3 Years to Day 1: How Long Does it Take to Start a Business
My background is in interior, architecture and design, and I worked in 3 different corporate practices over 10-15 years while freelancing on the side. I became a bit bored and fed up working in corporate practice, and felt it needed to be more open.
In September 2011 I broke my arm, and was at home off sick and in a bit of a rut. My aunt was a business development coach, and when I explained that I had an idea for a new platform, we spoke about it for a few hours. My idea was for a more open and immersive home design, building and buying process, rather than the quite limiting 'marketing and brochure' approach used the majority of the time. This conversation was the start of ‘Year 1’.
Year 1: Discovery
I found that an idea is just an idea, and it doesn’t mean anything if it is not executed. If you have an idea, you should do something about it. At the time I was working full time in corporate practice, with some CGI freelance work on the side, so any work on my idea meant extra hours. I spent the year researching, getting hold of around 30 Mintel Reports (consumer market analysis), which weren’t freely available at the time. I spent lots of time meeting people, gaining advocates and support, and took 22 of my 25 annual leave days to meet developers and people that could help me during working hours. This was the year before I got married, and at this point my friends and family thought it was just an idea.
LESSON - TO BUILD 30 YEAR RELATIONSHIPS, FIND PEOPLE YOU TRUST.
Year 2 (was actually more like 2 years): Fun Year
I went to all sorts of networking events four evenings a week. I went to everything possible, even if it didn’t seem directly relevant, to learn and understand as much as possible in all areas. I built up design manufacturing and construction contracts. There was a fair bit of drinking and socialising involved so it was quite good fun, but my intention was to keep pushing and reiterating my idea until I found a good market fit. My freelance clients at the time were house builders, and I felt that their model wasn’t good enough. At every meeting with them, I reinforced the benefits of the platform that I’d developed, and I spammed big and small companies with emails about my idea. All engagement and feedback was helpful. I was still working full time, but making more from freelance work than from my 9-5 job. The mood changed with my friends and family, and they became a bit less dismissive as they saw the commitment I was making and the time I was putting in.
I met Tom Gallard of Pwinty at a networking event, who introduced me to David Hulston of Indycube Ventures - this was my first introduction to Indycube. When I met with David Hulston (this was my second meeting ever with an investor), I was able to answer questions coherently because of all the networking, so I felt my efforts there were justified. In April 2014, around my 30th birthday, when I was on holiday with my wife in Boston (paid for by freelance work), I signed to work with David and Indycube Ventures. My friends and family realised it was really serious now, and were both excited and scared. My parents gave me the money I needed to buy some kit and software, which was a great help. It started getting really real then. I was learning that business has highs and lows, and that it’s important to try to stay level, and on an even keel.
LESSON - TALK ABOUT YOUR IDEA AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, DON’T KEEP IT CLOSE TO YOUR CHEST AT NETWORKING EVENTS. THE MORE PEOPLE I TOLD, THE MORE THOSE PEOPLE CONNECTED ME WITH OTHER PEOPLE AND WANTED TO HELP ME.
Year 3: Revenue
At this point, I was still working full time in corporate practice. My annual review came around, and I was honest about wanting to pursue my own idea. My boss dismissed it, so I took 6 weeks unpaid sabbatical to prove concept (my boss left in the meantime). During this time I emailed, called and met with everyone that I had connected with in year 2, making more connections and continuing to build those relationships, and secured our first client in the first few weeks. David Hulston and Indycube Ventures invested a small seed round to enable me to fund the app's MVP (minimum viable product) - this took about 9 months, and is a whole other talk! In between the meeting I purchased domains, built the website, designed the logo and business cards and prepared my pitch and investor deck. My friends and family were really supportive; they knew that me working for myself would be less stable, with no pension etc, but they understood that it was what I wanted to do. I was now at the start of the business, and began to feel that it could be a ‘real’ business. Now, two years later, I’m looking at securing investment from Finance Wales.
LESSON - IF YOU WANT SOMETHING YOU’VE NEVER HAD, YOU NEED TO DO STUFF YOU’VE NEVER DONE - FOR EXAMPLE, I HAD TO BE BOLD IN BUILDING THE APP.
Q&A/other areas of discussion:
- When do people take you/your business seriously? When you are freelance, part time, full time? When you have staff, or your own dedicated office?
- Is agency model dying, freelancers taking over?
- Need to focus on idea, keeping faith in idea - be patient as founder, let it play out
- Government involvement - my aunt is part of Business in Focus, and I had a mentor for a bit. They advised taking one step at a time (ie not doing so much research and networking), and I struggled as I needed to make sense of everything together, not just in isolation
- Good advice given to me in year 2 - stay local, make connections and test theory there
- Test theory wherever you can - it’s all about discovery
- I am dyslexic and struggle with writing, so learnt lots through YouTube
- Running own business as being more about sacrifice than risk
|Mintel Reports||Cardiff Start|
|Cardiff Breakfast Club||Fiftyonethree||Cardiff Design Stuff||Ingnite Cardiff|
|Creative Mornings||Chambers of Commerce||SEO meetup||Digital Tuesdays|
|Future Proptech||MIPIM UK||Shared Property Data||Proptech Den|
Richard Williams is the founder of Veritii, a home buying app for builders, buyers and creators. He works from, and holds down the forte at IC Trade Street. This guest post was developed after Richard gave a talk and Q&A at one of our Jelly events. Catch up with him on Twitter @richowilliams or drop in to Trade Street for a chat.