Streetbank is a website founded by Sam Stephens that lets you see what your neighbours will lend you, give away or the skills they’re up for sharing locally. I interviewed Sam last week to find out more about how the idea for the company came about.
Hi Sam, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Great thanks. It’s getting a bit chilly outside but I’m feeling excited about 2013.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Yep, I started my working life as a headhunter, which I still do on a part time basis.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I worked for a big, well-respected headhunting business. I worked on some really interesting appointments, like the CEO of a football club and a chief advisor for the then Foreign Secretary. I liked the work but I was always playing second fiddle to my more senior colleagues and so wasn’t growing and developing as a person. It was all a bit too comfortable so I thought I’d start my own headhunting business. That was five years ago now.
How did the idea for StreetBank come about?
I became friends with my downstairs neighbours through borrowing a pint of milk from them then lending them things in turn until eventually we took the walls of the garden down to share the space. Later I saw someone on my street using some hedgecutters which I could have done with borrowing for my overgrown hedge. It seemed to me ridiculous that there were potentially hedgecutters in every house in the street but they would only be used for one afternoon a year. That sparked an idea – and that idea developed into Streetbank.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The first step was persuading a tech-savvy friend that it was worth doing. That took some time. Then together we recruited a web developer. It was a big risk but we found someone brilliant with no promise of any return.
What is Streetbank? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Streetbank.com – it is a website that lets you see what your neighbours will lend you, give away or the skills they’re up for sharing locally – essentially it’s a giant garden shed, tool-kit, fancy dress chest, DVD library and skills bank. Essentially we’re trying to make it easy to be generous and so make neighbourhoods a bit nicer.
How have you been able to fund it?
Initially through our own pockets and then more recently with money from the Cabinet Office’s Innovation in Giving Fund.
What sorts of advice do you having for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
If you can get the right people on board then the money will follow.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was love. I could think of nothing else.
How did you initially get traction?
Persuading friends to join. Talking to people at any big gathering I could get to – conferences, church services, schools....
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Getting good people with great values who are not motivated by money.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
We had a fun moment when we had a meeting at the Cabinet Office relocated to No. 10. It turns out that when you get to Downing Street, there is no tradesmen entrance - you just go up to the big door and ring the bell.
What should we be expecting from you and the Streetbank team for 2013?
The rough diamond that is Streetbank today will be honed into a sparkling jewel. And for Streetbank to grow from 20,000 members to 100,000.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If something is worth doing it is worth doing badly. (When Streetbank launched it worked but it was very rough and ready. We’ve spent the last two years improving it and it is still a rough diamond.)
Don’t take no for an answer (or try asking a slightly different question).
Listen to your customers – but don’t necessarily do what they say.
Don’t do an MBA – start a business. I’ve done an MBA and started a business. I’ve learnt much more from starting my own business.