How to fund your startup 101
The founder of Yoller talks about the challenges of dealing with burnout while running a startup and offers tips on finding the right balance. The post How to fund your startup 101 appeared first on Sage Advice United Kingdom.
Louise Doherty is not only an expert planner but a master at the different funding routes a business can take.
Building tech business Yoller was no walk in the park.
With accelerators, venture capitalists (VCs) and grants to decipher, it can be extremely difficult for any startup to navigate their way through all the financial considerations.
While figuring out how to get her business funded, Louise also had domain names to claim, a good name to get it off the ground and the ever-growing issue of burnout to combat.
If you need to learn how to survive startup life, then this episode is for you.
Here’s what we cover:
- Planning made easy with Yoller
- The steps needed to build a tech business
- Sourcing potential co-founders
- The truth about accelerators and using revenue to build your business
- Choosing the right funding route for you and your startup
- Ignoring the signs of burnout—when to take a breath, and talk to friends and family
- Are female founders more prone to burnout due to a lack of funding in female-run businesses?
- Picking the business that’s right for you when you have an overflowing list of ideas
- Learning how to restructure your personal and working life after suffering from burnout
- Helping businesses post-pandemic
- The differences and struggles of having a business that’s active in 140 countries
- The power of a good name
- The impending doom of finding a domain name
- Impact, scale, being present and listening to the wisdom of pain
Planning made easy with Yoller
Can you just start me off by telling us about the early idea behind Yoller?
What on earth made you decide to tackle this pernicious challenge of trying to get people together in the real world?
Well, everybody has a friend in their group of friends who is the person who’s always like, “Hey, shall we do this? I’ve seen this. Shall we go there?”
And that person was me.
I love playing that role of bringing people together. I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences with great big groups of friends, but it is so hard to actually do that work.
It’s often really underappreciated as well because the people who don’t know how to do it, don’t really understand what work goes into it.
It is just internally frustrating because the tools that we have to get people together, they’re not built for that.
A WhatsApp group is not designed to organise to go and see your favourite artist with 10 friends. That’s not what it’s built for.
So I just got so frustrated.
I was organising a wakeboarding weekend for 30 friends, and I used Google spreadsheets, Doodle polls, WhatsApp groups, Facebook events, email, hassling people in person, and calling them.
It was an absolute nightmare.
On that trip, I whined about it so much. That I was like right, I’m starting a business. This is it. And some of those friends actually became my first investors.
Well number one, I want to be your friend. Please organise me. I want to come on all these trips with you. This sounds amazing.
And two, so what exactly have you managed to bundle together? Is it just the scheduling part where it matches calendars, or are you also splitting bills and deposits?
How sophisticated did you manage to get on cracking this challenge?
So Yoller is an intelligent social planning platform. It helps groups collaboratively agree the details of any kind of social plan.
So whether it is going for dinner or a weekend away, we help everybody agree who, what, where, and when. We do this in a collaborative chat.
So essentially imagine today in a WhatsApp group, you’ve just got an absolute mess of links, and screenshots, and what’s the plan, and has anybody booked?
But with Yoller, we actually structure that information into who, what, where, and when, and then we give you tools to use a poll in each section. So which restaurant, or which times, which days?
The magic feature is that we can take hundreds and hundreds of messages and because that data is structured, we can compress it down into just those four things—who, what, where and when.
So it’s called the plan summary bun, and that’s my favourite feature.
But yes, we also sync with your calendars. We can also recognise in the chat when you’re talking about particular dates, and we can update those into the plan of suggestions.
But the ultimate goal is to be the platform to make any plan, anywhere, online. So to actually take our technology and embed it inside all the places where you plan.
That is ambitious and amazing.
The steps needed to build a tech business
I want to know how you went from the idea to actually thinking, “How am I going to build this thing?”
Are you techy? Were you able to sit in front of your laptop and start coding something? What did you do once you realised this was an avenue you wanted to go down?
