Innovation Birmingham runs ‘Tech Wednesday’ once a month as a get-together for the Entrepreneurs for the Future (e4f) community to mingle with people looking to become a Member, or apply to be on the e4f Incubator. The evening event starts with beers and networking, then an hour of ‘show and tell’ presentations in the state-of-the-art conference room, then more beer and pizza. About 50 people attend the event every month, and it’s a great way for new people to interact with the Innovation Birmingham Campus’ tech entrepreneurs.
This month, presentations were delivered by Russell Goffe-Wood and Ben Nimmo.
Russell Goffe-Wood has a web design company called Horbury & Goffe, but he aspired to do ‘less servicing’ and more ‘making stuff’.
He supports Wolverhampton University with their bid applications, and in doing so, came across an opportunity for a funded project to create an app to help young people with illnesses. Creative England has provided the main funding, and Russell has called the project Heroes & Guises.
The app helps young people with life-threatening illnesses to explore their creativity through creative writing. It’s about social stories, where you can search by tags. The principal concept is that you’re not the only author of your story. Others can pitch in. You can come up with an introduction with the app’s story starter prompt, assign it to a few genres, add some tags and pictures, and then choose if you want to continue the story on your own, or make it public and develop the rest of the story as a mass exercise.
Two interns, a designer/developer and a new business executive have been recruited to deliver the project and develop a prototype. The team are looking to take it to the next stage by January 2014 and apply for further funding to continue the work. Initial interest has already been received from the Teenage Cancer Trust. The app can be monetised with sponsored stories and in-app purchasing.
Ben Nimmo started work on his social media dash-board application ‘Social SignIn’ in April 2012. It took five months to develop an initial basic product and he then took it to multinational logistics company Unipart to test the market… They loved the concept, so Ben enrolled onto the e4f Incubator programme and continued the work.
He signed-up his first trial customer to conduct testing; the University of Birmingham’s sports teams, who operated a number of social media accounts. Their feedback was mixed and it was clear there was more work to be done to develop the product.
However, soon after, a paying customer found Social SignIn through a google search and paid to be a registered user… The pressure was then on to keep and grow that account!
More clients soon followed, mostly gained through contacts. In order to interact with customers and make them feel valued, Ben actioned all feedback immediately, ensuring the product was continually improving.
The next stage of developing the start-up business was cold calling, which Ben admits was a daunting and hard process, but there were notable successes. He would book in demos sessions, which he carried out over ‘demo me’, in order to save the time and expense of travelling to potential customers. But, selling all day meant developing the product was only done in the evenings.
The step-change for Social SignIn came when Ben recruited two sales interns in mid-2013. He was able to train them effectively because he’d done the job himself. Ben was then able to develop the 2.0 version of the product. Organic sales followed!
Ben says the best lessons were finding the customers that are right for your business, only developing your product when you need to… and anything that’s not directly related sales comes second! He was very mindful not to create a vanity start-up.
The next Tech Wednesday is at 5:30pm on Wednesday 15th January. Register here: http://www.meetup.com/tech-wednesday/. If you would like to present, contact Michelle Rayner, the Entrepreneurs for the Future Programme Manager firstname.lastname@example.org