Novam Ltd: Sam Silva
The young entrepreneur on helping Londoners move house without the hassle – and the power of PR
Tell us what your business does:
Novam makes moving in London simple. We complete the entire moving process, including changing bills and addresses – and all while the customer is out of the house.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Like many Londoners, my partner and I have moved many times and the experience was never great. We found the process very time-consuming: having to make countless calls to change our bills and addresses, arrange removals and taking days off to let the Sky engineer in the house.
We immediately knew a company which brought this into one easy package would benefit many Londoners and the concept developed from there.
How did you know there was a market for it?
After tweaking the initial idea, I researched the removals market in London and conducted market research, by speaking to potential customers at large organisations in the City.
As a busy London professional myself, I knew deep down there was a market, but the results of my research and speaking to potential customers confirmed it. You could say it was a sanity check.
What’s your unique selling point?
We have taken a difficult process and made it simple for our clients. We can move a customer from one location to another without them ever being at home.
Depending on the size of their house, we can literally have their entire contents moved by the time they get back from work. This includes changing the bills and addresses, and letting in the Sky engineer. We will even pick up and drop off their keys.
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Aside from the unique offering Novam provides its customers, we intend to rejuvenate the marketplace by doing things better than our competitors.
Our customers put their trust in us to look after their life possessions during the moving process. We want to deliver a better customer experience, as well as transparent pricing.
What were you doing before starting up?
I started my career in the British Army. After serving for five years and completing a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, I decided it was time to leave.
My first job away from the army was with a small clean-technology business, which grew into one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. After that I founded a sustainability company called Action for Energy, which imported pioneering clean technology into the UK.
Immediately before founding Novam, I was working for a large British contracting company, where I built and developed their environmental services offering.
What appealed most about being your own boss?
I think being ordered around in the army had an adverse effect on me!
On a serious note, I like the feeling of being in charge of my own future. I am very family-orientated and, like most people, want to spend more time with them and provide for them. In my mind being your own boss allows you to do this.
What planning did you do before you started up?
An important hurdle to overcome was putting relationships in place to offer the changing of bills and addresses for our customers.
We have implemented a piece of software through a third party, which allows our customers to send notifications to the right departments in all of the major suppliers – up to 1500 organisations. They in turn will change your address details.
Of course there are the exceptions, like the DVLA. Through our service you can notify them of your change of address, but the home owner will have to send the appropriate section of the counterpart driving licence stating the change.
How did you raise the money?
Novam is self-funded, but if the opportunity presents itself in the future, I do see benefit in raising finance to help grow the company to that next level.
What is your current turnover? Projecting £250,000 (year one)
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Novam is a services business so our main challenge is engaging with customers and letting them know we exist in the market.
As we all know, Google dominates the content we see, so we did try Google Adwords – but this was not hugely successful. A friend recommended a PR company focused on the small business marketplace called Start Up PR [a 2011 Startups Awards winner]. On the first day of using them alone, we had better results than any other form of marketing.
I have also always found the Startups website useful for interesting articles and tips about building and running a business. Sites like this are an invaluable resource to the community.
Where is your business based?
We are home-based. Because our business is always on the move and can be run remotely, I made the decision not to spend vital operating capital on office space in these early stages.
It can be difficult managing to strike a work/life balance. When you own your own business you continually want to make improvements and think of new ideas. By nature, you work a lot longer hours because it is your own future in your hands.
How have you promoted your business?
Word of mouth really got the business off the ground! We are currently working with Start Up PR to engage our customers, and maximising the search engine optimisation of our website, so potential customers can find us through organic Google searches.
I have not used a PR agency before, because I had the impression it was expensive and aimed at larger companies. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone.
How much do you charge?
We offer our removal service, bills and address-changing service for the same price as the market average for just a removal.
We feel we can afford to offer customers great value for money and, as a business, continue to grow and develop.
What about staff – how many do you have?
We currently have five staff, but with the ability to call in more should demand increase.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
By far, the hardest thing is actually taking the first step. You have to have confidence in your business idea and then commit to it.
In hindsight I would have taken the leap earlier than I did.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Getting our first few clients and proving the concept!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I often think about business ideas, but for it to be a business it needs to make money. If you think your idea is good, sanity-check it by speaking to potential customers. You will soon find out if there is a market or not.
Listen to them and tweak your offering, if needs be. Do not just rely on family and friends for your market research. By nature they are going to be kind to you, which will not do you any favours in the long run.
Once you have done the above, believe in yourself and start the business. I see too many people who do not follow through on a good idea from fear of the unknown.
Finally, if you’re seeking funding, most people seek the full 100% from one provider and get turned down. Instead, try asking for, say 25% – but use three or four providers to raise the finance. You could even raise 25% or less from family and friends, which will only add weight in your proposal. You will be surprised how many companies will invest in you if they know someone else is in.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
I believe there is a great future for Novam in London, and other large cities in the UK. In five years I want to be very busy helping Londoners move house!
I don’t have an exit strategy, as the business will continue to evolve over time and so will any potential strategy. Once we are very successful, and have secured the industry’s attention, I would not be surprised if a large UK removal company was interested in buying out the business.