Wai Foong Ng is founder and CEO of Matchable, a digital platform matching companies and individuals with game-changing opportunities to work with exciting non-profits and start-ups on innovative projects. Before this she spent 13 years working as a tax specialist at PwC, and then took a three-month sabbatical to explore the start-up world. She’d previously set up Suit & Pie, her own blog, to provide news and inspiration to professional women and men, and then a community called Suits & Startups.
“…instead of painting a fence for your team away day, you could be using your strategy skills to help expand the reach of a social enterprise using Augmented Reality and gaming to help thousands of children deal with bereavement during COVID…”
Ticking all the vocational boxes before I realised tax wasn’t my calling
I actually come from a pretty traditional Asian background where choosing a profession and then aceing that profession was very much the goal! So, I read law with french law at Cambridge and then joined PwC to get my ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant qualification) and became an accountant – specialising in tax structuring on complex M&A transactions. Ticking all the vocational boxes!
I spent 13 years at PwC and really enjoyed it – the structure there is such that you are constantly feeling like you are pushing yourself and growing personally and professionally. But when I made director in Summer 2016, which is the first leadership level at PwC, I started to wonder if tax consulting was really my calling!
I had always had side hustles, my own blog called Suit & Pie (which is how I first met Fiona, founder of Womanthology – good ol’ days!!) all about inspiring women and men, and later co-founding a community called Suits & Startups which brought together people in the City with entrepreneurs. So, when I realised that tax maybe wasn’t my calling, I took a three-month sabbatical and explored the start-up world – that’s when I realised that I wanted to be a founder, and how I found my role at Matchable.
Matchable is a business to business platform that specialises in matching companies and their employees with unique, innovative skilled volunteering projects at charities, social enterprises and impact start-ups. We ensure that every project we source is needs-driven, as well as innovative and high impact, which means that we now have a database of hundreds of amazing projects that are not only super exciting (we definitely think!) but also enable employees to upskill while working on some of the most pioneering innovations solving the world’s most pressing issues.
So, instead of painting a fence for your team away day, you could be using your strategy skills to help expand the reach of a social enterprise using Augmented Reality and gaming to help thousands of children deal with bereavement during COVID (this is a real project by the way! Shoutout to the amazing team at Bounceworks!).
The beauty of running your own business
Every day at Matchable is very, very different. That’s the beauty of running your own business – I have to say I really love the freedom of being able to come up with an idea with the team, build it and test it within days (sometimes hours!).
My role has really evolved from when it was just me (solo founder, trying to test ideas and find the Matchable format that would appeal and form the basis of a sustainable business!), to now, with a team of five – which involves daily stand-ups, onboarding new clients, fundraising (the big one at the moment!), recruiting (definitely a job in itself), pitching, strategising and helping to set direction, but also constantly working with the team to try and think of ways to make things better! And also a fair amount of admin (organising your own payroll, pensions etc. etc., which is always much fun!).
The fact that, as a small business and at the stage we’re at, you are constantly teetering on the edge of big contracts and funding that will make you sustainable, vs running out of money, is definitely an interesting and fine balance which is both fun but also a real rollercoaster at times!
Coping with COVID
To be honest, we luckily and thankfully haven’t been too affected by COVID-19. As a business, in fact, we have seen an increase in the number of people and companies that are interested in offering meaningful and virtual/flexible volunteering to their staff, and there are a number of companies out there still doing well and that are choosing to prioritise giving back to the community at the moment.
As a team, we didn’t have to furlough anyone throughout the first lockdown, which was great – as we were actually busy (pivoting for a bit!) and then bedding down the model we have today which we have launched at a number of new clients!
The power of connections and ‘doing good’
I truly believe that in the future ‘doing good’ will form part of every business’ DNA. Companies that were purely profit-driven are now finding that the fragility of brand perception, the rhetoric around purpose, a Gen Z and Millennial workforce, ESG (environmental, social and governance) metrics and a whole bunch of other macro-economic and societal trends are pushing (forcing?) them to be more and more aware of their role within the wider eco-system and the need to blend profit with purpose (see asset manager Blackrock’s annual CEO letter and the Business Roundtable).
As a result of this, we have seen workforces request/expect that their companies live their values and invest in community/social good. Companies don’t traditionally have that capability within them, which means that in order to give back they will need to partner up with non-profits and other impact start-ups to deliver on this.
On the other side, COVID-19 has shown how much charities rely on donations, and they are having to become more innovative in finding ways to be sustainable – moving more towards a social enterprise model themselves. They can learn lots from collaborating with companies that not only offer them funding, but also their experience and resource. It’s a win-win on both sides! That’s what we’re hoping to enable through Matchable – and also why we have become a B-Corp ourselves.
Collaboration drives innovation
I’ve always believed that innovation happens best when people with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas come together in search of a common goal. That was one of the most exciting things about my previous side-hustle, Suits & Startups, bringing together people in the City with entrepreneurs to brainstorm, collaborate and bounce ideas in a safe environment.
And that’s also what happens now when we match our volunteers to impactful projects – they bring their skills, honed in their corporate organisation and their day jobs, to work with founders and innovation teams at non-profits who are specialists in finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.
We’ve seen some amazing collaborations that have resulted in incredible steps forward for these organisations – everything from Salesforce helping to measure the impact of tutoring on children with learning disabilities, to developing an app that will help us all measure our carbon footprint (see our case studies for some live ones!).
Advice for other female founders – persevering in the current challenging climate
My advice is: hang in there and stick with it! I can’t pretend it’s easy being a founder and being a female founder (despite the fact I want to believe being female doesn’t matter, unfortunately, the statistics don’t lie! For example, only 3% of funding goes to female-founded businesses – no real change in the last decade!), but it’s definitely, definitely worth it.
Stay focused but also stay agile – sometimes it doesn’t matter so much how you get there as long as you stay true to your goal, so if it’s harder, or a bit more of a winding road that will lead you to your ultimate goal, be flexible, take each day at a time and enjoy the journey!
We’re just about to close a pre-seed round of funding, which is very exciting, as it will give us the momentum to grow much faster and build on the great traction we’re getting at the moment with lots of new and really exciting companies coming on board. This will enable us to refine our tech, create something really big and scalable, and deliver more impact to our amazing non-profits and start-ups, so I’m really excited to see where the journey takes us in the next 12 months!