Gener8 founder talks about privacy, charitable actions, and his startup journey
Sam Jones, the founder of Gener8, has shown more than 1,000,000 NHS & Stay at Home ads to his users free of charge, despite having lost £1.5m investment at the last minute due to Covid-19.
Gener8 is a browser extension that enables people to monetise their own data. Users receive points every time they see an advert or any time that their data is used. They can then exchange these points for products, gift cards or donations to charity. Here, Sam talks about why he set the business up and how things have gone so far...
Our entire digital lives are being tracked. Companies that we’ve never heard of are profiling us and creating a ‘digital fingerprint’, before selling this information to other businesses we don’t know. And guess what: they’re all making money from it. In fact, it’s said our data is worth around $289 per individual each year.
Most of us don’t know this is even happening. We mindlessly click ‘accept’ on the cookies popup that gets in the way of the article we’re trying to read. So annoying, aren’t they? But the reality is, that split second tap of the mouse is - more often than not - opening a gateway for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of companies to start sharing, and profiting from your online activity.
But it's our information, it's our data and - under GDPR legislation - this means that it's our property. So where’s the transparency? Why are strangers making money from my time spent online? And how can I share in the money that’s made from my own data?
Time for a Change
I left a role I loved, as Global Brand Manager at Red Bull, because this issue was something I was passionate about tackling. I had a vantage point over the global advertising landscape for a long time and watched as it grew and changed. I could see the trends within the industry, and time again I saw that too many companies were taking advantage of people’s apathy towards their personal data - and there was a total lack of transparency surrounding this.
I knew that people needed to be made aware of this issue and given more control over what their data is used for. We should be able to share in wealth that’s created from our data. So, in January 2018, I launched Gener8, a browser extension that enables people to monetise their own data by merely browsing the internet. Users are earning £5-25 per month on average just by going about their usual online routines.
How Gener8 Works
We tailor all of the banner ads that you’ll see online, so they're based on the preferences you’ve given to us. You just let us know what you’re into; whether it be sports, fashion, television etc, and we’ll ensure the adverts you’re seeing suit your tastes. You’ll then receive points every time you see an advert on any web page you visit, or any time your data is used by a third party. Points can then be exchanged for products in our marketplace, gift cards or you can even donate to charity.
It takes two seconds to install and then every user has their own profile which they complete in no time at all. After this, we just sit in the background whilst you browse the internet. As well as shape all of the banner adverts a person sees to fit their interests, if the user opts in, we’ll anonymise their browsing data and use this for custom research.
How Much Can I Make?
When a person installs Gener8, they tend to earn between £5 - £25 on average. Not bad for doing something you’d likely be up to anyway; browsing online. But what’s really cool is that every month many of our community donate to causes they care about and last month we raised thousands to support the Australian bushfire charities.
We also want to empower our users to build for their future, so you can start investing with tickr; an app built for the next generation of investors to make money whilst having a positive impact on the world.
We like tickr because it makes investing accessible to anyone, by letting you invest as little as £5 into global companies working to make a profit as well as solving social and environmental problems. We’ll give you £10 to start investing when you redeem this from the Gener8 marketplace.
Like many we’ve experienced a seismic shift that’s sent shudders through the whole business, broadly split into two areas: dislocated teams, working from home and the economic impact: change in demand, revenue.
On the first we are in a strong position – as a technology startup our business has always been 100% in the cloud, so physical relocation has not hindered us and our team is energetic and nimble and have adapted quickly to working from home. On the economic impact we have had to move quickly and make tough decisions, cutting costs, furloughing team members and exploring new revenue opportunities.
We took some time for self-reflection and after thinking deeply about how we can help, we identified 3 areas:
- Support the NHS by using our technology to amplify the stay at home and health awareness messages. We know that we could help by reminding people of their obligations to others. So since the first day of the UK lockdown we have been showing a significant number of NHS and Stay At Home ads, currently approaching close to 2M in total!
- Support charities by enabling our users to donate their earnings, raising thousands for three different charities each month. We're currently supporting: NHS Charities Together; Age UK and FareShare.
- Support businesses by publishing our own proprietary research on how people’s online behaviours have changed since Covid-19: we have analysed data across more than 31,000,000 different browsing sessions to identify changes in people’s behaviour and we will be publishing this for free so that businesses have the data that they need to adapt.
In addition to this, we are enabling our users to donate their earnings to one of 3 charities, this month we are supporting: NHS Charities Together; Age UK and FareShare.
What other effects is Covid-19 having on our business?
We were in the final stages of closing £1.5M of funding from major institutional investors just as covid-19 struck. As a direct result of the virus and economic uncertainty the funding dissipated. This was an unfortunate blow, but capitalism is a full contact sport and there is never time to lick your wounds. Consequently, we pushed forward and closed a more modest round of funding from our existing investors and one Venture Capital firm, this financing will enable us to continue to grow and capitalise on opportunities over the months ahead.
Taking Back Control
Through all this, our primary aim is to protect you and give you control, so by default we stop other companies from following our users and collecting their data without their permission. We also take away all intrusive advertising formats (pop ups, etc), so that only the premium and unobtrusive ads appear.
We’re driven to give people more control over what their data is used for and, ultimately, enable them to share in the wealth that’s created from it. People need to have more control over who tracks their personal data. There needs to be more transparency about what’s done with our personal data. People need to share in the wealth that’s created from their data. Things are changing - it’s time to take back control.