Episode #19

From West End theatre to a West Country incubator - the Stornaway story with Kate Dimbleby & Ru Howe

This week Nic and Nat sit down with CookiesHQ’s own clients for the very first time: Rupert and Kate, co-founders of Stornaway – a platform that enables creative filmmakers to plan and produce multi-linear interactive films without coding or complexity.

Stornaway existed as an idea in Rupert’s head for many years, before making it to pen on paper that had been plastered all over an entire wall of their home. With a rich history in film, he was on the lookout for something to plug the gaps in non-linear story production. When, after a couple of years, Ru and Kate still couldn’t find anything on the market, they realised they really would have to build it themselves.

They mapped out the product with wireframes and animations and started searching for someone to develop it – enter CookiesHQ!

As a co-founding couple, Kate and Rupert talk about how important it is for them to build a business that supports their life together and share how their distinct but complementary skillsets are a big part of Stornaway’s success.

With a history in the arts, the tech startup world was completely outside of Kate’s comfort zone. Having initially found the prospect daunting, she shares how she discovered that there’s actually as much creativity in a startup incubator as there is in a theatre rehearsal room, and the confidence to show up and be herself in business meetings.

They touch upon the gender disparities that persist within the business world and how different it feels walking into a room to present yourself as a woman or a man – and how even in businesses built on numbers and data, you have to go with your gut feeling and nurture the relationships that make you feel good.

Join the conversation on the CookiesHQ Twitter. Head over to LinkedIn to find out more on Kate and Ru.

Read the transcript

Nic:
Hello, and welcome to a new episode of the Tough Cookies podcast. Today we’re continuing our series where we interview interesting entrepreneurs from the Bristol land and behind. Today with me, I’ve got Kate and Rupert. We’ve met Kate and Rupert a year and a half, two years ago. Together, we’ve built a platform called Stornaway. Stornaway is an interactive video building platform to create videos a la Netflix, basically.

Nic:
But rather than butchering the description of the company, I think I’m going to let Kate talk and present. It’s your product, it’s going to be much better. How are you, Kate?

Kate:
I’m very well. Thank you for having us today.

Rupert:
Hi.

Nic:
Rupert, you okay?

Rupert:
Yeah, very well. Thanks for having us.

Nic:
Do you want to talk to us a bit more in a better way about what is Stornaway? I always struggling presenting a product that we’ve built because we know so much, what’s going on on the back-

Kate:
It’s hard to keep it short, and we’ve struggled as well. I guess it’s an authoring platform and delivery engine for creatives to create and deliver interactive films easily and affordably without coding. So it’s designed for non-technical creators to get coding out the way to make this form of storytelling much easier, much more intuitive and fun.

Nic:
How is it going so far?

Kate:
It’s going really well. Given that we launched the product in lockdown, in May. So we’ve only been going six months-ish. We’ve had all our calls on Zoom like everybody else, it’s been amazing how much reach we’ve had and how many different kinds of creative producers we’re either working with or talking to, and how excited people are about what we’ve made. So that feels a good place to be, really.

Nic:
You’ve built some films that were presented at festivals and you won a couple of awards as well this year.

Kate:
Yeah. Actually, that was a Bristol based … We were part of the West of England Creative Scale Up program. We released some films at Encounters through that, Immersive Encounters. So that was a lot of fun. We’ve got a lot more happening next year, as you know.

Nic:
Are you allowed to say anything happening? Can we have a preview for the podcast?

Kate:
Yeah, I can say that. We’ve received a grant from the UWE Digital Innovation Fund to enable our integration with YouTube first. So we’re going to create a YouTube uploader for Stornaway, which is really exciting. Then we’re going to integrate with other platforms working on our API. So that was always the vision for Stornaway, is to create a kind of authoring tool that enables delivery to multiple platforms. So it’s super exciting to be starting on that work now.

Nic:
So you’ve both had this vision of this platform. If I remember our early conversations, the vision started as a pen and paper, very large pen and paper thing on your walls in your house. Apparently, it was taking a whole wall. How did you decide to move from that pen and paper, not even prototype just idea, to actually, this is the tool we want to build? What was the dynamic to get cracking and started?

Kate:
I would say, because I think like any good creative idea, it’s been in our DNA for quite a long time. So it probably started when Maria was about nine years old, mapping out Choose your Own Adventure stories. Then it became a thing on our wall two years ago. So that’s quite a long journey. But do you want to say …

Rupert:
Yeah. It lived in my brain in furry form for a really long time in all sorts of shifting, changing ways. Largely to begin with, as ideas that I wanted to make that linked up video in different ways. It was alwaYs really difficult to make it and there wasn’t an authoring tool that allowed you to just join up … sounds strange, because there’s obviously a huge number of different authoring tools that do all sorts of things.

Rupert:
But this particular type of story game, where you’re telling a story, where you’re linking up pieces of media and allowing people to branch between them and choose between them and flow through a story in a streaming platform watching one clip after another in an authored way, didn’t really exist. The forms that it did exist, they were either clunky or they delivered to proprietary platforms that were not very much use.

Rupert:
So eventually when nobody else built the tool that I wanted to use, I realized that we were going to have to build it ourselves. So it emerged through the ideas, I think. I didn’t want to run a tech company. I didn’t want to found a startup and create a piece of software because I worked with software enough, delivering ToughWare for other people that I knew what pain it would entail.

Rupert:
Eventually as we talked about it for long enough, and I left my job to try and do things with interactive video, Kate said something that a producer friend of hers has said, which is, “Nothing’s real until it’s on paper.” So we started to put the idea for a film down on our wall on ripped up pieces of paper. Then from there, as we made that, we turned that through using tools that were available, writing, editing, delivery tools that were available, as we started to turn that into a film and film it. We realized where all the gaps were.

Rupert:
We turned the gaps into the product. So we realized that we still needed this tool that would do what we wanted to help us make this film that we were making, this story game that we were making. Eventually, after we’d gone out and shot the film and it still couldn’t be delivered because the tools still really weren’t there, Kate forced me to sit down with some graph paper and start drawing out some wireframes in a half term about, I don’t know, just under two years ago I guess.

Rupert:
We filmed the film. Actually, you went out and shot the film almost exactly two years ago this week. Then from there, as soon as it started to come down on paper, I realized I needed to turn it into a video animation of the wireframes and do that in Photoshop. Then it just had momentum, because once it became real, it was that thing of nothing’s real till it’s on paper. The film became real because it was on paper. Then the tool, as I started to put together, “I need this, and I need this. And I need it to do this.” When that came onto paper, then the ideas started to pop the way that they do, and then it flowed.

Kate:
Yeah, then it flowed. We needed someone to make it. That’s when we met you.

Rupert:
Yeah. Again, I was resisting the idea of building … I didn’t want to have a dev team. I didn’t want to have a whole bunch of people working for me. I went along to an event called DBM in the Engine Shed. I think it was DBM, wasn’t it? It’s called DBM in those days?

