Amy Whitell - Two hugely successful business pivots and the business benefits of external help
Amy is the CEO of Collctiv, the group payments platform. Amy sold her first business aged 28, and has worked in the legal, financial and EdTech sectors.
Tony Radford 0:05
Welcome to the Small Business heroes podcast where small business owners tell their story so we can learn from their experience. My name is Tony Radford. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Hello, everybody and welcome to this week's podcast. My guest today is Amy Whitell from Collctv.com calm, that's Coll Ctv .com.
Amy, how are you today?
Amy Whitell 0:32
I'm very well Thanks, Dad. How are you?
Tony Radford 0:34
Pretty good. All the better for talking to you. How is lockdown treating you?
Amy Whitell 0:39
Lockdown is incredibly boring and gradually rotating around different parts of the house just to get a different view.
Tony Radford 0:46
Okay, why don't you tell us about your business?
Amy Whitell 0:50
Sure. So collective is a great payments solution. So we exist for when basically if you're the person in your group of friends or family who Have to organize something. So you're the person who's like, Guys, we should do this thing. Or we should buy this gift for someone, then you'll know how difficult it is to collect money from that group, or how difficult it is to make a purchase or a booking as a whole group.
So that's why that's why we exist. That's what collective does, we've got a consumer app that makes it really easy for you to collect money from your friends in a really simple way. That means they don't have to download an app or create a new bank account or a new beneficiary. They just simply tap to pay. And then on the merchant side, we've got a platform that helps merchants to take sales from groups of people in one go. So that really helps merchants to to grow their sales and to stop missing out on opportunities that they've lost when a consumer goes to their site realizes they want to buy something with a group of people or book an event with a group of people and then they have to go away to get the money and then they may never come back so we help
Tony Radford 1:50
to increase their sales. Right now that sounds really amazing actually, and your products is focused on group activity, obviously much group action tivity actually ended the beginnings a lot, then. What was your response to that? How did you handle that situation?
Amy Whitell 2:06
It was quite a shock, I think to the to the company in the whole team, because you're right, we essentially have a product that helps people to, to do things as groups, which became illegal, which is really not something that I could have predicted that our core, our core business activity with the cover legal, and prior to COVID, our top use cases. And so the things that people collected the money for the most within the era, and were for sports, and also for travel.
Both of those things were also either illegal or not just not happening. And so we were a bit kind of curious to see what would happen. So fortunately, our product our app is very, very flexible. So what actually happened we saw people using it to collect money for and for charity or for food banks, or to to buy people gifts that they're not seeing anymore, so to do online purchases for gifts, do workarounds for that, and we'll see people using it to collect money from neighbors who are shielding that they've done their shopping for.
So that's a good example where you'll see you know, your neighbors, but you probably don't want to really share your bank details with them. And you certainly don't want to be passing cash around. If they're shielding, then obviously, cash isn't isn't great for transmission risk. So being able to do their shopping, drop it off on their staff, text them a link saying, you know, shopping for two pounds this week, and then being able to tap and pay with that card or with Apple Pay or Google pay is an ideal scenario that we've managed to help within COVID.
Tony Radford 3:33
Excellent. So you picked up some use cases that you might not otherwise have done had it not been for lockdown. And as we come out of lockdown, whenever that will be, presumably you'll be able to take those forward and reignite the ones you have previously the group type stuff.
Amy Whitell 3:52
Yeah, exactly. So we, from the very beginning, being careful to build a product that suits a person, a person Type, which is the organizer, the social organizer. So we didn't create an app to make it easy to organize a sporting activity or make it easy to book a holiday, where our thing is about group payments. So whatever it is, you're collecting for a group, that that's what we make it easy to do. So so you're absolutely right, this thing's so so may actually be in a record breaking month for us in terms of how many transactions we processed April's our second best month after that.
So people are still needing to collect money as groups. It's just what they're doing as a group is currently different. So eventually, and sports travel will come back around maybe within 12 months, but probably longer than that. But until then people still need to send each other gifts they still need to, to do other things that they'll need to collect money for as a as a group. So yeah, so we can help with that in the meantime.
Tony Radford 4:51
That's really good. It's interesting that you said you use the personality type to define your application. That's probably very Very useful information for a lot of people not not so much the you know, when you describe demographic things, but actually, that person as an organizer type, how did you do that? What did you use a framework? Or did you just make it up yourself? So?
Amy Whitell 5:15
Yes, so at the very beginning, we were we were designing the first kind of prototypes of the products. And we used a process that a lot of tech companies use, called a design sprint. So we borrowed a lot of the methodology from that from from Google from Google Ventures. And there's an excellent book called sprints, if anyone wants to have a book that takes you through the process of designing something like that.
