From an early age, Scott always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He recalls seeing traits in himself such as identifying problems and thinking about the opportunity in solving them. He said " I think that’s a key entrepreneurial trait – spotting an opportunity and being creative in solving it in a better way".
I recently spoke to Scott Allison who is currently in Silicon Valley at the 500 Startups accelerator programme as his company, Teamly hopes to close another round of investment in July.
Can you give you some background information about yourself, were you the entrepreneurial type growing up?
While I was growing up there was two indications that I was going to be an entrepreneur. First off, when I got my first computer, a Sinclair Spectrum, out of the pack of ten games my favourite game was one called “Millionaire”. The aim of the game was to become a millionaire by building a successful business writing and distributing computer games (on cassette, of course!).
The second indicator was that I have always been someone to identify problems and think about the opportunity in solving them. I think that’s a key entrepreneurial trait – spotting an opportunity and being creative in solving it in a better way.
Tell me how the idea for Teamly came about?
As cofounder and CEO of my last company - an award-winning telecoms business - I saw the challenge (and reward) of hiring people, growing a team, and seeing them and the business perform at their peak.
But as a manager to do the role well is very demanding, in terms of time and preparation. It’s overwhelming just tracking what’s going on with your employees, let alone evaluating how well they’re performing. Even if you’re doing the right things, such as having regular one-to-one and group meetings, you still need to track what’s been agreed and what gets done. That means there’s quite a burden on managers to keep notes, otherwise you’re fighting to keep all this info in your head.
The second issue I saw both in myself and my employees was that out of all the things you could do, prioritising and making sure that the important things got done was difficult. Most private sector businesses run close to (or over) capacity, so people don’t have spare time. It’s not about working harder, or being more efficient, the goal should be to be more effective.
What is Teamly?
Teamly is a straightforward online tool with the goal of helping people be awesome at work, and help managers increase the performance of their teams. We help people be awesome by giving them an easy way to get on top of their workload, and focus on their key objectives. By removing the clutter, people get more important work done, and get a sense of personal satisfaction from knowing they’re doing a good job and their making progress.
We help managers by giving them visibility into what their direct reports are working on, showing them the progress towards those goals, and letting them report and comment. We’ll shortly be helping companies create those periodic quarterly or annual reviews which everyone dreads. With Teamly though those conversation become much better quality, as we have rich and relevant information which helps employees highlight their achievements better.
Talk me through the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
The first few months were spent developing and trialling the product privately. So for me, as someone who doesn’t write code, it was frustrating, as I couldn’t do much hands-on to help with this stage.
How were you able to fund the business?
I had an exit from my previous company which afforded me time to build up Teamly and bootstrap using some of my own investment.
Would you say the initial idea for the company, or that your business model has changed since 2009?
I had the original idea for Teamly in 2010, and while the implementation has evolved, we’re still working in the same space, solving the same problem. We’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
What makes Teamly different from other similar platforms out there?
We’re uniquely combining a personal productivity tool with a performance management tool for businesses, so there’s value to both individuals and managers inside companies.
How big is the team now?
The team is just three right now, myself and my two cofounders. We are taking on a couple of interns over the summer, and will start making first hires in the next few months. We expect to grow significantly this year.
What would you say has been some of the most crucial things that you've done to build the company to this level now?
Persistence and determination goes a long way in creating a new business solving a problem in a novel way. But persistence alone doesn’t guarantee success, you have to listen and understand your customers. You then have to make sure you have the right resources around you to execute your vision and see it through. Those resources will include people and capital.
One of things I’ve done is to be aware of my skills and fill my gaps with the right people. That’s why we have an advisory board of four people, all with different skills and connections to complement the core team. One of the things I’m very focused on as CEO is making sure I have the connections and network around me to make sure that I can more easily access the key resources required: expertise, people and capital.
What is your business model?
Teamly is freemium, so we give away the core product for free, which aids with distribution and fills the sales funnel, from which we convert a portion of these into paying customers. Professional subscriptions are $8 per user per month.
Is the business profitable?
Not currently, but it won’t be long before it could be. I say “could be” because the reason we’re raising money is to maximise growth, and maximise the opportunity as quickly as possible.
What’s been your most memorable moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
One of the most surprising things was being invited to a reception for technology entrepreneurs at Buckingham Palace with HRH Prince Andrew, in connection with London’s Tech City initiative. It was a very enjoyable night and made my parents very proud!
What pieces of advices could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Try and understand what you’re getting into before you jump, and understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. Make sure you have a credible and affordable solution to plugging your own skills gap, and so if you’re doing a technology startup I’d recommend finding a cofounder or two with complementary skills. I would also say there’s no rush, take the time to learn first hand what’s involved, perhaps working in another startup before launching your own.
What can we be expecting from you and Teamly in 2012?
We’re half way through 500 Startups accelerator programme in Silicon Valley, and following demo-day in July we’ll be closing another round of investment. Following that you’ll see many more product enhancements, a significant expansion in our team, as we transition from a small startup to a growing business.
Where do you want the company to be in five years?
Helping tens of millions of people worldwide get the right work and be more effective and satisfied at work.