Nathalie:
It was

Nic:
It was still called DBM at that time, and now it’s called Smart Cookies.

Rupert:
It was about building and launching a product. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I was still even in my job. Maybe on gardening leave on that point because I’d quit. I had ridiculous three months’ notice. I went along, and there was this guy there sitting on a panel saying, “You don’t have to worry about having an engineering team because I can be your in house, out of house engineering team.” And that guy was you.

Nic:
Yeah, there are some guys like that. Trying to lure people to work with us. I think if I … what sold me, because in our space we always look at startups, and we only want to work with the one that excites us, basically. So you work with people either because the product is exciting or because the people themselves are exciting. It’s really rare to combine the two, which we found in Stornaway teams.

Nic:
You guys are known, you’re amazing. But then the product is also amazing and challenging. But in term of the first, what I would consider your first prototype, that to me really resonate as a first prototype was that video that you created originally. That video that showed … The tool didn’t exist, but somehow you managed to capture what the tool was going to be in a video showing, “Okay, here you saw we’re uploading a video. Then you link it to another, and then you create your story with this tool that doesn’t exist. But that you’ve somehow magically created in a video.”

Nic:
That’s a step that I don’t see a lot of founders to take, is trying to have this LoFi prototype that is just like, “Look. This is what we’re doing. Do you buy the idea? Are you willing to put some money behind it, or are you willing to buy to put some effort behind it?”

Nathalie:
Maybe that’s because there was nothing like it. There’s a lot of products that exist out there. Actually, you really need to go a bit further, because there was nothing like it. There were products already existing with gaps, as you said. You combined them all together. But you had to do that research, I guess part of the research. Because if you’re trying to do a product that already exists or copy something, then you have a base as in, “I want to do this with a little bit more.” Whereas here, you had really nothing. It was a very manual process, or very complicated tools existing.

Rupert:
It was. I think it’s really, as we’ve found already in this podcast, it’s hard to explain what we’re doing and the type of films we’re making. It had to be shown. It really helped that Netflix released Bandersnatch at the beginning of the year, just after we had made the film. We had started to put together the idea. Then Netflix released Bandersnatch. That was a big hit as a story game episode of Black Mirror.

Rupert:
That helped us grow out the idea. So we used that as a start of the video to say, “You can make a film like Bandersnatch, and then go into the tools.” One of the things about the video with the … was showing the tools using a Photoshop layers, that were essentially animated in Premier. Luckily, I knew how to do that so I could do it myself. I spent a few weeks moving things around and making it just so, was that the kind of things that I was trying to describe, things like variants, seemed specific and understandable and exciting when put into a video.

Rupert:
But described in words with my hands waving around, completely impossible. Even when I drew them out on graph paper, I could see it. In my brain, I could see exactly what I needed and what I knew I was building. I was like, “This is fantastic.” But trying to describe that to anybody else is impossible. You can really only see it … we have a getting started video that, in every meeting we have with people, we just play them that instead of trying to describe it in the meeting.

Rupert:
We should probably say that now. If you don’t know what Stornaway is, just go to Stornaway.io and watch the getting started video for three minutes there, because in that video … which isn’t the video we’re talking about. This is a new video we’ve made using the actual tool that we built. It describes everything that the tool does and the platform does and what all the different features are in a very short period of time visually.

Rupert:
Visually, it’s much easier to understand, rather than talking about flowcharts and tapped variance and delivery out of interactive filmmaking platforms. All of that seems quite abstract. But it is something, because it’s a visual medium, I guess, it needs to be described.

Rupert:
I do think that quite a lot of digital tools are like that. I think they could probably be described in video form. It’s just that most people … and I had a really specific set of skills which were useful to this, which was I’m really good at using Photoshop. I’m really good at using Premier, and can put those two things together to animate a video.

Kate:
In Silicon Valley, the prototype thing of a little film going, “This is what it does. Gibbly, jibbly, ribbly,” that’s a really standard way of describing things. I think it’s possibly less common here in the UK. I don’t know. I’m just making that up.

Nathalie:
But it also depends on the platform, because Stornaway is really very technical. When you go behind the scenes … as a user when you watch the videos, it’s very simple. You’ve got videos, and then you make a choice and you get to the next one. You’re like, “Well, there’s nothing complicated about that either.” But when you go behind the scenes actually making them and creating them, there’s all of the different parts and variants. If you don’t see it, it’s technically a lot of options and stuff to put in. The only way you can actually show that is to visually show it.

Rupert:
The reason that Stornaway exists is as a creative tool for creative people to use to get all the technology out of the way. That’s another reason that it was good to describe it visually rather than technically, because it is about building that interface that hides all of the gubbins.

Rupert:
Like any good creative nonlinear editing tool, it needs to make it easy for people to come up with ideas and play around with them and not be developers, not have to do any coding. So another really, really good reason to have it there was just it made us think about how we would hide all of the engineering underneath.

Nic:
In your journey, basically you start with this video, which not only allows you to present the product but also to gain some traction and some support from the Bristol scene. You were accepted to SETsquared. You started to get into the startup scene. But you were first time founders. Also, you are a couple. With kids. Which all that, what was going through your mind at that time where, “Okay, we are going to jump on this bandwagon. It’s not our skills. We are not going to develop the app. We are going to commission somebody else, whoever that is, to develop the application. We are receiving this support, but we are going to embark that as a couple and as a family.” What was going on in your mind at that time?

Rupert:
Well, we had really different journeys through founding a startup, I think. Emotionally and in terms of our experience of what we had done before and how we went into it. Kate has got a reasonable amount to say about that. Before you do, I think that one of the core things that we had to do before deciding to start it at all was to decide that it was something we can do together. We wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t going to do it together. Luckily, we really like spending time with each other.

Kate:
That helps.

Nic:
That’s a good start.

Rupert:
We wanted to build a business that supported us to be able to live our life together. I think a lot of the decisions around how to build a team, how to build a business, have been around trying to build something that works holistically for our life so that we’re not having far too different experiences of that. But having said that, we came from very different backgrounds into this. So it was a lot more in my comfort zone than Kate’s to begin with.

Kate:
Well, and it was interesting. Once we were taken on by SETsquared, on one hand, it was a really great validation that what we were doing had merit and we should go for it. But there was also this sense of we were suddenly in this community where people were talking about raising millions of pounds and that whole ladder of series A, series B. I found that very overwhelming coming from an arts background, where basically you make anything happen on no money.

Kate:
If you’re lucky, you make it back. I found that pressure that we were suddenly … the money element, that was a big hurdle for me to get over the idea that actually, a startup really wasn’t any different from being a creative entrepreneur. It just involved raising some money and making money, which of course you do do as a creative entrepreneur. It’s just that you never expect to make any.

Kate:
I’m saying that as somebody who’s been lucky. I’ve been employed as a creative producer and writer for 20 years. I’ve constantly had to reimagine my career. So that was helpful, because I think between us, we had quite good skills of … Ru on one hand was doing really great business modeling. So he was taking care of that side of the vision. I was doing quite nitty gritty … I realized I had more skills than I thought I did.

