Beam founder: ‘Sweat it out and go as far as you can without raising’

Beam founder

Alex Stephany is the CEO and founder of Beam, a social enterprise where homeless people can crowdfund themselves to train for a job or find a new home.

The Hoxton, East London-based company’s platform lets people donate directly to a homeless person or refugee, showing the goals and progress of the campaign.

The tech for good company says it has supported 1,935 people through its platform and that 81% of people go on to find work.

Stephany founded Beam in 2017 and it has grown to 101 employees. He was previously the CEO of parking-sharing app JustPark.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Stephany explains why you should “sweat it out” and avoid funding in the early days, explains how to know when a founding CEO should move on, and reveals how he uses “active rest” to prevent burnout.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Alex Stephany: Don’t raise funding unless you really need to! In the early days, the best strategy is usually to sweat it out and go as far as you possibly can without raising! Whether that means bootstrapping your business or doing another job on the side, hustle to show as much progress as fast as you can.

Then you’ll be further along your journey and have more proof points, which makes raising money a lot easier when you can’t hold out any longer.

2. When should a founder CEO pass the baton on to a new chief executive?

AS: CEOs should pass on the baton as soon as it best serves the company’s mission. And not a month later. This requires self-awareness, which you can work on with a coach or by asking your colleagues for 360 feedback to illuminate your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Surround yourself with the right people at a senior and board level too, who, when the time comes, are able to tap you on the shoulder and say it’s time to move on! Your job is to ensure the mission of your company remains front and centre and sometimes staying in a role for too long can jeopardise that. 

3. How do you prevent burnout?

AS: People often think that taking care of yourself and preventing burnout are the opposite of work. But for me, I see looking after yourself as work. It’s incumbent on all of us to understand how we can best take care of our mental and physical health.

That’s active rest – not collapsing in front of Netflix or doomscrolling on social media. For me, it’s yoga, cold water swimming, meditation, HIIT classes, running and gratitude journaling. For others, it’s completely different. Find out what provides that balance in your life and put that into action as part of a routine.

4. Is there a technology that the world would be better without?

AS: I think it’s time to question the value that social media brings to our lives. In the long run, I imagine government and regulators will catch up with social media in terms of the large negative externalities it causes to society, particularly the impact on people’s mental health.

In the meantime, I’d like to see tech companies like Meta financially contribute to the mental health epidemic. At Beam, we’re trying to flip this by building a different and more positive type of social network that puts marginalised people at the centre.

5. Who’s a leader you admire in your industry?

AS: For me, the most outstanding, mission-driven founder and CEO is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. He’s torn up the corporate rulebook and put so much passion into building a truly iconic global business. As a fellow B Corp, I love that Yvon and Patagonia are resolute that an amazing way to change the world is through the power of business.

And now Patagonia has passed on ownership of the entire business to a charitable trust, which will allow them to have a huge impact on the climate crisis in the future. A true hero.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.