And that's really, really centered around user feedback and user research. So we started off knowing there was a problem. It's difficult to get money as a group of people. And then we went straight in to try and identify who has that problem. Is it really a problem? Is it a big enough problem? And if only once we understood that user did we then start to build out our initial kind of prototypes in our industry product.
And so it was in that process really that that we we dubbed this personality type, the organizer type that there's lots of different personality profiling tests and things like that, that you could you could align it with. But in our, in our context, we have two types of people in our app, we have the, we have the organizer who's kind of the person who's getting everyone to do something, they generally tend to have more influence in how social money is spent. So it's also very useful to us to know that those other people are on our platform.
And the other type of person that uses our platform is of course the person who pays in so we call them the contributor and nine times out of 10. They are very different to the organizer that what they need out of our products. It's a really, really easy way to pay. They're the people who aren't going to stop at a cash point on the way to an activity.
They're the person who always owes you that 10 pounds that drink meal that you paid for them but they always forget to give it to you. So what they need is a really quick way to just Just give you the money that you're trying to collect. So we we've created our products so that you don't, so that those people don't have to download any app, they don't have to create a bank account or set up a new beneficiary or remember anything, they simply get a text or WhatsApp or Facebook, or they scan a QR code and or they click on the payment link, and that the friends have sent them.
And they just simply tap to pay. And if they're on the phone, they do it. They've done it in less than 10 seconds with Google power. Okay, just looking at it, and it's done.
Tony Radford 7:28
That's really great. Really interesting. So you've got the two different types of user, the contributor and the organizer. To those personality sites, presumably they influence the way you do your marketing.
Amy Whitell 7:40
Yeah, definitely. So and, in fact, one of the kind of future marketing campaigns that we're planning or thinking through at the minute and we'll hopefully have will, will play on that difference between those two kind of types of people. And harking back a little bit to that are your Mac or your PC campaign that Apple did all that time ago.
And that sort of thing. Like it's very you know who your organizers are in your group, they're the people that are always going to suggest that you do this though the other, they're the people who have already done a lot of research into, you know, an idea to go on a holiday or they're already going to know that this this concert coming up or this festival will be good to go to, and they enjoy that process research and organizing and planning and making a thing happen. And then the contributors, by contrast, are very much more go with the flow type people who want to kind of be part of the journey, but they don't really want the what they perceive to be the headache of organizing.
Yeah, that's very common in every friendship group or every even every workplace group or every family. You'll have those kind of different types within it.
Tony Radford 8:44
That's excellent. No, no really good work there. And hopefully, that idea would be helpful to our listeners. Next question. Can you tell us what your biggest business challenge has been?
Amy Whitell 8:56
He has so and so terms of our development process We, myself, my co founder and Pete, who's our Chief Technology Officer, we went full time on this product on this business. And from last May 2019, we spent a couple of months this was after we got around to investments. So we spent a couple of months building out the product fully over the over the summer, we ran a beta testing period over August 2019. And then we launched our minimum viable product or MVP, first version of the app. We launched it properly. beginning of September 2019. Within the first week, we realized we built the wrong thing entirely for real life. So that was quite a moment.
But part of the benefit of being small and a young business is that you can instantly act on stuff like that you you're not burdened by legacy tack or by years of this is just how we do it or by big teams or, you know, you can say Oh, hang on, we've noticed something here. This doesn't quite work for our users. And in our case, we ripped out 50% of the codebase overnight and and rebuilt it Within five days to work a bit of a different way, that made a lot more sense.
Tony Radford 10:05
Did you realize that you've taken the wrong path.
Amy Whitell 10:09
And we had, in the early days, we had a very big rugby team using the app. They used it in the visa periods. And then amongst a few of them, but then they were going to use it for their first rugby game back of the season, which was the beginning of September. So they're going to be about 40 or 50, student labs, or kind of missing in a field. So we literally went to do in the field research on our product. And we realized that it would be ridiculous to stand around and watch 50 lads try and download an app, and then add in their car details and do a whole load process like that, when really all they wanted to do is play rugby. It was only the treasurer, who was our organizer. In that case, the treasurer won at the money for the training app because at that point, everyone had to download the app and everyone has to be part of the group on the app to be able to pay. So that was when we had that light bulb moment of a contributor is not motivated to download an app, they don't care. They just want to do the quickest, easiest thing to pay to get on to doing the activity. So that's when we ripped out the group functionality of the app. We didn't, you know, would create a chat with essentially, we invented WhatsApp, which was obviously a bit stupid, because what support existence was very well. So we ripped all that out. And we said, No actually say this assets for the organizer. And the quick way to pay is for the contributors and changed it like that.
