Nick Davies is the founder of neighbourly, a digital marketplace that connects community projects with companies that want to make a difference.
I invited Nick over on YHP as he shares some of the key things that he’s learnt so far on his entrepreneurial journey.
Hi Nick, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Very well thanks Joseph – looking forward to some sharp questions!
Great! Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m a forty-something ex-advertising agency MD who believes that marketing has changed forever. The future of business is collaborating with customers, not selling at them.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I started early! My dad ran a mailing house – I had great fun as a kid messing around with glue rollers on the enclosing line and clambering around the print pallets. Marketing was in the blood - I started my 25 year agency career at WWAV (now RAPP) as an Account Executive when I was 19.
How did the idea for neighbourly come about?
At my last agency we specialised in something we called ‘localisation’ - we helped brands do a better job of engaging with the communities where they operated. It worked very well and we were successful but it was incredibly manual. I knew there had to be a way of using digital technology to make it more efficient.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The decision to go for it. Most entrepreneurs are young because they’re incredibly bright and have grown up immersed in a digital world. But it’s also because with age comes responsibility – a partner, kids, a mortgage. The financial risks are huge, but the challenges of giving your business every hour whilst continuing to be there for your wife and kids is equally real.
How did you initially get traction?
For me, this was one of the easier parts. My agency experience enabled me to present a fairly compelling proposition backed up with relevant experience of the market, of managing complex commercials, people and most importantly, pitching my idea. Positive early engagements with senior client decision-makers fuelled investor confidence.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Angel investors – private individuals who understand that early stage investment is always a risk but who buy into the vision and see the long-term opportunity. In the case of neighbourly, some are involved for more philanthropic reasons – they just think it’s the right thing to do.
What is neighbourly? And what are you trying to solve with it?
neighbourly.com is a digital marketplace that connects community projects with companies that want to make a difference. Communities increasingly expect business to step in and help where local government funding is falling short. Most companies would gladly do more, but find ‘local’ difficult to do in a meaningful way.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
I’ve stayed focused. Networking is crucial for a start-up – there’s always more to learn and there’s nothing more helpful than a personal introduction. But in today’s start-up world there are so many meet-ups, funding competitions, conferences, hackathons, workshops and accelerators it’s easy to get caught up in it all. Be selective about how and when you engage and remember that the work comes first.
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
For us as it is for many, the greatest challenge was our first client. We’d had a couple of early conversations where we knew our idea resonated. From there we worked really hard to understand the prospect’s challenges and delivered above-and-beyond expectation to show we could address them. The point is, you’re not just proving the value in your product. You’re looking to build relationships and earn trust – trust that you can be relied upon to deliver what you say you will.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Few entrepreneurs enjoy cold calling. Everyone’s so busy these days, and you’re typically just one more interruption. But there’s nothing more rewarding than the yes’s. Talking to someone who gets your idea and wants to make time in their day to explore it – those are great moments.
But in truth, the whole journey has been one big highlight. A good friend of mine summed it up best – the highs are higher and the lows are lower than anything you’ve done before but you’ll feel alive every single day.
How do you define success?
I think success is relative to ambition. When neighbourly hits its revenue targets it will be deemed a success. But neighbourly has the potential to make a huge impact on the world we live in. That’s pretty motivating – and I won’t be happy until we get there.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the neighbourly team in the coming months?
It’s early days for us. We’re just about to switch on our ‘Founder Companies’, at which point we expect projects to get active and the word to spread. By the summer we’ll have a good understanding of what projects and companies are both looking for. We’ll then introduce some new features, get cracking on an app – and some more secret stuff I can’t tell you about yet...
[Laughter]Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Know your subject. Prospects or investors should never know more about your market opportunity than you do.
Know your strengths – find a business partner who complements them. Even if you think you can do it on your own, potential investors won’t.
Find mentors who have done it before. The start-up world is a huge ecosystem. You don’t have the time or money to make wrong turns or miss opportunities.