The Start-Up Journey: Year One

Working at a start-up has been a fantastic experience, witnessing the talent and drive that everyone here shows has been a constant inspiration, and working within a structure that doesn’t require each of these people to report to seven different bosses is pretty nice, too.

The High Point
Experiencing the process of designing and building our very first product, PiggyBank. Starting out with a very loose design idea we all put forward our thoughts and opinions on how things should look, why they should be that way, and how it would help us as a business. What really surprised me about this is that there were never any arguments, falling outs or loss of tempers. I wouldn’t say I’m one for rose-tinted glasses, either.

The Low Point
Being a little too trigger-happy with releasing a marketing site and the fallout of that… whoops, but still, live and learn!

Overall though, there’ve been many ups and downs throughout the months, from parachuting Piggybanks to Piggybanks learning about the dangers of football, Piggybanks flying planes without a license, and Piggybanks with jetpacks. Who knows what’ll happen next, maybe they’ll go sailing?

It’s been a Journey

I joined PiggyBank in June 2012, a few months into its start-up journey and what a journey that’s been. One of the many benefits of joining a start-up is the opportunity you get to create processes.

There’s that all too familiar feeling that you get starting a new job, where you’re being trained to follow processes that the previous person put in place, that are laborious and illogical. I joined PiggyBank before the customer service process even existed, giving me a fairly unique opportunity to plan everything to be as simple as possible.

Working for a start-up forces you to put simplicity at the forefront of your planning process, because you just don’t have the time or resource to make things complicated. Ironically, with all simplicity, comes complication. I’ll never forget the first PiggyBank call I took, where I had to ask a developer to look up the data protection details directly from the database. Because until we had our first phone call, there was no argument for us to allocate resource to start getting that system built.

We’ve come a long way from that first phone call. To start with, a user friendly and lean customer admin tool has been built to the requirements of our customer service process – not what we thought we may need. And of course, there’s the fact that we’ve grown so much that I now have a wonderful team of 6 looking after our customers with me.

In true start up rollercoaster style, there have been great days, not so great days and plenty of late nights; but from my first day at PiggyBank, what I loved instantly were the people and the relaxed and friendly ethos of the business. It’s refreshing that over 8 months down the line and despite all the growth and changes along the way, that still remains. It may only be the company’s first birthday, but I have no doubt this will continue to be the case, for many birthdays to come.

What a difference a year makes

Well can you believe it? It’s been a whole year since the adventure began. What a crazy year it has been. Since leaving the comfort of a big company to join what was then just an idea, four guys in a small office in a small town, I am happy to report that our startup journey has been a lot of fun, a lot of learning and a series of high and occasional lows.

The first months at Piggybank were crazy, arranging meetings researching suppliers and partners to help us launch our product. Juggling balls and spinning plates was the norm and to a certain extent still is. As you can imagine, we have had to run a tight ship. Keeping the costs down and donning various caps. But we launched our product and things were good, we had done what we had set out to do. We were getting visits we were signing up customers and things seemed to be going well. At this time we were invincible.

Its not all peaches and cream though. We have had setbacks, we have pivoted and we have had to learn on the job. There have been times where we have been over-confident in both our abilities and what our product was capable of. Hard fought lessons that have made us stop and re-evaluate. These times were the hardest and these were the times where many bowls of pride have been swallowed. Although these times have frustrated us these have also been the times of our greatest triumphs. Forcing us to make the hard choices that in hindsight have made us and our product stronger.
From our initial concept discussions we have stayed true to our course and have been able to strip back bloat using the experience gained at other establishments to produce a lean, fast moving environment. We are still in our infancy and as time goes on there will be more frustration and learning and our hat stand still holds many caps for us to put on. I would urge anyone who has an idea and the means to follow it through to do it. The startup journey is not for the faint of heart but fortune favors the bold.

Where are we now? We now have a great set of partners, we have a product that we are immensely proud of and a growing team of superstars.

For a payday loan or a short term loan, contact us for more information.

A Year in the Life

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I helped start up DJS UK Limited, the company behind Piggybank. What a journey it has been.

I am not a front man, so I am not as well known for my blogs as I am for my fumbling with words. My role at PiggyBank is to ensure our Product remains competitive and agile. This isn’t a customer-facing role, but I am responsible for our customer-facing site amongst other back-end systems and processes that feed into and use our Product.

Our site is where I wanted it a year ago; attractive, usable, little support and it performs. Typically, the back-end architecture, which was planned and scoped, isn’t far off what it is today. Not only that, but some of the best people from the top credit checking agencies to third party suppliers have commended our business process. High praise indeed!

