Social Saver: John Yates

Name:Jon Yates
Company:Social Saver
Staff numbers:Less than five
Company description:The serial entrepreneur on the importance of planning – and why rushing to launch can waste time and money in the long run

Date started: April 30 2010; Social Saver launched November 2011 

Tell us what your business does allows brands to thank their consumers for sharing their purchases on Facebook and Twitter by giving them a small discount on whatever it is they are about to buy. Online shoppers who also use social media will be able to get discounts from any website where they see the little orange Social Saver button.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Before starting Social Saver, I created a drinks product called Wahoo!. Although several supermarkets stock the products, I found that I made most of my profit from direct sales online which I managed from my office at home.

However, I found it really difficult to build a strong relationship with my customers online. I know I’m really impatient and I always have a million and one things on the go. I wanted to find a simple solution which would allow me to be social and get more customers.

After some market research, some brainstorming and a bit of luck, the idea for Social Saver emerged.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I was fairly confident that there was a market for it from a brand’s perspective. It had been borne from a problem I was facing and I was confident other people were in the same position.

I did conduct some research though and found that 98% of businesses were looking for a simple e-commerce solution that could help them grow their business.

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I wasn’t sure if consumers would use their trusted social networks in order to receive a discount so I did some research here too. We found that 87% of the people we asked would refer their friends for a discount which made me confident there was a space in the market for Social Saver.

What were you doing before starting up?

As mentioned, I launched Wahoo!, a low calorie vitamin supplement which, when added to water, ensures you stay hydrated during exercise, heat, and is great for people who have to avoid sugar. It is available online and in some supermarkets – and it is also used in the armed forces.

Prior to that I had a long and successful career in sales. I have also written two business books, the most successful being: Freesourcing: How to build a business with no money. I had to prove that I could keep doing it once that book had been published.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I felt I had reached a glass ceiling in my sales career so was keen to do something on my own. I was excited by the prospect of solving everyday problems and retiring on a beach! I think I was always a little unmanageable as an employee and felt that I should be making money for myself rather than making it for someone else.

What planning did you do before you started up?

I focused on my core skills which are selling, building relationships and raising my personal profile. The first thing I did was to secure the help of some great mentors who had expertise in areas of finance, marketing and technical development. These individuals have become valuable assets to the team and have supported me at various stages of my entrepreneurial journey.

I didn’t do a huge amount of planning and I perhaps wish I had done some more. I have had to do a lot of learning on the job which has meant I have wasted some time and some money and have a few more grey hairs to show for it!

How did you raise the money?

I raised the money from a private investor who had also invested in Wahoo!. It made it a lot easier than it should have been and perhaps some of the detailed planning I missed would have been required if I had gone down a more traditional route.

That said, writing the books also helped raise my profile and makes me seem more credible and trustworthy to people I haven’t yet met or built a relationship with.

How did you find suppliers?

Suppliers have been difficult to find initially as I was unproven to them. People also tend to worry about start-ups and ask for a lot of money upfront. I have also found that often I haven’t been their main priority and have struggled to have my expectations managed effectively.

I think it is very challenging to find great suppliers, particularly when I expect them to work as hard and care as much about the business as I do!

What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?

Social Saver is actually the outcome of a ‘pivot’ from a previous business called fflap. I now like to think of it as part of my research in this area but to be honest it was just a bit of a disaster! I was trying to combine social marketing with eBay, creating a new tool for power sellers, but I was off the mark and spent a lot of time and money working on it.

As a result I needed more money to get Social Saver to a workable state. I had to ask my investor for additional funds and we have all been working on a very, very low budget. I know that we need to prove the concept fully before we get any more funds. This in itself is a challenge and is of course taking much longer that I would have liked!

Where is your business based?

I am based in Harrogate and rent desk space so that I don’t have to work from home.

How have you promoted your business?

I have worked with an advertising agency called G&T who specialise in launching new businesses. We worked through a process which ensured we understand the key messages, hooks for brands and consumers and objections people may have in using the site.

The marketing plan, which we are only just beginning, includes e-marketing, PR and a social media campaign that we will be launching over Christmas.

How much do you charge? How did you decide this?

We have a ‘freemium’ model with subscription rates ranging from £29 to £499 a month. We then have a ‘top up’ system which is based on the amount of impressions served. We have combined a traditional advertising model, cost per impression, with a subscription model to ensure we can provide exceptional customer service and account management. Consumers, of course, don’t have to pay to use the service.

What about staff – how many do you have?

I don’t have staff – just a marketing agency, a development agency, a shareholding finance director and my investor. I still find they require a significant amount of management although they are probably more accountable than staff. A lot of their fees are tied to results and key deliverables. I really enjoy working with the team though. They are great for sharing ideas and we all support one another in more challenging times.

What has your growth been like?

Growth has been a real challenge. It feels like it is taking forever but I have likened it to a party – you spend the first half an hour worrying that no one is going to turn up and then spend the rest of your night chasing your tail trying to make sure you have said hello to everyone. I think, like many tech start-ups, we are in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. It is tough but I am confident that we will get there.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?

I’m really lucky to have an incredible wife who is really supportive. We also have three young boys who unknowingly ensure I always get a break from work, forced playtime and on occasion great sounding boards – they have come up with some crazy answers to business questions.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?

My ability to focus on one thing at a time has been my biggest challenge by far. I find it really difficult, particularly when there is so much on, to understand what the next most important thing is. I am also really impatient so tend to rush things. I should live more like a builder I know who always tells his team to measure twice and cut once – I always like to just crack straight on with the cutting and waste a lot of wood!

What was your first big breakthrough?

I suppose that really, engaging a marketing expert from the world of tech start-ups was my first big breakthrough. Charlotte (Hogg) has been with me from the start and has used her previous experiences of building technology businesses to help me define and develop the business as well as supporting me in my journey.

What would you do differently?

I would do a number of things differently but namely, I would put more time into research and planning before I started. Hopefully it would ensure I made fewer mistakes along the way.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Other than reading my books!? I would say that it is important to realise it isn’t easy. Failure is definitely an option so it is important to surround yourself with the right people – both personally and professionally, who are able to help you, teach you and help you make things happen.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?

Five years? Successful exit in the bag, all stress disappeared and writing a book completely unrelated to business on a beach. Wishful thinking?


(will not be published)