When the idea of VeeLoop was born I was both popping with excitement and petrified by the size of the dream. I had been ready to start my own business for a while, but needed the right idea, something I could be genuinely excited and passionate about. VeeLoop ticked all my boxes.
After thinking it up I shared it with friends to sound it out. I quickly found that people are put off by big dreams. You see the look of disbelief on their faces and you know what they’re thinking; that ordinary people like me shouldn’t attempt to pull off big dreams. One friend actually said out loud “It’s a great idea but shouldn’t someone established, like Richard Branson, be doing it?!” But that opinion forgets that really successful entrepreneurs like Sir Richard weren’t born successful – they worked bl**dy hard for their success – they dreamt big and they saw it through!! I have to admit I was rather downhearted by some people’s lack of vision. I spent a few days doubting and re-thinking but every time I did I ended up even more convinced and passionate about the need for this service. I took the next step, which was to start to talk to my potential customers; parents and teens. All feedback from my market research was the same – the problem I faced at home with buying things online for my daughter was faced by most online shoppers with teenage kids. I found that teenagers are crying out for ways to pay online. They consider themselves digital natives and they know everything about the latest technologies yet, whenever they need to buy something online they have to drag mum or dad, call them time and time again, send them links and screen shots of items or follow them around the house with a laptop (what tends to happen in our household) just to get what they want. How very uncool!
Parents told us that they are nagged into sharing Paypal accounts, Amazon login details and even credit card numbers – which never ends well! With all the overwhelming evidence of the need for such a service as VeeLoop I thought I’d soon have investors fighting over the idea.
So after getting such a great response from speaking to customers it was time to put myself out there and start knocking on investors doors. The general new business advice I’d received was that I needed a business plan so I would be able to answer every question that was thrown at me. Wrong advice! I spent ages building a business plan that then went out of date almost weekly. Little did I know then that it’s impossible to have all the answers, but the real thing you need is to show both the confidence to speak on any aspect of your business idea, and the determination to keep pushing on.
So the first collective feedback I had from this round of mild phone pitching was:
Investor filter: “Have you built a prototype?”
Me: “Erm not really as I haven’t got funding yet. BUT I HAVE A BUSINESS PLAN” (I was so ready to shoot over my 60 page polished document that would send them to sleep, but no one ever wanted it!)
Investor filter: “Well it’s really important to see how the system would work before anyone can think of investing. It’s too early for investment”
Me to self: Fair point, people need to see it, feel it, and play with it before they believe in it. After all, if I don’t take the financial risk of building my dream company who will?
Building the prototype was an amazing process of discovery and a huge learning curve. Most of all it gave me the confidence now to go out there and show people how it works. I truly thought I’d nailed it. I was going to go on one of those big pitches and Mr Investor will hear my pitch, fall in love with the idea, write me a cheque of £300k and a couple of years later VeeLoop will be a global company worth several hundred million. Hah!
The first obstacle was – how do you even get to meet face to face with the people with the big investment bucks? How do you get to do big pitches? The answer is that it is hard, hard work. The reality was that hardly anyone was interested in seeing the prototype. Turns out the prototype question was really a test to see how serious you are. In a nutshell the investor attitude is “Are you prepared to invest your own time and money on your idea before you waste any of my time and money?”. It’s a fair point.
It was then that my partner Patricia joined me. Together we kept pushing and knocking on doors. Doing applications for grants, applications to pitch, applications to partner – you name it we applied for it! We were raring to get out there. So now the investor questions changed again:
Investor filter: “Have you built the system?”
Me: “Erm no because we need funding to build such system – BUT WE HAVE A PROTOTYPE!”
Investor filter : “But for people to invest you need at least a working minimum
viable product. “ (Prototype ignored ☹)
Me: “I’m not sure you’re the right person, I’ll keep trying.”
Investor filter 2: same question
So I took on well paid consulting work to fund the building of the system. It meant I now effectively had three full time jobs (Being a mum is job #3!). But I believed in VeeLoop and I believed in the ability of Patricia and myself to see the dream through. I tightened my family’s financial belt, put other life priorities on hold and invested even more time and money in VeeLoop. There were bumps along the way but we now work with a wonderful team and between us we have developed a fantastic system that works beautifully. We now go to pitches stronger than ever.
We can tell investors that the system is built. That it’s currently being integrated with three small shops and that we are planning to launch in August. So now surely the investors are biting our hands of, right?!
Investor: “Have you got traction?”
Me: “Erm no because we haven’t launched yet. BUT WE HAVE A WORKING PRODUCT, A PILOT RETAILER AND WE’RE LAUNCHING IN A FEW WEEKS.
Investor: “Well investors like to see traction and revenue coming in before investing.”
Me: “But I thought you were a seed investor?”
Investor: “Yes we are seed investors but usually we work with companies that have some traction.”
Me to self: Oh maybe I misunderstood the definition of seed then. When I go buy tomato seeds, I don’t go – hang on, there are no tomatoes in this packet!
Despite this I hope you have at least noticed that by now we have made it through
the multiple investor filters and nowadays are actually talking directly to investors!
So Patricia and I have decided we won’t focus on actively pursuing outside investment right now. We have the system built, we launched with our pilot retailer and now we have several retailers interested. We will continue to invest our time and money in our dream, keep our outgoings low, invest every penny wisely and build VeeLoop the brand and the company everyone will want to work with. I want to end this blog with a quote from US President Calvin Coolidge. I came across it in the movie The Founder, which is about the guy who created McDonalds! “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”. We will persist and you will soon see our VeeLoop button at the checkout of those teenage shops. And when you do you’ll know precisely how hard we have worked to get it there!