Nathalie:
It’s making ideas happen. And whether it’s in a creative world or as a startup, you’ve got this idea and somehow, you need to make it happen and actually find all of the bits and pieces that will then come together as product or a startup.

Kate:
Well, and I think I totally underestimated. Because the margins are so small in creative industries usually, I underestimated how good you become at managing budgets and persuading people to do things. I guess actually, the video that we made was very much that idea of we need something that sells a vision, because that’s what you have to do in the creative industry as well.

Kate:
You can’t immediately have a West End team. You have to create a show on no budget in a tiny, dark room that gives people a sense of what it could be. Imagine what this could be if we had proper lights and a chorus. So that fed into it.

Rupert:
Yeah, and the making of that initial video, which took, with the revisions, I think took a month or so of drafting and re-drafting and re-voicing and writing the script for, and then animating to the script. Was that was making the scratch performance. That was just like you doing rehearsals, writing, putting together a show and then doing it in the Wardrobe Theater or Leicester Theater or in the basement. Then out of that was something that we had recorded that we could share to people and people were like, “Aha. That’s what you’re doing.”

Kate:
We started taking it around to angel investors. We started having that conversation about how we should raise investment, what the best way would be …

Rupert:
To fund the building of the product. If we had our time again, we might have done some of those things differently, I think. Just in terms of what our expectations were and what we were led to believe. We may talk about some of that as we move on, I suppose. But there was the vision. It required a leap of faith. As a digital product, it required a leap of … A digital product in a market doesn’t really exist.

Rupert:
For a product that didn’t really exist, there’s a lot of leap of faith required from everybody. But the one thing that propelled it forward that created the momentum was the excitement around the idea and the excitement around …

Kate:
And we did do a bit of the hard talking that, I guess as a husband and wife you have to do, which is maybe harder if you’re co-founders and you don’t have that level of trust. Was, “What do we do if this fails? What does it look like if this doesn’t work?” Actually, the answer was, “We’ll find something else. It’ll evolve, because actually, this is what we have to do.”

Nathalie:
Yeah, the advantage of actually being a couple when you do have a business idea, is you have the same objectives and you know why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for your family and for this and that. But you want the same thing out of it. Whereas if you’re two co-founders with slightly different agendas, sometimes it can create tensions.

Nathalie:
Whereas there, that was … it’s the same with Nic and I, where we know what we’re doing. Sometimes we don’t agree on everything. But we have a plan, we know why we’re doing it. Then if it fails, yes, we’ll just go and find another job. And we’ll be fine with it.

Nic:
I know as any couple founders, we had that discussion early on. In fact, I don’t know if it happens already but you find that this discussion comes back on the table on a regular basis. Like, “What happen if that fails?” Obviously, we’re 10 years on now. We had that discussion numerous time. I do feel that with the business getting bigger, there is a level of pressure that is probably not talked about.

Nic:
But the more we grow and the more pressure there is, obviously on the business and on the family side, what really will happen if that fails now at the stage we’re at? Because it’s different to fail when you’re two, three, four. Now that we’re verging the 15 people and we’re looking at getting bigger, what will “failure” looks like? What if tomorrow, we can’t sustain the business? What if at some point, somebody wants something else, to do something else? We’ve been working together for 10 years. If that carries on for another 10, maybe at some point, one of us will want to do something else.

Nathalie:
Yeah, there’s a good chance, I think.

Nic:
I think these discussions come back. Are you saying you’re not enjoying?

Nathalie:
I am. I am, I am. But it’s always been like that. But our business comes from your freelance business. I think you’ll always be coding in your life whatever you do. You say it yourself, it’s the only thing you know how to do. So I think you’ll drive that. Whereas I think my skills are not coding. It’s not tech, they can be applied to different areas, different businesses and everything else.

Nathalie:
So I think if there’s one of us that will leave at some point, it’ll probably be me rather than you. But I think the difference is our personal circumstances all have changed in the past 10 years, because when we founded the business, we were really young. We didn’t have any kids. We weren’t even married. So it’s a very different circumstance now where we have a family to support and three children, and they’re quite young.

Nathalie:
So we need to be a bit more careful. That’s where the pressures come in. Whereas when you both started, you already had your family. So there’s something different to take into account as well and how that affects you and your children.

Kate:
Well, I think that’s helped a lot, in a funny way, because we actually did the calculation of, “How old are the girls now? In five years’ time …” well in fact, in two years’ time, our eldest is going to be at university. So we were already having that midlife, what does life look like to spend with each other?

Nic:
But I think, if I’m allowed to just go back slightly a few minutes in time, what you were saying, Nat, which is people change and people evolve. Obviously, you’ve changed in the past 10 years on how you approach your place in the business. That’s something I’ve noticed in you, Kate. But I’ve never seen such radical change in a person in a startup world.

Nic:
In those year and a half that we’ve known each other, I remember the first discussions that we had. Even if you’re coming from this creative background where you’re certainly, how do you say, extrovert? To say the least. You have that confidence in you. But when I was meeting you originally, it felt like you were completely out of your comfort zone in the “business world,” again with air quotes.

Nic:
But that only stayed for a very short amount of time. Very quickly, there was a switch. I don’t know what happened. But there was a switch. Then all of a sudden, we’re seeing business Kate. And there we go, there was a train that was going on and there was nothing to stop her. That happened with you somehow, but it took a bit longer obviously. But for you, it went straight on. What happened, and what made you business Kate all of a sudden?

Rupert:
She’s always been business Kate.

Nic:
She’s always been business Kate, yeah.

Nathalie:
She was hiding.

Nic:
She was just hiding.

Kate:
I think we all have this precarious balance of the things we feel really confident in about ourselves, and the things we’re really insecure about. We’re always having to slightly navigate that world of where I’m comfortable, where I’m not comfortable. But interestingly, my singing work had taken me into a space where I had started going into places I didn’t know, singing with people I didn’t know and making the whole show up on the spot.

Kate:
Improvisation became my mantra. In a very strange way, I think that sense of being comfortable where you’re not comfortable and really enjoying … not enjoying, but welcoming that sense of, “Oh, what’s this going to be? I don’t know. Are they enjoying it?” Just navigating all that fear. I think really helped me make the step, because I think otherwise you do tend to just stick with the areas that you feel comfortable with and you just keep going towards them.

Kate:
Even in any area of expertise, I kept making shows about women singers. I knew I did them pretty well. I knew I could do that style of music. So in a weird way, I think the shift was going to happen anyway, because in my work, it had already happened. I’d already been exploring areas that I’d just never explored before. But the business side thing, that’s thanks to Rupert in a way. He just kept affirming. When I said, “We’re going to this meeting. What clothes shall I put on?”

Kate:
He’d just be looking at me like, “Why don’t you just put on your clothes?” I had this idea that I had to be something that I wasn’t. Particularly, I had a vision of that person who was really efficient and organized. Which actually, I am. But it’s that really interesting thing that you don’t really see that in yourself, really. I think having Ru there going, “No, you’re already that thing. You don’t have to dress up as it. Just go.” I don’t know if that resonates at all, Nathalie.

