Whishin: Charlie Rowan
Tell us what your business does:
whishin is a retail bookmarking tool aimed at making the online shopping process more simple, and more social. It allows members to save products they are thinking of buying in one online space.
Here they can organise and compare items side by side. Any list can be opened up for friends to collaborate on, meaning joint decisions can be made about holiday destinations, advice can be sought on a new sofa and gift lists provided to family and friends.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea came about as my wife and I were preparing for the arrival of our first child. Not only is this a life-changing experience in itself but it also brought about a change in our buying habits.
We were suddenly faced with needing to purchase a lot of baby products which we knew very little about. Emails from friends with advice and links to products got me thinking that there must be a better platform for making these decisions together.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I did a lot of research after my initial idea and could find nothing online that met what I wanted – which was a visual site where you could add multiple products from different sites, including important details such as price. More importantly, I wanted a site where you could open up lists to an intimate circle of friends, without worrying that the whole world would see it.
What were you doing before starting up?
I am a qualified accountant and had been working in a finance role within a venture capital house, so I have always had an interest in start-ups.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
It was not so much being my own boss that inspired me to start whishin, although it has its benefits. It was more the appeal of starting something from scratch and developing it.
For me it is the excitement of being behind a fresh idea, where there is no certainty. It is anything but monotonous and I’m learning new skills all the time.
What planning did you do before you started up?
In my mind, whishin was a completely unique prospect so I had to undertake a lot of market research. I spoke to friends involved in web-based businesses, I studied my potential competition, and I realised that none of them were doing exactly what I had in mind
How did you find suppliers?
My suppliers so far have been those involved in the build of my website. Fortunately I vaguely knew a guy who is a developer.
Everyone else that I have used – from my web designer to my video producer, to my PR – have all come as recommendations from speaking to my network of friends, colleagues, and people I have met through them.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There have been a number of challenges. In particular, because whishin is a complex website to build, there have been various glitches along the way.
The biggest immediate challenge is to step everything up a gear and for that to happen I will need to seek funding.
Where is your business based? If at home, what have you done to manage home and work life?
I now rent a desk near home as I was finding the balance between the two too hard to manage.
How have you promoted your business?
I have used a mixture of marketing, using both a PR firm and promoting the site myself. I think it is important to have a wide mix of marketing strategies and not rule anything out.
One of the strengths of whishin is that its nature is viral, so as user numbers grow, those users will hopefully invite their friends to create lists with them.
How much do you charge?
The site is free to use. However, I plan to make money through affiliate commissions.
What about staff – how many do you have?
It is just me at present. I have contracted everything out, as I continue to bootstrap the business.
I hope to get a couple of bodies in place this year – I know where my weaknesses are and where I need help.
What has your growth been like?
At the moment the focus is on getting a user base that is regularly using whishin. Part of the process to achieving that is continuing to market the site, to get it known, and the other part is to continually improve the offering, so that users keep coming back.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
Of course it is a big change, particularly financially. However I am a lot happier in what I am doing and would recommend anyone giving it a go. I don’t think I could live with “What if…?” in my head.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
I think the biggest difficulty is dealing with the slow periods. You get some big emotional ups and downs when starting up. The lows tend to be when not much is happening.
The key is being able to motivate yourself to get through the slow periods. I find the best thing to do is always maintain a to-do list and break down tasks into small chunks.
What was your first big breakthrough?
The first big breakthrough for me was actually testing the site for the first time and seeing that it did work. It wasn’t just a fanciful idea.
After that, it was huge for me to receive really positive feedback when I test-launched in September. Also, recently winning an innovation award from a highly-respected marketing body was validation of the concept from people at the forefront of the online industry.
What would you do differently?
I would have tried to get someone to come in with me. Some decisions can weigh on your shoulders and it would have been great to have either a sounding board or someone to debate which direction to go with.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea, talk to trusted friends about it. I held my idea in for far too long. My fear was once I told people about it there would be an expectation for me to take action. While the idea was in my head it was a great concept, but that was all. Once you decide to go with it, keep talking to people. They love to give you feedback and ideas of their own. There is a worry that someone might steal your idea, in which case, get an NDA in place. But, even if they did take your idea, they are unlikely to do it in the same way that you would. I believe more good than harm will come out of talking to whoever you can.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
The focus is to reach a critical mass. I would like whishin to be a regularly-used tool for online shopping worldwide within five years.