The Entrepreneur: Benji Vaughan, Disciple

Disciple is a community management platform that helps leaders build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space online. We interview its founder, Benji Vaughan.

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Startups was founded over 20 years ago by a serial entrepreneur. Today, our expert team of writers, researchers, and editors work to provide our 4 million readers with useful tips and information, as well as running award-winning campaigns. We interview successful entrepreneurs from all over the UK, celebrating their achievements, hard work, and determination to get to where they are today.
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Founder: Benji Vaughan
Company: Disciple

Disciple is an online platform that enables small business owners, creators, and influencers to bring people, memberships, and content together in their own fully-branded and private community platform. Users can sell courses, charge subscriptions, live stream, and much more. All without any social media limitations.

Benji Vaughan, founder and CEO of Disciple, speaks to Startups about business aspirations, scaling too soon, and how his online community platform is challenging the traditional social networking route for creators and influencers.

The Business

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We are a software as a service (SaaS) business designed to enable creators to build independent, community-led businesses online – think of us as like the ‘HubSpot’ for the creator economy. Today, there are over two million creators earning more than $100k a year, and we believe many of them want to create businesses that are independent of the social networks they began their creator journey on.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

I think all of us at Disciple are proud of the team and culture we’ve created. We now have a team of thirty people in London, and Krakow, that are really passionate about our mission and about the amazing customers we’re lucky enough to work with. Our work is really hard to do and involves every person in the company, but it’s worth the blood, sweat, and tears to get it right… and it never really is 100% right so it’s a life’s work!

How did you fund your business?

We’ve been fortunate to have a very supportive network of angel investors who have backed Disciple, and only now are we thinking of institutional investment.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

We look at growth in customers, pipeline value, churn rates, and the engagement of members in our customer’s communities.

To what extent does your business trade internationally?

We trade globally, but currently, our product only supports a few languages so we focus our marketing in these territories. We are looking at establishing offices in India and the US in the next couple of years.

Where would you like your business to be in five years?

We’d like to have been an instrumental part in creating a thriving new type of global SME of creator/community led businesses. Becoming a platform that over 50,000 SME’s use to do great things on!

What software or technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

AWS – Amazon Web Services.

Check out the video below to see how Disciple works:

Growth Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in business?

The market we are operating in is incredibly new and therefore really unstructured. This has made it tough to build a scalable go-to market, but we have made huge progress and through our work and the evolution of the online community market we now see a really clear path to scale.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

Soon after we started the business, we raised a lot of money from investors. I received advice that “you’re not a bank so get out there and spend it”. This turned out to be really bad advice as we had zero product market fit and no clear product roadmap. This meant we scaled the team way too fast and burnt through a lot of our investors’ money. It hurt, and we nearly died as a result but thankfully our investors stood behind our vision for Disciple and we learned from our mistake.

What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started on your business journey?

Stay ultra-lean until you have product market fit, and be agile in your views – the business you build will not be the one you initially thought of but the one you discover through trial and error. The trial-and-error period can be done very leanly today.

How has the pandemic affected the market you operate in?

I think it has accelerated it, as it has done with a lot of technology markets.

Personal Growth

Did you study business or learn on the job?

I learned entirely on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

If I was better focused.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

Hubspot and Apple Music.

A business book or podcast that you think is great:

Pivot’ is a podcast I really enjoy, and ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz is a brilliant business book.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting a business?

Don’t overthink it. Today, it’s cheap and fast to get validation of an idea, so just get on with it first before thinking about raising money, building a global empire, or hiring team members.

Written by:
Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website. Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Condé Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism. Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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