We’re already past the half way mark of the first month, how did that happen already? So it’s 2017, a whole new year and a whole heap of fresh plans. The year where we ramp it up a gear, the year where it’s time for us to stop talking and start taking Action! as we prepare to take TreatOut to market. But just before we do, it’s also been a time where we’ve paused to take a breath. To look back at what we’ve done, how we’ve got here, and acknowledge the companies and individuals who’ve helped and guided us along our way.
I’d spotted Dr. Sue Black back in October 2015 whilst watching the BBC Girls Can Code, the programme which sparked the idea that’s become TreatOut. Dr. Sue Black is one of my role models and I remember one article in particular that she’d written on mentorship. In it, she gave advice about reaching out to someone who could potentially help you, to not be afraid to ask if they could spare some time to speak with you. Even if it could only be 20 minutes once a year, that time could still be really valuable. So I thought I’d ask her. After a bit of friendly twitter stalking, I worked out that she was a mentor at Google Campus London’s Campus for Mums startup programme. Sadly, Sue was not part of that particular cohort, but what a fantastic programme it was to send us on our way.
A series of 10 Tuesdays that played nicely with the school run and packed a punch of information from business planning and UX design right through to fundraising. At Campus for Mums, we realised the importance of investing in yourselves when you’re boot strapping. The more skills you have in house the further you can make that limited amount of money run.
Our first skillset for self investment was PR and Janet Murray was the perfect woman to help us do just that. I was always the one in the corner at parties, too shy to say anything to anyone. But over the past year we’ve been featured in Forbes and the Guardian, I’ve appeared on Sky News and we’ve a lot more in store for when we launch. All opportunities which have taken my co-founders and I way out of our comfort zones. We’ve learnt a lot, not only from Janet’s material but also from Janet herself who has certainly been another formidable inspiration this past year. We’ve gained the confidence to pitch or put ourselves forward for anything, I’ll now get up and pitch wherever the opportunity arises with a big smile on my face.
Which was perfect timing, as our inbox pinged with an invitation from the ShakeupFactory to present TreatOut at the Seeds & Chips Food Summit Pitching Contest 2016. At this point we had zero experience at public speaking, let alone pitching. But still, Tracey and I hopped on a plane without hesitation, scribbling our pitch and timing ourselves to perfection. Nothing to do with the fact that Milan happened to be a pretty good spot for a bit of girlie therapy clothes shopping. It was daunting, we did wonder at first what on earth we’d done when we turned up to find most of our fellow entrants showcasing their startups in the exhibition hall. Did we regret it? Absolutely not. Standing up on stage with a clicker in hand and your slide deck on big screen behind, was an incredible baptism of fire. As the questions shot up from the judges out of the darkness in front, we held our own, just. Of course we didn’t progress to the final round, but the Shakeup Factory were fantastically supportive. They took the time to give feedback, to talk with us, encourage us and we are very grateful to them for that. We learnt how investors value the importance of having a technical co-founder on the team, of why developing an app in-house is a significant benefit. Most importantly we understood why it was crucial for us.
With perfect timing, the Le Wagon bus pulled up for the first time in London. I hopped on board and headed straight into summer coding bootcamp to learn how to level up to CTO. It was a tough 9 weeks of long hours, serious learning and at times more painful than childbirth, did I really mention that on Demo Day? Yet it was brilliant, to be able to switch off from distraction and focus, to learn from your classmates who’d come from across the globe and a multitude of backgrounds and industries. To learn how to work as a team and build our first functioning apps. It was sold to me by Edward as a course for creative co-founders to learn the technical skills needed to build an MVP. Seb, Boris and Romain are guys who certainly know their stuff and they have honed their now worldwide coding course with military precision. As a result we can now keep developing in-house, get traction, prove scalability and get funding ready right up to the point where we can make our first technical hire and I can hand over the cap of CTO.
With our MVP in hand we’ve had to get talking to customers and have them involved from the start. Social media was a great way for us to connect with our customer base and we have some wonderfully communicative early adpoters who are also fast becoming our greatest brand advocates. La Polenteria, London were the first to provide us with a list of dish ingredients, and Samantha’s support through her Gut Health Empire online community is a partnership we highly value. Our supporters spur us onwards at those moments when it becomes really tough, they keep reminding us of our‘why’ and help carry us onwards.
With our customers willing us onwards we applied to the Appsters 2016 and were thrilled when we were nominated finalists in two categories, for Most Influential App and Most Innovative Startup. It not only gave us another golden opportunity to get up on stage and pitch but also provided access to a wealth of information through Project Kairos, a dedicated startup area at Apps World. It has given a boost to our credibility and a much warmer response from investors. The strongest message that came out from that event was don’t waste time chasing funding. Chase your customers, and customers only, the funding will soon follow.
So while we are customer hunting and reaching out across social media, we intend to continue to work at ‘keeping it real’, sage advice which was given to us by Mark and Graham across the sofa at the Start Up Van. These guys work tirelessly to give exposure and support to early stage startups from around the world, and are masters at the hustle. They also happen to have a fantastic TreatOut green campervan which we still think would be perfect for going on Tour when we roll out nationwide… One resounding message that comes out from their huge bank of startup video content is the power of networking.
We couldn’t agree more and networking has proven to be our secret weapon. Meeting and mixing with fellow startups is fascinating. It’s like taking a magical mystery tour each time, you never know quite what gem you will uncover, or which connection will open a door to a whole new pathway to fast track success. The tech community is wonderfully collaborative and such a positive industry to work in. Tes, founder of PTA Social and fellow Google alumni was the wonderful woman who handed us Janet Murray. We got chatting to Swoopos while exhibiting at the Restaurant Tech live show and they gushed with enthusiasm about an accelerator programme they were just completing. In fact, they completely sold it to us.
So here we are now, official chiclets from February at the world’s largest free business accelerator Entrepreneurial-Spark Brighton hatchery ready to take Action! and #GoDo! We’re really excited at this opportunity as we embark on their 3 month Sprint Programme and can’t wait to meet our fellow chiclets, be challenged and get going to take TreatOut to market. But before we do, there is one final acknowledgement to make, last but certainly not least, the support of our husbands and family. I’m in trouble because each time I write an article I never seem to mention our husbands. Hopefully I may now have just earnt myself some brownie points. Joking aside, building a startup from scratch isn’t easy. It’s hard, the hours are ridiculously long, and you spend most of your time wondering what the hell you’re doing. But with full support from our families we know we can roll up our sleeves and do this. We’re ready to find out just what 2017 will bring.