Incahoot: John Evans
The start-up CEO on selling an unknown concept and the advantages of trial and error
Tell us what your business does:
Incahoot is an online group-buying site that focuses on saving consumers money by securing best-in-market deals on household bills for its members. Where did the idea for your business come from?
Incahoot is based on a successful Norwegian business called Ownersbuy, which at the height of its popularity counted 10% of the Norwegian population as members.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Incahoot is the only business of its kind in the UK. We're a completely free service, which only has consumers' interests in mind when securing the best possible deals.
Our unique selling point is that we focus entirely on household bills. We also offer exclusive and unique deals that cannot be secured by going through other providers or buying direct from the supplier.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before Incahoot I spent more than 10 years working in senior management roles at Powergen, Flogas and Thames Water. Working in the utilities sector gave me a good understanding of the market and set me in good stead to run Incahoot.
Leaving my job wasn't hard at all – I was ready and excited for a new challenge. I've always wanted to run my own business.
What planning did you do before you started up?
We did a lot of research before we set ourselves up and also put together a comprehensive business plan. In terms of advice, we spoke to a lot of people in relevant sectors to get their views on the concept. We also spoke to people in the advertising world, to see if the concept was sell-able.
How did you raise the money?
We raised our first round through private investors.
How did you find suppliers?
Leads have come in through a mix of contacts and direct approaches to potential suppliers. As CEO, I lead on negotiations.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Every new business faces challenges around cashflow and we're no different. We're currently in the middle of another round of fundraising, which will give us the final boost we need.
Another challenge has been the cost of marketing – it's been a definite learning curve for us, to test and learn what works and what doesn't.
Where is your business based?
The business is based in an office in Wiltshire. As a general rule, Incahoot owns me 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, but I desperately try to keep weekends free for family fun and all those jobs around the house!
How have you promoted your business?
The most successful tools for our business have been PR and partnerships with other large membership organisations. These are the channels which have driven most of the website traffic and sales.
Paid search is improving for us all the time and will continue to get better as people get to know us. Display advertising is something else we've tried, but it hasn't proved as successful yet.
What about staff – how many do you have?
We've grown from just the two of us who got things going and in total there are 10 of us now.
We have a great team who are fun to work with, and very committed to the business and its members.
What has your growth been like?
Our growth has been steady so far. We're exactly where our business plan said we would be at this stage.
What's the impact on your home life been like?
My family are very understanding of the commitment involved in starting a new business. Having said that, weekdays are for work and weekends are for my family. What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
The hardest thing has been selling an unknown concept. Starting a business can be a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Early day negotiations took place before we had any clients, so I was selling a concept for a company that no one had heard of, and couldn't promise any returns for suppliers. The challenge was convincing suppliers that our business model was going to deliver.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Our first big breakthrough was getting that first Incahoot deal, with 3 Mobile.
What would you do differently?
There are always things you would do differently when you start a business, because making mistakes comes hand in hand with learning new things.
Having said that, I wouldn't do anything differently – it's only by making mistakes the first time round that you know how to avoid them further down the line.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
My advice to budding entrepreneurs is make sure you have people around you who challenge you and challenge your ideas.
The worst thing for a new business is a ‘yes man' – you need someone pushing back at you and saying ‘that may not be such a good idea'. From those debates come great decisions.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
In five years' time, I want Incahoot to be the most successful collective buying site in the UK.