Hi Anthony, thanks for being on YHP today!
Can you first give me some background to yourself?
I began my career by working as an IT Support Analyst for Odgers Berndtson, which is where I came up with the idea for Swogo. Since then, I’ve gained further experience, working as part of two startups: Seedrs, and as the Head of Business Development at Student Money Saver. I also have experience at venture capital firm DFJ Esprit, where I learnt a great deal about the consumer Internet industry as a whole. Most recently, I worked as a freelance digital marketer alongside my Swogo co-founder, Ivor Stankov. I’m also set to graduate in 2013 from the University of Westminster. I’m studying BSc Business Economics.
What is Swogo?
Swogo helps consumers make a purchase decision like an expert in just 60 seconds. More people are shopping online than ever, but choosing the right product still isn’t easy. Search engines point users to information, not answers, and online reviews are contradictory, boring, and time-consuming. We found that the average person spends three weeks looking for a laptop. Swogo brings this down to just 60 seconds.
By asking a short series of easy-to-understand questions about the product or service you’re looking for, Swogo can recommend the best product for you, alongside a tailored explanation as to why it suits your needs. It’s quicker, easier, and more accurate than talking to an expert in store.
We currently provide high-quality recommendations for laptops to UK users. We will soon reach the US, and will expand our product range, recommending tablets, televisions, cameras, and more. Our vision is to become the first port of call for all meaningful purchases.
Where did the inspiration behind the idea come from?
While I was at Odgers Berndtson, as I worked in IT and had a passion for technology, my colleagues often came to me when they were buying new gadgets. Even for me, who kept up-to-date with the electronics market, it was difficult to decide on the right product. There are just so many products out there! I wondered how hard it was for those who didn’t understand electronics. It was here that I first came up with the idea for Swogo.
How have you funded the business?
We knew that we needed investment in order to expand our technical team, and build a marketable product. We decided to raise crowdfunded investment on UK platform Seedrs. I’d previously worked as an Intern for them, and so I knew and trusted the team, who proved incredibly helpful in every step of the investment process. Seedrs is also the only UK crowdfunding platform that’s FSA regulated, which attracted us to it. We’re currently looking for further investment of around £60,000, to allow us to scale and invest heavily into our marketing strategy over the next six months.
How did you find that process & what tips would you give to others looking to raise funding for their business?
We had a smooth process. We raised our full investment in just ten days, and since then have been able to work full-time on Swogo. We would recommend Seedrs to anyone else looking for early-stage funding. When we decided to raise investment, we initially went onto the platform asking for a larger amount (around £50,000). The platform itself had only just launched, and we were unable to gain traction quickly, and we ended up taking it down. We find that a lot of startups go onto these platforms doing the same as we did, and asking for too much capital. In the end, we didn’t need that large an investment simply to launch. The more considered your investment is, and the more you think about ways in which you could bootstrap, the more likely investors are to lace capital in your service. This way, you can also raise extra capital at a later stage, at which point you’ll be able to get a larger investment for the equity you give away.
What's your business model?
We currently use an affiliate business model, receiving a commission on purchases made through us. We’re in the process of closing a deal with a major price comparison service. After this, we’ll be using a PPC business model, where we’re paid for each ‘click’ onto a third party retailer.
What has the early take up been like?
We had a large number of users signed up to early access, who were able to ‘preview’ our service a week before launch. From our public beta launch, we’ve been generating a large amount of user feedback. Using BugHerd (http://www.bugherd.com/), we were able to receive a lot of valuable user feedback, and since then have been improving our user experience. The feedback has been particularly helpful in highlighting the issues that we need to improve, and drive our users through our service. We’re incredibly proud to say that we’ve received some really positive feedback from our users as well, we’ve now made around 1,000 recommendations, and we look forward to making Swogo even better.
How did you find your first customers?
We’ve been using GoSquared (https://www.gosquared.com/) to track our users and where they came from, which has been helpful in working out how to improve our marketing strategy. When we first launched, we mostly attracted users through social media platforms, in order to garner large volumes of feedback and improve our user experience. We’ve mostly been working on this over the following month, as well as testing aspects of our marketing strategy. Our user experience improvements are now nearly complete, and we’ll soon be implementing our comprehensive marketing plan. But like I said, we were really pleased with the first users who came to Swogo. They were very responsive, providing high-quality feedback for every step of our service.
You won the NACUE Varsity Pitch, what was that experience like and how did that help get your company to where it is today?
We had an amazing time during the NACUE Varsity Pitch Competition. We were able to connect to fellow entrepreneurs, investors, and industry professionals, and the time we spent refining our pitch has added further value to our service as a whole. It’s also great just to win a competition, as it helps to validate your idea. Plus, the £10,000 has been really helpful. We’ve been able to invest it into our development, allowing us to continue to improve Swogo, and setting us up to scale over the next few months.
Tell me more about your team:
We’re a team of five founders, as well as an additional developer based in Portugal. We have a range of different skill-sets, and come from a variety of unique backgrounds, which we believe makes our team ideal for the agile environment of a startup. Our work history ranges from startups, such as Seedrs and WAYN.com, established companies, including Microsoft and Marriott International, and even at VC firm DFJ Esprit. Our professional experiences are also supported by relevant degrees from reputable universities, such as the University of Warwick and the University of Manchester. We’ve known each other for many years, and we work hard, but have fun outside of office hours as well. It’s a great place to work, as you never know where the next day will take you.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Finding a developer proved much harder than we thought it would. Developers are generally expensive, and on the budget of a startup it can be difficult to find an experienced developer at a price we can afford. We wish to continuously expand our service, scaling into different countries, as well as expanding our product range, and we need a strong development team in order to do this. We also know that gaining early traction on our service will be difficult, but we have a comprehensive marketing strategy in place, which we plan to review and improve on a day-to-day basis.
How have you overcome them?
We currently have an amazing developer working alongside our CTO, Dimitar. In the future, we hope to expand our technical team even further, and have already sourced possible developers through professional recommendations and working experiences. Also, it helps to have a developer on the team! With Dimitar on our team, it means that even if we cannot afford to expand our team even more, progress will never halt with Swogo.
You are still at university, how have you found studying and trying to run a business at the same time? How have you managed the two?
I rarely sleep! It can be difficult to balance the two, but Swogo is my passion, and I'll always put it first. It's just about prioritising what's important, and so I'm able to work on Swogo full-time, whilst still completing my coursework. I only have two modules left, so it's not long until I graduate anyway.
What advice would you give anyone else looking to start a business?
Share your idea with others. Especially with a public-facing company, as Swogo is, it’s important to see what the public think of it. We’ve gained some really valuable feedback from friends and family, entrepreneurs and investors, and even random members of the public. We approached people in Starbucks, for instance, to see first-hand how they used Swogo. A lot of startups get protective over their idea, but to be honest, it’s unlikely others will execute your idea, and even if they do, they most likely won’t have the same passion that you have. User feedback is one of the best ways to improve your service. It gives a fresh perspective on the idea, and lets you see what real people think about your idea.