Nathalie:
It does, yeah. Absolutely. I think there’s a point, and again I don’t know, it took me a few years. I think having children actually helped with my confidence, because I know, and having a few years of experience … I was only 25, 26 when we started the company. That’s really young, and I knew nothing.

Nathalie:
So that’s why you dress up for it, because you’re like, “Oh, they need to think that I know what I’m doing.” After a point, you’re like, “No, actually now I know what I’m doing and I’m comfortable wearing my jeans and trainers to anywhere,” because that shouldn’t matter. And it doesn’t. But it’s internal confidence. It’s just realizing that you know things and getting to that point where you’re like, “Yeah, I do know things and I know what I’m talking about. And I’m comfortable with it.”

Kate:
Well, it may be that if it happened … when you talk about it happening quickly with me, I do think the fact that I’m 47, I’m at that age that a lot of women are where they are going, “Okay …” They’re trying to look at the wisdom and skills that they’ve learnt. So without separating the men from this conversation.

Kate:
No, but there’s that sense where I had definitely experienced that thing of maybe I’m not a very fact, data driven person. Or I don’t talk the language that some of my male colleagues spoke, even in the musician world. There was a problem with language, of how we taLk about what we do. I think lots of books have been written about that.

Kate:
So I think there was also this thing of just stepping into that, “I’m 47 now. Actually, I’ve got a shed load of experience. Even if I don’t know how to run a startup, I do know how to do difficult things and work through problems and look at budgets and bring teams together.” I’ve done that. I can do this. I should let you speak now.

Nic:
Yeah, I was going to say, what was your-

Kate:
Oh, I know what we should talk about. Well no, because I think it does happen with men in a different … I think the same thing does happen in …

Nathalie:
Maybe there’s a confidence. It’s talked about a lot, and I think there’s the thing confidence with women, where maybe we’re maybe less secure about what we do. I think maybe men fake it a bit more. Or are better at faking it. I don’t know.

Rupert:
I’ve learnt over a few years of corporate life in the media entertainment business with a lot of fairly large egos, to put on a persona that balances what I know and what I don’t know with a level of … it’s not bullshit, but it is a way of going into a room and pretending, at least, that I … not that I don’t know what’s … I don’t know how to describe it.

Rupert:
But I suppose I’m used to presenting myself in a room full of people talking about corporate tech business stuff as somebody who is a good listener, but also knows what they’re talking about. I think some of the time, most of the time I do know what I’m talking about, in terms of my domain expertise. But there’s quite a lot of etiquette around that that you just absorb over time.

Rupert:
I think one of the things about … I’d also spent a long time listening to podcasts and reading books and absorbing a lot of information about the startup world, as well as my video, media entertainment world and the tech world. So I knew quite a lot of the language, and that meant that I … when somebody was using language in a way that was othering or that was in any way put up a wall of jargon around, and there’s a lot of that.

Rupert:
People don’t intend to do it very often. Some people really do intend to do it. Some people are really covering their insecurity with it. But a lot of people are just doing it to shortcut. It can feel very overwhelming. I’m used to being the interpreter of that between creative people and technical people at places like the BBC, where there’s a producer who’s just totally crossed arms because there’s some techy guy there saying, usually a guy there, nerding on about some arcane technical point.

Rupert:
Producer just wants to know what the practical implications of something are. I translate in between that. As I went into startup, SETsquared world, it didn’t feel so threatening to me. But I also didn’t feel like I belonged. I think there are definitely people who identify with that world, who want to be part of that world, who the identity and the language, the whole cloak of it, the persona of it, is something that they’re very into. It’s all part of their identity.

Rupert:
It’s definitely not for me. Like I say, I try to resist it. But I understood it enough to bullshit it. So lot of the time in the early days was saying to Kate, “listen, you can wear what you want. This is just … at some level, this is quite simple, even though it’s dressed up as not being simple. You have been a creative entrepreneur for 25 years. You just haven’t framed it like that. You framed it as being a performer and a producer and a writer and it being soft skills.

Rupert:
“But actually, it’s been really hard. You’ve toured internationally. You’ve managed budgets. You manage budgets better than me. It’s all there. It’s just that it’s screened behind all of this crap.” And the crap is useful sometimes. But a lot of time, it’s very unhelpful. I think very unhelpful people who are outsiders, and particularly unhelpful to outsiders without qualifications. University type qualifications or certification, to women, I think, who are not from that place. It can feel very male. You spent a lot of time in rooms where there were a lot of men and shirts at the front being quite loud.

Kate:
Yeah.

Rupert:
Like me.

Kate:
The thing is, I actually think although we say people like dressing up like that, I actually think you scratch at the surface of those places and everybody wants to just be themselves. But for some reason, the environment is creating this kind of vibe. It’s the job of the people creating that environment to work through it. Actually Paul Forster at SETsquared who’s the community cultural guy there, he’s amazing.

Kate:
He really is trying to break through that and bring in diversity, which has become this trotted out term. But actually, that’s what diversity is. Diversity is, it’s not the superficial visuals. It’s actually people being allowed to turn up and be who they are.

Nic:
But to go back for a second onto … I know you want to create that differentiation between men and women. But one thing, recently I spoke a bit more with female founders for future recording of the podcast. One thing that I never appreciated, to go back to what you were saying Rupert, which is when as men, possibly we rock up into a room and we know what we’re talking about-ish. But we still can blag our way around there.

Nic:
I think when we enter that room, there is a level of, from the audience, there is a level of, “He knows what he’s talking about.” When I think sometime when women enter the room, there’s a level of, “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” If you start to smell that she’s blagging, all of a sudden, she’ll be put down very quickly.

Nathalie:
I think we’re being questioned a lot more sometimes when we go into these rooms. It’s happened before with clients. Not existing clients, but previous ones. Where I went into the room as the project manager or project owner. Suddenly I was being questioned and I feel like I was being interviewed. I was like, “What is going on here?” I was like, “This is not on,” because they would never have done it to you. Never in a mission years.

Nathalie:
I feel like, why are you questioning everything that I know? I’m here to help you and work with you. I’m not being interviewed. That’s not on. It’s always come from men. Not very often. But it’s enough, I think, to put you down. It’s enough to make you doubt yourself. Then you’re on for another few months of, “Do I really know what I’m talking about?” Then go back up.

Kate:
The positive side of the doubting and the vulnerability, I think as I’ve experienced it, is that … So my brother is an entrepreneur. He set up Leon the chain of restaurants and he has been extremely successful. But I’ve watched how hard it’s been for him from the very beginning. Recently we had a phone conversation. I said, “Hen …”

Kate:
He’s like, “How’s it going?” He’s been very sympathetic about the whole journey and how difficult it can sometimes be. Anyway, I said something like, “Well, we’ve had some real challenges recently. We’ve even had some nose from people which has been hard to take. But you know what? I’ve realized that actually I need to welcome all the problems, because they’re the meat of it. They’re the stuff that’s going to help me get through it and get to the other side.

