I recently had the chance to interview the founders of Sooqini, a reverse mobile marketplace. They have recently been making a lot of noise and I was intrigued to find out more!
Here's some background followed by the interview:
T. Raj Singh, CEO and Co-‐founder, Tiago Mateus, COO and Co-‐founder, Nick Bransby-‐Williams, Head of Product Development.
Raj and Tiago started the company. They’re both INSEAD graduates and met through the INSEAD network. Raj has been in the tech space for 25 years – first with IBM as a Systems Engineer, then a consultant with Booz & Co., then a VC at Investcorp before starting his own VC fund, then an Innovation Consultancy and finally Sooqini. Tiago founded a similar company while at INSEAD; afterwards he went into banking and then back to startups, working in France before joining a Location-based startup in London just before Sooqini. Nick is a self-‐taught mobile maven. He’s programmed for pretty much every mobile platform that ever existed, had an app featured in the appstore and has done work for the BBC, Samsung, RBS, Badoo and others.
Tell us about Sooqini? Why should people use it? What differentiates it from others?
People describe Sooqini as “eBay meets Gumtree”. Sooqini is essentially a mobile marketplace where anyone can either request or sell anything they want at their own price, whether it is goods, services or experiences.
The process is simple: Ask for what you want, at your own price and terms and people around you will make offers. Choose the best offer, pay when the job is done and exchange ratings and feedback. If you want to use Sooqini to just make money, you can sit around and automatically get notified when the right jobs are there for you. One important point to note is that, once the best offer is selected, payment can be kept in “escrow” before the job is done, to protect both the buyer and seller – essentially Sooqini is safer to use than just paying someone using traditional ways.
Everyone really should use Sooqini, particularly now when the employment and economic situation is difficult and people are scouting for ways to save money. On one end, Sooqini is very useful to busy professionals and entrepreneurs who are time-deprived, need help on certain personal or office related tasks or just really want to get a better deal for anything. On the other hand, Sooqini is a great resource for anyone that is looking to make money on a part-time or ad-hoc basis, particularly students and mums, to help them get by.
There is no other buyer-driven platform out there in the UK like Sooqini at the moment. The comparables are eBay (but they are only product focused) and Gumtree (however it lacks transparency, trust and doesn't have an integrated payment system).
Where did the inspiration come from?
Over a year ago I was looking for someone at my level to play tennis with, in the middle of the day. My friends were all office-bound, so I tried other quick ways to find partners: I contacted the sports centre but no one was available; I tried Gumtree but didn’t get suitable information from each applicant nor did it have any trust mechanisms built-in. (I also didn’t really like Gumtree to be honest.)
I then realized that there are many common time-sensitive and location-based requests that could not be sourced in an efficient or trustworthy manner. What if I want a cleaner tonight but want to pay for 2 not 3 hours? What if I don’t have time to pick up the dry cleaning but still need it for tomorrow?
Thus, the idea for Sooqini was born.
Working in a corporate world before, what made you take the step to starting up on your own?
Interestingly, the corporate world never quite resonated with me and I always sought other entrepreneurial opportunities. When I was 16, I was already selling all my artwork, even auctioned a piece in the Tate. I came up with a cool concept – ARTrageous.com to sell artwork from emerging artists, however National Geographic beat me to the space. While I was working in Wall Street, I ran an event planning company and did quite well.
I finally decided to focus fully on the startup world in 2009 when I got in the INSEAD MBA programme and so could somehow learn how to realize my full potential. Starting your own business is a tough decision. I highly recommend that anyone should do it but only quit their main source of income until you feel your venture is in a state that is commercially viable.
Have you guys received funding or is it all self funded?
We received funding for a pool of investors and invested our own money. We are currently looking to raise more capital.
How did you initially find investment and what challenges did you find in raising money?
We initially approached friends and family and then others within our network. Raising funds is very challenging when you are still in the early stages, particularly when you are pioneering a new concept. I would strongly advise that you first have a minimum viable product, and some evidence of traction or early market interest before you seek investment.
What challenges have you faced with little capital and how have you coped?
M-commerce businesses like ours, require significant marketing spend to build the community. By tightening our belts, we have learned to be a lot more efficient with our marketing spend and learn different ways to bring in a large community at a low cost, if not for free. One of our solutions to this problem is partnering with complementary organizations that have large communities that have a strong need for Sooqini, whether it is to save money, make money or live smarter.
So far we have done very well under this circumstances. It really helps when you have a product that people generally believe in or enjoy so they naturally share with others.
How are you guys growing, where are your early users coming from?
We are currently focused on recruiting students and professionals or startup owners. We are building our student base by collaborating with university societies, being present in Freshers Fayres, using social marketing tactics that appeal to them and working with student evangelists that spread the word naturally within their university community. We use twitter to identify professionals in need for the service, publish articles in relevant journals and also make attractive offerings to offices.
We also organized two extraordinary events to get some publicity (and have good fun). A tech entrepreneur lost a bet with us, and for her forfeit, she had to remain captive in a hair salon for 27 hours and survive only using Sooqini. She was broadcast live on the internet so that everyone in the UK and local community could offer her anything. We got a lot of new followers and a lot of random requests in the system that people wanted to see, including a belly dancing class and a comedian on stage. We also auctioned off the top two spots in the iPhone5 queue in the Regent Street Apple Store for Crowd Fuelled Causes – the famous guys that queued for 8 days! It was an incredibly exciting and, of course, exhausting experience.
Where does your revenue come from?
Currently, we receive a flat 15% transaction fee, payable after the transaction is complete. As this is essentially an e-commerce model, like eBay, there are many other ways to generate income on both the buy-side and sell-side, as well as corporates.
If you had a chance to start over what would you have done differently?
We would have budgeted more time for overall product development and finding the right talent. That in turn may have helped us be more efficient.
As an entrepreneur what is your biggest motivation to keep going?
Making a real difference in people’s lives is what really keeps me ticking. The other day I met a heavy user that told me that she already decided to depend almost entirely on Sooqini to get by and as had made quite a lot of income through our platform.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Always be persistent in pursuing your dreams, but don’t be blinded by them and always listen to others who have been there before you. Otherwise, you will end up with too many regrets and have wasted too much money. Also, use Sooqini as your handy helper to help you save money and learn faster. I certainly wish it had existed when we had started…
And before you start spending money or setting high expectations, I would strongly recommend first testing your idea out with people in the industry of your niche as well as potential users. Also, craft a very brief teaser with your business plan and share it with potential investors. You can never underestimate the value behind good feedback.
As I mentioned I was intrigued to find out more about them after the noise they were making, with the 27 hour Sooqini marathon and iPhone 5 queue auction, and I'm glad I did, it's certainly a very interesting concept and hopefully we will see this take off. It is certainly a chance to help build a second kind of micro economy and increase the exchange of cash between people, not just between, people & businesses or businesses & businesses.
Oh and did I mention former Dragon's Den Julie Mayer recommended Sooqini in Tesco Magazine as a platform to save and make money. Not a bad endorsement!