James Critchley is the Founder and CEO of cloud.IQ, an integrated marketing company. I invited James on YHP to share some of the reasons behind setting up the business, difficulties faced along the way, raising investment and advices for start-ups thinking along that line and how he’s been able to grow and build the business efficiently.
Hi James, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
No problem, thanks for asking me. Great thanks.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I have been working in the digital marketing space for over 15 years now – I established my first company, Ad.IQ over 12 years ago and we ran some fantastic mobile marketing campaigns for market leaders such as Amazon, Bose and Mercedes.
Last May I set up cloud.IQ - we offer cloud-based marketing apps. These apps help organisations give their customers a ‘joined up’ experience across their web, mobile, email and social media – what’s called ‘multi-channel’ marketing.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
Before launching cloud.IQ, I ran a market leading provider of mobile services to the corporate, government and charity sectors. We powered over 12,000 campaigns for large corporations such as Bose, Vauxhall, Experian and The Metropolitan Police who benefitted from the mobile technology solutions. I'm now using that proven technology in cloud.IQ.
How did the idea for cloud-IQ come about?
I’d seen first-hand the value that effective multi-channel strategies created for large enterprises and knew smaller organisations needed to be doing the same stuff. However traditional solutions for things like cart recovery, website call-back and email or SMS campaigns were well out of their reach due to their cost and complexity. My idea was to take these issues away by using cloud technology and simple apps. The result is happier customers and more sales or donations.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Getting organisations to believe that we really can do what we promise, and at a price point that’s far lower than they’re used to has been a challenge. Many of them have been over-sold complex technological solutions, so we need to almost detox their thinking. Because the concepts of cloud computing and apps are now becoming part of everyone’s lives, via things like smartphones and SmartTVs – things are getting easier. The old issues of recruiting and retaining great staff also remain, but we share a lot about the grand vision for the company and that helps people buy in to us.
What is cloud-IQ? And what are you trying to solve with it?
cloud.IQ is giving all companies access to the ‘big boys marketing toys‘ to ultimately help them sell more by interacting with customers across the web, text, social media and over the phone.
With consumers being offered more choices online, yet with their spending power squeezed, it has become vital for businesses to convert any potential customer.
Large enterprises have been in the position to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds into solving customer conversion issues across multiple channels with complex and expensive integrated marketing solutions. However, until now these solutions have been out of reach for other businesses.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Hard yards and the good fortune to meet backers who shared our insight and drive. We were lucky enough to receive £2m from Bridges Community Ventures, whose founding chair is Sir Ronald Cohen. Bridges needed to know we had proven technology and an idea with the potential to open up a whole new market. But they were also very interested in how our product could help charities, government departments and smaller businesses. That is a major focus of ours, making us a social business in many ways.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their startups?
For other entrepreneurs seeking investment, it is certainly worthwhile exploring if your product or service can be adapted in a way that will directly benefit society. Of course, this can’t be an exercise in window dressing – you have to be passionate about the cause you want to support, as we are, and the fundamentals of having a viable commercial product remain – investors will always want to see a financial as well as a societal return.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Starting cloud.IQ was really exciting. When planning the company, we were pretty confident we were on to something, but it is always nice when the positive reaction you get from actual real customers confirms this. It’s also been hugely rewarding to give opportunity to all the really talented team we have working here – they create the buzz that is carrying us forward.
How did you initially get traction?
Our initial aim is to sign up as many people to trial the apps and feedback their thoughts based on their user experience. In order to encourage traction we’ve offered a completely free 30 day trial to potential customers which is no strings attached and to date well over 11,000 apps have been downloaded which is fantastic progress.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
The first things which were really important to me were hiring brilliant people and setting up shop in Tech City. We regularly attend speaker and social events at the Google campus and other venues in order to keep our ear to the ground in terms of the latest innovations, companies who could benefit from our services etc. Most importantly though, we’re listening to our customers and constantly iterating our apps in line with their feedback.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
It’s difficult to put into words the excitement and adrenaline rush you feel when you finally move into an office after two long years of planning a business. The day we moved into our offices just off Shoreditch High Street was pretty special. As we have evolved as a business, different things get me excited including signing up new customers and seeing how our apps have helped these businesses – it’s hugely satisfying and one of the core drivers for setting up cloud.IQ. I know it sounds a cliché but every day is different at cloud.IQ.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the cloud-IQ team for 2013?
Our goal after year one is to have thousands of organisations using our apps and telling us and their peers how much they’ve improved the way they market their businesses. Beyond that, our ambition is to add more apps to the offering and expand into more countries around the world – we have recently added smartSMS to our catalogue and the plan is to introduce several more in the coming months.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
- Don’t feel you always need to invent something new from scratch. Often, tweaking something that already exists and making it simpler or better is a fast route to success. Until around 1800, shoes were made without differentiation for the left or right foot, it took a bright spark to realise that there could be a better design than the one that had lasted centuries.
- Look after your first early adopter customers. If you can turn them in to fans they will be hugely useful in terms of spreading the word about the great work you do.
- Invest in an espresso machine and get ready for some long nights!
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!