Azullo: Guy Cookson
The co-founder of the online ad platform on building a team, quality control and securing three breakthrough clients in a week
Tell us what your business does
Our flagship product, Respond, is an ad platform that helps online publishers earn more revenue, and advertisers acquire new customers. Respond solves the problem of falling ad click-through rates by making it possible for website visitors to fully engage with advertisers without leaving the page. We do this by placing contextually relevant call to action buttons across a network of quality publishers. When people use a Respond button a campaign is displayed as an overlay, so you can send an enquiry, view a video, register for a service, or even make a purchase, without clicking-through to another page.
How did you know there was a market for it?
The ad industry is crying out for a way to reach relevant people with an alternative to the banner and text ad. Most publishers depend on advertising to survive. After creating the initial concept we reached out to the market and started meeting with publishers, bloggers, brands, ad agencies – anyone that could give us an insight. We quickly had confirmation that there was a real demand for Respond.
What were you doing before starting up?
I’ve worked in digital marketing, PR and publishing. My co-founder, Andrew Dobson, has many years of experience as a software engineer. We met at Jobsite before starting Azullo and launching Respond. John Lyon, our other director, has a background in management and finance.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’ve worked for an SME, a PLC and a consultancy with clients all over the world. I learnt something from each one, but was never fully satisfied. What appeals to me is being agile, being able to respond to change and opportunities without layers of bureaucracy and politics.
How did you raise the money?
We initially started out by providing web consultancy services to clients for 50% of our time and developing our own products the other 50%, so we were able to self-fund during the initial stages. When it became apparent that Respond had huge potential we stopped offering services and started to focus 100% on making it a success. That was probably the best decision we made.
How did you find suppliers?
We don’t use many suppliers – all of our software development is done in-house. We’ve been offered opportunities to outsource literally dozens of times, and it might be cheaper to do so, but we’re a technology company and we’re obsessed with quality. Product development needs to be at the heart of the business, not outsourced to some other company. That would be like a chef outsourcing his kitchen. We share an office with a really great design consultancy, Hotfoot Design, who helped create our brand identity. Hotfoot are the guys we work with mostly outside of the core team.
How have you promoted your business?
But most of what we do is direct contact with clients, some of whom we’ve been introduced to by mutual acquaintances or referred to by other clients, and others we’ve contacted directly. As a new business there is nothing more important than going out there and speaking directly with your potential customers.
What about staff?
We’re just about to undertake a recruitment drive. We don’t plan to hire too many people at the same time because it takes time to establish a culture. The maxim we follow when hiring is that of David Ogilvy: “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”
What was your first big breakthrough?
We met a very large publisher, a global ad agency, and a major brand advertiser in the same week, and they all really loved what Respond can do. This was early on and showed us that the market wanted the product.
What would you do differently?
There are always a few things that you could have done differently in retrospect, but one of the advantages of following agile principles is that you assume there will be change. When we develop products we do it incrementally, actively seeking feedback at every stage. This helps us to avoid having too many regrets.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Go directly to the people you want as customers or partners the moment you can articulate what you are trying to do. Don’t wait while you order stationary or write a plan or design a website. Don’t follow people on Twitter and hope they’ll notice you. Pick up the phone and arrange meetings. You’ll quickly find out if your idea has potential, and what changes you need to make in order to set the world on fire.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
We don’t have a specific exit plan. We just want to build a really great profitable business, enjoy doing what we do, and the future will take care of itself.