Yeah, so I went through all of these questions with myself.
I was like can I learn code? I have worked with developers and engineers for a long time, managing projects in the advertising space. But it’s very different to build a product that has users and lives a long time rather than something for a campaign.
So I thought I need to go and find a technical co-founder. I spent a long time doing that, testing out different working relationships.
Ultimately, I just didn’t find a person who had as much ambition as me.
Eventually, I worked with a small design agency to build some clickable prototypes. Then I took that to who I thought could be a first customer, and they paid for it on the spot. They became our first customer.
We used that money to then go off and hire developers.
We applied to Techstars, the business accelerator. Then because of the Techstars brand, we were then able to hire a chief technology officer (CTO).
We all merrily flew off to New York to go and build a business over there to start with.
So yeah, it was a great experience.
But no, from day one, I didn’t know exactly how I was going to bring this to life.
I think a combination of having a first customer before we’d actually written a single line of code, and using an accelerator to broaden our appeal to potential technical candidates, is the way that I did it.
I love that as a route.
Sourcing potential co-founders
I love that you were thinking about just road testing some potential co-founders.
So you have to tell me, how did you pinpoint the individuals that you thought might work? Was it a lot of LinkedIn digging and then, “Hey, do you want to spend a week together?”
I mean if I was doing it now, I would go about it so differently.
But then it was lots of talking to people that I’d worked with before to see if they were excited about quitting their job and starting a business.
It was going to meet up groups, looking at online matching tools. I had some great advice from a friend who said, “If you’re looking for somebody to start a business with, you have to start telling people that you want to start a business.”
I was kind of just keeping it to myself at that point. And he was right. As soon as I started telling people, then I got many more introductions.
In fact, we actually found our incredible CTO, Toby, through a members’ club for technologists.
That’s really interesting and then the point about the accelerator. So that was just an absolute stab in the dark.
You kind of just had this idea, and you’re like, “Right, let’s go and try and make this happen.”
The truth about accelerators and using revenue to build your business
Is the accelerator experience something that you would recommend to other founders, as a way to crystallise your idea and get traction quite quickly?
Yes and no.
So Techstars was an amazing experience for us. It got us access to the US market with credentials and a brand of investor that the US market understood.
Honestly at the time, we were a bit early to do Techstars. I should have known this because on the application form, it says: “The reason that we invest in businesses is team, team, team, market, traction, idea.”
But it was just me and some clickable prototypes. No team, no market, no traction.
But because we had this first customer, they really believed in us. And I’m forever grateful for that experience.
What I love about your approach to starting a tech business, which is so unusual as you see all these tech businesses that are pre-revenue pre-profit sometimes for years. They just burn through venture capital.
You went straight for, even before you had a product, you went for revenue. I think that is so refreshing, to actually think about how you can be financially stable from the get-go.
It’s a different approach. It’s not one that we see that often.
Has that paid dividends since? Was that the right way to go, do you think?
It’s so hard because I can’t go back and do it all again. It served us to get to the points of success that we have. But also, would I do it differently? Maybe.
The reason that I went to revenue first, to build the business, was because the fundraising process was just an absolute nightmare. You read in forums and get advice from people saying, “Do a friends and family round first.”
I’m thinking my friends and family are not going to be funding the early stages of my business. I don’t know what friends and family you have, but they’re not the same as mine.
I think it also just very unclear, like what happens at what stage? I just did not know how to do it. So I thought the easiest thing to do is that I can sell. I know I can do that. So we went and did that.
But then with that early customer revenue and with the getting onto the textiles accelerator and being in America as well, where I think the approach to building a business is so much different. Companies can go to IPO without really being profitable. So we were really discouraged from pursuing revenue.
So we took a completely different tack after that, which did help us to go on and raise £1 million to build the team, to get the app into 140 countries. All of the success that we had.
