Google Hangout: A new way to start

Startups.co.uk, in association with Google Apps for Work, curates a discussion on new ways of starting a business

How can technology be used to overcome barriers to starting a business?

Startups.co.uk talks to the COO of Kano and CEOs of Boticca and FarmDrop to explore the ways in which companies are collaborating, boosting productivity and keeping the start-up culture thriving – through the effective use of technology.

Take a look at the highlights and behind the scenes footage below:


Full transcript below

Ian Wallis from Startups.co.uk: We’re here today to discuss new ways in which companies are starting and the ways technology is being used to overcome barriers. We’re going to be looking at the ways in which companies are collaborating and boosting productivity and keeping their start-up culture through the use of technology.

This is a discussion on ‘a new way to start’ in association with Google Apps for Work and we have three people behind fantastic concepts; Tom Enraght-Moony, COO of Kano, Kiyan Foroughi, CEO of Boticca and Ben Pugh, CEO of FarmDrop.

Kano is a computer kit company, inspiring a new generation of coders, Boticca.com is a global marketplace for original fashion accessories and FarmDrop.co.uk is the UK’s first local click and collect farmers market.

Tell us a bit more about your business and what prompted you to start.

Ben Pugh, CEO of FarmDrop: It was a couple of years ago now, I took the view that the industrialised food supply chain that has built up for the last 50 years has got to a place where people no longer enjoy the food that it generated, the producers feeding into that supply chain were also pretty dissatisfied and there was a massive opportunity to use tech and internet connectivity to enable people to access local, high quality produce for less money – whilst getting producers better terms and proper access to markets. So it’s a very straightforward concept but one that is only possible in the high speed broadband era.

Kiyan Foroughi, CEO of Boticca: Boticca.com is a destination that allows you to connect with talented, independent designers of fashion accessories, discover their stories and buy directly from their studios wherever you or they may be.

The idea came through an encounter where I met a very talented designer in Marrakech and it was so hard for her to get access to distribution and start selling her pieces to customers to the point that she had to trek two hours each way to a village to sell her pieces.

I said there has to be a destination online that allows designers to sell directly to customers but there weren’t any that did so economically and focused on talented independent designers in a curated manner.

Tom Enraght-Moony, COO of Kano: Kano is a computer and coding kit for kids of all ages so they can build and code on their own computer. We started from a challenge from one of the seven year old cousin of one of our founders who said he wanted to be able to build his own computer and learn to program it.

After six months of prototyping, the founders launched on Kickstarter – the most successful Kickstarter campaign in the UK selling over 13,000 units – and I joined around that time and was setting up a global supply chain in September and shipped the first 20,000 kits. Kickstarter really launched the business, it got it validated and we have been going from strength to strength ever since.

How has your team developed your product and services, and what is different about the way you work to bring your product and services to market?

Ben, FarmDrop: We started by going out and seeing the producers; we figured out there was demand – in terms of people in the market looking to go out and get fresh local produce – but we also went to speak to the producers at a very early stage to understand what their needs were. For any market, it needs to work for the suppliers as well as the buyers.

I think that was the key difference between us and a typical retailer – we built the system to work just as well for the suppliers as the customers and that was really in the DNA of the company. That has helped us get huge support; people like the Soil Association and the world of independent food producers around the UK because they have had a tough ride from a pretty harsh market over the last 40 or 50 years due to the monopoly by a small handful of supermarkets.

Kiyan, Boticca: In our case there are similarities with FarmDrop as we are also a marketplace; we were in a very inefficient market with lots of middlemen where by you would have the designer and then in between that you would have a distributor, agents, a wholesaler, a retailer, a boutique and then maybe a customer; and between all of this everybody is taking a cut and the designer is not making near the retail margin.

What we set out to build is a simple service so that the designer, who in general is a very creative person but not necessarily business orientated or technology savvy, can easily upload all their products and sell them to customers all over the world.

Tom, Kano: Our first challenge was the successful Kickstarter as we sold a lot more units than we anticipated and in 86 countries around the world. The challenge was how a small team in London could manage all these customers and all these different places while building a global supply chain in China, the geographical spread and complexities of doing this across the counties and time zones was a big hurdle we faced.

In a world where the physical location is rarely an inhibitor to starting up and growth, can you talk about whether geography was a barrier in starting and continues to be as you grow.

