Lamplight is a private company. We have shareholders and try to make a profit. We are sometimes asked why we’re not a social enterprise or a charity.
In some ways this strikes as a slightly odd question: the computer on your desk; your desk; your phone; your paper; the lightbulb over your head – all these are (extremely likely to be) supplied by a private company (with a quick shout to Changing Lives in Cheshire – one of our customers that recycles furniture). We’re not sure what’s different about Lamplight to think that it would be more appropriate to be a social enterprise or charity.
In fact, we think that for us, being a private company has real advantages.
Lamplight has been developed solely through the financial and personal investment of it’s shareholders. They have put in a lot of time and money over the years to build the product and company. Another way of putting this is that we have never sought or received grants or government funding of any kind – we think this is best spent on charities delivering services. It also means that our ‘upwards’ accountability is to our shareholders, rather than grant givers or government bodies.
As it happens, Lamplight is a small, family business: so our shareholders are Matt Parker and Sarah Parker. So the demands of our shareholders are not of the ‘quick buck’ variety – we want to organically build up a solid company that genuinely helps charities be better organisations. We want it to be profitable (and it is, modestly) because that’s the only way to keep going. We’re in it for the long term. So we don’t think that the ‘accountability’ to our shareholders is problematic. And if Lamplight were a charity/social enterprise, our investment would essentially be our charitable giving – and we prefer to give to other organisations.
More positively, being a private company means that our customers really are central. If they don’t like Lamplight, or the service we offer, they’ll leave (and they can – our hosting agreement is only a month, and customers always have access to a full download of their data). If our customers leave, we no longer have a business. So most important is our accountability to our customers. Because we don’t have any external organisations (funders) with targets which we have to meet, our real accountability is to our customers. We have to listen to feature requests, to ideas where we can improve the system, and respond. And we do.
So on balance we think that being a family-owned private company is a good thing. We don’t have grasping, short termist shareholders; instead our real accountability is to our customers: without them, we’ll all be off to the job centre pretty quickly.