But ultimately at every stage when you are raising investment, you’re giving away control. You are increasing the overhead on you as a CEO, to manage those relationships.
So I get a lot of founders come to me and say, “How did you do it? How did you raise investment, especially with a non-technical background and without that kind of network?”
I say, the question is not how to do it, but it’s should you do it?
You have to really think through the consequences of that. Because when you take money, it’s a promise to make money on that money.
It’s a promise to dedicate large portions of your life for a really long period of time, potentially up to 10 years.
You have to really think through the consequences of what that means for you, for your business, for your team, for the type of methodologies that you use.
It all starts in that early stage about the decision to take investment or not.
It’s interesting that the conversation is more about this holistic view when you create a startup now.
What kind of life do you want to lead? Do you want to be working every evening, every weekend? And if you go the VC route, the chances are that yes, you will be having to go 110 miles an hour.
Whereas maybe if you go a bit slower, you’ll reinvest in cash flow. You might actually feel like you can do that for a more extended period, because you can only run at 110 miles an hour for so long.
Yes. It turns out that even as the most ambitious, dedicated, capable person in the world, you cannot run 100 miles an hour forever. I found that the hard way.
Choosing the right funding route for you and your startup
But you’ve got the T-shirt, all the T-shirts. Because you’ve done so many different kinds of fundraising.
You’ve done a successful crowdfund. You won money from grants, from competitions, you’ve had angel backing. So you’ve literally kind of been through all these different channels.
Can you give me a little, I don’t know, little overview of how your experiences of the various funding routes went for you, and what you’ve learned from trying all these different things?
So there are pros and cons to each of them. But ultimately, they all help you to grow. So it’s about choosing the right one for you, at the right time.
So in the beginning, my first investor was actually my old first employer when I had graduated from university.
When I wanted to leave their company, they said, “Do you want to start business? Because we’d really love to invest in you.”
And I was like, “I think so, but I don’t really know what yet. Can you just hold on that, and I’ll come back to you?”
It was probably seven years when I came back to them and said, “You know said you would invest in me.”
I think having that early on was great. It shows you that early investors can be people who just really believe in you as a person, and they’re not interested in how detailed your financial projections are. It’s really just them backing you and that feels amazing.
After that, obviously we did the accelerator.
After we had used that money to build the business and to launch a beta, we did crowdfunding. The reason I picked crowdfunding rather than angel syndicates or going straight to a VC, was because again, this fundraising process is just not clear.
I found with crowdfunding, it was much easier to think of it like a marketing campaign.
You have a preparation period, you do all of the assets, you build the relationships, you have this kind of period of going live. Then afterwards, it’s just a project plan.
Whereas if you compare that to walking into a room full of angels, and thinking who’s got money to invest? And who’s likely to invest in your type of company, and what are the terms of the deal going to be?
You don’t have to figure any of those things out.
Crowdfunding, typically it also tends to be very successful for female founders. So that’s why we went with that route.
Bex Burn Callander:
I think because you’ve done all these different routes, do you feel like if you ever did a startup again, you’d want to make it a lot simpler?
How would you fund another startup?
What would you do if you were going again?
I think the ‘if’, is the interesting part of that sentence. I don’t necessarily know that I would start another business. But when I think of your question, I think, if you have an idea, and you want to bring it to the world, what’s the best vehicle for that?
I think that we are in a period of a really interesting transition from the old limited corporate structures. It’s either that, or you’re a charity. There’s nothing in between.
There’s actually a lot of really interesting work by people like Zebras Unite who help people start cooperatives, where people can actually both make money, but also make money for the people who work with them.
The kind of more technologically minded people might consider a DAO. So a distributed autonomous organisation, where actually you join a community, and you have a token.
These are much less intensive on you as founder.
I was a solo founder, and it’s both brilliant because you can move quickly, but it’s also really lonely and really hard.
I think if I was starting anything again, whether that’s a club night, or a world domination company, I would do it with friends for sure.