The early decisions we made were based on experience, common sense, scope, time and cost. These led us to make the right decisions. The initial plans and systems went though a vigorous iterative process with the CEO and IT Director, and very little was left to chance. However, there is always uncertainty, and we’ve been head to head with it and we have always, in DJS style, done our market research or sought after intelligence to support our decisions.

So, sounds like a holiday right? My main gripe over the last year is releasing software very quickly. Not just once a day, but occasionally several times in a day.
We will squeeze changes into the day if that will ultimately help our customers. Testing and managing change was difficult at the early stages, which caused several unhappy meetings. These meetings always ended well though. We drive our success from our failings and improve what we do, and with each mistake we improve and get better at what we do.

Our CEO, Dan Ware is very meticulous. This action of almost OCD has positively spread across our systems and as faults are found, resolutions are found even quicker. House keeping is very important to PiggyBank. From our code, to our transactions everything must be to Dan’s expectations. This is sometimes hard to deliver, as Dan expectations only ever grow.

The PiggyBank team has grown considerably since the beginning, when we were four guys in the office. We are now up to 15! The sense of team ethic is embedded into the grain of PiggyBank. We take the time to listen to each other and help each other deliver. We aim to be as transparent as possible to provide clear information to each other. The by-product of this is that our customers are constantly aware of the changes occurring within PiggyBank and the ever-growing list of options we offer to our customer base.

Being at the core of a start up is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. But it will only ever get better, especially with the foundations Dan has helped to lay. All I can hope is that we become everything Dan and the team hopes, and that PiggyBank becomes a household name and crushes it competition.

The problem with Middle Management

The start up rollercoaster has a real habit of making time run away from you. Just looking back through my start up journey blogs and I realised that it has been three months since my last post. So I thought I better put that right.

Well, the start up rollercoaster has been in full swing. A lot of ups and downs, but significantly more ups than downs. PiggyBank has been out in the world, on full steam, for just over three months now. Overall it has been very positive. We have learned a lot, made some significant changes to our processes, which will help PiggyBank grow from strength to strength, and we have had a few new additions to the PiggyBank start up journey.

As a CEO of a small start up, adding new members to the team brings its own unique challenges. The culture and the dynamic of the team has already been formed, and you want to be careful not to disrupt that. However the type of person that wants to risk it all by joining a start up tends to be ballsy, loud, confident and full of opinions. Great for ideas and helping the business reach the highest heights, but can be challenging to manage and integrate with the current team members. But I suppose that is all part of the fun.

My favourite characteristic of the people that have recently joined our start up journey is their passion. They want to make a difference. That is incredibly inspiring for a CEO.

The common theme, which spurns this passion to want to make a difference with all of our new team members, is they have worked at established hierarchal businesses. So although they are the people that are working on the front line, dealing with customers and systems, their opinions are not taken on board because of bloated layers of middle management. These bloated layers of middle management and teams of people chosen to analyse process tend to have no experience of being on the front line of a business, or it’s been so long since they have done it, that their opinion is redundant.

What is the purpose of middle management in businesses that have fewer than 1000 staff anyway? So you are ‘<<insert department here>> Manager in the <<insert buzzword here>> Team. Who cares? What does it mean? In a call centre environment or in retail management differentiation and distinction is important. In a team of 20 odd people working on a particular process, what’s the point? It makes people feel warm and fuzzy that they have a nice title, but does it mean they work any better or come up with better ideas? Doubtful.

Here at PiggyBank, we believe in learning from other people’s mistakes. So we carry out ideas sessions on a weekly basis, where everyone gets round a table and discusses a subject that affects our business. And it really works. I have heard just as many business changing ideas from our more junior team members as our more senior. That isn’t to play down the role of our more senior members. But to get real word incite of how our product is working for our customer base is the most valuable insight our business can have. It keeps us ahead of the competition, as we are constantly evolving to meet our customer’s needs and experiences.
Myself and the would-be called IT Director if we cared about job titles, also spend at least half a day a week working with the systems our team members use and speaking directly with customers. Again this has made our systems and processes evolve at a rate of knots. Myself and Darren see things on a tech and process level that our team members might not see, so it is valuable insight.

So the lesson for today for start up CEOs, understand your business. Not just from management accounts and catch-ups with your middle management, but on the front line, talking to your customers and all the members of your team. Oh, and bin the middle management bloat.

PiggyBank Loans and AFC Bournemouth

Every CEO of a start-up has many high points and low points of the journey. Which is why they call it the ‘start up rollercoaster.’ The low points need to be learned from, so the don’t happen again, and the high points need to be celebrated.

So with this in mind I’m delighted to announce that PiggyBank Loans are
sponsoring AFC Bournemouth!

