Cloud.IQ: James Critchley
Tell us what your business does:
We offer cloud-based marketing apps. These apps help organisations give their customers a ‘joined up' experience across their web, mobile, email and social media – what's called ‘multi-channel' marketing.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I'd seen first-hand the value that effective multi-channel strategies created for large enterprises and knew smaller organisations needed to be doing the same stuff. However traditional solutions for things like cart recovery, website call-back and email or SMS campaigns were well out of their reach due to their cost and complexity. My idea was to take these issues away by using cloud technology and simple apps – opening up the ‘big boys marketing toys' to all. The result is happier customers and more sales or donations.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Personal experience suggested there would be a market. I dealt with many companies in my personal life that seemed unable to communicate with me in the way and at the time that I wanted. I spoke to some of them to find out if they wanted to improve this, assuming it could be done cheaply and quickly and, surprise, surprise, they did. There was a massive gap in the market for a multi-channel marketing solution that wouldn't cost the earth but could make a world of difference to mid-market organisations.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was involved in another company offering enterprise multi-channel services to brands, governments and charities. I did a short spell at one of the big advertising companies and before that skiing and snowboard holidays!
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes, I always have run my own businesses from day one albeit with a brief attempt at employment . I've enjoyed learning from people in established companies, but I prefer our way of working.
How did you raise the money?
Hard yards and the good fortune to meet backers who shared our insight and drive. We were lucky enough to receive £2m from Bridges Community Ventures, whose founding chair is Sir Ronnie Cohen. Bridges needed to know we had proven technology and an idea with the potential to open up a whole new market. But they were also very interested in how our product could help charities, government departments and smaller businesses. That is a major focus of ours, making us a social business in many ways.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Getting organisations to believe that we really can do what we promise, and at a price point that's far lower than they're used to has been a challenge. Many of them have been over-sold complex technological solutions, so we need to almost detox their thinking. Because the concepts of cloud computing and apps are now becoming part of everyone's lives, via things like smartphones and SmartTVs – things are getting easier. The old issues of recruiting and retaining great staff also remain, but we share a lot about the grand vision for the company and that helps people buy in to us.
How much do you charge?
Customers pick what they want and only pay for what they use. Our apps range from 20 pounds to a few hundred pounds a month.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Customers signing up and adopting our apps. I still get excited when a customer signs up online. It's a complete validation of our business model.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don't feel you always need to invent something new from scratch. Often, tweaking something that already exists and making it simpler or better is a fast route to success. Until around 1800, shoes were made without differentiation for the left or right foot, it took a bright spark to realise that there could be a better design than the one that had lasted centuries.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
Our goal after year one is to have hundreds of organisations using our apps and telling us and their peers how much they've improved the way they market their businesses. Beyond that, our ambition is to add more apps to the offering and expand into more countries around the world.