Bex Burn Callander:
I love that advice. It’s so interesting to think of all these different vehicles that can help you on your journey, raise finance, but do it as you say in a collaborative way.
I remember 10 years ago when it was revolutionary, the invention of the bond.
Hotel Chocolat was releasing these chocolate bonds and the idea that your customers would basically pledge money, it was like you get your investment, but you get all this chocolate back.
But it was seen as completely hair brained. Now that is the way the whole world is moving. I think it’s sort of fantastic.
Ignoring the signs of burnout—when to take a breath, and talk to friends and family
Bex Burn Callander:
I’m going to jump on that point about “I don’t think I would start another company”, because I saw on your Twitter that your handle is like ‘recovering founder’.
That made me chuckle because it is a bit like that. It’s this ride at breakneck speed when you build a business.
So what does recovery look like?
So we are building a business in the socialising space. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a little bit of a pandemic going on. And very early on in the pandemic, it was clear that until we had vaccines, the only tool that we had would be social distancing.
Socialising and social distancing are just really not compatible. So it made things really tough.
I kind of looked at where we were. We were at this really exciting inflection point, where we were starting to raise our next round of funding in the US.
Some of those checks had actually landed in our bank account, and I had to pause the whole thing and say, “I don’t know what the world is going to look like. And I can’t in good faith take money on right now.”
I just kind of stopped and looked around, and I was a like, “Wow, I’m really tired. I’m really tired.”
I just thought at that point, I’ll take three months off, and then I’ll either pivot or I’ll rebuild the business, maybe find a co-founder, all of these different options.
But the more space that I had to really check in with myself, the more I realised I was actually destroyed. It still probably took me another six months to define that, to call it burnout.
So that’s the experience that I have been recovering from.
It’s a real teacher. I think there are reasons that people start businesses. I think they’re not necessarily just because I’ve seen this opportunity, or I want to solve my problem.
I think they’re often much more deeply seated, perhaps unconscious desires, inside ourselves.
I think starting a company can be a really rude awakening, because the feedback loop for the consequences of those bits of yourself that you don’t understand, can be really short. The canvas that you have to project all over is so much bigger.
I think there is no way I could have burnt out if I had been listening to my body.
I think like many women, you kind of sideline and think that perhaps your body is not part of you. Meditation tells us we are not our thoughts, but perhaps we’re also not our bodies.
So for me, it’s been spending time in nature, hugs with friends, learning to DJ, dancing. All of these things to bring me back into the present moment.
Every time I do that, I notice this deep discomfort. That takes a really, really long time to work out where that comes from and why.
It’s been both the worst and also the best experience of my whole life to date. I’d say probably don’t do it. But if you do, just know that on the other side is a better version of yourself, that can exist more peacefully and with more joy.
If anybody is going through burnout right now, there are resources. But it’s very hard to spot.
I think the first thing that I did was breathe and then to tell friends and family and say, “Hey, I don’t really know what this is. But I’m not myself right now.”
Bex Burn Callander:
I really think we ought to just rename this podcast The Burnout Diaries, because a number of guests we’ve had on recently who have experienced quite differing levels, but always ending up in chronic burnout.
Are female founders more prone to burnout due to a lack of funding in female-run businesses?
Bex Burn Callander:
A lot of people, and mostly women actually, saying that they kind of had, it’s like having a mini stroke or a warning heart attack, and then ignoring it, and then ignoring it.
Then you have the full burnout later on.
But it is interesting that it feels like it’s a lot of female founders. We have a lot of female founders on this show.
Why is it happening to so many women?
That’s a great question. So I think the previous conversation about how and should you raise investment, is linked to whether you will or won’t burn out.
It’s well known that female founders only receive 2% of venture capital worldwide.
That is ridiculous, and the stats don’t change.
It doesn’t matter how many reports, how many meetups that you go to. Female founders just do not see the money to invent the future.