Kate:
So I think that, interestingly, we all thing we need to blag more and wear better suits and shout more. But actually increasingly, and this culturally is happening. People are realizing that if you allow for that vulnerability and that sense of, “Do I know what I’m talking about? Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.” If you then turn that into, “Could you just tell me a bit more about that please?” Suddenly you’ve got a conversation happening and you’re learning. I think that’s the hardest thing, is thinking we live in an environment where we can’t learn what we don’t know.

Nathalie:
It’s hard because as business owner, because your idea and your project, you feel like actually sometimes you can’t open up to someone and say, “I actually don’t know how to do this. Maybe I should, but I don’t.” It’s finding the right person who can help you and who will understand.

Kate:
Totally.

Nathalie:
And actually be there to help you, rather than put you down.

Kate:
Totally.

Nathalie:
It’s not everyone that you can open up to. But once you find these people, actually helping you along the way, different things, that’s how the magic happens. Because you learn, and then you’ll get to the next problem and the next problem.

Kate:
Exactly.

Nathalie:
And that’s a supportive environment, rather than environment where you’re being judged constantly.

Kate:
I think I realized, again I talk about feeling like an imposter or whatever. I’m a performer who’s performed on massive stages. So the confidence level was not a problem. Actually, as soon as I got over myself and realized, “Wow, there are people here of all kinds who are all struggling with this idea of whether they fit in. I know the answer to this. Stop trying to fit in.”

Nic:
Just be yourself.

Nathalie:
Simple.

Kate:
Yeah. You really have to stop trying to fit in, and you have to, like you say … and that’s the good thing about being a woman is that my intuition, I started to say, “You know what? Trust your gut.” When we met you, Nic, we literally walked away from that meeting and we were like, “I know we have to interview some other software companies. But it’s obviously going to be Nic and Nathalie.” We hadn’t even met Nathalie.

Nathalie:
No.

Kate:
But the fact that you’re a husband and wife team. There were just so many things that fitted. I think …

Rupert:
That was what she was doing. That meeting where we sat down and you and I were going, “Wow, I think we’re going to build it on rails. We’re going to build it in Rails and React … we’re going to build this. It needs to be this framework and this library.” Kate was sitting there quietly and you were thinking, “Well, Kate doesn’t talk much.” She was just listening and going, “How much bullshit is here? How much is he engaged?”

Rupert:
She was watching you engage with it, write it all down, note it out, grapple with the actual concepts of it, regardless of all of the noise that I was fluffing around about the technology. You were actually engaging with the actual meat of the thing we were trying to build. As Kate walked away, she trusted you as a result of that.

Rupert:
We did go and talk to some other people. We talked to some very nice other people. But that trust in that situation and the response and that time that we then spent having a session with you as we fleshed out, what did we call it? A discover session. A paid discovery session was incredibly valuable because it was about working through that process.

Rupert:
A lot of that was instinct and meeting Gemma and working through that. That has been realizing when people make you feel bad outside of that, people whether they are people who are offering something that you need for something, being really alert to how you feel after you’ve spoken to them. And whether you think they’re a supporter or they’re going to help you.

Rupert:
There are a lot of people who gaslight you, intentionally or unintentionally, into feeling bad about what it is that you’re doing. Or you think about yourself and you just have to cut and run from those people. You just have to lean it away from those people, because there’s some nose, which are useful information. Like Kate was saying, and what Kate’s brother said to her after that was, “That’s amazing. How did you find that out?” About the whole listening to the nose and using that.

Rupert:
You can use all of that. But just don’t go back to the people who made you feel bad, because you’ll just continue to … emotionally, everything’s too fragile, particularly before you’re make any revenues. Everything’s just on a wing and a prayer. It’s a leap of faith and it requires that confidence that I’ve got an idea here. And other people don’t get the idea. We’ve got some people who are really influential who could have done a lot of good for us.

Rupert:
Mostly, we’ve had amazing support. There’s been one or two people who are friends of friends, or even friends, who could have done really interesting things with us. And they didn’t get it. That’s fine. But in the process of not getting it, reinforced their own opinion about what we were doing and what they were doing in a way to try and make us feel worse about what we were doing.

Rupert:
A couple of those people we went back to, because we were like, “But they were really important, powerful people. We are interested in talking to them.” They repeated that behavior. You just have to say, “Uh-uh (negative). No.”

Nathalie:
It’s hard enough to try and build something. It’s hard on everyone emotionally, and then on the relationship. If you can’t find the right people to work with. It’s the same with us, and that’s also why we do these discovery sessions, which is a whole day in a room with someone. At the end of the day, you knew whether or not you’re going to get on with the people.

Nathalie:
Realistically, when we build a product, it takes between three and six months of literally talking to each other almost every day and being in constant contact. If you don’t get on with them, or if there’s tension, it’s never going to work for your parties, really. It’s going to be really stressful for us, because we’ve committed to do something and it’s hard to get it done.

Nathalie:
It’s not good for the startup, because there’s also going to be a tension and communication is not going to go well. So it’s basically bound to fail at some point. So it’s also really important for us to feel like we can work with these people. It’s happened before, where we had this session. At the end of the day I was like, “Nic, I don’t know if I can work with these people. I can feel it’s going to go wrong and I don’t really want to work with them.”

Nathalie:
I was like, “If I don’t want to work with them, is it really fair for me to ask someone else in my team to do it?” Because there’s something there, and it’s trusting your gut and be like, “No. Maybe it’s not the right fit.” And actually, we’ll recommend them to someone else if that’s the case. It’s not happened a lot, but it has happened in the past.

Rupert:
There’s quite a lot of talk in this part of the industry, this part of the world, in tech and data and all that kind of stuff, about the idea that you can manage things rationally. That there’s some sort of framework you can follow. That there’s some sort of set of rules that you can follow. Therefore, that will make you more likely to succeed. I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I think a lot of people are making quite a lot of money out of telling people how to do things.

Rupert:
Some of those things are useful as a white boarding exercise. But the rest of it is nonsense. There’s just too much business failure. If there was a success, it would be packaged and everybody would do it and we would go through it. There’s ways of managing statistics in terms of, “Well, this business didn’t fail, we just paused it.” All of that stuff. But ultimately, you have to use a heck of a lot of gut and you have to understand the completely inability of human beings to plan and understand risk, I think.

Rupert:
If somebody makes you feel like crying, then you should just … either they need to change their behavior, or you need to just never speak to them again. I think there’s some constructive things where you’re butting heads with somebody where you can thrush things out. Have really emotional, loud conversations where you’re like, “But what about this?” And you get through something without feeling like you’re rubbish or they’re rubbish and you want to cry. I think as soon as you get to that … I don’t cry because I went to boarding school. So I’ve had my tear ducts surgically removed by …

Kate:
Well, I was also going to say, just speaking to the idea of this separation between data and gut. Which I think is another really interesting theme of it’s one or other. Actually, what I’ve seen with Ru in terms of your growth as a startup entrepreneur, is that Ru was really comfortable … He’d worked in big media organizations. So he was really comfortable, like you say, talking the talk and listening to people. He was particularly good at listening to people and then making them think it was their idea.