Tony Radford 11:29
And it's really interesting, and it's great that you've, well, it's not crazy, great that you've faced and, you know, vast challenges to your entire business model within a six month period. But it is very, very good that you, you know, you stay flexible, and you overcame them. So that's really excellent. Next question, what is one thing you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Amy Whitell 11:55
Probably the key thing that I wish someone had told me before we started would be Just every, everything does just take a bit longer than you expect it to do so not everyone, but and also not every company and certainly not every regulator, or jurisdiction works at the speed that you work out or the speed you want everyone to work out. So I think balancing that kind of speed and urgency that you have as a startup or as a business owner, with the market that you find yourself in or the reality that you find yourself in and not becoming disheartened or frustrated. And things take longer than you want them to, but but finding other ways to use that time, you know, while you're waiting for different things to come around. That was Yeah, that was quite a learning curve, I think in the first few months.
Tony Radford 12:43
Yeah, that's really everything takes much longer than you think. One common thing that people have said is that they were very surprised by how many hats they'd have to wear, how many different things they'd have to do. And that the thing that they had their business around what became a smaller proportion of the week working weekend they anticipated Is that something you found as well?
Amy Whitell 13:06
Yeah, definitely. So I am may have previously ran businesses before. So I was I think prepared for it. But But one thing I do do, which is a top tip, but probably doesn't suit everyone is I actually track every single, every single minute of my time that I spend working and resist the urge to do my personal life is on but I track every single working minute using a piece of software called toggle. And you just you can use it on your phone or on your, on your browser, you just on your desktop, you just you just tap it to start and stop and you can categorize things. So I need I need to know what it is exactly I'm spending my time on because especially when a business grows and scales, you need to know who needs to be bringing in stuff into delegate areas of work, more or less value. So I try to set myself at the beginning of the week and at the beginning of a month, my ideal ratio of time so I know that I'll always have to spend time on raising money and raising investment, and doing sales and marketing, building the products and talking to the customers, and then doing general business operations, stuff like finances, HR, legal, etc. So I, I look across a month and say, well, realistically, actually, this needs to be my main focus this week or this month, and set that target that beginning and then I track my time and see how well I'm sticking to it and try and adjust accordingly if I'm spending too much time on one area.
Tony Radford 14:27
That's really good. Yeah. And recording your time is definitely a key to getting on and making progress in whatever you're doing. What would you say was the next step for your business for collective?
Amy Whitell 14:39
So we're currently with credit, but more recently, we've built out the merchant platform side of our solution. So we've made it really easy for people to collect money as a group, so they've got a pot of money ready to spend. And then the next step for us was to create the platform for merchants to accept a payment from a group of people. Which we have and we have live in the market. So the next step is to push that out more. You know, our mission is to make payments in fussiness, like no matter which way around you come at it. So if you're trying to buy a present for someone like fancy coming up, if I'm trying to be present for you, and it's outside of my budget, maybe I can ask my brothers to chip in but if I have to go away and do that, and then the merchant risks that risks the risk that I might not come back to that cart.
There's a lot of there's a lot of abandoned carts and we know from the guys who sit in the buy now pay later space the likes of Carla lay by the guys that give you short checkout credit. they've they've proven that if you give someone time at checkout to spread the cost or to split the cost of reduce the cost of that basket at that point in time.
They actually reduce cart balance by up to 40%. So there's a huge opportunity for merchants just to give consumers more choice at checkout and for the first time at what a merchant will now be able to do is interact with the whole group of people that behind the purchase. So historically, if you're buying something, if you're selling something, you sell it to one person, and all you understand is that one person's made that transaction with you. So you can understand that person is your customer, you can profile them. But actually, they may be a 10th of the purchase decision that started many months before. And they've just come to you with the money to make the final step. But actually, when you sell to a group, you understand how many people have paid into that purchase, and at what point in time, etc, etc.
So you have you have several transactions that come in for that one purchase. So it's it's quite revolutionary way to understand your customers better and also to increase your acquisition of new customers. So if you've got one customer on your site, sharing a payment link for a product they're buying from your site with their friends, our average share ratio is actually one to 10. So for every and personal share 10 of the people that's that that's that's free advertising for your brand. So it's an additional opportunity there for merchants as well.
Tony Radford 16:58
Excellent Tony. Do you go about finding merchants? What's your marketing plan for that side of the business?
Amy Whitell 17:07
What I've done is set up a quite stringent sales process. In essence, it just follows the standard kind of funnel. And so at the top end, this current pandemics helps us to prioritize which verticals go after first, because as I mentioned before, we have a product that works across a number of verticals, because it works for a person who may be buying things in different categories or doing things in different categories. And so with sports and travel and events, activities, not happening at the minute, it's helped us to prioritize gifts.
So product sales, and merchants who sell products either have a higher ticket item value or products that lend themselves to being gifts or gifting companies themselves. Those verticals are the ones we're targeting at the moment. So that's a question of finding leads, which are simply anyone who sells in that vertical quality.