Kiyan, Boticca: Geography is both a gift and a curse. We have customers all over the world and we have designers that ship to 60 to 70 different countries so it’s a very global marketplace both for our customer and our supplier base which is a gift.

But it’s a curse in regards to keeping your focus on the right market because you can spread yourself too thin across all the different markets when you’re a relatively small team and therefore have smaller resources. So the key challenge for us is to keep focused on really scaling a couple of geographies (right now the UK and France) and then moving on.

Ben, FarmDrop: Our reach to the entire UK market is massive to us as our mission is to build a sustainable supply chains and the whole thesis behind that is that you have to make them shorter and more local; and that means providing consumers with convenient access to the food that’s being created from within a 100 miles of where they are. There are certain insistences where we need to supplement that offer by going further afield.

Taking people’s nutrition, their taste buds or the environment it is much better for everybody involved if you eat food that comes from your local territory so geography is a massive theme running through everything that we do in FarmDrop.

And at the start what helped us practically when we had no funding and we were all working from home was Google Apps, it enabled us to all stay engaged – it was a big help to us pre-office stage and still continues to be by letting people work remotely if that’s what they want to do.

Tom, Kano: With the founding team here in London and customers all over the world and a supply chain in China you can be sure that no one is in the same time zone or the same room. Therefore technology is integral to the way we communicate as a team, to the way that we run the business.

We use the obvious stuff like email, online spreadsheets, and things like hangout where you can get face-to-face with people and a picture of something in the market you need to see, which is particularly important when you’re dealing with a physical product like Kano where you need to see an item so having real time online video is great.

What barriers lie ahead of you in terms of working more effectively, retaining your start-up culture and building a better business? How can the role of technology play a part in achieving this?

Kiyan, Boticca: As we scale we constantly have to rate ways in which we are doing things internally and evolve them – especially as we are bringing more senior people on board. This requires shaping your team differently and changing our workflow and processing work internally. Now all teams are on camband so when you are scaling and you’re going from zero to £50m you are always trying to think of processes so you can adapt and grow. Technology has been key to that for us; for us to get organised, communicate and get everyone on the same workload.

Ben, FarmDrop: Protecting company culture as you are going through a fast growth period is both difficult and crucially important. We were five people for a whole year whilst piloting the concept and systemising everyone and going through the quick debrief on a pilot FarmDrop was such a straightforward thing to do but when you go to four or five times that number, immediately that becomes a lot more difficult so you have to figure out how to optimise communication and keep this environment of everyone feeling super engaged and like they are owners of the business and not just employees.

That is what has helped create FarmDrop – people coming to work feeling like they are stakeholders in what we are trying to achieve. And each time you add more people you have to work a bit harder to retain that, which is something we are really conscious of.

Tom, Kano: Our number one focus is that everyone who has bought a Kano continues to be delighted with it and technology plays a crucial role in that. All our customer service tools are in the cloud so if any issue comes up anywhere in the world, you can check it out on your web browser.

But technology is also useful in other ways, within the first couple of weeks of launch we saw a little anomaly in the data and were able to launch a survey to a big set of people and within six to 10 hours we got back responses and identified exactly what was going on and fixed it quickly. Without modern technology and responsive tools solving problems like this could take weeks and we fixed it in 24 hours.

Finally, imagine start-ups being pre-cloud, pre-smartphone and pre-apps how would it change the way your business fundamentally started and ran:

Ben, FarmDrop: A world without smartphones and the kind of connectivity you are talking about is the world we are still struggling to get out of; it is farmers taking 10 to 40% at a retail price through their selling, it is consumers seeing stuff on supermarket shelves that has been sitting in warehouses for weeks on end. The internet represents freedom from that, it represents potential for producers to get much better economics for their produce and consumers to access far better food.

Kiyan, Boticca: We couldn’t have launched a business such as ours in a world pre-cloud, pre-smartphone and pre this type of connectivity as that is the core of what our business is – bringing connectivity to customers and designers.

Tom, Kano: Yea you could launch a business like Kano without these tools but it would take you 10 times as long and cost you 10 times as much, and the result would be a product that is late to market and at a price that is not attractive to customers. So you can imagine it but it’s not a good outcome.

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