Bid My Bill: Dave Bell
The experienced entrepreneur on why patience is a virtue and the death of ‘business as usual’
Tell us what your business does:
Bid My Bill reverses the mobile phone buying process. Instead of users guessing which operator can offer them the best deal, we create an eBay-style auction using historic billing data then let phone companies bid for the contract. We launched in October 2011.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I called O2 as my contract was ending and was offered a big discount from the retentions department to stay.
It dawned on me that if other phone companies knew my value as a customer too then, because of the competitiveness in the industry, they would likely out-bid each other for my signature. Bid My Bill was born.
How did you know there was a market for it?
A quick search found no similar service, and I felt the mobile industry had been working in the same way for years, so could do with a re-vamp.
Our two main unique selling points are our analysis of historic minutes, text and data usage, which makes future requirements a lot clearer. Also, no other site makes phone companies compete against each other to drive down price.
What were you doing before starting up?
In truth, I’ve never had a job. I started my first business straight out of school at the age of 16, and Bid My Bill is my fifth company.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
It’s going back 15 years, but I can recall never wanting to answer to anyone being an initial driver for me to set up alone.
Motivations change over time, but this is still one of my principal reasons for being in business.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I don’t tend to write business plans anymore – they’re usually made for other people.
I occasionally do a cash-flow forecast, but to be honest if I get the feeling something is good, I know to run with it after a five minute calculation and sense check. It’s worked OK to date.
How did you raise the money?
How did you find suppliers?
I’m not a developer, so I found a really excellent partner to build the application through a contact referral.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Development of the core application itself has been the hardest part. There’s a lot of technology involved and getting it stable, secure and scalable has probably taken six to nine months longer than planned.
It was worth the wait to get it right. We have a world class application now.
Where is your business based?
We have an office in Liverpool but I also work from home a lot (always have), and we have several remote employees.
Crowd-sourced recruitment has completely changed the employment landscape in the past three to four years. I envisage the old model of everyone travelling to an office each day will become the exception quite soon, as much of that work can be done over the web. The economies of the opposite model will be too much for companies to ignore.
How have you promoted your business?
We’ve used a lot of PR, niche blogs and worked to obtain early-adopter evangelists. Traditional marketing is dead.
I firmly believe that if the product is exceptional then people will talk and spread the word. We focus everything on making Bid My Bill excellent, and let people talk!
How much do you charge?
It’s free for phone users. We charge the phone companies a percentage fee when they complete a deal.
What has your growth been like?
We have all the major networks on board, as well as many phone retailers and even some B2B phone companies. This was a major initial hurdle: getting enough companies on board to create an active bidding war.
We only really launched for phone users properly in early January 2012 (we did a beta launch in October 2011 then spent time implementing feedback). Numbers are growing weekly and we’re roughly on track with where we thought we’d be post launch.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
No different – I’m used to being obsessed with an idea 24/7.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
The main struggles are finding the right partner companies, and getting the technology to work well. The delayed launch got quite tiresome but it’s forgotten now.
What was your first big breakthrough?
We received a full-page article in the UK’s main mobile-industry magazine. This lead to a lot of phone companies signing up.
What would you do differently?
I would have launched earlier with something less ambitious.
As the development progressed it became a real beast. An earlier beta release to help customer feedback shape the concept may have helped.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Have a serious reality check before you progress with an idea that’s just OK, or a slightly better copy of something you’ve seen. You’ll get found out in the market and constantly have an uphill struggle.
Make something excellent that excites people; try and fund as much as possible yourself – you probably don’t need as much as you think to get something started; and be prepared for some sleepless nights if you do the latter!
Do you have an exit plan?
Thinking about an exit too early always makes you prioritise the wrong things. Instead of focusing on making the product great, you’re thinking about how to make the business appear to potential buyers. If we create something to be proud of then there’ll inevitably be an exit.