This week Pagefield convened an expert panel at The AllBright to discuss the highs and lows of building a challenger brand. Chaired by Pagefield Senior Advisor and journalist, James Ashton, our panel of entrepreneurs – including Debbie Wosskow, Co-Founder of the AllBright, Hayden Wood, Co-Founder of Bulb Energy, Pip Jamieson, Founder of The Dots and Megan Caywood, Chief Platform Officer at Starling Bank – shared their success stories, anecdotes and insights from their experience on the front line. Pagefield’s Peter Turay outlines the five things we learned.
- The bigger they are, the harder they fall
With a panel full of some of the UK’s leading challenger brand founders, it was hardly surprising that the group were bullish about the opportunities to disrupt the biggest companies within their respective sectors. Founder of The Dots, Pip Jamieson, put it simply: “the biggest companies are the most disrupt-able”. They are often far more rigid than those born in the era of 4G, smart phones, big data and artificial intelligence. Free from legacy issues, challengers can hit the ground running with innovation at their core.
For Starling Bank’s Megan Caywood, fintech disruption is inextricably linked to the 2008 banking crisis. She detailed how innovation fell to the bottom of the list for big banks paving the way for challengers like Starling who were able to stay ahead of consumer trends and steal a march on high street competition.
Similarly, Bulb Energy’s Co-Founder, Hayden Wood, saw first-hand the inefficiencies within the energy sector working as a management consultant. This underpinned his business strategy as Bulb realised by embracing the benefits of new technology they could better meet the challenge of delivering renewable energy, where others would not – or simply could not.
- Be ready to get your hands dirty
We often see the glitz and glamour of successful Silicon Valley ventures, but what is it like at the start of the journey? “Grubby” according to the Co-Founder of The AllBright, Debbie Wosskow. Her advice was to be prepared for hard work and a series of false starts as you get stuff right. Pip echoed this sentiment, recalling that the step into the unknown was the hardest part. Her advice: “just do it”.
Hayden explained how he and his Co-Founder Amit Gudka gave life to their business during discussions at the pub, while their friends talked about music, art and politics. Soon these conversations took over entire weekends and holidays before they ultimately quit their day jobs and launched Bulb.
- The hardest thing to get right is the team
The panel unanimously agreed that people are the most important part of a challenger. But getting your team right is also one of the hardest challenges. Handing over the reins and trusting others to steer their functions in the right direction can be daunting and difficult, but is ultimately essential for your business’ growth.
Debbie was clear that “hiring in a hurry is a mistake” and stressed the importance of empowering your junior team to go outside of their comfort zone. Allowing them to take on more responsibility from an early stage will help improve your business. But this also means having to take tough decisions. Pip shared one of the most prominent and difficult learnings: knowing when to let people go.
For the panel, diversity is more than just a buzzword. Pip shared her experiences from her former role as Head of Marketing for MTV, where she noted ideas would often dry up quickly because the company was hiring “lots of the same people”, a problem The Dots – where 62% of her team are female and a number have a form of disability – was designed to overcome.
- Funders are just as important as funding
Obviously, funding is crucial to starting and scaling any business.
Finding the “right kind” of investment, the scale of funding and having a shared vision with your investors is integral according to Debbie – who recently secured £9 million of funding for the international expansion of AllBright. She encouraged business owners to pitch to different kinds of investors, highlighting that with AllBright she secured investment from within the property market, rather than the traditional venture capital route often taken by start-ups. London may not have a funding scene on the same scale as Silicon Valley, but the right people are there and willing to make big bets on your business if you look hard enough.
Pip told the audience about her personal challenges pitching to investors – recalling that at one point she had to bring in her male CTO into meetings with financial backers to be taken seriously as a female founder. Now with £4 million worth of funding, Pip is proud to boast that over 40% of her funding is sourced from female investors – an incredible 38% higher than the average. In her own words: “I couldn’t preach about diversity, without doing it myself”.
- Let the product do the talking
As a start-up entering a marketplace you often need to work harder to get your message heard and your brand out there.
Hayden explained how he worked on a number of different marketing techniques when Bulb Energy was launched, but found that the most effective have been through digital communications, as well as Bulb’s own referral scheme which works using one of the most effective PR techniques around – word of mouth.
But challengers need to get the product right first. Without a compelling idea and a very robust offer, no amount of marketing will help you take on the established players.
For Pagefield, this analysis rings true. Securing brand awareness in the media, or more favourable regulation from Government can play an integral part in the success of your business, but the ultimate test will be the product, service or platform that is created. Perfecting the product before the press release will always be key.