5 top tips for start-up success, for social entrepreneurs on the journey to social investment, by Maarten Rooney - Co-Founder CEO of Singlify.
An investment of £50,000 from the Connect Fund helped us build our product and bring it to market. In 6 months we've launched our application, and are implementing it for our first customers Homeless Link Social Investment Fund and Rewilding Europe Capital.
Here are 5 tried and tested tips from our journey so far. We hope these will help you hit the ground running too:
Matt Harison (left) and Maarten Rooney (right) launching Singlify's Investment Management System at Salesforce in London
1. Get all the support you can – never stop learning
We’re experienced social entrepreneurs and Salesforce experts. So we were confident we had enough skills and knowledge to make our business work. However, we still applied to two Accelerate programmes to access additional support. We applied for The Salesforce Accelerate programme and the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme.
We were delighted to be accepted onto both. These gave us loads of access to advice, support and mentoring, plus a network of others sharing our journey. And the NatWest programme also came with free office space!
The support from these programmes helped us get to market far faster than we could otherwise have done. It's really important that no matter how experienced your team is, you make sure you get all the support you can.
2. Talk to customers, all the time
Working away on a killer application or product? We know it can be tempting to keep your head down and get the product built - and built right. But you must keep talking to customers and potential customers all the time. Often they don’t understand your pitch first time, or you don’t speak with the right person straight away.
Through continuously chatting with others, we:
- learnt about potential competitors & related market opportunities
- gained insights from later conversations that we’d missed in our first meeting.
It’s very important that you take the time to speak to the people who’ll be buying your product. And then talk to them some more! It’s a two-way street and you'll gain a lot from these conversations.
3. Set realistic goals and plans
When building a business plan, don't assume everything will go smoothly. Securing investment, building and launching the product, and signing up customers? Nothing will go 100% right. We’ve experienced unexpected delays and roadblocks – and we’ve overcome most of them with the help of the support mentioned above. It took us 2 months to open a business bank account for example!
Have a realistic plan. This will help stop the inevitable bumps in the road from derailing the whole business.
4. Achieve alignment with your potential investors
This is one of the most critical things we found in this process. The conventional investors for ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) look for a 10x return and a massive market opportunity.
We were looking to provide a high-quality, high-value product for an under-served small market. So we were extremely pleased to work with the Connect Fund as our first investor. Their mission is aligned to ours and our customers', and they helped open doors to potential customers.
5. Raise what you need
We were super-happy to secure the investment from the Connect Fund. Initially, we looked to raise about £200,000 from investors. This changed when we looked at the implications this would have for the business. We didn’t want to compromise on quality in order to secure early revenue to justify our investment. So we scaled back our cost-base and our timetable.
Singlify’s Investment Management System is an end-to-end data management system. Singlify is for social investors, microfinance institutions and grant-making organisations. It's built on the Salesforce platform through which we can leverage their capabilities without having to develop everything ourselves.
Because of social investment, we had the capital needed to build the application, grow our impact and become more sustainable.
These are my 5 top tips to help you start-up, what are yours? Let us know via Twitter @singlify @GoodFinanceUK
By Maarten Rooney, Singlify