Back in 2018, I reflected on some of the reactions I had to my leaving the security of the University to start a business (was I crazy?).

Four years on, and Matter of Focus stands tall – a growing team, a successful software tool, and an ever-increasing number of organisations in the UK and beyond using our approach to understand their outcomes and track their impact.

5 tethered purple balloons floating in front of a row of trees

As I was cycling home from meeting a colleague recently, I thought about the unbelievable fact that we are five years old already. We have learnt so much – about impact and outcome assessment, about building a business in these strange times, and about how anchoring purpose into the heart of our work has been such a powerful way to stay on track.

Nobody could have predicted the curveball thrown by the pandemic. Nor the bizarre effect it had on both slowing and accelerating time. But if ever there was a test for our purpose-led plans, this was it.

We already had a flexible working model – communicating regularly by Zoom with our CTO Steve who works remotely. We already understood the importance of context and were here for our clients when theirs shifted so dramatically. While known for our sticky walls, we took our outcome mapping approach fully online. And having developed OutNav as a cloud-based software it really stepped up in its role as a central place to bring everything together.

So, I am proud to say we are still very much inhabiting our space amongst purpose-led companies, building tech for good.

Our journey, so far…

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To mark our fifth birthday, I’d like to share and celebrate five pillars of our success…

5 pillars of our success

  1. Pioneering organisations, who care deeply about making a difference to people and communities. We have learned a lot about what it takes to stay focused on outcomes, to embed learning into daily work, to build the capacity and capability of staff teams, and to embrace working well with outcome and impact evaluation. I am super excited that lots of this learning has been consolidated into our forthcoming book.
  2. A fabulous staff team, who have been happy to help us grow our approach, build our systems and processes, and jump in when others need help. It is sometimes exciting and occasionally scary building a start-up and moving on to scale up. We are fortunate to have attracted talented and thoughtful people to work with us – you can find out more in about them here.
  3. A sense of purpose that guides big and small decisions. We are a certified B Corporation, a member of the Zebras Unite cooperative, joining with like-minded companies who want to make a difference. We make big and small decisions with our mission and values in mind. You can hear me talking more about what this means to me personally and the challenges in building this culture in the podcast I recently recorded for the Turing Trust.
  4. A strong partnership at the core of Matter of Focus. Often business success is promoted as resting on one brilliant person. But I can’t imagine going on this journey without my co-founder Ailsa Cook. We have supported and challenged each other, had difficult conversations and made difficult decisions. The business and what we offer is so much richer through our combined efforts.
  5. Ecosystem support has allowed us to build a business without taking external investment. And while it has been challenging to develop our software bankrolled through our consultancy work, we have done most of it now and are in a really good place. This would not have been possible without support through the business ecosystem – Research and Development tax credits, Scottish Enterprise part-funding, and grants.

Seated in a team photo formation, the Matter of Focus team taking great pleasure in playing with a large foil 5 balloon.
Simple pleasures: nearly all of the Matter of Focus team together to celebrate our 5th birthday. Back row L-R: Craig Roberts, Allan Middlemass, Charlie Mills, Adeola Akisanya-Ali, Helen Berry, Grace Robertson. Front row L-R: Alex Perry, Simon Bradstreet, Steve D’Souza, Sarah Scott, Sarah Morton. Photographed by Kathleen Taylor. Ailsa Cook, unfortunately absent, but present in spirit!

Looking forward…

So, as I look forward to the next five years, we have some ambitious and exciting plans for the sort of company we want to develop that will support many more organisations to understand their impact, learn and improve, use data and evidence well, and stay focused on what matters to them.

Meanwhile we will continue to stay focused on what matters to us – being a purpose-led company and a great place to work – supporting people in public services to solve social challenges.

Life may sometimes be crazy, but the path we’re carving certainly isn’t.