Rippll: Doug Chisholm
Company name: Rippll Website:www.rippll.com Founder: Doug Chisholm Age: 34 Based: Central London Staff Numbers: 5 Date started: Sep 2008 Turnover: £100,000
Tell us what your business does
Rippll provides location-based apps, built using a proprietary self-build platform, to high-street businesses so that they can measure visits from customers.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I used to be the digital account director for Burger King, and noticed how their audience was moving to mobile and apps, yet the company was unable to accurately measure the brand engagement and footfall delivered from their digital media.
What’s your unique selling point (USP)?
Having launched some location-based marketing services for TGI Friday’s and McDonalds, we started to get asked by smaller high-street brands for a low-cost solution, and realised that we could offer them a self-serve platform to create and manage their own apps using templates to reduce the build cost.
By including geo-analytics to show where people use the apps, and when they come in store, we hold a very strong USP against other app platforms.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was working at a media agency called Initiative, managing digital media for Tesco, Vauxhall as well as Burger King (mentioned above). Prior to that I had experience at a web design agency and I hold a masters in software systems.
All this knowledge, combined with a passion for all things mobile, meant I could see the smartphone era about to begin, even pre-iPhone, when I drew up the business plan for Rippll in 2007. When the iPhone launched and began to validate all my research it would have been harder to stay in my job than leave.
What planning did you do before you started up, and what advice did you seek?
I did a fair amount of market research, but then lots of that was my day job back then. I drew up a business plan, which is counter intuitive for a tech start-up; the market and technology changed every six months, so the plan was quickly out of date. However the planning did help me get a grip of financial overheads, and also showed angel investors that the business had a clear overall vision.
I found that mentors who have founded businesses themselves are the best source for advice. Everyone will have an opinion on what you should do with your start-up, but very few have experienced the rollercoaster ride of creating something from nothing.
The first angel investor to back the business, James Booth, has been particularly helpful in this respect, having built and sold a tech business in the advertising space to Google. Along with crucial strategic advice, he has also given me some great pointers on just surviving the work-life balance of being a founder, which is something that you can’t prepare for until you are in it.
How did you raise the money?
I raised angel investment from strategic investors in the digital media space. This became easier as I engaged people who knew the space well, and could see the product I had built.
How did you find developers?
I built the platform with ex-colleagues and also freelance talent in the UK.
What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
The main challenge has been creating a market. As we launched with cutting-edge location-based technology, we were disrupting a market with a product that took people time to understand. As the mobile market has evolved, it has become easier for people to see where we add value and therefore buy our product.
Where is your business based?
We are based in central London. We share office space with another start-up team, who have kindly made the overheads very manageable. It’s key that our product team sit together, even in today’s world of video calling and remote conferencing.
How have you promoted your business?
For a new product in an early market, I have found that face-to-face education is the only way to market my brand. This means speaking at events, networking a lot and visiting media agencies looking to build apps.
There is not yet a great deal of point in advertising our app product on Google; people don’t realise that they can make an app in minutes using templates, so why would they search for that?
What about staff – how many do you have?
We have a team of five in the office, and use freelancers regularly when trying to get new features to market in a tight timeframe.
What has your growth been like?
Our current plan is to dominate high-street brands small and large; this typically means lower revenues initially but greater long-term reward, as we collect extra revenues from hosting the apps and provide location-based services within the apps.
We are in the process of signing distribution agreements which could see us host up to 1,000 location-based apps, and just one of these would see us hit profit and expand rapidly.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
What home life?! As far as I have seen, start-up life is all consuming. It’s vital that those around you understand this, as many partners and friends will feel insulted that you can’t join them for a quick drink having just finished a 12-hour day.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Finding great people to hire. If they are good enough to work at a start-up, then they are usually in the process of setting up their own start-up.
What was your first big breakthrough?
We signed a deal with 4th Screen Advertising last summer to use our location-based technology in the iPhone apps they place ads into, which immediately led to the first location-based ad campaign in the UK for TGI Fridays.
Having powered the geo technology for that ad campaign,we immediately had the credibility to do the same for McDonalds, IKEA and HMV.
What would you do differently?
I would spend more time on hiring people. While most things in a start-up need to be done yesterday, hiring can’t be done that way; people are too important, after all your business is your team!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Focus on solving a real problem, not on creating something that might be nice to have. When you have a headache, you buy painkillers; solving a pain point means you can almost guarantee on having customers.