Find those leads over time, then reaching out to them the first step before reaching out to see if we already know them in our network or if there's anyone in the team who has a connection there in any way, or anyone in our wider network, or through through the social channels, and then following that lead through making connections, scheduling those meetings, demonstrating the product, getting to the technical and the pricing details, and then three to integration and sale and contract through the you know, through the process. So yeah, so that's kind of how we set up the sales process.
Tony Radford 18:34
Okay, so the next question is, if somebody gave you 500 pounds to spend on marketing, how would you spend it
Amy Whitell 18:42
500 pounds I would spend on the consumer side of our products so on directly on Pay Per Click or social ad social boosting for acquiring new users for like, letting more consumers know that we have an easy way to collect money from their friends and family. So yeah, so we have Very, we already understand our kind of unit economics around when we run those sorts of ad campaigns, how much it costs us to acquire a download, but then also how much it costs us to actually get to someone who's an engaged user. So I'm not interested in vanity metrics where you say, I've got this many downloads of our app. And if that's no relevance to me lesson was actually used the app for the purpose for which it was it was built and intended there. So we understand the difference between costing just to get some click to get someone to download and then to get someone to be engaged and actually use the product and what those price points are along along the way. And so I would, yes, I would take that 500 pounds, I would put it into that little fellow.
Tony Radford 19:39
Okay, that's very good. And also really good advice about knowing, knowing your numbers. My next question is, do you have a business mentor or support group?
Amy Whitell 19:50
Yes, so I am a big advocate of ask for help from anyone as much as you can. I think a lot of business owners feel like they need to To put on a front that they understand everything that they never seen, they've got it all together. But actually, I think there's more, there's more value to be found in saying I'm okay on these things, to learn these things, but I've got these things covered by she could do with help or learning about new stuff in these areas, or this is not my background are not my area of expertise. So from very early on, what I did was build a group of advisors, which is just an informal structure and a formal group of people who are all a lot further on than we are in their own respective fields. So mapping out what those strengths and weaknesses are between myself and my co founder, and saying mobile, we need to find someone who could help us in, you know, this area or this area and ask them if they'll support us on our startup journey. And we've been very, very fortunate to have some brilliant people, you know, offers that help along the way. So that's one way. The other way that I think is really important is to make sure you're surrounded by all the people Who are business owners or founders, so that your peer group normalizes what it is that you do. So if you back that if you're kind of thinking about Should I leave my job and start a business, or an idea, you want to branch out on your own, if the people that are in your normal Friendship Circle, your normal family circle, are all people who are working their way through a career path, which is right for them, you'll find it very difficult to get support and understanding from those people that they will counsel you not to do it because it's unfamiliar to them or it's scary to them. And it doesn't make sense to them, which is fine. But if it does make sense to you need to find out the people for whom it makes sense to them as well, so easily don't think that it's quite as unusual as you think it is. So I have a really good peer group of fellow founders in Manchester where we're based, as a really good startup scene, a pair, you know, I go to the various events in NatWest, FinTech entrepreneur accelerator. So again, you've got like a group of In all different industries and building different things that everyone's building a business, so you've kind of got that commonality of purpose.
Tony Radford 22:08
That sounds kind of fundamental to what you're doing.
Amy Whitell 22:13
Yeah, definitely, I think, as well, because not only does it mean, you've got a group of people who can say, oh, we're coming up against this problem, or we don't know how to do this thing, does anyone know how to do it? But also, you've got, you've just got a community of people who, who get what it is that you're talking about, and who share who not who naturally share and help each other? Because they've experienced help from people further down the line. And so yes, it's a good, it's a good startup community. Okay.
Tony Radford 22:42
Great, excellent. And final question. Can you give us one actionable sales tip?
Amy Whitell 22:49
Yes. So I think probably for me, I'm beyond the kind of making sure we've got the processes in place and the disciplines and the routines in place for me when it comes down to it. You're actually talking to someone and trying to sell you a product, I would always just say just you need to be yourself. So I think a lot of people, when they start out selling they, they have an idea in their mind of what a salesperson is and how they're meant to sound or look. And if you're selling into this industry, you need to wear suit. If you're selling into this industry, you need to be there at the start and the other needs to go drinking with these people do this out or whatever the thing is, and none of that really matters. What matters is knowing who you are, and being true to your own personality and being genuine. Because what it boils down to is it always boils down to people buying from people so if you're talking with someone, and you're just being yourself and you're passionate about your products, and you're you're seeing if you could help them in that in growing their business with your product, then that's that's always when that's that's the best sort of sales success. For me, at least anyway,
Tony Radford 23:54
I know that's really excellent advice. And this is the end of the On this particular show, thank you very much for being such an excellent guest and good luck to you and to collective.
Amy Whitell 24:08
Thanks very much.
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