Rupert:
There’s a lot of people walking around-

Nathalie:
That’s a good skill.

Kate:
Which is a really good skill.

Rupert:
Having done things that they think is their idea.

Kate:
It’s a very underestimated skill. It’s not going to really necessarily-

Rupert:
It’s how you get things done.

Kate:
… make you rich.

Rupert:
No, but it does get things done.

Kate:
In fact, that was another thing my brother said to me recently. It was like, “The thing you have to realize, you can make anything happen as long as you’re prepared to let it be someone else’s idea.” But I think what I’ve noticed with you is that actually, I guess through our partnership … and we made the film Life Moves Pretty Fast as a way of testing out Stornaway.

Kate:
Your creative sense of yourself. Your sense of yourself as a creative person, whatever that means, has also been boosted. So I think in an ideal world, the things we feel most comfortable in work together and there’s a dialog going on and we can boost each other in the areas where we don’t feel so confident.

Nathalie:
Which is great, and that’s why it works because you need two different sets of skills. That’s where the magic happens, is when you can come together and make the idea happen.

Rupert:
At some degree, this is defined by what we’re talking about being essentially, as some level of lifestyle business. We hope that we make some money out of it. But it’s not primarily made for money. There are obviously a lot of people doing startups because they hope to become Zuckerberg. But it helps to do something that we believe in. That makes the days happier.

Rupert:
So when we’re not making money out of it, at least we’re talking to nice people and doing something that’s fun. And there are all of these other areas. Informs Kate’s profession as a singer, and me a filmmaker.

Kate:
Although I’m the one who wants it to be a massive West End hit.

Nic:
Obviously. It has to be.

Kate:
I think that’s also really interesting, the idea of can I be ambitious for this small, little … because actually, you are only limited by your idea of how big it could be. But also, there are other concerns about does that mean we have to have a massive team? Is that where we really want to be? I think we’ve talked quite a lot about how we want to grow the business to a point where we can sell it to a bigger company who can take it and run with it.

Kate:
How we do that is, we’ll see over the next few years. But I think if you don’t have at its core, well I want to be doing this business, rather than, I want to be doing this business when it becomes really successful. That’s when I’ve found myself in trouble. Is like, “I’m really happy being co-founder of Stornaway if it sells for £5 million or 10 million, 20 million.”

Nathalie:
Days are going to be really long if that’s the only objective. It’s like, “Well, is it really worth all …” At the end, it is worth all the effort. But you wouldn’t get up every day if you didn’t love it.

Kate:
You have to get up in the day excited about what’s going to happen next. Who am I going to talk to today? What’s going to be made with this product? That’s the thing-

Rupert:
The stakes of what you’re in it for. Those people that I know who run big businesses, you have to take the rough with the smooth. It means that you have to regularly make loads of people redundant because the business shrinks. You have to be able to lay off 30 … we know a few people who through this downturn have been laying off scores of people and having to do it personally. It’s nice to create jobs. But also, it’s a heck of a responsibility.

Kate:
Yeah, it has to be sustainable. Exactly.

Nic:
I think there is one element that is not talked enough in the startup world. Obviously the word startup means a lot of things. But at the end of the day, it means you’re creating a business and you’re just planting the seed of a business. If we talk in the odd terms of, “You’re going to run a business.” Regardless if it’s called a startup or not, it’s typically labeled because it has this tech aura. Which obviously today, tech is not a new thing anymore.

Nic:
So realistically, when you’re creating a startup, you’re creating a business. I think the main problem is that there’s still too much publicity, or there’s still too much aspiration to be, “I’m going to be a startup that is going to put the headlines and sell for so many million or billions,” or whatever is the next …

Rupert:
Worse than that, I would say, not even sell for. It’s going to raise.

Nic:
Yes. Oh, yes.

Rupert:
My value is in, “Oh yeah, I came up with an idea and I got funded for 10 million just as my seed round,” or whatever. It’s just like, come on.

Nic:
But in our space, one shift that we’re seeing very rapidly is the indie founders that will run a small business, and they’re perfectly happy. Typically they would be either designers or coders themselves. Or they team up one designer, one coder. They have no aspiration to grow a massive business. They want to run a business that makes anything between 10 to 20K a month. It just chugs along and they’re perfectly happy with it.

Nic:
I think in the startup world, we’re going to have at some point, to have that conversation around, “Is there a place for the people in the middle?” We don’t want to run a business for the sake of the valuation of it. We don’t care about being valued for so many million. What we want to run is a profitable business that may not be worth billions. But it’s still worth a hell of a lot for the people in the community.”

Nic:
It has to be sustainable. I’m not saying that it has to run without making profit. It has to make a profit. It has to grow. But it doesn’t have to go for that explosive growth that everybody seems to be looking for, which most of the time is not sustainable. Yes, we see a lot of people raising money. But how many of those are actually sustainable and how many of those are actually succeeding after five or six years is another question?

Nic:
So the startup world needs to look in itself and actually embrace the in between people. The ones that are not looking to grow, but the ones that are looking to continue to create a profitable business without having the aspiration of being 1000 people business, kind of thing.

Nathalie:
I think you need to know why you want to raise money, as well sometimes. Some business do need the money because they have physical products to build and they’re expensive and high tech. Yes, you do need that raise to make it happen, to make it from a prototype to an actual product. There’s a reason behind it. But it feels like, when you’ve got an app, the cost is really low. Let’s be honest. You don’t need millions to build an app.

Nathalie:
If you do go just for the fundraise for no reason, then that’s how you burn the money. It’s not going to make anything out of it, because if you don’t know what you want to do with that money … it’s fine to have a team. But why do you want a team? What are you going to use it for? How are you going to actually acquire it? Maybe sometimes you get … I don’t know, if you get blinded or it feels like you have a startup, and therefore the next step is to raise. Well, maybe the next step is to actually understand how you’re going to make a profit in the first place.

Rupert:
Our mentor Margaret Heffernan said something interesting about this, which was … She’s run a number of different tech and media tech businesses. She said she’s run a software company with not enough money and that was very hard. She said she’s also run a software company with far, far too much money. That in many ways was much harder.

Kate:
It was really helpful to hear that.

Nathalie:
I’m not that surprised, because it’s budgeting in a different way. Actually when you’re limited, you have to make decisions and you have to focus. When you’ve got so much money that you can do everything, then you probably get distracted by a lot. And therefore, don’t make it happen somehow.

Rupert:
Yes. And also, somebody’s given you that money and they expect something for it. A lot of the stuff that they expect for it is wildly out of your control, I think. Again, those people that I was talking about earlier who are having to make redundancies, that was obviously not in their plan and not in what they promised to whoever gave them the money.

