This story is about the journey from idea to delivery. It includes naivety, mistakes, determination, support from others, despair and desperation – just like any other small business journey really!
In 2013 I founded Simply Customer. I had seen the benefits of mapping customer journeys in large corporates but, tired of continually being away from home and working with extremely large companies that were incredibly slow to change, I decided to help SMEs.
The first few months were really tough.
I had never networked so that was a steep learning curve. No SMEs had heard about journey mapping at that time so I had to do some work pro bono to get testimonials and case studies.
Then the paying customers started, I refined my process and started to plan the next phase of the business. Knowing I was just trading my time for money, which limited how fast the business could grow, I decided that I could train people to do what I did and that franchising was the right route.
Six months later I changed my mind. Having tried to train two people I realised it was just too hard to train them in a couple of weeks to do what I had been doing for over 20 years!
The obvious answer was to get some software built.
After all, it just needed to replicate my process of asking questions, listening to the answer to decide what the next question should be and using the responses to map the customer touchpoints, highlight the issues and prepare a set of recommendations including referrals to other experts for areas I couldn’t help with!
Having checked to make sure there was nothing like that already, I naively decided it would cost £50,000 and take two years.
So I spent 3 months detailing exactly what I wanted and then (note – only then, not before I did the work so more naivety and mistakes!) went to talk to software developers.
Despair hit after I had spoken to 5 developers. Four said it couldn’t be done, one thought they could do it but would need £500,000. I tried to raise the money in EU grants but failed 3 times. One of my clients was an Excel wizard and said he could help me build a version so I started working with him. Four months later (working 14 hours a day, seven days a week) we had a version that worked….
But it was very basic, had restrictions I hated and only worked offline.
That’s when I gave up as I just couldn’t see a way forward.
That evening my phone rang. It was one of the software developers I had spoken to over a year earlier. “Nigel, are you still working on that software idea?”. “No, I’ve given up as I can’t get it built”. “Well, I was intrigued so I’ve spent the last year upskilling myself and keeping up to date with advances in technology so I think I can build it. Can I have a go?”.
Fast forward a few months and we had a working, online prototype!
Success at last I thought!
But (there’s always a but isn’t there!) I had run out of money in the business, we had no branding and no marketing budget. I decided to beg and plead with other small business owners to test it out and give me their honest opinion to see if it was worth carrying on.
And their reaction? To summarise, they said it looked awful, was clunky, didn’t have enough content BUT they all thought it was a great idea.
I hit rock bottom at this point. My mental and physical health had suffered and my business had suffered as I’d been too focused on the software idea. I swallowed my pride and asked some business contacts who had become friends to help me. They formed an Advisory Board and gave me so much of their time, support, ideas and encouragement that I was able to recover and carry on.
I managed to get an Innovate UK grant to work with the University Of Bradford to build the first fully commercial version of BuBul. The catch was that I needed to match the funding so my wife and I decided to put the rest of our savings into the business (it had been set aside to repay the mortgage!).
Even then we didn’t have enough to finalise everything including branding, website and marketing so friends and family rallied round and put money into the business as well.
And that takes us up to today (29th March 2021!).
We have a fully working version with 30 experts on board that we launched a week ago with lots of Press, LinkedIn and Facebook publicity. We’ve made some sales, we have full diaries with people interested in the platform and in becoming experts (our aim is to get to 100 by the end of 2021), I even have 2 employees!
But (see, that word again!), we had teething problems in the first week. All were easily resolved until we decided to migrate the website (I know, this may seem like a stupid decision but it gives us better speed, maintenance and security and saves us £2,500 a year). It caused us more issues so we had to take the platform offline to fix them. We worked all weekend (third weekend in a row!) and still have a little way to go before we are up and running (well, it’s not really running, more a light jog!) but by the time you read this we should be there.
So, that’s the journey so far. What about the future?
Well, for the next few weeks I think my inbox will ping every day with customers reporting issues plus the occasional sale. We will fix issues as they come up and once a month we will upload more questions, answers, experts and advice pages (it’s called continuous improvement apparently!).
After that? We’re already researching for our next product and hopefully soon my inbox will just fill each day with notifications of sales and messages from people we have helped. That would be perfect as this has always been about helping more and more people to start and grow their own businesses!
Find out how BuBul can help you build a better business.
Sam chats with Nigel about their journey, how they help businesses grow and the importance of making a difference.
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