How This Entrepreneur Is Helping People Get Paid For Their Digital Data
Why are strangers making money from the time that you spend online? And how can you get a share of the money that’s being made from your data, believed to be worth around $289 per individual each year?
These are the questions that entrepreneur Sam Jones asked himself and ultimately led him to launch Gener8, a browser extension that enables people to take back control and monetize their data.
Before founding Gener8, Jones, 29, had spent five years working as part of Red Bull’s marketing team, initially in a graduate role in the global student marketing team, and eventually becoming a global brand manager.
In this role he traveled extensively, spending time with hugely talented people, from Red Bull cliff divers who jump from 27 metres, three times the height of an Olympic diving board, to Red Bull Air Race pilots flying at 240 knots around inflatable pylons 10 meters above the ground. “The common thread between all of these high performers is that they were never afraid to challenge convention and do things their way,” says Jones.
It was around this time that he decided to challenge convention, with the stark realization that everyone’s entire digital lives are being constantly tracked, without them being aware of the fact.
He says: “We mindlessly click ‘accept’ on the cookies pop-up that gets in the way of the article we’re trying to read, 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 potentially start tracking, sharing, and profiting from your online activity. But this is our information, it's our data, and under GDPR legislation, legally our property.”
Jones became increasingly passionate about finding a way to make people more aware of the issue, have more control over what their data was being used for, and share in the wealth being created from it, so much so that he left the role he loved at Red Bull and in January 2018 founded Gener8.
Gener8 builds digital tools that enable people to control and make money from their data. Its core product is a browser extension that enables people to be rewarded from their data. Users are earning on average between £5 to £25 in value and rewards per month simply by going about their regular online routines.
The venture was not without its challenges. Jones was aware that all the 'how-to' books on tech startups advised having a cofounder and coding skills. “The narrative is always that you must build a minimum viable product (MVP) and only then, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to raise investment,” he says. “Without a cofounder, technical ability, or an MVP it’s impossible to get off the ground, so they say. Well, that’s exactly where I started: a solo founder, who can’t code, with an idea on a piece of paper.”
Fortunately, he managed to find some angel investors who put the first cash into the business, enabling him to start working with a technical agency to build the first version of Gener8.
“Once we had a real technical product we were able to attract an amazing CTO to join the business and start growing the team,” he says. “Since then, our technology has been improving week-on-week.”
Gener8 works by tailoring all of the banner ads that a person sees online, so they are based on the preferences they've given, for example, sports, fashion, and television, etc. Users receive points every time they see an advert on any web page they visit, or any time their data is used by a third party. The points can be exchanged for products, gift cards, or donations to charity.
One challenge that the team hadn’t anticipated was persuading people that Gener8 was real. “We’ve had to work hard to educate people about the fact that their data is valuable and that Gener8 helps them to recapture this value themselves,” says Jones.
To date the business has secured £1.1 million in investment from a mix of private individuals, including angel investors, and from venture capital firm SCM Advisors.
Earlier this year, in the final stages of closing a £1.5 million of funding from major institutional investors, COVID-19 struck, and as a direct result of the pandemic and the economic uncertainty, the funding dissipated.
They continued to help by reminding people of their obligations to others, and since the first day of the U.K. lockdown, they have shown around two million NHS and Stay At Home ads for free.
“Losing that investment was an unfortunate blow, but capitalism is a full-contact sport and there is never any time to lick your wounds,” says Jones. “Consequently, we pushed forward and closed a more modest round of funding from our existing investors, which will enable us to continue to grow and capitalize on opportunities over the months ahead.”
Gener8 is close to having 100,000 installations and Jones plans to accelerate user growth with a goal of having a million people using Gener8 by the end of 2021.
“Within the next 36 months there will be a billion-dollar company that’s built from educating people about the fact that their data is valuable, and enabling people to capture this value themselves,” he says. “We intend to be that company.”