I think that put me in this really difficult position where I could see that what we have built is so valuable. Still to this day, nobody else has touched anything near what we’re doing and scaled it in the way that we plan to.
So you have this deep belief in yourself, and what you’re doing, and why, and very connected to purpose, but yet you have no resource.
When you look at the definition of burnout, which is workplace stress poorly managed, which does not really explain the depth of what that’s actually like.
But when you think about burnout in the context of working for a 200-person company for example, the parameters for your stress are actually somebody else’s responsibility.
It’s your boss. It’s the CEO.
Whereas when you’re a founder, you’re kind of exposed.
You set the parameters much more widely. So there’s nobody really looking out for you to say, “How are you managing this stress? Do you recognise that you are stressed?”
The world is just full of this kind of hustle porn that tells you to work harder, faster, stronger, that glorifies overwork, and under-sleep, and deprioritising every other aspect of your life.
But that advice comes from people who are not women typically, because it’s in the investor’s interest for you to run yourself into a wall because you’re replaceable, but it’s your life.
That would be my answer is that the state of funding for female founders is just dire.
That’s a really interesting link and I think probably should be explored further.
Because there’s these two discussions going on. One about burnout and one about the lack of capital flowing into female-run businesses, the two need to be pushed and merged together.
It needs to be more glamorous to have balance.
I don’t know when we’re going to reach that stage, but I remember having a conversation with my best friend being like, “I work four days a week. I feel like everyone thinks I’m just coasting.”
And she was like, “What are you on about? That is what everyone needs, is to have balance and to have set working hours. But that’s not glamorous. No one’s ever going to think that’s glamorous.”
And I was like, “Yeah.”
That’s definitely something that I hope to become a role model for, as I start to talk about burnout, and explain my experience, and help other people going through the same thing.
I would like to show that you can achieve great things at the same time as also being a healthy, happy, well-rounded human.
In that context, you think about who really wins when you get funded.
I look at some of my male CEO friends who have raised multiple hundreds of millions and their life is not well-rounded. Their life is really tough.
To withstand that pressure of those promises and all that’s at play, sometimes also as a public company as well, you can’t really be in touch with all of your emotions. Because you can’t feel the weight of that every day.
I now look at really well funded companies and I think well firstly, you’re giving away control.
Secondly, what are you giving away in the rest of your life?
For that reason, I think that perhaps not getting VC funding earlier on has maybe actually been a blessing.
I do think though that if people have reckoned with where their ambition comes from, where their drive comes from, then VC funding can be a great way of scaling something that you are super passionate about.
But unless you’ve done that work first, you might just fall on your face instead.
Picking the business that’s right for you when you have an overflowing list of ideas
Bex Burn Callander:
So I know from doing a little background research that Yoller wasn’t your first business idea. In fact, you’ve had loads.
Can you tell us a bit about the ones that bit the dust?
Can you give us a bit of advice on how would be founders can choose out of the myriad ideas they have swimming in their brains?
How do you choose which one is the goer?
I think my favourite one was the chopsticks that were also straws, ‘Chops Ups’.
I wanted to build a version of Rent the Runway, which I was calling ‘The Clothes Club’. So you’d be able to rent and return on a subscription different clothes. So you could try out your wardrobe without ruining your bank balance.
A soup company, a subscription soup delivery company where you could personalise different bases. I just have so many ideas all the time.
The problem is I think if you have these ideas, you kind of look at life through problems that could be solved or opportunities. You have to kind of hold yourself back a little bit. You can’t do every idea.
So I went through, it was a multiple year process of building the models, doing business model canvases, doing customer interviews, meeting potential teammates or co-founders, being given tours of businesses that I really admired, who were much later scale, where I wanted to start something similar.
I think ultimately, what I learned was even if you have the best rational justification for why a business is going to be super profitable, and you should do it, you might not be the person to do it.
