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Venturing forth: Thrift

22 May 2017

The article at a glance

Venture by Cambridge Judge alumnus takes the hassle out of donating unwanted apparel while rewarding donors with online credit. Many people have …

Venture by Cambridge Judge alumnus takes the hassle out of donating unwanted apparel while rewarding donors with online credit.

Woman holding a Thrift+ box.

Many people have good quality clothes and shoes sitting in a wardrobe gathering dust. They could sell them online or donate to a charity, but don’t usually have time for this. So a new venture begun by a Cambridge Judge alumnus aims to make donating a more attractive alternative.

Joe Metcalfe (MST 2009)
Joe Metcalfe (MST 2009)

Thrift, launched by Joe Metcalfe (MST 2009) in September 2016, allows people to donate goods to their chosen charity without leaving the house. Donors can go to Thrift’s website to order a ThriftBox (a flat-packed container that arrives through the letterbox) and arrange a free courier to collect it. The items are sent to the Thrift warehouse in London where they are prepared for sale. The team will clean, photograph and upload the items onto the Thrift website. The donor suggests the sale price and 50 per cent plus GiftAid goes to their chosen charity.

As a thank you gesture, the donor receives 25 per cent of the sale price as credit to spend in the Thrift shop. Alternatively, they can gift this credit to a friend or family member, or choose to donate it too.

Donating to a high-street charity shop typically means dumping clothes in a collection bin or on the shop doorstep and that’s it. Thrift aims to make the whole process more transparent: donors can see their items properly presented online, listed for the right price, and they get a full donation report when the items are sold.

Kirsten is one of Thrift’s first donors and it is the transparency that she likes best. “When I’ve spent a lot of money on something, but not felt as though I’ve worn it enough, I feel guilty throwing it in a bin bag and giving it to a charity shop that might not get a good price. Thrift means I can see that it sells for a decent amount and I get a little bit back which feels fair given how much I originally paid.”

After studying Natural Sciences and Management at St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge (2006-2010), and Management Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School (MST 2009), Joe went on to work as a strategy consultant in London.

He was not too familiar with the charity sector, but became interested in it a few years ago. “I can’t quite remember what the trigger was, but in between consulting projects I became fascinated with how charity shops worked and why they weren’t already selling online. I started to do a bit of research online, called up the heads of retail of major charities, and began to understand what challenges they face.”

Joe then took time off from work and in 2015 launched his first a venture called Charity Street. This was the first click-and-collect service for local charity shops in the UK that allowed shop managers to use an app to upload their best items in store for sale on the website. But many shops didn’t have enough resources to use the app properly, so Joe started thinking about how to make the entire process better for both the donor and the shopper. Thus his second venture, Thrift, was born.

The company has just launched its website and started taking pre-orders for ThriftBoxes. Joe says it’s about to start an online marketing campaign targeting young professionals and mothers with young children, as they are most likely to have good quality items to donate. Encouragingly, the first donations are already coming in despite not yet advertising broadly.

Thrift’s own revenues come from a 25 per cent commission on the final sale price. The venture’s costs include sourcing and sending ThriftBoxes, arranging courier collection, sorting and cleaning clothes, processing and dispatching online orders.

Joe’s next challenge is scaling up – finding premises, building a team, and launching the online store. All of which require money, so Joe is therefore looking to speak to angel investors with experience and expertise in ecommerce or social enterprise.

“What I love about being an entrepreneur is that you learn so many different skills on the go. For example, I was never involved in marketing before, but as the business progresses, it has now become the most important aspect and it’s really interesting to develop that expertise,” says Joe. “The downside is that sometimes you just don’t have the necessary skills, so I’m looking to build the right team around me.”

Looking ahead, Joe is keen to see the results of the national marketing campaign and hopes this will help Thrift hit the ground running. At the moment Thrift is discussing a partnership with British Heart Foundation, and the next step will be getting other big charities involved too, because the support of each charity partner will be critical in helping the venture to succeed.

This article is part of Venturing Forth, our new series on the aspirations and challenges of ventures connected to students, alumni and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School.

This article was published on

22 May 2017.