1. Tell us about the businesses you've previously founded
The last business I founded is Lunio, a B2B SaaS (Series A) startup based in Manchester. Lunio works with PPC Advertisers to prevent fraudulent activity (ad fraud) in their campaigns. It works with large retailers and has 70+ employees today.
2. What gave you the motivation to start your own business?
My first business was at the age of 15. My main motivation was the fact my mother was not in a financial position to provide me with what I needed beyond the basics and I realized I had to generate income for myself and the family.
I started off with Drop-shipping products in eBay (over 13 years ago). Over the years the motivation to start my own businesses came from the excitement of solving difficult challenges, and wearing many hats at once. I love how hectic and full of surprises being a founder can be.
3. What was your biggest challenge when starting out?
Lunio started out as a bootstrapped business. The biggest challenge was "solving issues with no money" - we knew what needed to be done but had to get scrappy and find creative solutions.
Looking back, I think that a big challenge we had to overcome was the fact any advertiser could use our product (a locksmith and a FTSE 500 company). We had shot ourselves in the foot by trying to sell to anyone that could use the product (not finding our product-market-fit essentially).
Another challenge we had was the market and the fact it was not aware of the problem. Six years ago businesses weren’t receptive to an ad fraud prevention tool. It took us a good couple of years to educate the market around the issue.
4. How did you overcome it?
We started the company with a self-service offering but soon realized this segment of the market consumed a lot of our time. We didn't have any resources for customer support so it was down to myself and another founder to provide it. These customers were also more difficult to work with (smaller advertisers, not educated around the ad fraud issue, etc.). At the same time, we saw that the 80/20 rule was appearing (where a small subset of customers generated the majority of the revenue).
We took a bold move to shift our entire selling motion to a classic B2B, pricing upon request, qualification style sales process and removed the self-service element entirely. As for the other challenge I mentioned around market education, we had invested in a strong marketing team over the years, produced hundreds of content pieces, guides, infographics, reports etc. We positioned ourselves as a source people come to learn around PPC, and over time, they just happen to learn about ad fraud whilst reading our content.
5. What did you find most surprising when starting your own business?
How easy it is to get caught up with the small fires (irrelevant small tasks) and not the things that move the business further. Any founder of any business at any point has 10+ things to do. A few of them are outside of your comfort zone, so many times you would resort to do the things you know or are familiar with first. The difference comes when you choose to challenge yourself every day with the tasks you don't enjoy, or don't feel confident about. That's how you move the needle in the right direction.
6. What are the key roles Founders should hire first when starting out?
Context dependant question. Most of the startups hire tech/engineering talent to cover skills missing within the founding team. However, if the technical skills are covered within the founding team, startups will bring in a marketer or an AE, depending on the product and its state. I wouldn't focus as much on the key roles to hire first, but rather, key personalities. I would look at how quickly they can adapt, proactiveness, whether they're tech savvy or not etc. I would definitely look for someone more hands-on rather than a senior, strategist position, which can be covered by the founders.
7. What one piece of advice would you give other entrepreneurs who want to follow a similar path?
You're more talented than you think. You don't need a fancy GTM strategy, or a consultant to guide you through every bit. Just give it a go. Bubble.io allows you to build applications without the need for an engineer. Do your research and find the tools online that will help you build your business on your own. You can do it!
8. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you began?
Learn the dynamics of fundraising before you look for an investment. Understand the numbers behind a VC fund and their reasons to invest (or not invest) in a business. Understand liquidation preferences, and how vesting schedule works.
9. What do you do to relax your free time?
Two things. Firstly, cooking. I am always looking for quality veg & meat, and love to experiment with my partner over the weekend. Then secondly travelling. I try to allocate 50% or more of my days off every year to travel abroad. My favourite country so far is Greece and the last few trips were around Eastern Europe, the cuisine there is incredible.
10. Which essential item do you always pack for a business trip?
My earplugs. I cannot sleep at night without earplugs (even if I’m alone and its quiet). Strange ritual, I guess?