butN: Robin Chater
The serial entrepreneur discusses multiple revenue streams, protecting his tech start-up's security and battling to stand out in a competitive market
Name: Robin Chater
Company name: butN
Location: South West
Date launched: 01/10/2014
Number of Employees: 5
Tell us what your business does:
butN is an networking community, with the name standing for business travel networking. It differs from other communities like LinkedIn because the principal purpose of butN is to meet face-to-face and the online connectivity is just a way to discover where people are to network with.
Companies pay over one trillion dollars to send employees on business trips every year – an ideal place to network – but people spend much of their time alone in hotel rooms. butN releases this vast potential for increasing business connectivity at no extra cost.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I came up with the idea whilst staying at Crowne Plaza in Guangzhou, China. I saw how expats hooked up in the city and also how business people and hotels used the system We Chat. I thought I could adapt and improve this approach in a fundamental way.
I came back to the UK and talked to a few like-minded people who all encouraged me to develop my ideas. Eventually I teamed up with a great internet developer and butN was born.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I head up an employers’ organisation,The Federation of International Employers (FIE), and for many years exchanged mutual concerns about business travel. I have also carried out past management consultancy projects in the hospitality sector and realised that only a few hotels really understand their business. They talk of guests without really acting as true hosts.
What were you doing before starting up?
I am currently Secretary-General of FIE. My career prior to this has included senior positions in two of the world’s leading management consultancy companies and ten years as an advisor to The European Commission.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I have effectively run my own business for the last 26 years. I also own an business information company and a fashion design company.
How did you raise the money?
It all came from my own resources and an investment made by my business information company.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
The current site has only just completed beta testing. We plan to build up users as quickly as we can before launching a number of commercial elements – starting with sponsorship deals, affiliate marketing and some advertising.
We plan to partner with hotels, airlines and travel agents so they have their own butN sites and we shall be encouraging members of the FIE to establish internal communities in their businesses to increase employee engagement. Finally we shall launch a number of (currently secret) additional services that will be extremely attractive to users and can be sold to them at a premium.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Numerous – initially I teamed up with a group of developers/designers who did not deliver, then I had to find the finance to protect trademarks and replace the developers.
We have had all kinds of technical set backs, particularly concerning security (now largely resolved) and gaining press attention in a crowded market for speculatively generated networking Apps – we tried to get listed on Wikipedia in our very early stages and were met with repeated rejection. I think we now have an entry that might stick but it is early days.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Finding a competent website developer after the original team left and then recruiting a very bright new MSc IT graduate who was totally dedicated to the project.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If you can see a demand for what you are seeking to create and launch then never give up. Also do not compromise on quality and be prepared to work hard to get your message out to the world.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
A household name for achieving inclusiveness, tolerance, mutual respect and understanding between business people and cultures in the world.