Diary of a start-up: Introducing David Sheridan, founder of Onedox.com
The start-up entrepreneur reveals how his idea to take the headache out of managing household bills became a business
Meet David Sheridan, our latest start-up diarist. The commercial director and co-founder of Onedox.com, a virtual dashboard for all your household bills, will be posting regular blogs and sharing the key moments, discoveries, and insights gained from life as a start-up founder. Here, David reveals how he and his co-founders got their business idea off the ground…
Over the coming months I’m looking forward to sharing some insights with you into our start-up journey – from the adrenaline rush of successes along the way, to the sleepless nights when things don’t go according to plan.
Hopefully there will also be some practical guidance you can take from my diary entries; whether that’s Founders’ Agreement provisions to incorporate or marketing mistakes to avoid.
Before I tell you about how we arrived at the decision to start up Onedox, here’s a little about the service itself. Onedox is a free web-based service that provides UK consumers with centralised access to household bills and automatic notifications whenever a consumer should switch to a better deal. The benefits of the service are to save consumers considerable time and money on household bills.
To get set up with Onedox, customers securely link their online household accounts with their Onedox account using our simple set-up wizard. Once this has been done, Onedox fetches information on the customer’s behalf and automatically displays it within their Onedox account.
We’ve created a short video providing an introduction to the service here:
Taking the decision to start a business
Perhaps quite unusually, our start-up didn’t follow the path of first having an idea and then making a decision to turn that idea into a business. In our case, it was the other way round.
We were motivated by working in an environment of agility, creativity and dynamism – characteristics that in my experience epitomise a successful start-up and can enable small businesses to compete against larger, better financed competitors.
I first met Hugh Nimmo-Smith and Richard Lewis, my co-founders, when we worked together for a mobile technology start-up. The company was started by two friends in their bedrooms and grew to a 200-person company and successful exit 10 years later. Despite the growth of the company over the years, it managed to very successfully maintain a competitive edge by continuing to act decisively and innovatively.
Since we sold the business I’ve spent five years working and consulting for much larger organisations, which has helped broaden my experience. That context has been extremely useful but it also helped me realise a preference for working in smaller enterprises.
With an ever-growing conviction of this fact I approached my former colleague Hugh, and was delighted to learn he was thinking the same way.
The ideation phase: Finding the right idea
During the summer of 2014, Hugh and I got to work, which on day one started with a blank sheet of paper. Our first step was to get into the correct mindset – what the entrepreneur James Altucher describes as becoming “an idea machine”, whereby you habitually question and write down whether there are better ways to solve everyday problems.
The theory with this bottom-up approach is to train yourself to get better at generating ideas based on your everyday experiences. Our hope was that if we could generate good bottom-up ideas, see if they would bear some initial validation and also tie them in with more top-down economic or social trends, then we could create a short list of ideas warranting further investigation. In respect of top-down trends, we found Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends and data on the frequency of ideas in particular sectors on Kickstarter to be useful resources.
This ideation phase led us to consider many weird and fewer wonderful ideas, but each was useful in that we began to review ideas more systematically.
- Does it solve an appreciable problem?
- Would the cost of production be sensible versus the retail price?
- Is there a gap within the competitive landscape for the product or service?
A home for household bills
The idea that we kept returning to and one that was supported by surveys we undertook (Google consumer surveys and within our social networks) was a solution that would help people manage personal administration more easily and cost-effectively.
In simpler times, we all had one inbox for receiving information from household suppliers (our letterboxes). Digitisation has caused fragmentation, with information now additionally being supplied via SMS, email and a variety of bespoke online accounts.
Our assumption was that the variety of communication methods relating to household account information (gas, electric, mobile, insurance, internet….) makes it more difficult to keep track of and manage those accounts. In turn, this makes it harder to ensure we are getting good value for money and not overpaying for these services.
Excited that we couldn’t convince ourselves it was a bad idea, we took the iterative step of committing to the next phase – the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP) and a beta trial for a service which we came to call Onedox.
Next time I’ll be talking about the necessary pain of a good Founders’ Agreement to underpin a start-up venture. Whilst unglamorous, getting one agreed among the founders was a major milestone and worth spending the time on getting right.
For future content about Onedox’s journey (and previous columnists), check out our Diary of a start-up channel.