Rupert:
It’s through circumstances that are entirely out of their control. There are also other people who were having a terrible time before the pandemic who are running e-commerce businesses who are now making out like bandits. It’s just so much stuff that’s beyond your control. But also, it is cheap to build an app comparatively, compared to what you think it might cost. But it is still tens of thousands of pounds.

Rupert:
You also have to have your time to be able to make it happen. I think that actually what would be a more sustainable way of funding people with good ideas to make things, that doesn’t exist, is invest in money that doesn’t take all of your equity immediately. But allows something to get off the ground by being able to build an MVP, and fund X amount of the founder’s time.

Rupert:
I think there’s an expectation that the founder’s going to work for free, and that you spend the savings on an MVP. That means that only a very, very small privileged part of the population can do it. Either with their own money or with family money. That is not very helpful to the general business ecosystem in our economy.

Rupert:
I think a lot of grant money is far too hard to get for digital products. Certainly, there’s no angel investment or VC money for digital products at that stage. Certainly not to fund somebody just working. What we needed was money just to be able to work on this before we made any revenues. It was new market, early stage market.

Rupert:
In Silicon Valley, they do give that money away. It doesn’t really exist here at all for digital products. We pretend that it does, but it doesn’t. In Silicon Valley there are people … but again, they tend to be people with networks who are in the right place at the right time, usually on the West Coast. They get a stack of money to build the team, to build some massive growth proposition.

Rupert:
If it’s not reaching that growth proposition, it’s all disbanded and gone away. To build that sustainable, organic, bootstrap growthing, we just need a little bit of seed funding. That needs to be framed in a way that is given to … We’re obviously both very privileged middle class people who have access to resources and had the ability to do this. There is a lot of people out there with ideas who do not have access to the kind of resources and background and safety net that we have.

Kate:
And yet, they would work just as hard to make it happen. I think the other thing is about the sustainability, we were very clear when we started, was like, “We really don’t want to build something that doesn’t have a life, even if we have to go and get some other jobs.” So I think that’s a big part of our mission at the moment, is to make sure that Stornaway exists and is nimble enough that it can integrate with different things so that it can have a life. I think again …

Rupert:
Yeah, a lot of startup founder stories when you listen to people who are grafting for years to get something, they’re running multiple jobs and doing it. That whole thing we talked about, having sustainable family life. Living together and working on this thing. You shouldn’t have to … Well, clearly you do have to … unless you’re very privileged, give up masses of your family time and your life in order to make an idea happen that probably won’t come off, and spend all your savings.

Kate:
We quite often say with our kids, because obviously it’s interesting timing, which is that lockdown happened. We were launching Stornaway. We were all in the same house together. I was like, “It’s killock here. They’re either basically going to come out and go, ‘I want to be an entrepreneur.’ Or ‘Give me a solid job with a paycheck.'”

Rupert:
So far it’s leaning towards the latter.

Kate:
But they’re really inspired by it. That should be what we aspire to in our communities, is empowering people to come up with ideas, giving them the resources to help them make those ideas happen. I agree with you, I think there’s something that’s not quite …

Rupert:
There’s an angel group here in Bristol that won’t invest in anything that’s pre-revenue. I totally understand why. But really? These are people with money, and there are loads of people out there who have ideas that can’t generate money until the thing is built. We’re supposed to be a digital economy. It has to be generating cash through some sort of e-commerce proposition or some sort of direct thing.

Rupert:
Look at the businesses that are making money in the digital economy. Really, you’re not going to invest in any of them until they’re post-revenue? Is what I mean. Did I say pre-revenue? They’re not going to invest until they’re post-revenue. I think we have a cultural investment problem.

Nathalie:
We’ve met quite a few people actually who are clearly … they can’t afford our services, let’s be bluntly honest, because they’re too early on and they haven’t got the savings. It’s really hard for us to know what to tell them, because we know there’s no way they will be able to raise anything until they have a product or a prototype or something working.

Nathalie:
At the same time, we’re not the right team for them. There’s always this little bit where we’re like, “Yes, we can help you. But we can’t build it for you.” You try to help. But it’s hard to know where to direct them and what to say to them. It’s like, “Well, this is what you need. But we don’t know how you can get it if you haven’t got any money or not enough.”

Nathalie:
Some people do manage to build prototypes, really raw prototypes, where it basically working but you’re not even sure how it’s working. But even so, that’s not going to give you revenue. It’s just going to give you something to show an investor. But it’s not enough.

Nic:
Some level of market validation, sometimes.

Kate:
I do think it can …

Nathalie:
But it’s not often enough for investors.

Kate:
… create partners. I think there is also that thing of just … there is a sense that you may feel like you’ve got nothing. But actually, a string and sellotape, something. Some visual representation. We do now have all these free apps online that you can play with that and be creative. I think so often the thing that’s stopping anyone doing anything is, “I haven’t got enough money.”

Kate:
It’s really interesting, I’ve been working with a writer called Cathy Rentzenbrink. She does a lot of work with people, getting them … she does work in prisons with people writing. We talk a lot about the blockers to making things that people have. I think yes, you’re right. There isn’t a lot of money out there. But there is a lot you can do without money if you say to yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Actually often the answer is, “Putting my idea down on paper because it might be rubbish.”

Nathalie:
So you’re finding creative solutions to problems.

Kate:
So I think going back to that idea of putting something on paper, the good side of that is if it’s inside of you and it’s not on paper, it’s never going to go anywhere. Actually, even with everything we have, I think we keep coming up again and again with the fact that you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you. Because if you don’t really believe in what you’re doing and you can’t really talk about what you’re doing, nobody else will.

Nathalie:
That’s true, yeah.

Kate:
Unless you’re in an industry where you’re just listening to what other people say and you’re repeating back to them. But that’s a different thing. But if you’re a creative entrepreneur, that means you have to explore really the limits of what you understand about what you want to create. I think so often, we do think, “Oh, I just need someone else to do it for me.”

Rupert:
That’s a really big thing. I think that was one of the reasons we worked together on this, and that I was always afraid of … I knew I needed to work with somebody else. Not just by myself on this. So just understanding my own limitations of how I work and I wanted to have somebody else to work with. I wanted that person to be Kate above all.

Rupert:
If Kate hadn’t been into doing it, I don’t think it would have happened, because I didn’t want to just get some random other person to fill a gap outside of myself. We know a few people who have gone into partnerships with people because they’re creative people who think, “Oh, I need somebody to be the business person here.” Those relationships have gone toxic very quickly, because it’s very unclear what the ownership is.

Rupert:
I think that’s something to be wary of as a creative entrepreneur with an idea. When you partner with somebody who’s supposed to market it for you, there’s quite a lot of quite interesting dynamics around ownership of ideas and ownership of success. You have to be really clear about roles and responsibilities right from the start. You can end up with no product at all.

Nic:
As we’re getting towards the end of that lovely conversation, if you had one piece of advice to give to newcomers to the business world, let’s talk about startup but to the business world, what would be your most valuable advice today? After having lived that world for two years.