I was once given a tour when I was exploring this clothes club business by one of the founders of Asos of their headquarters. And he said, “We’ve got 400 people here, and we’ve got another 600 people in a warehouse up north.”
And I was like, “Oh. I guess I hadn’t really considered what that looks like at scale. Maybe I’m not the person to do this.”
I think it’s trying to find the Venn diagram of something that you’re really passionate about, that you believe that the world needs, that is going to be profitable, that you are also qualified to do.
So maybe it’s about kind of making a list. If you can be really honest with yourself and have two columns, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
It has to be that, once you’ve thought through the actual plan for whatever business that you’re considering, there are a lot more ticks next to your strengths, than there are next to the weaknesses.
That way you’re actually exploiting everything that you’re good at, but also not terrifying yourself or overloading yourself with stuff that you’re not good at.
Or maybe that’s just too basic an equation.
No, I think it’s that. But then the missing component is also what brings you joy.
Your intuition is going to guide you towards things that you really enjoy.
In the moments when things are hard, when you have 10 ups and downs, and huge emotional swings in one day, what is going to make you get up the next day and think, “I still believe in this. I still find it so fun. It’s going to build me a life that I’m going to enjoy.”
So yeah, I think joy is probably the missing component from what I said.
Learning how to restructure your personal and working life after suffering from burnout
Bex Burn Callander:
So post-burnout, coming back to Yoller and the world is now opening up again, and people are rabid to see each other in the real world. Everyone’s been starved of company. It feels like we’re reading headlines like ‘A return to the Roaring Twenties’.
As soon as people feel safe, they’re going to be out en masse trying to see each other, trying to socialise.
So you’re kind of at an interesting point where your business is probably going to go nuts, but you’ve also just recovered from burnout.
How are you managing that duality and managing your time as well?
With great self-compassion I would say.
As the person who is suffering from burnout, you have to be the person that even if everything is on fire, you’re still running towards it.
Now, some days I might only do a couple of hours work. Rather than comparing what I was previously capable of and what I’m capable of now, I just think, that’s today. I’ve just done the best that I can today.
The old me would’ve looked at that and been like, “Really? Is that what you got? How do you expect to build the life that you want and the business that you promised you invested with one hour a day?”
But actually I’m so productive in that one hour because I don’t resent it, because I’m full of creativity, because I’m rested.
I know I’m not depleting myself, and that what I’m doing is sustainable. Some days, I can work 10 hours a day, but some days it is only an hour a day.
The trend over the last three or four months has definitely been upwards.
I am really excited about the future of the business. I think we’ve all had this collective experience of being separated from people, from our loved ones, from our friends and families.
Whereas before, I might talk about the epidemic of loneliness and how loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which is a World Health Organisation study.
Or how in other cultures, like in Japan, who are a bit earlier with technology, there’s actually a name for people who are so embedded in digital worlds, that they have dropped out of society completely.
And why is that a bad thing?
Well, now everyone knows because we know what it’s like to not be able to socialise.
So I think that yes, these kind of reports of having Roaring Twenties and our social lives are going to come back. I think these create super fascinating and interesting opportunities for both my business and other businesses in this space.
I think the more that we prioritise our real friends in real life and creating memories, that will lead to the most fulfilling and exciting lives. So I hope more companies enter the space as a result of this. I hope that investors step up and fund our kind of companies.
Helping businesses post-pandemic
It’s also really great that with Yoller, you are driving bums on seats and revenue to a lot of business and hospitality, which was absolutely devastated by the pandemic.
So you’re actually directly and indirectly helping all these other business owners who’ve been having a really hard time. So that must be a great feeling.
It feels good to be working on something which is really meaningful and bringing support to sectors that have been really hard hit.
But it’s not really us that’s doing it. It’s everybody else that’s out there, everybody who uses our apps and other ways of socialising, and gathering, and travelling.
I think that supporting your local businesses and using the technologies that help us gather is really important, because this business had a really tough time.
