How does a mother start and grow her business into a successful company while raising three boys?
I caught up with Cary Marsh, CEO and founder of Mydeo as she talks me through her journey as an entrepreneur, her background, growing her business and raising three boys.
Hi Cary, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Hi, I’m good thanks. Shame about all the rain though
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I was born in West Sussex. My mum, my sister and I moved to London when I was 8 when my mum got a job as a researcher for the BBC.
I was very sporty as a child, and spent much of my recreational time doing gymnastics. I trained at my club almost every night after school and competed at weekends. I was Wandsworth and Merton borough champion from the age of 10 and went on to represent London and the South East at regional squad level. I guess my gymnastics success was an early sign I was a bit of a risk taker – you have to be pretty brave to do a backflip on a four inch beam or a handstand on a bar that’s 8 feet off the ground!
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
My mother was my inspiration growing up. She raised my sister and I on her own whilst juggling a successful career at the BBC -she was Head of Schools Television. I always had her unconditional support and she told me I could be whatever I wanted to be in life.
How did you get into business? How did the idea for Mydeo come about?
I graduated from Nottingham University with an Engineering degree, but couldn’t decide straight away what I wanted to do. I waited tables at Planet Hollywood for a while before getting a job as a recruitment consultant – which I hated!
In 2000 I joined a start-up called Servecast who had just raised 30m Euros to roll out a European Content Delivery Network (CDN). This was before video streaming really took off as there was little broadband at the time, but I learnt a lot about the economics of streaming and soon had ideas of my own about how I could run a business reselling CDN services to a new market.
In 2002, I went on maternity leave and started Mydeo. The idea was simple – build a website that would allow consumers to utilise CDNs to share personal videos securely.
What is Mydeo? What are you guys trying to solve?
Mydeo allows consumers and businesses to deliver their media via a high speed CDN. In short, if you put your media on a CDN, your website loads faster, so your visitors/customers are not waiting. The problem is that CDN’s have a minimum entry level of around $2000 per month, which means millions of consumers and small businesses cannot buy directly. The business model for mydeo is that I buy in bulk from the CDN, and the mydeo.com website retails in small chunks, giving automated CDN access, providing statistical reporting and transacting monthly payments by credit card. Small businesses need their websites to perform in exactly the same way large sites do, so Mydeo allows them access to a global CDN for a tiny fraction of the cost of buying directly. By building a site that automates the entire process, the service is massively scalable.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase? Tell me about the first couple months?
My biggest challenge was raising the first round of seed funding. I applied for DTI Grant for Technical Innovation (known at the time as a SMART award), but the terms of the Grant meant you also need to raise matched funds from elsewhere. I needed to raise £56,000 from friends and family and spent months meeting friends, friends of friends and parents of friends to raise the cash we needed.
When I finally managed to raise the money, the SMART committee turned down our grant application, saying it wasn’t technically innovative enough. Instead of leaving it there, I wrote a 20 page document outlining how all the elements of the software we would be building were being brought together in an innovative new way to address a totally new market. They changed their minds and we got the grant!
Have you gotten any additional investments since then?
Following the seed round I met with quite a few VC’s, but the level of funding we were after (half a million) was too low for VCs, so we went down the angel route. I pitched to two difference business angel networks and had offers of funding from both. We supplemented the angel money with a bank loan under the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme.
In 2007 we did a third funding round and took investment from BestBuy, plus two further business angels, valuing the company at £1.7m.
What has been some of the key things that you’ve over the year on your entrepreneurial journey?
Don’t take no for an answer! There will always be knock-backs, but as long as you get up one more time than you fall down, you’ll be ok.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
The partnerships we developed have been absolutely crucial. The first was with Microsoft where we were integrated into their desktop editing software, Windows MovieMaker. I’ll never forget the morning the partnership went live – registrations went through the roof. It was a real step- change for us as a business, but the partnership with Microsoft was more important than just the uplift in traffic. We were picked up by their Emerging Business Team(EBT) (similar to what BizSpark is now) who support and promote high potential start-ups innovating on their platform. The EBT introduced us the investors and partners we could never had gained access to on our own and was the key to raising the next two rounds of funding.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Mydeo started out at a B2C service, but with the launch of YouTube we just weren’t getting the revenue traction from home moviemakers we’d hoped for. We analyzed our paying user base and it became very clear that the majority were actually small businesses looking for low cost CDN delivery. So in 2009 we launched a B2B version of the service. We had plenty of feedback from the user base about what business users wanted and we used that as the basis of the new service. Within 6 months the B2B service overtook B2C revenues and has been growing month on month ever since. If we had not made this change to B2B when we did, we would have run out of money and joined the list of the thousands of other video startups who have failed in the last decade.
One thing I’ve learnt is that, when starting a businesses, a large amount of your assumptions will be wrong and you will make mistakes. As long as you make your mistakes and make adjustments to your plans before you run out of cash, you stand a good chance of being a success. If the cash runs out first, you’re history.
How has it been raising three boys and running a business?
It sounds like an impossible mix doesn’t it – but it works for me! When I started Mydeo we had enough money to put my first son, Cameron, into nursery one day a week. As the business started a take off and he got older we increased the days at nursery so I could spend more time running Mydeo. I managed to work from home while all three boys were babies, and never had a nanny or any home help. My two eldest are at school now and do sport after school most days. By basing the office in Wimbledon I can do the school run and still be in the office for 9 and pickup at 5. My two year old is at the same nursery the other two attended and I take Fridays off to be with him – which I love.
The best thing about running your own business and having kids is the flexibility and work-life balance it affords you. I never miss a rugby or football match, and I can be there at the drop of a hat if they are sick. I’m CEO from 9-5, but after that I’m mum. Plenty of people would argue you have to work 7 days a week, 18 hours a day to be a successful entrepreneur, but I don’t agree. Work smart – quality not quantity. Life’s too short.
What would you like to say to other mums thinking about starting a business?
My advice would be to make sure you try to understand what you can do by yourself and what you need help with. Knowing what you don’t know is key. I worked with a business incubator in the early years, who put a team around me to support me when I needed help and advice on finance, marketing, legal issues etc. I’d never started a business before and it was a huge learning curve, but by having the support of the incubator I found I could always find a way round the stumbling blocks.
What would you say has been the highlight of your journey so far?
Last year I was named as a winner one of Red’s Hot Women Awards - I won the Breakthrough Pioneer award for Business and Innovation. I got a huge amount of press coverage and it was a very glitzy evening ceremony, but the highlight was a breakfast at Downing Street. It was an amazing day from start to finish – and the other winners were inspirational.
What can we be expecting from Mydeo in 2012?
More features, more growth, more customers – and perhaps even an exit. Watch this space J