Daniel de Gruijter of Incitement on instigating a movement: Startup Stories

This pet project became a full-fledged social enterprise.

There’s a growing emphasis on social awareness and sustainable practices around the world. Many companies are incorporating corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and channel internal resources to various initiatives to alleviate the pressure in some of society’s critical issues.

However, not all well-meant measures hit the mark. This can be due to a lack of transparency and information. One specific pain point for companies that want to implement CSR initiatives is seeking the right partner projects that align with their values and mission statements.

This is where Incitement comes in: It bridges the gap between for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations.

Incitement is a Malaysia-based social enterprise that helps companies and brands achieve social impact. They want to see every business act on a social mission.

Incitement recently launched a platform called Inpactor, a social media platform for volunteers, nonprofit organizations and grant makers. The platform, which will run on blockchain, connects brands with causes and volunteers, creating a marketplace that is equipped with features to help businesses fund, manage, measure, and report social impact.

KrASIA recently reached out to Daniel de Gruijter, co-founder of Incitement, to understand how the company that started out as a pet project became a social enterprise with the mission of inciting a global movement for social impact.

KrASIA (Kr):What is the history of Incitement? 

Daniel de Gruijter (DG): Incitement started in 2011 as a hobby project for myself, Zikry Kholil, and a couple people who dropped out later. We began by organizing smaller community events consisting of talks where speakers share stories, visions and ideas to incite positivity in others. Since it was a side thing, we did not put much thought into marketing. We simply uploaded our content onto Facebook until one day, we got a call from a person named Patricia based in Sonoma Valley, San Francisco.

Patricia said she came across our content online and asked if she could bring Incitement’s event format to Sonoma Valley. We said yes even though we hadn’t thought about monetization or scaling. We developed some basic branding guidelines and, before we knew it, we had our first event outside of Malaysia. That was in 2012 and that was how Incitement took off as an event organizer.

Kr: How effective were your events at that stage?

DG: At some point in time, we felt that while our talks generated a lot of hype, we failed to convert that motivation and intent into tangible actions. Our audience came to listen to our talks but went home and soon forgot about it.

We wanted to give our events more purpose so we started to partner up with non-profit organizations in Malaysia and having calls-to-action during the talks. We also developed our own initiatives and did a lot of work with the refugee committees here in Malaysia as well as around youth empowerment. With that, Incitement doubled as a project management company.

Kr: But Incitement was still a side gig, right?

DG: At that point, both Zikry and I were still in our full-time jobs. I was the director of marketing at a publishing company based in Malaysia.

Two years later, Incitement was gaining momentum and it became clear to Zikry and me that we were unable to juggle both our day jobs and Incitement. Thus on April 15, 2014, Zikry and I decided to take the plunge. We resigned from our full-time positions and dived right in.

It was a very difficult decision and we knew it would bring a lot of uncertainty, especially financially. But we both felt very strongly that it was the right thing to do, that Incitement would never be able to grow the way we wanted it to if we did not focus on this full time. 

Kr: What was business like immediately after you went full-time?

DG: Incitement was scaling very fast back in 2014 when Zikry and I left our job, although, ironically, it also didn’t have a proper business model yet

There was a lack of originality in what we were doing as an event organizer. What we were doing was very similar to what TEDx does and TEDx is very well established with top-notch content. We did not see a real market need for us to add value in that realm, hence the lack of a need to compete there.

As a project management company, aside from running our own initiatives, what we focused on was converting our attendees into volunteers. That was a concept that worked well; we managed to develop a large database of volunteers. But we also felt we could possibly do more than just match volunteers with nonprofit organizations. In other words, there was still a lack of purpose.

Thus the first thing we knew we had to do was to find a sustainable, predictable, and scalable business model. We got our validation a year later after countless failures and near financial crises.

Kr: What was the turning point for Incitement?

DG: That turning point was in 2015, when we adopted a project called Liter of Light that was initially started in the Philippines by an entrepreneur called Illac Diaz.

Liter of Light as we know today is a campaign that helps provide ecologically and economically sustainable sources of light to underprivileged communities in more than 22 countries. The fact that we got PepsiCo on board was a validation for us. With that, we went from an event organizer and project management company to helping brands manage their CSR.

Incitement is a social enterprise that helps companies implement CSR projects and initiatives that align with their values and we’ve stayed this way since 2015. 

Kr: How did Incitement end up developing its own blockchain platform? 

DG: The industry that we operate in is very complex, involving different stakeholders from the regulators to businesses, which include both for-profit and nonprofit entities, as well as consumers. It took us a long time to understand the intricacies. Through a lot of conversations with various stakeholders, we managed to gain a holistic understanding of the specific challenges that are hindering the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to work together in creating social impact.

We learned that there are always recurring problems around the issues of funding, transparency, and impact reporting. So the next step for us was to figure out how we can solve these challenges. Instead of taking an ad hoc approach in overcoming each challenge individually, we thought, “Why not create a solution that targets all?” We also attracted a technical co-founder, Iman Sedighi, who played an instrumental role in conceptualizing and developing Inpactor, and translating often abstract user problems into functional user experiences.

That was how we decided to develop Inpactor. To calrify: We’ve already launched Inpactor as a social networking platform and we are in the midst of incorporating blockchain technology to it.

For us, blockchain is used for transparency. In this initial stage, where we are still working on the platform, blockchain will be used in a very straightforward way. We simply use the technology to log transactions from corporate funders and grant makers to nonprofit organizations to create transparency and insights about where the money flows.

We want to first create a situation where there can be no doubt and debate on where these funds are going before we move on to the next stage, which will be to create transparency around nonprofit organizations’ expenditure.

Kr: How will you move forward with building Inpactor?

DG: Inpactor is a free platform that can be used by anyone who wishes to do so. We built it as a social media platform because we want to acquire mass scale and keep the stakeholders engaged for a long time. To ensure our platform stays sustainable and our technology remains robust, secure, and safe, we are working with the largest technology provider that specializes in big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning in Southeast Asia.

Good technology is expensive and takes time to build. This is very challenging, but we believe this is worthy and we truly believe Inpactor can be a game changer.

Kr: What is the biggest milestone for Incitement? What can we expect in the near future? 

DG: I’d love to come back to this question six months from now as there are some things we still have to keep confidential at this stage. But I can say that launching Inpactor is Incitement’s greatest milestone.

As far as I can reveal, Incitement has entered a strategic partnership with a tech giant to build scalable technology for Inpactor, so we can be the leader in this industry that continually disrupts ourselves instead of being disrupted by other players. We are preparing for a soft launch for Inpactor at the end of July, and by November, we will launch it nationwide. We are hoping for a global launch next year if things go well.

Currently we are in the process of raising funds for Inpactor and this is very challenging here in Malaysia. From a business point of view, we should have already moved to Singapore or Hong Kong, where the headquarters of regional brands are so we can scale our business the way we want to.

However, we believe Malaysia has a lot of potential and we want to contribute to it. We believe that with the right investor, we can deliver strong traction that will really put Malaysia on the global map as a pioneer in social entrepreneurship. But truthfully speaking, with the amount of rejections we’ve gotten from Malaysian investors, I wonder how long we’ll be able to remain headquartered here.

We’d love to stay, but if Malaysian investors are not willing to fund us, then we have no other choice but to seek it elsewhere, which we hope won’t happen.

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in Southeast Asia.