But we are all united by the same thing, which is real life, real memories, real friends. That is what life is about.
So support those businesses for sure.
The differences and struggles of having a business that’s active in 140 countries
I’m fascinated that Yoller is used in 140 countries. Do we all socialise the same way everywhere?
Have you noticed any weird and wonderful trends about what people are getting up to, and what they want to do in their spectrum, and how people want to socialise in different parts of the world?
Yes, definitely. There’s something called the LA ‘No’, which when you’re in LA people are like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d love to come. Definitely. Thanks.” They really mean no. But they will never, ever say no to your face. That’s one that we noticed very early on.
Then there’s the difference between organising brunch in New York and in London.
In New York, that can happen at any time of the day, and it’s likely to be a much longer affair. Whereas in London, perhaps that’s a bit earlier in the day. More classically actually at brunch time, like 10-11am or something like that.
It’s interesting to see how those trends kind of influence each other, and how the boozy brunch that we observed in New York has actually come over to London.
Perhaps we can thank Instagram for that.
Was it straightforward to move from country to country? Because you have an app.
Is it as simple as just putting things in different languages or just kind of updating your API? Or was it very different, your approach to winning new users in different territories?
So we’re live in 140 countries, but we have only been promoting Yoller in the UK and also in the US, the English language countries. Definitely that is something that’s on our agenda, is to localise and to change into different languages.
I think one of the benefits of what we do is that because we have this structured data, is that we can scale globally really quickly. But it doesn’t mean that we actually can do that. You can’t do everything at once. You have to focus.
In terms of expanding into other countries, it’s not just a case of turn on the app. There is the team on the ground, there’s the marketing plan, which also needs to be localised. There’s the legal structures for businesses that you might own in other countries.
So it’s not as simple as that. It sounds like we’re everywhere, but I would say we’re a UK business mainly.
There are probably loads of expats or people on holiday being like, “Let’s use it. Let’s use it this way.” I can imagine.
The power of a good name
So I love the name. I love the fact that you can say to someone, “Yoller at me,” and then someone will know exactly what they mean. They mean organise the event through Yoller.
How did you reach that name?
How many iterations did you go through to reach that name, and what learn about the power of brand and the power of a good name and the process?
So before I started Yoller, I was a strategic marketer. So this is my bag. It was a nightmare.
I think I took some very good advice earlier on, which was just give it a code name. In the first couple of months of exploring the business, the name is not the important thing.
A good business exists without a great name. It’s just that a great name will really help it fly.
So the first name for the business was Sociable, and that was what we were incorporated as. So I knew that at some point, there was no way we were going to be able to own that in terms of brand, especially not globally.
So after that, I’ve got a photo of me in my old flat, and a whole wall is covered in Post-its. Friends would be WhatsApping me at 2am saying, “I’ve got an idea. I’ve got an idea.”
I was actually living with a flat mate at the time and to her credit, she did not say, “Please take your Post-its off the wall. This is our living room. I don’t need to see 100 Post-its of your business name.”
But it was there to remind me, I want to do this right. Eventually it was like I have too many options. I have no way to narrow this down. I don’t know what to do.
So I worked with a company called Appella, who help companies name companies.
They have this really interesting philosophy around the difference sounds that we use that symbolise different emotions or meanings, without actually being a real word, which was really cool to understand.
Secondly, they have this thing called reverse negative linguistic check, which is whether the name you love means something rude in another language? So they were really great at helping me narrow down, and we came to ‘Plan Snap’.
Fast-forward, I guess we had a year of being Plan Snap. Then we got a legal letter from Snapchat. I was like, “Are they allowed to do this? Are they actually allowed to do this?”
Again, we had some advice along the lines of “Don’t fight it, just change your name.”
And I was like, “I don’t want to change my name. We’re really not trying to encroach in their space.”
