Interview with Maximpact founder Tom Holland
Interview by Marta Maretich, Chief Writer
You have a background in pure investing: first banking, finance, real estate and, for the last 14 years, private equity. What brought you to impact investing?
I was investing in mining projects in Africa and decided we needed to put more back into the countries we were taking so much out of. To start I looked for more sustainable methods of alluvial mining, to create less pollution and leave the landscape in a better state. This led me to get in touch with the World Wildlife Federation. They showed me various impact projects but I still felt I could do more. From there, I started learning more about impact investing. I found many silos of activity in different places, but I saw that the sector was still very fragmented and this was leading to vast inefficiencies and really slowing down development. Years ago I had spent considerable time developing a global online portal for facilitating IPOs. Rather than finding a particular investment to get into, I decided that using this technology to create an open online marketplace for impact deals was a way to create the biggest impact of all. This would best achieve my objectives to accelerate the rate at which we do good for the planet and it’s inhabitants.
As you made the journey from being a private equity investor to building and running Maximpact, were there any individuals who influenced you?
Many. The whole spirit of this sector is totally different from the one I came from and I find it inspiring. From the beginning I was touched by how nice the people in this industry are. Everybody’s doing something good. It’s so refreshing when you compare it to the skullduggery and dishonesty I experienced while I was working on mining projects. I love the feeling and find myself filled with endless energy and passion to keep going.
Maximpact has been described as having a “big tent” approach. Can you say more about that?
Maximpact does have a big tent approach because it enables absolutely anyone who’s interested in collaborating to have access to the platform. We don’t accept just any kind of deal, but we do cover any deal that’s good for the planet and it’s inhabitants. Within that limit, we work to make the platform as inclusive as possible. Listing is free. Our reach is truly global. The platform supports deals of every size; and this is something we’re proud of. On Maximpact it doesn’t matter if the deal’s for $10,000 or $175 million: The platform enables everyone to have a go. That’s what we’re here to ensure.
On this open platform, how do you maintain deal quality?
Everyone on the platform is screened and vetted to maintain the quality of the deals. Every entrepreneur is vetted by an intermediary, a fund or by Maximpact. Every intermediary and fund is vetted by Maximpact before they join. Intermediary-level deals are due-dilligenced by intermediaries, and fund-level deals have already been vetted by the funds listing them.
The Maximpact system creates a triple filtration system for deals. Each deal will indicate the type of due diligence done. Our staff go further to check each deal is displaying all information in conformity. It’s not about having ten thousand deals, it’s about having three thousand or four thousand quality deals. Users have already commented that it’s so nice not to have to sift through 60 or 70 deals to find 5 or 6 good ones.
As you say, this sector has traditionally been fragmented, with different players who have very different views of what they’re doing. Does Maximpact have an ideology?
We do have an ideology. We believe that times are changing and we need more sustainable models for doing good. We think impact investing is a sustainable model with huge potential for helping the planet and it’s inhabitants. We are supporting the development of the industry by providing a site that brings together all the players and lets them collaborate freely. We believe good things will come out of this: more deals, better quality deals, improved liquidity, accelerated learning, quicker scaling and replication and a new sense of shared purpose between all the players, whether they’re philanthropists, fund managers, green technology businesses, social entrepreneurs, intermediary organizations; whoever.
What difference would you like to see Maximpact make?
We; and I include myself in this; stop protecting what we have, which is the way we’ve been brought up, and start sharing more. We all start acting together using the tools that are available to us on the Maximpact platform and working collaboratively on the financing, execution and implementation of good ideas and new technologies. We’re able to get things working much quicker and more efficiently, giving us all more time to focus on finding new creative solutions. We use this site as an importer and exporter of technology and stamp out similar problems that crop up in different parts of the world. The site gives us an overview that assists us to stop duplicating and spot problems faster and move much more quickly and efficiently to give help where it’s needed. We direct capital more efficiently and eliminate waste. We are all more on the ball, more organized. Investors and the public see that the industry is maturing and this builds trust.
The site has been up for two months. What’s the reaction so far?
Great. I’ve been traveling, meeting people and talking about Maximpact with funds and intermediaries and entrepreneurs from all over the world. People are enthusiastic about the idea. They can see that for the little you’re giving, the willingness to collaborate, you have so much more to gain. They like the way the site works; things like the detailed search facility and the automatic deal alerts are popular with users who instantly see the value of having an easier, more efficient way to source and evaluate deals. And they love the functionality, which is something we’re always working to improve.
You’ve committed your own capital and time to establishing Maximpact. As an impact investor who’s put his money where his mouth is, what challenge would you like to issue to the sector?
When I initially came up with the concept of Maximpact, many people in the industry were intrigued. They said, “You are actually challenging us to prove whether we’re really impact investors or not.”And they were right, because if you’re really an impact person, you’re not going to sit alone in your silo. You’re going to get out and enter the collaborative community because you know that by doing this you’ll help create an environment where you can make a much bigger impact.
So I challenge everyone to come out and collaborate on Maximpact. Give it a shot for six months and actually experience what it’s like to work in a totally open environment and to see the benefits that arise out of that: You only post a summary and the information you consider to be non confidential. The value of a combined research base, new networks, the Maximpact global accelerator, cost effective due diligence, improved transparency. It’s just wonderful. You get to keep your own branding.You get to come on a global platform and play wherever you want, with whomever you want. So what’s better, to sit in your own silo or to be active? If you’re a good player, you want to be out in the marketplace.
Once everyone does this, we’ll start to see the market develop a lot more quickly, too. The missing pieces will start to fall into place. More liquidity will follow, there’ll be additional support for exits and so on. But we need everyone collaborating before this can really happen. So try Maximpact, put your deal on the table and let’s see what you can do. You’ll find so many people to do business with, so many deals. Just open your mind to the possibility that there’s a better world out there and a better way to do things.