Wazoku is growing 60% a year with its solution helping businesses organise bright ideas.
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Simon Hill, founder of idea management software business Wazoku, tells MH how a lucky encounter launched the business in the broadsheet press, why it's growing 60% a year and why he fears a Brexit tech brain drain.
Tell us about your business
Wazoku is a B2B software company in the innovation sector. To keep what we do really simple, imagine a suggestion box for ideas (maybe a shoe box in your office canteen, with a hole in it for you to post ideas!), take that and make it digital, make its collaborative, make it social and make it super smart and accessible anywhere.
We sell one of those to companies all over the world to engage staff and customers in collaborative innovation.
Where did the idea come from?
I looked at that poor old shoe box in the corner of the room and thought, why does that exist and what is it really intended to achieve? I thought about my own experiences inside large companies such as Deloitte and PWC, and saw a huge opportunity to deliver something of true value.
Every company in the world wants to engage their staff, wants fresh ideas to drive efficiency, satisfaction and customer delight. It just felt like a huge gap in the market that we also feel really passionate about.
How has it grown?
We are 40-ish people, HQ is in London and we have an office in Bristol. Our clients are spread around the world, we have a footprint in 19 countries and growing.
Turnover is a guarded secret, but let’s say we have consistently grown at least 60% year on year.
From our early customers, such as the BBC who wanted to give a home and process for everyone at the BBC who had great ideas for new TV & radio content, we have grown to work with some incredible global brands such as John Lewis, Waitrose, Aviva, Oxford University and many more.
Ideas come thick and fast, it's how you organise them that counts
Is this a growing market?
On the surface of it what we do seems pretty simple.
However, if you think about providing a platform that can help any company around the world to first understand their innovation challenges, then to build the right community to engage in coming up with the ideas in response to those challenges, providing the tools for developing, evaluating and selecting the best ideas from those harnessed and then rewarding and recognizing those involved...it is a global market and we are aiming to be one of the top global brands in this space.
What challenges have you faced?
There are many bumps in the road. The early stages of building a new business feel like a constant dance of one step forward, one step backwards.
In the case of Wazoku we were also building a category, Idea Management software wasn’t a term anyone used when we started, now it’s a category of software and becoming widely adopted as a mainstream business tool. One of the early challenges we faced was around funding for the business.
We have raised equity financing via angel investors for Wazoku, in the early days of the business we had one group who had committed to invest and then pulled out, with almost no explanation at the 11th hour.
Fortunately, we had a great relationship with the team at Cambridge Angels who had always wanted to back the business and when we came back to explain what had happened (and eat some humble pie), they were still very keen to support us and have been amazing backers throughout the life of the business.
How have you spread the word?
Unusually for a very small business we did our press launch in the Financial Times. At the time we were launching I rather fortuitously found myself sitting next to the exact right journalist from the FT and he loved what we were doing. It’s not a trick I can claim to have planned, but it worked!!
Wazoku employs 40 people in London and Bristol
What's the hardest thing about running a successful business?
I genuinely love running my own business and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to build a company out in my vision and despite all the hard work and the very tough times we have faced, it has been incredible.
Yes, it can be really stressful and at times a very lonely experience, but it should be hard work building a new company, and the rewards in every sense make it more than worthwhile. I am now involved in several other early stage ventures and love helping others trying to turn their idea into a thriving business success.
What would you change about the environment for business in the UK?
We work in the tech sector and I am worried about the impact of leaving the EU for tech companies. We rely on a diverse talent pool as there is a real shortage of tech talent. I really hope that pool doesn’t shrink further or get extremely complex and expensive to access, as and when that change occurs.
What is your biggest mistake?
Not doing this sooner! I waited until I was in my 30’s to start my own company, I wish I had done it sooner!!
What's your USP?
I am exceptionally proud of the team of people I have at Wazoku. We have an incredible culture and team of people, who all really believe in what we do and why we do it.
You start with an idea and hope it will fly, it is a dream to have built such an incredible team. Yes, we have a great product, yes we have incredible clients, but it’s my team that really defines who we are and why we are different.
It's important to hire passionate people, says Hill
How do you keep staff keen and loyal?
Recruitment is tricky. Especially in the early days, but I’m not sure it gets any easier. We invest in the team from day 1, as a small company we hire smart people who show a passion and interest in what we do.
We have a great program for apprentices, graduates and more experienced hires, and clear career progression for everyone in the business. Importantly, everyone who works at Wazoku is a shareholder and that is earned through tenure. This rewards loyalty and means that everyone benefits as the business grows.
How do you rate government support for growing businesses and why?
On the whole it is pretty good in my opinion. The R&D tax credits scheme is a huge plus and I really hope they don’t do anything to change that for the worse in the coming years.
I have also found the team at DTI to be helpful when it comes to advice and contacts for export and we have been part of a few trade missions. There is scope for improvement, but for what it is I think it’s pretty good.
What are your top three tips for people starting a business today?
Do it – you don’t lose anything by trying, in fact you gain on a daily basis and learn more than you ever can imagine.
Test it – find your challengers and listen to the reasons your idea won’t work. They will help you, either to realise it’s not the right idea, it is a good idea but needs shaping, or maybe to show you that this path isn’t for you!
Enjoy it – it is a lot of hard work, the early days are full of uncertainty. We have a motto which is to ‘celebrate the small wins’ and it’s vital to do this.