Founders View: A discussion with our CEO Julianne Sloane

January 12, 2021

What led you to founding Nossa Data? 

Since I was in university, I felt that the way I could create the most positive impact in the world would be to build a technology business that solved a major problem. However, I didn’t know what problem I wanted to solve. So, after graduating with a degree in Public Health, I moved to London to work in product and growth at an early-stage B2C fintech company. I worked there for two years and got to learn about all things tech start-up. I learned about integrating customer feedback into product development, how to run growth experiments, how to effectively work with engineers and so much more. After that I joined as the first employee at a start-up building technology for private equity. While working there I learned about ESG and I got very very excited! ESG was a combination of my two interests. 

  1. I had studied public health and ESG has a very strong public health tie, and 
  2. My career has been spent working in financial technology and ESG has a direct finance tie. 

In addition to this, one thing I was actively looking for as a founder was to be in a rapidly growing market - and the ESG market is exploding! ESG has seen double digit growth for the last five years and really picked up in the last 12 months. ESG is growing and it's growing fast! 

After deciding you wanted your business to be focused on ESG, what did you focus on next?

I quickly knew ESG was the area I wanted my business to be in, but I still did not know what the biggest problem in the sector was. To help figure this out, I began spending all my time reading and learning, and in September 2019, I began writing a weekly newsletter about ESG to get started on building a brand for myself in this industry. That actually led to building a lot of interesting relationships and consulting work which gave me the opportunity to dive into a few specific ESG topics in even more detail. 

Then I got accepted into an incubator programme called Antler, which is a pre-idea and pre-team programme. My intention was to go into this programme and pitch to everyone that I wanted to work in ESG and see who I met. I met Irina Dumitrescu, who is now my co-founder, on the second day! We immediately bonded and have been working together full time since. That was eleven months ago!

Tell us more about the Nossa Data newsletter.

As I said, I started the newsletter months before I had the official idea about Nossa Data and it is something I still publish every Monday. What has been super helpful about this is that I have connected with hundreds of people in the ESG space. Subscribers are regularly offering our team amazing feedback and perspective about what we are building, sharing the problems that they face with us, and more. 

The newsletter also really helped us when we officially started the business in March as we had a huge group of people who were willing to take calls from us and ultimately, helped us pick the problem to solve: Company ESG reporting, data management and analytics.

What excites you about Nossa Data today?

Every day I feel more and more confident about the magnitude of our problem and the issues tied to companies compiling their ESG information for investors, rating agencies and other stakeholders. We now have a beta version of our product and we are doing a lot of sales outreach to investor relation teams at publicly listed companies. Nearly all of the potential clients we speak to really need a tech solution for this as the way they are currently solving the problem is very manual - emails and spreadsheets. On a sales call I recently had, a client said: 

“This solution is amazing, I can see how much easier it can make my life. In a world of limited resources, the less time I need to spend on admin tasks such as manually collecting ESG data, the more time I have to make a positive impact for my company.” 

Every day we are learning about new things we can build to give our clients an excellent experience. We are solving a very real and growing problem! 

How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic is changing the ESG space?

Irina and I met in March 2020, a very weird time to want to start a business. I had decided to work in ESG before the pandemic, but what we did in the first few weeks of working together was to make sure that there was still a demand and attention being paid to ESG and it was not something that would lose budget in a recession. 

In the month of March - the world was in total chaos. Then April came along and it seemed like people had started paying more attention to ESG. One specific example is a research house,  JUST Capital, which created a score-board for assessing a company's responses in terms of health and safety practices for their workers. This was getting tons of media attention and I felt this was a really positive sign for ESG. We felt more validated. And then, the George Floyd protests happened. This put way more pressure on ‘S’ (social) issues and we saw a lot of press releases from companies discussing what is their diversity policy, how are they thinking about D&I and more. This was another further push for ESG. 

Now, nearly a year after Covid emerged, ESG is very clearly not going away. When we speak to companies today, we ask them what they hear about ESG and they say it's enormous! They say it is getting mentioned on their earnings calls, they say they are getting more ESG-related questions than the last 5 years combined. Covid is not going to stop this trend, it has way too much momentum. 

What are some challenges that you see within the ESG space?

The number one challenge that everyone in ESG talks about is the issue of standardisation. One day, the hope is that ESG is going to be like financial reporting. There is a north star vision from people in ESG that we can get it working like the GAAP standards - the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This is certainly not the case today. 

We 100% benefit from the work going on in the ESG standardisation universe. Things that are really exciting for us are:

1. The fact that GRI, SASB and a lot of the large existing standards have announced collaboration efforts. This is really good from a tech perspective. We can map and show the compatibility between the metrics companies need to report to much easier this year than it was even last year. 

2. Another great piece of work that is helping us a lot is the paper that WEF recently released with the Big Four accounting firms deciding upon a common set of metrics. 

3. There is tons of incoming regulation that will help with standardisation. The Non-financial reporting directive (NFRD) and the EU Taxonomy are both very positive pushes in this direction. We have also seen a number of stock exchanges doing great work in pushing these standards on companies who want to list with them.

4. The IFRS have proposed the creation of a Sustainability Standards Board in a move towards more global overarching standards, which is exciting as it signals a key commitment towards more comprehensive standards and regulation. 

5. The IIRC and SASB merger, which was announced in November 2020, shows that some of the key existing standards are serious about convergence and collaboration. 

My view is standardisation is the big challenge that can only be solved with collaboration and more of this is happening than ever before.

What are you looking forward to in the next six months to year with Nossa Data?

We have been very heads-down building the product throughout the past 4 months. We were lucky to have some very friendly IRs at large listed companies helping us define our features throughout this process. Now, we have a product and we are speaking with more and more potential customers everyday. I am excited to get more customers on-boarded and to continue building a product they love. We will also be starting fundraising soon and we are also looking forward to growing our team and getting more people brought on to the Nossa Data mission.

What inspires you to help solve the environmental and social problems we are facing globally?

If Covid and the George Floyd protests have shown us anything, it is that the world has a lot of problems. I think the more conscious companies are about how they interact with people and the planet, the faster we can solve some of the major problems we are facing as a society. I am really excited about the scale of impact that we can have by addressing these problems from a company point-of-view. If you can get large companies that are dealing with hundreds of millions  or billions of dollars worth of revenue to make small positive changes, that can make tangible impacts on environmental problems: GHG emissions, biodiversity loss, plastics pollution, as well as social problems: how companies treat their employees or their customers. This is something that will motivate me for a very very long time.

Anything else you would like to add? 

If you are responsible for ESG at a company please get in touch at [email protected]. We would love to show you our product and help make ESG as easy as possible.