I recently had the opportunity of speaking with Clive Busby, Director and Co-Founder of Polestar Digital Media, a digital agency with a focus on mobile applications and ‘in app’ secure payment gateways.
Clive shares his story on how the idea for the business formed, difficulties along the way, and advises for budding entrepreneurs.
Hi Clive, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I’m fine thank you
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Sure. I have been working in the IT sector for over 30 years mainly in new business development which is the sharp end of the sales process. During that time I have worked for a number of start-ups as well as some large corporates so I understand the different mentalities that you need to operate in both areas.
At the moment I am working in the mobile sector which is really exciting. In the 10 years before setting up PDM I ran a management consulting business which helped over 25 clients with improving their sales and sales processes across a wide range of markets.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
When I left school at the age of 17 with few qualifications, I soon realised that no one else owed me a living. So, in order to pay the bills I had to get out there and earn my crust. Naturally I was drawn to sales because of the ability to earn good money as a direct result of hard work and determination. The main qualifications needed for sales at that time were good people skills and lots of energy.
I also realised that running your own business gave you the freedom to trust your instincts. The rewards are higher and so are the risks; not just financially but also the quality of the work life balance.
How did the idea for Polestar Digital Media come about?
I have known my co-founders Elaine Skinner and Graham Turner for over 15 years and we always stayed in touch. One day back in 2009 over a glass of wine at a marina on the south coast we realised that there was a fantastic opportunity to pool our combined experience and talents and create a business centred on the mobile applications space. Mobile was then and in fact still is one of the fastest growing markets in the IT sector and we knew that the area of secure mobile payments was a potentially high value business opportunity. After having researched the market we set up PDM to develop and deliver mobile services.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The hardest part of any new business idea is to turn it into a revenue generating business. In the beginning we had a rather scattergun approach offering solutions to a wide range of markets. It was one of our potential investors who described our activity as having a ‘smorgasbord’ of ideas. We took that on board and focused all our energies on delivering an application for a very specific market.
Being focused meant that we became experts in our field rather than generalists. It also meant that we could become a larger fish in a smaller sea. We discovered that by focusing all the energy in one area we were able to become a viable competitor in the market.
The other hardest part of starting out was funding. We spent a lot more time than we had anticipated just raising funds for the business. We learned that in reality you need to spend more than half your time in the early days securing the cash to pay for the day to day running costs.
Great! And for those that still have difficulties understanding what the company does, what is Polestar Digital Media? And what are you trying to solve with it?
PDM is a digital agency focusing on mobile applications and ‘in app’ secure payment gateways. We can solve the problem of mobile wallets using proprietary technology. Whilst this has enormous global potential across all commercial markets we have focused on delivering an application for the NfP sector that allows organisations to interact with their customers and raise funds for their causes using mobile devices. The application is called giveonthemobile® and can be downloaded from all good app stores.
How have you been able to fund it?
Initially through our own back pockets, friends and family. We also undertook a number of bespoke projects. After a seemingly long period of time making presentations to angel investors, venture capitalists, banks and other traditional forms of early stage investors, we eventually secured funding from a group of HNWIs who put their own cash into the company privately, in exchange for equity.
What sorts of advice do you having for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
My advice would be to work out how much you need and then double it. Also double the amount of time you think you will need to raise the funds whilst you go through the process.
If you don’t have your own money to run the business then you are going to have to invite a third party to join you. That will inevitably create a new dynamic in the company. Make sure you understand what impact that will have. Understand what your investors want in terms of their return on investment and also what their ‘exit’ desires are. Are they the same as yours? Also do they add value to your business with skills or contacts; do you want that? How much equity and control are you prepared to give away in return for cash? Are there grants available? However this might take a long time to process; sometimes it might be easier just to sell your product/service in the same time. Crowdfunding might also be an option for a real early stage project.
Ultimately it is a trade off between having funding now and maintaining control of the business. Keeping the control is probably the most important if you want to make sure you still remain in charge of your destiny. Finally, having access to a good lawyer and accountant working on your behalf is vital.
About the first few months, how excited were you? Tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
When we set up the business we were tremendously excited and in fact we still are. I think that perhaps the most exciting time was when we released a fully working application in the market and could see people downloading and using the service.
Having giveonthemobile® available to over 100 NfPs in just a short time of launch has also been very exciting. We have also had the privilege of working with some fabulous customers and helping them with some really interesting mobile digital campaigns.
How did you initially get traction?
We picked up the telephone and told people about what we were doing. We spoke to hundreds of potential customers, met with them and presented our business case. This also enabled us to understand their requirements as well, so that we have always been able to continually develop the product in line with customer and consumer feedback.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
We keep the core team to a minimum and work with partners to grow the business whether these are customers, influential organisations or development partners. This way we can keep costs to a minimum.
Our mobile application is tightly integrated with social media platforms and we keep our website constantly updated and search optimised.
We publish fresh news stories especially customer campaigns that can be used by our PR agency for wider publication nationally. We are entered for relevant ‘awards’ which also helps us grow the business through awareness.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Certainly the last 3 years with PDM and giveonthemobile®
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Polestar Digital Media team for 2013?
We will be developing a range of complimentary products and services to enhance giveonthemobile®. We will also be investigating new markets and territories where we can offer new products and services.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Don’t give up.
Recruit the very best people to support you.
Stay positive and enjoy the journey