When Nick Hucker saw how the success of food delivery startups like Deliveroo was disrupting a market ripe for the taking, he didn’t kick himself for not getting there first. Instead, he watched and waited to see how these startups were winning, but also how they were failing their new customers. Only then did he act by starting up Preoday. But it wasn’t an overnight move – it took two years to build the product ahead of its launch. So, what lessons has he learned along the way about moving in on the disruptors, which you can apply to your own disruptive startup?
‘Be keenly aware of market tensions and aim for the link in the chain most likely to snap’
RSNG What’s the golden rule when considering launching a disruptive startup?
NICK HUCKER, CEO ‘Like any new business, it’s about spotting an opportunity, a gap in the market. However, when you’re intending to disrupt an industry, you also need to be keenly aware of market tensions and aim for the link in the chain most likely to snap. Your business needs to be one that can create a new, stronger link in that chain.’
‘Deliveroo did this by spotting people’s desire for faster, better-quality food delivery and the difficulty restaurants had meeting that demand due to other pressure points. While Just Eat’s clients were largely conventional takeaways, there were few quick service restaurants on its platform.’
‘We’ve done it by noting the disenchantment that restaurants have with companies like the original disruptors like Deliveroo and Just Eat. We see that there’s a desire for ‘cheaper’ alternatives – these businesses are being strangled by huge commission fees and they are looking to escape. We also spotted that many businesses are looking for ways to take back their identity and to access the customer data they need to stand and grow their digital independence.’
RSNG How can Preoday take on the first wave of disruptors and beat them at their own game?
NH ‘We’ve seen them arrive and grow, and while they’ve been doing that we’ve noted what businesses like about working with them, and what they loathe. We can learn from their weaknesses and improve on their efficiencies. We receive many enquiries from companies that have sampled their technologies and are looking to us to give them something better, and they know to come to us because of the marketing and messaging we put out, talking specifically to the issues we know they face.’
‘From a business point of view, our technology platform is completely different to anything created by Deliveroo, Just Eat or Uber Eats. The build and the API is unique, as is the functionality, yet it’s been built to ensure that the client – and the end customer – experience similar (and greater) benefits as those get from that first wave.’
RSNG What’s been the most expensive startup lesson you’ve ever learned?
NH ‘Do not be afraid to qualify out. The potential to win a big name may be seductive but do not waste time putting your whole team onto a pitch only to find you had no realistic chance of getting the business. It distracts you from genuine opportunities.’
‘Don’t be soft and gentle – you’re not a washing powder’
RSNG What three pieces of advice would you give to someone looking to disrupt an already-disrupted industry?
Know your audience and build your sales, and marketing personas, based on people using the service of the companies you are looking to disrupt. Consider their challenges and build messaging around solving them.
Don’t be soft and gentle, you’re not a washing powder. The original disruptors didn’t get to where they are by gently introducing themselves and letting word-of-mouth do the rest, and you shouldn’t either. Form a message that hits their weak spots and shout it from the rooftops.
If yours is a technology market, make darn sure your technology can stand up to scrutiny. If you shout loudly and are heard, you need to have the goods to back up what you’re saying.
RSNG What’s the motto you live or do business by?
NH ‘Size doesn't matter when you have passion. Seriously! When I was first at Microsoft I worked on the new Azure team, which back then was six strong. We persuaded organisations that the public cloud was the future. Size didn’t stop us, we believed in the technology, and now it’s one of the largest elements of Microsoft’s business.’
RSNG How important is it to get a product right before bringing it to market?
NH ‘Extremely. When developing Preoday, we didn’t want to go to market too soon – as we had seen others do (and fail) – so we spent two years perfecting the platform. When we did launch our physical product we had everything ready, including our marketing and mission statements: to help food and retail businesses around the world open new revenue streams, take ownership of their brand and improve relationships with customers through digital ordering.’
RSNG Which has been the best way to find out what your customers think?
NH ‘Through conversations. When you are still small your senior team may have the luxury of time to speak to and directly converse with clients and prospects – we made sure to do this and it informed the growth and direction of our business. We’ve expanded beyond that point now, however we have an amazing customer success and marketing team that continues those conversations and feeds comments back to our senior team, and developers. It’s what allows us to release product sprints every two weeks – taking on board client suggestions and building them into the platform.
RSNG What have you learnt about leading teams in changing scenarios?
NH ‘There’s little room for micro management in a start-up or any environment that changes too frequently. You need to encourage people to adapt and succeed on their own initiative.’
‘You also need to think carefully about how to incentivise people and keep them motivated. The best way is to find people with a belief in the business and its goals from the start. As you get to know your team, find out how people tick and develop a company culture around that. Personally, I think you need to be careful about dolling out perks, what works for one person won’t work for another; you can’t broad brush paint a whole team.’
‘The younger generation of consumers isn’t particularly loyal so there will always be opportunities’
RSNG What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
NH ‘Surround yourself with smart, passionate and driven people and you can make this work. Combine that with an evangelical approach to your business and outright stubbornness and you will make it work.’
RSNG How can we counter the tendency for the profile of one or two brands to become prominent in any given space?
NH ‘It’s tough. The Competition Markets Authority is supposed to do that job but isn’t always able to enforce it – just look at the merger of Just Eat and HungryHouse last year! As an industry, we must continue to encourage entrepreneurs to think big and aim to disrupt what has been established, after all, it’s what keeps technology and services fresh.’
‘The younger generation of consumers isn’t particularly loyal and if they remain that way then there will always be opportunities for new and exciting businesses to turn their heads and change a market.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch author Bill Faust explore the history of ‘disruption’ and what it can really mean to new businesses…
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