James Pursey will be hoping to take things further this time around with his latest startup. I caught up with the persistent entrepreneur who tells why he thinks his latest startup, Sorted can go the long run.
Hi James, great to have you on again, I think this is my second interview with you on YHP?
Hi Joseph, it’s great to be back, and to be working on a new exciting project! It’s actually the third time I believe! First we had Yoo:Discover, then Student Hero, and now Sorted, which is by far the one with the most legs.
What happened to your last startup, Student Hero?
We launched it properly in Fresher’s Week, which went very well, we made a lot of sales and created a decent buzz. We found an awesome system called Fatsoma, which enabled us to turn our customers into brand managers for a small commission, very useful viral tool.
I was then offered a job by a VC backed student media company called helloU, this was to help build their online discount platform so obviously was dependant on me not running Student Hero, so we ceased trading and I took the job, the opportunity was fantastic and couldn’t be missed.
What did you learn from that experience?
The main lesson I take from the Student Hero experience, is that the core team is vital, you need a team of like minded, equally driven people around you; if you don’t have that then the pressure is essentially all on you, if you go on holiday, or graduate university and entrust things to people that aren’t as passionate about the business as you, it will struggle.
Tell me about your new startup, Sorted, how did the idea come about?
Like a lot of great businesses, Sorted was born out of the drive and passion of its co-founders. We had been working on a project management system privately for a number of weeks, decided that it wasn’t the best route to go down, so just started meeting regularly and chucking out ideas.
We came up with such a broad range of things such as an alcohol delivery service, a crowd sourced health & wellbeing site, even an insanely floored adaptation of TheBestOf, but we soon realized that mobile marketplaces were taking off all over the world, and that the UK didn’t appear to have any strong players in that space.
We asked the question “How can a student make £200 in a week, without doing anything dodgy?” There wasn’t an obvious answer for this, but we noticed that students are very time rich and cash poor, so could we create a platform that allowed people to make money from their time?
Then we looked to create a strong brand, aiming for a name that could be used in the context of our platform, and then Sorted appeared! How did you get that extra cash? I Sorted it. Thanks for Sorting that out for me…this could go on for a while…
What is Sorted and how does it work?
Sorted is a mobile marketplace application, where users can get anything they want.
Essentially a user can buy and sell anything at all. We anticipate this covering 3 core areas, products, services and experiences. By that I mean you can literally get and sell anything anything, a kitchen sink, your skills as a plasterer, or tickets to the FA Cup Final.
Everything on Sorted is incredibly localised, so when you post on the app, it geo-locates where you are and pins it to a map of the UK. Users can then browse the map (which initializes in their area of course) to see what’s around.
Posting to Sorted couldn’t be easier; you simply post what you want, how much you are willing to pay, and a short description. If somebody is interested in the post, the buyer & user engage directly with each other through our messaging system, and then complete the transaction through our safe & secure e-commerce layer. Peer review systems are a must, so you can see what others think of the buyer/seller before committing to a transaction.
Users can also sign up for push notifications for specific keywords & phrases on the services side of Sorted, so when somebody posts that they need their flat cleaned, local cleaners get notified immediately that there is a paying customer that wants them. Think of the Just-Eat proposition, but across every single market in the UK.
What has been the most difficult aspect of getting the business up and running?
So Sorted has come around very quickly, we have a great core team of people who challenge each other but have complimentary skill sets, its enabled us to move very quickly and do something in a matter of weeks that other may take months to do.
I guess the most difficult aspect so far is raising finance, not that we are finding it impossible, it’s just something that is very network centric. The doors opened by having a strong and broad network are insane, just yesterday I had multiple introductions to very experienced investors, just by asking somebody if they knew anyone. Raising finance at a very early seed stage is difficult; you need to ensure that you raise the perfect amount of money, from people that add real value to you, all without giving away an obscene amount of your business.
What is your business model?
We provide a platform from which users can safely buy goods and services, and also make money - securely.
All transactions need to go through our e-commerce layer, from which we take a small commission / transaction fee in exchange for security.
There are a number of other revenue streams that we will be introducing in time, they will add significant growth, so watch this space.
You previously worked at helloU, What was it like working at a VC backed startup?
Sure, so I was working at helloU until about 2 weeks ago when I left and went full time on Sorted. I was there for pretty much bang on 6 months, I really enjoyed it, and learnt a lot about how a London startup operates.
helloU is a tricky business to categorize, they have 3 different departments within a team of 10 people, all working on different things! I was working as a business development manager, building the online discounting platform www.helloU.com , but a typical BDM is just a glorified salesman. At helloU the whole online team was just 3 people, so it wasn’t just sales sales sales, we got a big say in marketing (online and offline), product development, and strategic decisions, regularly sitting down with the MD to discuss the best route to move forward with.
What were some of the key things that you learnt from that experience?
The whole experience was very enlightening for me, and really beefed up my main skill-sets, their sales training is second to none, and you get a well rounded view of how the company operates.
One thing it did highlight, was how badly I wanted to start my own thing, and be the person fronting the big decisions. Having an opinion is all well and good, and is great as an employee in a small company, but you can always be vetoed by somebody above you.
How have you been able to fund the business? Are you currently looking for investment?
Sorted has been self funded by myself and the other 2 co-founders up until now. We are currently seeking seed investment to enable us to launch in London. We are getting good traction now, but if you are reading this and want to find out more, or know somebody that might be interested in investing in the next big tech startup to come out of the UK, then please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
What can we be expecting from you in 2012?
Big things! Watch this space and keep an eye on Sorted, we have some very aggressive growth plans and are looking forward to a very successful remainder of 2012.
We have a Facebook competition running at the moment as well, check it out!
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Make sure that you surround yourself by people equally as passionate about your business as you are! The strength of the team directly correlates to the success of the business.
2) If you are a student – Join your enterprising societies; typically entrepreneurship clubs & SIFE. These things are invaluable, enable you to build a strong network, and try out your ideas in a pretty safe & risk-free environment.
3) Look for investment at the time that’s right for you. Most people tell you to build everything yourself, get paying users and traction etc. before going for money. In today’s business world that just isn’t always true, it’s completely dependent on the nature of your business, the market you are in, and how you intend to expand. If it seems right to go for it now then go for it, just be sensible.
Thanks for your time James
Thanks Joseph, it’s been a pleasure as always!