Small businesses are essential to the UK’s economy. Last year, they made up 98% of the country’s private business sector. Plus, small businesses create jobs for thousands of people and come up with new ideas and products that help improve our lives.
We very much believe in the power of small businesses at Octopus, as places for great ideas as well as job creators. That’s why we back hundreds of startups through our investments. But we want to encourage the people who work in our company to think like entrepreneurs and follow their own big ideas, too.
To encourage Octopus people to set up their own businesses, we started Springboard in 2018. The programme offers our people the chance to learn from established founders, develop their business ideas, and pitch for investment from Octopus. If successful, the pitchers can then choose to take the investment and leave Octopus to work on their business full-time.
Several people have pitched for investment since Springboard launched. In this piece, Tulha Patel tells us about his experience setting up Kwala after pitching to Springboard. Tulha set up Kwala in early 2020, building software designed to help optimise meetings and workplace productivity.
July 2019- Where did the idea for Kwala come from?
When I came up with the idea for Kwala, I was leading a product development team at Octopus. I was thinking about the things that most frustrated me, and lots of others, about a typical working day. One of the main things I thought about was the feeling of spending a lot of time in meetings. Sometimes you don’t feel like you’re being as productive as you could be. Meetings are inevitable but I just thought, there’s got to be a better way of doing this.
Launching a new business is risky. Companies can launch quickly with seemingly great ideas, but they might not take off. This was a bit of a worry for me. I’d started developing my idea on my own but when I heard about Springboard, I thought I could use their help. They helped me develop my idea and helped me research the problem more, to make sure I was creating the best solution. In the end, I evolved my early idea into something more concrete and found the confidence to pitch.
October 2019 – The Pitch
In many ways, the Springboard process is like traditional fundraising, just with a lot more added support and encouragement. You know the Springboard team want to help you develop an idea, working with you as you get your pitch ready and hopefully get investment.
There are a few steps involved in pitching to Springboard. To begin with, you present to a group of internal Octopus volunteers. This was really helpful as it gives you the chance to validate your idea, while also refining based on the volunteers’ suggestions.
Then, it’s time for the big pitch to the Springboard team, including Octopus Group CEO Simon Rogerson and other senior people in the business. Springboard had already helped me think about my idea and the problem it solved in more detail, so I had to outline this in the pitch. Presenting and getting everyone’s feedback was so useful, even if my laptop did freeze in the middle of my pitch!
Springboard can reach a decision much more quickly than external investors, so within a couple of months Simon was letting me know that my pitch had been successful.
January 2020 – Leaving Octopus and launching the business
Moving from an employee to become a founder can be scary. It’s your last chance to way up the potential risks and rewards of starting out on your own. Springboard is really helpful in this respect because as part of it, Octopus holds your old job open while you try and get your business off the ground. It means you have a bit of extra security.
As well as the security, Springboard gives you the chance to openly discuss things with Simon once you start working on your business. I’m in touch with the investors every few weeks. And Simon is incredibly involved and will often invite you down to the office to just talk things over.
July 2020 – Kwala six months on
Each day holds something new for us at Kwala. We’re currently in the middle of refining our product to make sure it’s fit for purpose and useful for our customers. Building and launching software takes a lot of time, and a key part of it is getting something in front of real users for feedback.
We created a minimal viable product to test things out. Just because the idea works for me or works for the team doesn’t mean it will work for our customers. So, it was really important to get the testers’ opinions. Springboard helped us track down users who could give us valuable feedback on what we’ve built so far.
Several users are testing Kwala at the moment. Then, once we have their feedback, the plan is to keep building. We’ve just hired new developers who will help get us closer to launching our product.
Late 2020 – Looking to the future
The journey has only just begun for me and Kwala. I’m learning more each day, especially in thinking about how to run a business. I’m focusing on things that are very different from my old job and it’s a great learning opportunity.
We’re quite secure in terms of finances for the near future, thanks to Springboard. Our plan is, if we can successfully validate the product, we’ll look to fundraise again in 2021. By this point, Kwala will need branding, marketing and recruitment support to keep growing. We’ll also be thinking about distribution channels to build our customer base.
The next few months will be a really exciting time for me and the business. With Springboard’s support, we’ll keep overcoming any challenges we face and are looking forward to a full product launch.