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Investing in Beam: Gen Z, Social Impact, and Commerce
Leading Beam's Series A
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Hey Everyone 👋 ,
Digital Native is going out a day late this week to coincide with the announcement of a Series A investment we’re leading at Index in a company called Beam. Writing about the specific entrepreneurs and startups pushing forward the industry helps brings the themes I write about to life, showcasing innovation in real time. Beam builds on the themes of Gen Z behaviors, technology’s social impact, and the transformation of commerce.
Below, I’ll go into more depth on why Beam is so interesting and how it builds on many of themes I write about on Digital Native.
Investing in Beam: Gen Z, Social Impact, and Commerce
Earlier in my career, I worked in impact investing at TPG’s Rise Fund. The co-founder of Rise, Bono (yes, that Bono) used to say: “Capitalism is the most powerful force for good ever created. It has lifted billions out of poverty.” I share Bono’s conviction: when directed in a productive way—and with the right guardrails in place—capitalism can drive scalable and meaningful social impact.
Many of the investments I worked on at Rise were in inherently impactful sectors—climate, education, healthcare. But impact also transcends those obvious sectors. The most scalable change often comes from innovative business models that align incentives and channel consumer dollars in the right ways.
In another prior life, I co-founded a 501c3 non-profit—Worthy, an organization that connects LGBTQ+ mentors and mentees for guidance, friendship, and support. I saw how challenging it is to scale a nonprofit: at Worthy, we were constantly running up against budget constraints, always on the lookout for more funding and grants.
Beam builds on learnings from both Rise and Worthy: Beam has a clever approach to commerce that funnels a portion of the $800 billion spent on e-commerce in the U.S. each year toward important non-profit causes. In doing so, Beam becomes the connective tissue between the for-profit and non-profit worlds, turbocharging both in the process.
At Index, we’re excited to be leading Beam’s Series A. Beam is building a B2B2C platform that aligns the goals of brands, consumers, and non-profits.
Here’s how it works:
When shopping online, you may have seen Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) services like Affirm, Afterpay, or Klarna embed themselves into the checkout flow: when you go to pay for your items, these services give you the option to pay in installments rather than all at once.
Like BNPL, Beam lives in the checkout flow. You’ll see it as you go to pay. At checkout, you’re given the option to contribute a certain percentage of your cart size—typically 1%—to a non-profit. Here’s what it looks like when you shop on the clothing store Aday:
The brand is clear in where those dollars are going: “Fund the protection of 300 acres of forest to sequester carbon emissions.”
Here’s what it looks like when you shop with the brand Rainbo:
This time, you’re funding nutritious school lunches for elementary school students.
And here’s what it looks like when shopping with the Gen Z personal care brand Plus:
“Fund the removal of 500 lbs of plastic from the ocean via Surfrider Foundation.”
Beam even personalizes the non-profits a customer sees based on purchase activity and geography—for instance, I might be shown an LGBTQ+ non-profit in New York.
Here’s a nifty GIF to show how selecting a non-profit at checkout looks in motion:
And importantly, Beam establishes a relationship between consumer and non-profit: a consumer ends their purchase journey with a reminder of how they contributed to an important, brand-aligned cause:
Importantly, it isn’t me that’s paying—it’s the brand. Why are brands willing to give up 1% of revenue? For one, brands are able to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the causes they champion. Communicating these values creates customer loyalty. But more tangibly, brands see real ROI: average order value (AOV) goes up meaningfully; cart abandonment rates go down; shoppers become more likely to become repeat customers.
Beam has designed a business model that lets everyone win:
Consumers: Feel like direct participants in the causes they believe in; discover vetted, reputable non-profits and contribute real $$; shop with brands that share their values; align everyday spending with social impact
Brands: Align themselves with key values and causes; achieve strong financial return with AOV uplift, conversion rate, and purchase frequency
Non-profits: Receive meaningful $$ from brands to further their missions; build relationships with donors (post-purchase, consumers can monitor the progress of the non-profits they’ve chosen to support in the standalone Beam native app, which is marketed to them post-purchase via email)
The tailwinds of consumer behavior are in Beam’s favor. McKinsey published a recent report showing that brand authenticity and purpose-alignment are the expectations consumers hold most strongly. In McKinsey’s survey, 61% of respondents across all generations report wanting brands to take action on social issues. Among Millennials and Gen Zs, this share increases to 76%.
We see this sentiment in how today’s breakout brands are values-driven: Allbirds and Everlane are built around sustainability; Bombas and Warby Parker use “buy-one-give-one” business models. And we see this sentiment in the success of brands that take a stand—Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign comes to mind. In consumers’ eyes, if you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for anything.
At the same time, young people are more socially active than ever before. Black Lives Matter. Stop AAPI Hate. March for Our Lives. School walk-outs for climate change. Leaders like Greta Thunberg and X González have become household names at the ages of just 19 and 22, respectively.
Over the last few months, we’ve seen the need for social change more clearly than ever. In Texas, a hateful crusade against transgender youth. In Florida, the abominable “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And, of course, Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Dozens of brands that work with Beam elected to change the organizations that they’re showing customers to organizations that are urgent right now: the Project HOPE Crisis in Ukraine Fund, for instance, or Out Youth to help Texas trans teens. This is a powerful mechanism to activate.
When you shop the wellness brand Clevr, for instance, you can contribute to Ukraine Food Security:
Of course, capitalism and new business models are never enough—we still need substantial government funding and meaningful public sector dollars at work. But the for-profit sector has an important role to play, and there are few things stronger than consumers voting with their pocketbooks. The arc of capitalism will bend toward fairer, more equitable systems. Capitalism just needs to be directed in the right ways, with the right incentives in place.
Beam is helping pave the way. In the last year, Beam has partnered with 500 non-profits, funding over 3 million meals for families experiencing food insecurity; supporting over 500 hours of free therapy for queer and trans teens; and preventing over 1 million pounds of CO2 emissions.
One of the brands we spoke to put it best: “It’s a no-brainer for everyone involved.”
When we met Viveka and Alex late last year, we were blown away by their compassion, vision, and grit. Both Viveka and Alex are former non-profit founders themselves; they believe deeply in Beam’s mission and in their ability to shift $10 billion from brands to non-profits this decade.
We were also blown away by their resilience. When Viveka and Alex founded Beam in 2017, they originally focused on serving restaurants. When COVID hit, 95% of Beam’s $400K in revenue disappeared overnight. But Viveka and Alex rebuilt the business to focus on e-commerce brands. As a lean team of just six people, they’ve signed major customers like Instacart and IKEA and have now far surpassed their previous scale. These are founders you want to root for, tenacious and values-led. They are forces of nature. They’re everything we look for in entrepreneurs.
In Viveka’s words:
“The private sector of course can’t be a silver bullet to complex problems like racial inequity or climate change, but by using it to drive resources to grassroots organizations, we can create lasting change at scale. By doing that, we're also providing tangible proof every day that none of us is powerless—70% of people who use our platform go on to support nonprofits they discover through it with their own time, voice, and money.”
E-commerce is a $5.5 trillion global industry, growing +15% this year. Those consumer dollars are one of the most under-tapped but essential forces for social change. Beam is harnessing consumer spending power, redirecting it to important causes in a way that benefits everyone involved.
If you’re interested in joining the team, Beam is hiring across all roles. Check out their Careers page here. You can work out of Beam’s New York City headquarters, or choose to be fully-remote.
And if you’re a brand or nonprofit interested in working with Beam, send them a note at firstname.lastname@example.org 📬
Here’s to a more impactful, intentional future for commerce.
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