Although I’m a Tottenham fan, AFC Bournemouth is my hometown club. Many Saturday afternoons in my younger days were spent at Dean Court, watching the likes of big Steve Fletcher banging in the goals and Jimmy Glass, a rock between the sticks.

Here at PiggyBank Loans, we are very conscious of our corporate responsibility, and we believe that being involved and having a presence in the local community is very important to us. So we made the decision to have a pitch side banner at our nearest professional club and also have a few other elements of advertising around the ground.

This has to be one of the highlights of the start up journey so far for me. Okay, it’s not going to bring in huge amounts of customers, but to have a presence at my hometown football team and to even be slightly involved in professional football makes me incredibly proud. From a marketing point of view, this presence will help build our profile in our local area, which is a great thing for us.

Fingers crossed for a great season for the Cherries. With Eddie Howe back at the helm, ‘Arry behind the scenes, and of course all the great work that the Chairman does for the club, promotion to the Championship is a real possibility.

Come on you Cherries!

The Great Supplier Debate

In a small tech start up, you will need to outsource or buy in some areas of your business or technology platform. Unfortunately, it is necessary to get the agility and speed that is required in a start up environment. You can’t do everything in house, and frankly, in some cases, why would you want to?

At PiggyBank short term loans we use a multitude of different suppliers for different elements of our business. For example one supplier provides our payout mechanism, one supplier provides our hosting, one supplier provides our SMS send, and so on and so forth.

At PiggyBank we split our potential suppliers into three categories when we are discussing which solution is best for us:

Known entities

These are suppliers that we have first hand experience of using or working with.

Recommendations

These are suppliers that one of our peers have used, have had a positive experience working with and have given us an introduction

Google Roulette

These are suppliers that we have found on Google.

Most of our suppliers tend to come from the first two categories, but we have had the odd gem through Googling. Google is supposed to deliver the most relevant search results after all 😉

But how do you know that your chosen supplier is the most fit for purpose for your business before you sign up with them? Well, unfortunately you can never know for sure. But there are a few things that you can do to see if they will cut the mustard:

  • Check their customer service- call and email. If they are slow to respond to a sales lead, chances are they will be slow to respond when you have a problem
  • Have a face to face meeting- although it is old fashioned, there is a lot to be said by meeting people face to face. But the face to face can always be over skype if you want to keep it techie.
  • Demo their solution- if they will let you, try before you buy. Is it fit for your purpose?
  • Ask the community- if it’s a new or unknown solution, ask for opinions in related forums. If you don’t get any valuable feedback, ask yourself if it’s worth the risk/reward.
  • Ask current customers- always always always ask current customers of the business for reviews. It is a very valuable box ticking exercise
  • Don’t sign a long contract unless you have to- long contracts mean you cant be agile if the supplier doesn’t meet your expectations. Not good for a start up
  • Don’t make decisions based purely on commercials

Customer Service for Startups

I’ve worked in customer facing roles constantly throughout my career. From small agencies, to large multinational corporations and in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals, to digital, to finance.

Regardless of the industry or company, one thing that has remained consistent is the importance of providing the highest possible level of customer service.

It’s something I strongly believe in. After all, I’m the first to complain if I don’t have a good customer experience, normally sharing the information with friends and work colleagues. It’s easy to see how word of mouth reputation exists and with most brands now adopting some form of social media presence, there’s no escaping people taking this information online. On a personal level I’ve noticed an increase of people tweeting brands, publicly complaining or praising their experience.

PiggyBank being in Beta is giving us an opportunity to really talk and dedicate time to understand each and every one of our customers – We like to share information here at PiggyBank so here’s what we’ve learnt so far about customer service for startups:

Live your brand and your voicePiggyBank was always intended to be “friendly finance”, it’s part of our philosophy. No matter what sort of day we’re having at PiggyBank HQ, whether we’ve run out of coffee or you’ve caught us at 8:30 on a Monday morning– we’ll make sure we’re being as friendly and as helpful as possible

Every customer is unique – It sounds like a cliché, but it’s human nature to make assumptions based on previous experience. We’re always trying to take each PiggyBank loan customer who’s contacting us and understand their circumstances, not make assumptions based on other customers. We like to think this is helping us treat our customers fairly which is all part of our responsible lending and collections process

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – We’re not saying we get our customer communications right every time, but we’ll always learn a valuable lesson for next time. Being a lean start up is all about making changes based on experience. We won’t stop changing until we’re the best we possibly can be.

Unnecessary Wastage

One of my biggest bugbears as a CEO of a small company like PiggyBank is wastage. Being a start up, we don’t have huge pots of money like a big corporate. So every pound really does count. This means that we are incredibly focused on efficiency, accounting for time and making sure that every minute that we are working is productive, effective and focused.

