Every founder should have a back story like that of Max Sinclair, the founder of Eco Companion.
Eco companion “helps people find their next sustainable holiday in nature”, says the strapline, thanks to a bespoke world-rating system that first analyses then ranks the sustainability of eco-tourism opportunities in terms of their cultural, economic and environmental credentials.
Travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest markets and according to Max, nature tourism has a 20% share; therefore, as he puts it, “our business has the opportunity to drive standards of sustainability upwards in one of the biggest industries in the world – pretty much as big a positive impact as you can imagine.”
Big enough to attract the interest of the Startup Funding Club, and as many as 5 independent angel investors who have helped Eco Companion raise a seed-round of £60k, with a further round anticipated before the end of the year, as well as a Seedrs crowdfunding campaign slated either for later this month, or September.
Looking back Max can now reflect on his early struggles with sangfroid. 2 years ago he had quit his job to focus on Eco Companion full-time, having founded the business with a university friend, and appointed a developer after a trial period.
The first disappointment came, however, when due to time constraints both his co-founder and developer were forced to quit the project, leaving Max to run the entire business on his own, which, he admits, “was the lowest point for me”.
He was forced to leave his flat in London and return to the family home in Letchworth, where he occupied the spare room. To make ends meet he found himself working as a pizza delivery driver – “the same job I had once done as a teenager!” he remembers.
But he ultimately found returning to his roots inspiring. Max had been educated at a Quaker school in Letchworth Garden City, St Chris, which had insisted upon a strict vegetarian diet, no uniform, and once a year the canteen served nothing but rice, in order to remind the pupils how fortunate they were to live in a developed country.
Max remembers that the school also had “worm pits, that everyone had to work on, to recycle the food waste created by the school. We even did carbon footprint audits on our own lives when we were only 12 years old!”
Still, the unconventional regime is one of the reasons Max believes he ended up wanting to make a positive impact on the natural world. That and the fact that “it’s just obvious common sense that really one of the biggest challenges the world faces is to move towards a more sustainable existence in every area.”
Over the past year he has flexed his entrepreneurial muscles, and successfully built a new team; Editor-in-chief Taz was first to sign up, followed by James, the new web developer and more recently Joe, who heads up marketing.
“We also have a great selection of well-wishers that have supported us too, from freelance bloggers to graphic designers.”
Today, with funding secured, and potentially more in the pipeline, the real business of “selling nature in order to save it” can begin.
“If we can achieve that goal”, Max says, “and get people inspired about the natural world then we’ll go a long way towards helping to ensure its long-term future too.”
And, quite possibly, the long term future of a business that could prove to be as sustainable as some of the eco-tourism destinations it rates and ranks.