Kate:
Who am I giving the advice to?

Nic:
Early stage startup founders.

Kate:
Because I feel like we went to quite a dark place there, which was-

Nic:
It feels like, hence why let’s try to end up on a positive note.

Kate:
Well no, because I do think … you always talk about the founders of Airbnb. It’s an amazing story. There are some amazing stories there about people who don’t make things work at the beginning. But they’re so obsessed by this idea that it’s going to work in some form. I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing, is we’ve been obsessed by … Well, Ru particularly has been obsessed by creating multi linear stories.

Kate:
It’s almost like you just have to keep exploring that idea in whatever form. So I would say don’t give up on the idea. How do I express this? I think so often in life, we don’t do things because we’re like, “It’s not the right time. I can’t leave my job. My wife would hate me.” Whatever. There are all these reasons we give ourselves for why we’re not doing it.

Kate:
You just have to do it. You have to get it down on paper, because by doing that, you’ll see whether it is anything and then you’ll know whether you want to carry on with it. It might be then, you put it in a bottom drawer. But five years later, that idea comes popping up again. You happen to be somewhere else.

Kate:
You say, “I know about this. I did some research on this. Here you go.” So I think it’s that thing of, even if it doesn’t all happen in one go, which it very rarely does, let’s face it. Don’t give up on the ideas that you’re compelled by. Keep pursuing them, because those are the things that will become what you do in your life and what you’re proud of, I think.

Nic:
What you need to do is, then, to create a Stornaway video board about what is actually startup life that would go into random places to end up with the actual product, because this is not a linear journey. This is actually a scattered journey that would take you back and forth in your life.

Kate:
Exactly.

Nic:
But it’s not a A to B path, unfortunately.

Kate:
Yeah, and if you think that, you will be disappointed.

Nic:
A little bit. What about you, Rupert? Any …

Rupert:
There’s so many truisms through startup culture, isn’t there? About collecting lots of nos and doing things that don’t scale in order to scale. All of that stuff. I think the big one that we take through is the get it on paper thing. That applies generally in life. I think if I was going to give myself advice 18 months ago, it would be that I should stop motivating myself to build this business because it was going to make lots of money and get lots of investment as a way of exciting other people.

Rupert:
In our hearts, that wasn’t what was driving us forward. We knew that we wanted to build this and essentially bootstrap it. We just needed to convince ourselves that that was okay to do that. I think that we then made a whole bunch of business plans based around what we thought everybody else wanted to hear around investment and scaling and acquisition and all that kind of stuff, which were to fit into our incubator and to fit into everything else.

Rupert:
That gave us some rocket fuel and some momentum based on a leap of faith. But actually what was really driving us was the need to build this thing and trust that, even if you have to bullshit a bit about the other stuff, trust that. And be prepared to bootstrap the hell out of your digital product. If you’re building a digital product, be prepared to bootstrap it and not take investment, to set unrealistic goals for yourself. Particularly if you’re in a really early stage market, because it’s going to take much longer than you think to warm up and develop that.

Nathalie:
I think it’s time, and I think that’s one thing that we actually see a lot with startup founders coming to us, is being ambitious. When we look at the figures and the plans, we’re like, “That’s not going to happen in a year.” We’ve seen so many of those. It’s good to have ambition. But only if you know that that will probably change, and if you’re not too disappointed after a year when actually you haven’t reached your figures.

Nathalie:
And that’s fine, because you’ve done other stuff. But if it’s the only thing that’s driving you, is to have a million pounds of revenue after a year, then that’s going to be really hared.

Rupert:
For me, the part that lifted in my brain was the bit that said, “It’s okay to do this.” You remember, we listen to Desert Island. We get lots of different motivational ideas from Desert Island Disc. Emma Bridgewater, the pottery entrepreneur, talked about how she and her husband agreed to do this thing and just throw caution to the wind and go out and build this business. It turned out to be a big business. It’s one of their survivorship buyer stories. But they went and did it, even though they knew it could be a total catastrophe. That’s what we did with this, because again, we lived on this-

Kate:
We did risk things.

Rupert:
… pillow of comfort that we were able to do it with. But the justification that I gave to myself was, “Yeah, but it might be huge. We might make loads of money.” That helped us surf that. I think it’s a bit dangerous, because it can lead you down some funny paths. If we had taken money from some different places early on on that basis, we would be on a very different journey right now.

Rupert:
I don’t think that there is … the other piece of advice I would have really strongly given myself if there is no proper investment for digital products in the United Kingdom. I don’t believe that there is. You have to get a long way down the road before anybody’s give you any money. I think a lot of people circle around and around and around waiting for it thinking, “Why does nobody believe in my product?” Nobody invests in this stuff. You have to bootstrap it.

Nic:
I think it’s going to change. Or at least, we’ve seen movement, especially in the Bristol space and other various places in London where there is movement. There are changes happening. We’ve seen BPEC merging and having a-

Rupert:
Oh, I don’t know about any of that. Okay.

Nic:
BPEC has a bunch of funds that are available for those very early stage …

Rupert:
Oh, I don’t know that.

Nic:
… startups. There are a few things happening in London as well. So it’s probably going to change. But there’s still a very big cultural shift between, obviously, the United States and the UK where you may speak the same language. But you’re not in the same culture in term of how you reflect about money and how you think about entrepreneurship and all that.

Rupert:
There’s a great deal more money in the States, and a lot more people that are willing to risk at large amounts, because it’s a small pocket of-

Nathalie:
It’s being willing to risk and not being scared of failure. I can tell you, it’s even worse in France than it is here. Because failure, if you fail as an entrepreneur in France, you’re done.

Kate:
Really?

Nathalie:
Yeah. Again, there’s a cultural shift that’s slowly happening with influence from the UK and the US. But it’s a lot harder over there.

Kate:
I feel like we were very gifted … A friend of ours was one of the founders of Boo.com, which was the spectacular early startup that e-commerce, before e-commerce happened that boomed and bust.

Rupert:
Back when burning your way through £130 million was a really big deal.

Kate:
When he did that, we were all just out of uni and we were like, “Wow, are you ever going to get a job again?”

Kate:
He was like, “Are you kidding? I’m getting paid more than I’ve ever been,” because failing is a really good experience and it’s valuable.

Nathalie:
Yep, it is.

Nic:
On that very nice note, Kate and Rupert, thank you very much for sitting down with us today.

Rupert:
Thank you very much.

Kate:
Thank you.

Nic:
As far as the podcast is now finished, you can find us on www.CookiesHQ.co.uk. You can also find us on Spotify or on Apple Podcast. Any stars and reviews welcome. Kate, Rupert, thanks a lot.

Kate:
Thank you.

Rupert:
Thanks very much.

Nic:
Speak to you next week.

Nathalie:
Bye.

Nic:
Bye.

Kate:
Bye.

 

Let's work together

It all starts with a chat

We have over 9 years experience supporting passions and developing amazing products. We run events, record podcasts, maintain open-source code and resources for everyone to enjoy.