Rory O'Connor is the CEO and Founder of Scurri, an online service that gives E-Commerce Merchants online management tools that allow them to access and manage the most suitable and cost-effective transport providers.
Hi Rory, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi! I am doing great. This is going to be a great day and a great month for Scurri.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Prior to founding Scurri, I worked in various roles in Waterford Wedgwood, spending time in various sales, marketing and strategic project roles. This included being part of the team that delivered a €10m SAP implementation, where I focused on the Sales and Distribution element of that project. I subsequently worked as a change management consultant with clients such as Heineken, Intel, Ogilvy and Siemens and spend a period as a project manager with AOL broadband. I have a number of business and marketing qualifications including holding a MBA from Henley Management College.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I started my working life with a summer job with Waterford Crystal as a tour guide, during that summer I did anything I was asked including some holiday cover in customer service roles. I was asked to stay on and after that I worked in various customer services, sales and marketing roles. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so it was more accident than design that I got into business.
How did the idea for Scurri come about?
I was running my own change management consultancy firm in 2009, when I got the initial idea while buying a new set of alloys for his car.
“I was shocked at the price of a set of alloys. I thought I could buy them cheaper and found four of them second hand on a classified site for the price of one at the dealers. I looked for a transport company to deliver them but found this was working out to be more expensive than the wheels. I saw an opportunity to create a website which would allow transport companies to quote for deliveries for consumers. I was still running my business, but I put in some of my own funding in 2010 and hired a developer to design a prototype website. I had this vision of using technology to make delivery simpler and more efficient.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
In the beginning I was on my own, working out of a small office in an old historic fort, I was using a contract developer and I quickly signed up 50 or 60 small and medium-sized transport companies to provide a service on the site. The small local companies had excess capacity and in the current climate, were hungry for business. Initially we were getting a positive response to the prototype website from both transport service companies and consumers so I saw an opportunity to develop a sustainable business and started work on enhancing the website and setting up a company.
By the middle of last year we had up to 600 delivery companies, our customer numbers were growing and we were getting 10,000 visitors to the site a month.
Although our initial aim was to provide cheaper deliveries for individual consumers by utilising excess capacity, we found the biggest demand was coming from e-commerce merchants and the company began servicing online retailers and working on connecting delivery services for companies such as Donedeal.ie. In developing technology which connects delivery companies with the companies sending the deliveries, we had inadvertently found a gap in the market.
To be honest this was the hardest part of the early days, finding the product market fit. We tried hundreds of “experiments” testing theories and ideas, day in and day out. Lots, in fact most of them failed and it was hard. But we kept at it and eventually you started to see it coming together into something that someone was willing to pay money for and more importantly those we could make money from. Our technology has now become our key selling point.
What is Scurri? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Our software helps e-Commerce merchants to reduce abandonment. 60-70% of abandonment of shopping carts for physical goods is due to shipping issues. The Scurri platform gives E-Commerce Merchants online management tools that allow them to access and manage the most suitable and cost-effective transport providers. They can connect their shopping carts with multiple transport companies in order to get good rates and also they can analyse performance and track deliveries. Having these tools helps to reduce costs and improve delivery related customer service issues, the main reasons for delivery related abandonment.
How have you been able to fund it?
Initially myself and my business partner Eugene put over €100k of our own cash into the business to get us going. We got the help of a number of very small business starter grants. This allowed us to get going and I raised €50,000 from our local enterprise board and a subsequent €50,000 round from Enterprise Irelands Competitive Start Fund. I then raised a further €600,000 in seed funding from Enterprise Ireland and private investors earlier this year to further develop the technology and to explore expansion into the UK.
How were you able to convince such amazing investors to invest in your company?
Participating in Enterprise Ireland’s iGap accelerator programme was instrumental in preparing us for investment. I don’t have any other accelerator programme to measure it against but we had world leading mentors on the programme such as Eric Ries (the author of the Lean Startup) and Sean Ellis (Dropbox and Eventbrite). The programme was really transformational for me. We came out with a killer deck and a good understanding of what investors were looking for. One of the mentors was Brian Caulfield of DFJ Esprit and he did a great job of preparing us for the pitching rounds.
What advices can you give to startup founders looking to raise money for their companies?
There are a few things I think you need:
1) You really need to find a problem that is worth solving. Something that people are really finding it hard to solve now and of course that they will pay (in some way) for you to solve it for them.
2) You really need a great team around you. Starting a company is hard. Many things go wrong, you will make many mistakes. You need a team that will put their shoulder to the wheel and persevere when times are hard. You need to be able to share the journey there is no way you can do it alone.
3) Get to know how to sell. Raising finance is like selling. It’s a numbers game. You are going to get many more rejections than you will get yes. Be prepared for that, learn from each pitch. Improve and move on. If you learn from each pitch and you have the necessaries in place your will meet the right investor who will like what you are doing.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
To be honest it’s all been exciting. Our team, our customers our product grows all the time and I find last week as exciting as the first few. In fact I would say its even more exciting now as we learn more and more about our market and our customers we see even more potential in our offering and where we can go with it. I think that is the exciting thing about a startup. You have that energy every day and to me its not like work at all.
How did you initially get traction?
We tried everything, from online PPC, to offline adverts, flyers and leaflets, events, co-advertising, Facebook, twitter, blogs, sneaking into mass participation events, crashing competitor events. The main thing is we always tried to find a way to measure the effectiveness of everything, which competitions worked and tried to find out why it worked. They you could repeat it. We found partnerships very effective, so working with other companies where we could help them solve a problem they had with their users, and they already had users.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
I think by far the most crucial thing we implemented in our business is the lean startup philosophy. We had Eric Reis as a mentor at iGAP and it was pivotal for us. We worked hard to implement lean and also worked closely with Brant Cooper and Ash Maurya to get our lean stack in place. This has allowed us to iterate quickly and find a business model is valuable to our customers. Without it I think our business would have failed by now.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
One of the highlights was receiving the Irish Internet Associations (IIA) One to Watch Award for 2012. I was very proud that my peers had identified the team at Scurri as worthy of the award and it was some recognition of the hard work we have put in but more importantly of the potential that we have.
What should be expecting from yourself and Scurri for next year?
2013 is going to be a big year for Scurri, we are going to make a big impact in the UK. We opened our UK office last year but I am moving to the UK so that we can exploit the potential of the market. You will see us becoming much more noticeable in the UK e-Commerce scene. I would say watch this space.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
My three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs starting out is:
1) Make sure that you are doing something you love, you will need to have passion for it if you are going to spend most of the time of your next few years working on it.
2) Get yourself the best team and advisors that you can find. You cannot do it on your own.
3) Get on the best accelerator that you can find, it will change you for the better and you will never think the same way again.