One-time Treasury economist Ben Gleisner has raised $8 million for a new app that promises to tally the environmental impact of your spending choices.
Right now, the CoGo app serves as a directory to around 3000 ethical businesses, such as those that sell organic products, have a carbon-neutral footprint or pay the living wage. It's served that function for around seven years, initially as "Conscious Consumer".
In the UK, it will also analyse your bank statements, the better to assess how each purchase expands your carbon footprint.
That feature will be added for New Zealand users from around late September. There will be a marketing and technical partnership with Westpac, but the carbon-footprint calculator will work with any of the major banks.
Gleisner says a partnership with a UK bank will also be announced shortly. He can't name it but says it is a top-tier player with more than 10 million customers.
The founder and CEO describes the $8m as a cumulative raise. He plans his next major push for funding in around six months. The 20-strong company has a private equity valuation of $20m.
CoGo's largest single shareholder is Greater Wellington Regional Councillor David Lee (also an investor in Aureon and PledgeMe), followed by AngelHQ, Icehouse Ventures, Sir Stephen Tindall's ubiquitous K1W1 and NZ Growth Capital Partners (the Crown agency formerly known as NZVIF).
A welter of smaller backers (CoGo has 101 shareholders) includes Richard Collier-Keywood (former Global Managing Partner, PwC), Kate Hyndman (Founder, FNZ), Andrew Thorburn (ex CEO, National Australia Bank) and James Watt (CEO, BrewDog).
Gleisner says he chose the UK to launch the carbon-footprint feature primarily because of the open banking rules there, but also because there was a reasonable size market of Brits who were sympathetic to environmental causes. Around 20,000 businesses have been accredited for the app in the UK.
He had planned to stay in the UK a while longer. But in March, with the pandemic beginning to shutdown the world, Gleisner made the decision to bring his family back to New Zealand. They made it to Wellington just days before the level 4 lockdown. The company continues to have an office in London.
If you want to sign up for GoCo's carbon-footprint feature once it comes out, you'll have to give the app access to your bank data. You can choose whether to give it access to just your credit card statement, or some or all of your bank account statements.
If that give you the heebeejeebees about security or privacy, Gleisner points out the app has "read-only" access. It can't withdraw your money or move it around. Everything is encrypted - with a UK bank carrying out penetration-testing right now - and data is anonymised.
A user's carbon footprint will be assessed using data from Motu. For example, if you bought a $100 airline ticket, the thinktank ascribes that with a 4kg of carbon emissions per $1 cost, or 400kg.
Trips to the supermarket will not be broken down per item but (after filling in a quiz at registration), someone who is vegan will get a 40 per cent discount over a carnivore, for example.
Gleisner's five-year goal is to have 100 million users and a $1 billion valuation.
For now, he's juggling more modest sums. Companies can't pay to advertise to CoGo users, and listings are free - but a company can pay to "enhance" its listing to a more eye-grabbing form. The founder says he could break-even with 50,000 users and 10 companies paying for enhanced listings, which would yield 10c per user per month.
Down the track, he also sees CoGo receiving a bounty if a member uses it to select a new bank, insurance company or electric vehicle, using green criteria collated by the app.
And although it will be late September before we see it here, CoGo launched its Real-Time Carbon Footprint Tracker in the UK version of its app in May - developed in partnership with CoGo's existing data science team and climate expert Professor Mike Berners-Lee - a leader in carbon footprinting at Lancaster University (and the brother of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who essentially invented the internet as we know it today when he developed the technology behind the World Wide Web).
The calculator is underpinned by carbon footprinting data from Leeds University that is also used by the UK Government and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in their calculators. The tracker quantifies and presents an individual's real-time climate impact into a CoGo score based on their spending data.
All the businesses listed on the app have been accredited for their sustainable practices by independent third-party organisations such as Living Wage Foundation, Carbon Trust and the Sustainable Restaurant Association. This is then put into 12 value badges for users to select from ranging from Living Wage to Carbon Conscious.