start a career in web development. Xuan was looking to be able to prototype her own ideas, Paule-Emma wanted to get technical skills before moving towards entrepreneurship, and Moufid wanted to get the skills needed to launch his own projects.

Robin: How did you have the idea for SOSFood?

Rafael: I remember a friend who works as a French teacher for refugees saying that nearly half his class didn’t eat enough food each day. I guess that kick-started the idea to create a solution that would help connect food charities and people in need, even if they don’t have a smartphone or internet access. That’s when we thought of using SMS, because it’s a very low tech mean of communication, so it’s accessible to most people: 80% of the homeless population in France owns a mobile phone.

Robin: What was your biggest challenge when bringing the project to life?

Rafael: Our biggest challenge has been spreading the solution. Since our service is 100% SMS-based, we don’t have any fancy online marketing tools like newsletters, SEO, viral campaigns, online ads, etc. So we have had to figure out how to get our service to users by old-fashioned means like printing flyers and handing them out in the street. It works, but it’s not very scalable. 

SOSFood flyers explaining how the service works

80% of homeless people in France have at least a basic mobile phone, making SMS a great communication channel for SOSFood. However, this creates the challenge of scaling a ‘low-tech’ marketing strategy based on flyers and word of mouth.

Robin: How long did it take for you to launch your 2-month test, from the time you had the idea to the day you launched?

Rafael: It took us about 3 months from the moment we designed the first mock-up until the day we got our first user.

Robin: Were you happy with the results of crowdfunding on HelloAsso? Was it easy to set up?

Rafael: Yes, HelloAsso worked great. The website itself is pretty straightforward, but what counts is the content you put in your campaign. We wanted to be sure to get the funding the project needed so we made a video and some graphics to make it more engaging for our donors.

Robin: How did you get the word out about your project and crowdfunding?

Rafael: Mainly we relied on our friends and Le Wagon’s network. Also, we got some press coverage on tech websites following our partnership with CALLR.

Robin: What tools were essential to bringing the project to life?

Rafael: On the tech side, we couldn’t have done it without Rails which allowed us to have our prototype running in two weeks.

Messaging APIs were also essential. We were able to send and receive SMS on day 3 of our development sprint.

On the outreach side, we relied on Facebook and Twitter for spreading our crowdfunding campaign and on Mailchimp for getting news to the inboxes of our charities and donors.

Robin: Would you consider your SOSFood initiative part of a ‘tech for good’ scene?

Rafael: We certainly hope so  😃​

Robin: What other opportunities do you see for ‘tech for good’?

Rafael: There’s a lot of potential for using data to have a better understanding of social issues. One idea we have, for when our project grows, is to use our anonymous data to help charities understand what neighborhoods need more food assistance, or what months of the year are more critical in terms of food insecurity. And there’s probably much more we can do when we gather more data.

Robin: In terms of the focus entrepreneurs, incubators, journalists, investors have – do you think there’s enough attention paid to “tech for good”?

Rafael: We should probably focus on finding business models for tech for good projects. There are many great ideas that don’t scale because they don’t have a plan to make them sustainable in the long term. Every long-lasting project, even if it’s for a non-profit, needs to find a way to fund its running costs.

Robin: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs with a ‘tech for good’ idea?

Rafael: Focus on making a quick prototype and iterating from there instead of working on your idea for months and months without any user testing.

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