pownum: Marty Carroll & Karl Havard
Company name: pownum Website:www.pownum.com Founders: Marty Carroll & Karl Havard Age: 36 and 45 Based: London Staff Numbers: 2 Date started: May 2010
Tell us what your business does It lets the public rate and review all types of organisations at pownum.com and on the phone with an iPhone app. The idea is that it introduces transparency between companies and consumers, makes plain which companies are really customer centric and helps other consumers make more informed brand choices. pownum is short for ‘power in numbers’.
Where did the idea for your business come from? Like many other people we have stories of being frustrated by companies but not having our voices heard. Similarly we knew from talking to others that people have a strong affinity to certain organisations and didn’t have a place to publicly commend them.
How did you know there was a market for it? What’s your USP (unique selling point)? You just need to look at Twitter to see how often people are saying things, both good and bad, about companies. We believe there’s a big opportunity to provide a home for this sentiment. Unlike Twitter we quantify the opinion and we think that’s of real value. Uniquely we give the organisations the opportunity to respond to the opinion expressed, which creates an environment for real conversations between organisations and the public. We will ask the organisations to pay a fee to use this ‘right of reply’ and that’s how we’ll generate revenue.
What were you doing before starting up? We were both working in consulting roles and had been for some time. It’s always a risk to try a new venture but the sheer excitement is a real draw.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? What appealed most about being your own boss? Yes we have. For us the flexibility of working for ourselves is a big plus but so too is taking a risk on something we really believe in. Making quick decisions freed from the shackles of an employer spurs innovation.
What planning did you do before you started up – did you do market research, put together a business plan etc.? The consulting work we were doing served as a proxy for market research – we recognised there was a big opportunity from working with leading brands. We put together a business plan and having a few people review it was invaluable. The act of writing a business plan helped to clarify and structure our own thinking.
Building a website for your business idea is easier than you might think. Our online tool ranks the top website builders that offer free trials.
How did you raise the money? We’re just starting the fundraising process. We have funded the development ourselves and now need capital for marketing purposes. Securing investment is never easy and, of course, the economic climate is not very conducive to fundraising right now but we feel we have a very strong proposition that will be attractive to investors.
How did you find suppliers? We outsourced the development to an agency called Codegent and they have worked very closely in partnership with us. They have strong views and challenged us, which was useful in forging the final product.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? Getting the attention of the press has been an issue. In contrast to the US, journalists here don’t appear to want to give coverage to an unproven start-up and that makes it tough.
How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won’t you do again? We’re about to start marketing in earnest. Stephen Fry tweeted that he thought pownum was a good idea and that helped a lot. We’ve been using social media as it’s more cost-effective and have ideas for guerrilla marketing in the future.
How much do you charge? How did you decide this?We have a tiered pricing structure from £250 per annum for smaller organisations up to £10k for the larger ones. We simply went out and asked people what they would be willing to pay.
What about staff – how many do you have? Is it burdensome?We are a very lean outfit – just the two of us. We have outsourced the development to our agency Codegent. Being small means we’re agile and can keep costs to a minimum.
What has your growth been like? What is your turnover? Are you profitable? We’ve only just launched so we’re pre-revenue. We expect to generate revenues at the beginning of 2011 and we will be profitable by the year end owing to our low cost base.
What’s the impact on your home life been like? Probably a question for our wives. Of course we’re saying that everything is normal and stress-free!
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up? Probably breaking away from a regular jobs. A lot of people dream of doing it but few actually do. Once that happened though there was a real sense of exhilaration. Surprisingly some of the fear went away.
What was your first big breakthrough? Our first client, Bupa, signed up at the beginning of September. They’re demonstrating a real willingness to listen to the public through pownum and that’s to be applauded. We hope many more will follow.
What would you do differently and what have you learnt? We wouldn’t revise the business plan as much as we did. We should have just gone out and built it. We’ve learned so much from observing peoples’ reactions to it. Before that we were just speculating.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? Give it a blast. What’s the worst that could happen?!
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan? We have an exit in mind but our priority is to work hard to build a great business with a global presence. When that has been achieved we know we’ll be an attractive acquisition.