Paying it forward… a concept understood by many, and something we all aspire to do. Yet as life goes on, other commitments get in the way of all our charitable aspirations, because quite frankly, we never know where to start. So what if there was an app that could tell you who needed what, where – and put you in touch with them – real time? Can it be done? We spoke to Saf Nazeer, co-founder of helpfulpeeps, a new startup promising to do just that.


Can you briefly describe what your startup offers and how long have you been working on this project?

Sure. Helpfulpeeps is a new social network that connects people who need help with people who can help. It is based on the philosophy of ‘Paying it forward’, which is big in the US. We aim to bring back a sense of community in an increasingly disconnected world.

We’ve been working on this, probably since about March of this year in some way, shape or form, but we were both in full time employment then, so it was something we worked on at the weekends – developing ideas and discussing product functionality. In recent weeks we have been accepted onto a startup incubator program with some seed funding, which has allowed us to focus full-time on this venture.

Why are you passionate about this project and how did you come up with the idea?  Were you inspired by any particular occasion?

Around March of this year, I had decided that I was ready to leave my job and that I wanted to start something new, to create something, but I didn’t know exactly what. What I did know was that my priority for starting something wasn’t going to be purely revenue or profit driven. I wanted to found a startup that could make a difference.  I wanted to impact change so I looked at the areas that I felt could use this change and there were a couple of areas.  One was the lack of a sense of community in the world we live in today so I wanted to try to solve that problem. I also felt that there was this over reliance, if you like, on money, where all value is broken down to pounds and pence, and I believe that currency is only one measure of value. We shouldn’t forget about time and energy – I believe in ‘human capital’ where every individual has something to offer to each other and society at large based on their skills and passions.

helpfulpeeps home

There were a few specific instances as well that led me to believe in the idea where I tried to use Facebook to get some help and advice and it really wasn’t the right medium as people are on Facebook for a whole host of reasons and not necessarily to help their network.  I felt that there was a need for something like this (helpfulpeeps) that I would use and so there may be other people who would use it as well.

And your background? How did you come to be an entrepreneur?

I studied Economics & Marketing for my Bachelors degree and went on to do a Masters in International Management. I then went on to spend the next seven years of my life in B2B sales climbing the corporate ladder – leading sales teams and then managing key account clients, which included several Fortune 500 companies.

I think after a while, the lure of financial rewards and international travel – the very things that attracted me to the job in the first place – started to diminish and I just felt like, okay, I can’t do this forever.  I needed to really sit back and figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life and that’s when I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my job.  I felt I was in a position where I was financially secure, at least for a while so I thought to myself if I don’t do it now, I never will.

And your childhood or family background?

With regards to my childhood, my dad’s an entrepreneur so the idea of working nine to five and then getting a pension at 65 – that lifestyle never really appealed to me.  So, from a young age, I always knew that there was this option of becoming an entrepreneur but I was also aware of the reality – that it wasn’t always glamorous and that it’s not the smooth ride the media makes it out to be. I was aware of that and I’m grateful because I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur for the sake of becoming an entrepreneur.  Obviously, it’s fashionable to become an entrepreneur these days but I’d seen and experienced the level of sacrifice required to make it work so it’s not a decision I arrived at lightly.

Was there anyone in particular who inspired or motivated you?

In terms of inspiration it would have to be Elon Musk. I respect and admire people like him who aren’t in it just for the money – they are in it to make a real dent in the universe. He’s willing to tackle the difficult problems, the problems that really matter because he strongly believes in it – we need more people like that. I aspire to be more like that.

Tell me about your business partner

I’ve got a co-founder, Simon Hills who’s got an engineering background, and for the last three years, he’s been working as a project manager. He reached a similar conclusion regarding working and entrepreneurship at the same time as me which kick-started our partnership. We are good friends and I believe we complement each other well both in terms of our personality and our skills-set.

There is a bit of an interesting story in terms of how we met… we actually met for the first time about 4 years ago in Lisbon. His girlfriend at the time (now his wife) Helena, used to be on my team at work and we had a sales prize for the team that brought in the highest revenue for that quarter – an all-expenses paid long weekend trip to a 5 star hotel in Lisbon. My team won and we went on this trip and Helena brought Simon with.  So, that’s how we met.  We spent three days drinking whiskey and playing poker and just having a great time. That was kind of the beginning but since then, we’ve become really good friends.  Helena and I were good friends anyway to begin with so we all kept in touch since.  They are both very entrepreneurial and own a successful lifestyle business already called KoogaTree, selling bespoke cat furniture online. They’ve been running this business alongside their day jobs and we’ve always talked about how we could potentially start something together.

Then back in March I came up with the idea for helpfulpeeps, pitched it to him and pretty much, we were off!  So, that’s how it all happened.

How do you think your business is different from those products or services that other companies and competitors are offering at the moment? 

As it stands, I don’t see anyone doing what we’re doing.  There are organisations and websites which are promoting random acts of kindness and paying it forward and all that good stuff but it’s more about sharing stories and inspiring people to do stuff, which is great, but I think what I wanted to do is use technology as an enabler to make it easier, more fun for people to actually get involved.  That’s kind of the idea behind it, so as it stands, in Bristol for example, if you were into philanthropy or you wanted to do something nice, your options are pretty limited.  You’ve got the Big Issue guy and the homeless guy and that’s about it really.  If you wanted to really get involved, you’d need to spend a considerable amount of time on Google researching charities, etc. and then you would need to commit a certain amount of time to get involved.  In this day and age, people don’t behave like that.  We want to do good but we’re lazy. I wanted to make it easier for people to get involved in a way that’s suited to the way that people interact nowadays, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.  I think once the product launches; hopefully people will use it because it’s a fun way to engage.  There will be gamification elements to it which makes it interesting and you get recognised for doing good which is great as well.  At the moment, there’s nothing out there that ticks all of the boxes and that’s what we’re trying to do.

What is your vision for this product and your company in three or six years’ time?

For us our primary focus is growth so it’s all about getting as many people engaged on the network helping each other out. Successful social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we interact online but what we want to do with helpfulpeeps is to change people’s behavior in real life. We want to measure metrics like the number of lives improved and how many times people have paid it forward – those would be great metrics as you can see just how effective and useful the network has been in facilitating positive change. So it’s about making people aware of it, getting people using it and really then getting the benefits for themselves and then once that happens, I believe that it could become part of the social psyche where helpfulpeeps becomes your first port of call whether you need help or whether you are looking to help.