Sam Ryan and two-time Co-founder Barney Williams were frustrated. They didn’t like the current transportation options available to big events, which saw them regularly experience overcrowding and poor services. Enter Zeelo— an on-demand coach service whose mission is to simplify transportation, making it easy and comfortable. After a £4.2M valuation following their recent £1.2M round, the burgeoning startup is focused on scaling on both the user growth and operations side. In our interview with Co-founder Sam, he discussed:
- Why there’s no substitute for realizing mistakes quickly and learning as you go.
- The importance of ‘herding cats’ when it comes to securing your lead investor.
- How focusing on the right people, and ignoring useless connections can get you where you need to go.
Let’s start at the beginning with your MVP. Can you share any anecdotes about how that process went for you?
We got our MVP product completely wrong and chose the entirely wrong market! After a couple of months we realized so many of our key assumptions were wrong and we needed to pivot quickly. There’s no substitute for realizing quickly and learning as you go.
How did you meet your co-founders? Did they jump on board instantly, or did it take time?
There’s now 3 of us. Barney and I have been friends from school and we’ve started and sold a businesses together before so we’ve already been through the wars together! Our 3rd co-founder, Dani (CTO), was someone we built a relationship with in our last role. I think these things take time – it’s literally like a marriage and you have to be incredibly comfortable with the founder dynamic – especially ensuring you can be honest with each other and cover each others weaknesses.
Do you have any advice for solo-founders about navigating the journey without a co-founder?
Even if you’re a solo founder, surround yourself with at least one person (preferably more) that you really trust and you know are capable. It will be a rollercoaster of emotions and you’ll need a sounding board and people to back you up when things get tough. Having someone you know and trust and can rely on in a personal and business setting is so helpful.
How did you get your first customers? At what point did that shift from a manual process to a more scalable process?
Ha! We’re still doing unscalable things to work out what truly works. After many iterations of launch processes, it’s now all about partnerships (to support our brand and to leverage their databases) and 1st time use offers to encourage customers to try us for the 1st time. As things are growing, we’re seeing the referral mechanism really kick in and I think will be our biggest acquisition tool moving forward.
How did you find your lead investor? Can you talk about your valuation?
We ended up with a £4.2m post money valuation after our recent £1.2 round. We found our lead investor through a mutual intro by someone I’d met at a previous company I’d worked for. After we worked together, he and he went on to be a venture founder.
When it comes to locking in your lead investor, founders should focus on how to leverage that lead investor towards acquiring others that are going to follow on. In our case, we had a situation where our lead investor wasn’t sure he would be the lead, so we had to herd cats and get him in that position.
What is one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your journey as a founder that you know now?
There’s a lot of ‘guff’ out there. A lot of people that use a lot of big words and talk a good game but don’t be put off. If you throw yourself in the deep end, focus on the right things and make the right connections, you will be there in no time.
What’s next for you? What are the risks that you see moving forward?
Build strong traction in the UK events market, test other UK markets and test the overseas events market. Biggest risks are the assumptions we’ve made about how we can scale on both the user growth and operations sides.
Briana manages Founders Network’s community of 600+ full time tech founders.