I just thought this was big bully behaviour. So I decided we were going to fight them. So we sent three legal letters, and it was not a fruitful expiration. Eventually we did have to change our name.
So the final, final version, this is all taking place over the course of around two years, is that we came to Yoller, which means the confused noise of an excited crowd in Scottish.
I’m half Scottish, but I just thought that was perfect, even though people don’t understand the meaning, it’s a lovely story of what the brand is about which is when you enter an awful group chat, and it’s just like, what’s going on. Whereas with Yoller, it’s not that.
So it was a really fun process. I think what I learned from it was you can make great progress on a business without figuring out the name, and that there is no perfect name.
It’s down to you to accept it, and to build the brand around it, and to use other aspects of the brand portfolio. Whether that’s the imagery, or type, or different campaigns. All of those things will add brand to the name. Your brand is not just a name.
It’s really down to you to just pick something and just move on, but don’t pick something that somebody’s going to sue you over, because that’s a bit of a pain.
The impending doom of finding a domain name
When you picked Yoller, was the domain free?
Because that is often the make it or break it moment, is if you come up with the name, and it exists, but someone’s not going to charge you half a million quid to try and use it on the .com.
Yes, that is a startup that somebody should build, a business to cross-reference trademarks in different countries, with available domain names, with social media handles, with various different meanings. It doesn’t exist yet.
We had lots of spreadsheets. We had a Slack channel dedicated to this. We also used a service called Name Check, which does the social media handles check for you. I think it also checks domains. So it’s not easy.
In case someone on social media at Yoller and would fight you because that was their handle, is that a thing?
That’s definitely a thing. Yeah.
Oh, okay. Well I’m learning.
Impact, scale, being present and listening to the wisdom of pain
Just finally Louise, I want to know what does your perception, your view of success look like now? And how has it changed through your startup journey way back in 2016 when you first started this business?
So if I was talking to you in 10 years’ time, what do you see for yourself?
I think the one thing that I’ve needed on my journey that I didn’t have, although I did try and look for this, is an executive coach that could have supported me as a solo founder, in recognising how to avoid burnout.
I think that’s something I’d really love to do in the future. I think the components of that would be around emotional fluidity and being able to withstand the ups and downs in how you manage those emotions.
Then the second part being regulating your nervous system, and understanding how your nervous system speaks to you, and how to work with it to support your goals.
I think something like that would satisfy my hopes for impact because you’re working with leaders.
So therefore, there’s a lot of opportunity to have a big impact in the world and helping people understand themselves means they’re likely to build better and more good for the world businesses.
I think it would also satisfy, perhaps, a part of myself that I haven’t found so far, which is I’m always thinking big ideas, like 10, 20, 30 years into the future.
But actually being brought down to a present moment, in a conversation where you can feel like the electricity between two people. I think that helps. That’s very grounding.
To me, success would have those components. Impact, scale, and being present.
I love that because also that means that everything that you’ve been through, you can distil all of that and give it to other people so that they don’t have to have the rough stuff. Just the smooth.
Then it’s like just radiating goodness from all the bad stuff that you’ve been through. Just turn it into positive. So that’s a really beautiful idea.
You can’t avoid the bad stuff. You can avoid making mistakes based on the wisdom of other people. But you can’t control what happens as you set out on your business. You have no idea when you stand at day one, with your certificate from Companies House, what’s going to unfold.
So I think the goal is not to sidestep the pain. It’s to really receive and listen to the wisdom of that pain.
What is it trying to tell you? When something bad happens, do you need to change your strategy?
Do you need to reorganise your team? Do you need to quit? Do you need to try harder?
Listening to the wisdom of the pain I think is the secret to how to think about the ups and downs of founder life.
Inspired by this small business story?
Wherever you’re listening or watching, subscribe to Sound Advice on Apple iTunes here.
We are also on Spotify and anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Want to know more about Louise Doherty and Yoller?
You can find Louise on Twitter.