How to build tech for good — and turn a profit

Christian Erfurt, the CEO and co-founder of Be My Eyes, who was interviewed for this article, is speaking at TNW2021 this year! You can get tickets for the event here.

As if it isn’t enough of a challenge to build a business that makes money, Christian Erfurt took on a more difficult proposition six years ago. He co-founded a company with a view to assist people with vision impairment, while also developing services for enterprises to adopt into their customer care and accessibility programs.

That company is Be My Eyes, which is best known for its eponymous mobile app. The idea is that a blind person can use it to call for help with anything they’re having trouble seeing or identifying visually around them, and receive assistance via video chat with any volunteer around the world who responds quickly.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve answered calls to help spot a phone charger in a messy room, and identify an item in a grocery store. The system is ingenious in its simplicity. In addition to providing assistance to someone in need of help in a pinch, it also gives volunteers an opportunity to do a good deed wherever they are. There’s also comfort in the knowledge that there’s a sustainable business keeping this service alive.

So what does it take to create something like this? According to Erfurt, it’s all about combining purpose with profit, and designing your business around that. “The next generation expects this from the companies, products, and services they patronize. And to speak of our mission in particular: accessibility in tech wasn’t really on the agenda five years ago, but it certainly is now. That’s what we’re building for.”