In house we keep meetings to an absolute minimum, don’t send pointless emails and use productivity and time management tools like Basecamp, Trello and shared documents to help keep collective focus.

So when situations arise, totally out of our control, which cause us to waste time, I get very frustrated. My big frustration at the moment is the lack of uniform display standards around the different browsers.

Why do certain elements of our site look different in Firefox for Windows and in Safari and in Chrome and in Firefox for Mac etc? Why are there not uniform standards across the board?

Although I’m not a techie, I do have a pretty good knowledge of what the technical community as whole is like. Although this will make me a little unpopular both internally and externally, techies can be difficult. They know what they like, they know their methods and they are reluctant to change for anyone. Want to see what I mean, get a .net and a PHP developer in a room with a brief to produce a website, and listen to them debate. Wow…

The only reason I can see for the difference in standards is because of stubbornness; every team thinks their way is the right way.

Below are the latest browser stats for Browser usage in the UK from W3 Schools:

2012 IE Firefox Chrome Safari Opera
July 16.3 % 33.7 % 42.9 % 3.9 % 2.1 %

Here at PiggyBank, we are great believers in the 80/20 principal. Therefore we decided to not support IE 6 or 7, Firefox 11 and below and Chrome 18 and below because of the relatively small usage. And the only reason we are so conscious of Safari performance is because our board all use macs, plus the huge iphone and ipad usage, so it needs to look good.

But even with this decision to only support relatively new browsers, we still encounter cross compatibility and styling issues.

To understand the scale of this problem, we have been measuring the amount of time we have spent fixing cross browser issues over the past 20 working days. We have found that 27 hours of the past 600 collective hours have been spent fixing cross compatibility bugs. This equates to 4.5% of our developer’s and designer’s time.

4.5% on something that is avoidable!! Scary statistics.

And this is just for one tiny tech start up in a small town in Hampshire. What are the wastage stats for the whole of Hampshire? Or the whole of the UK? Or the whole of the World? How much time and money is being wasted on development and design resource to fix these cross browser issues? Think of how much more time could be spend on innovation and pushing digital forward if the top four browsers agreed on uniform standards across the board…

I genuinely believe that what is perceived by designers, devs and marketeers as a mild annoyance, is seriously hampering the future development of the technical industry and must be hampering the speed of growth for online.

Every CEO, business leader and senior manager should be asking ‘why’? Why are we having to spend so much time on this? Why is this avoidable issue costing my business money? Why are my team having to cross browser check when they can be making my site better?

But for some reason, they aren’t asking ‘why’. This wastage is seen as par for the course with web development.

But why is that?!

So Mozilla, Google, Microsoft and Apple, over to you.

Token Olympic Post

Its just seven days until the London 2012 Olympics Begins, and I for one am very excited. I’m not just excited because I love sport, or excited by having the eyes of the World on our great Capital city, or because of the much needed boost that the influx of tourism will give to our fair Isle. I’m excited because of the significant cultural shift that has happened since the 2008 games; the influx of Digital.

That may sound crazy. Of course Digital has been significant in our culture for at least 15 years. But looking back over how far tech, advertising, media and online communication has shifted in the past four years, we have come a long way! And the Olympics is the catalyst for making me appreciate this dramatic shift in human culture, and just how far we have come.

In fact, has there been a more significant cultural shift in the way that human beings consume information and interact in human history, than the last 4 years? A bold statement indeed so lets break it down:

Facebook
2008- 60 million users
2012- 900 million users

Twitter
2008- 2million users
2012- 140million users

Smart Phone Sales
2008- 139million devises
2012- 412million devises (so far)

IPad sales
2008- 0
2012- 34million units (so far)

Online newspaper readership
2008- 33%
2012- 58%

Instagram members
2008- 0
2012- 30million

These figures show the World has changed. Digital Globalisation is in full effect. A user can get news and information at a time and in a way that fits their needs and requirements, they can give opinion and comment and share with their peers. The lines of communication are open 24/7. We can see and speak to the Olympic Athletes, give them encouragement, hear how they are feeling, and even find out what they had for breakfast.

As a hungry consumer of Digital communication and news about the Olympics I feel part of this special event. Is it because its in London and Weymouth? No. Even if it was in Sydney I would feel more ‘involved’ than previous games because of the amount of media that is now open to me. I can consumer more data and information than ever before. Not just on the terms of the news outlets releasing information, but comment and narrative from people in the know, my digital peers and friends and family.

Four years is a long time in Digital. Will things change as significantly in the next four years? Who knows. What I do know is, as a tech CEO, its up to me to keep up to date with the latest trends and shifts in culture. It goes back to rule number one- focus on the user and all else will follow.