Ashwin Saddul, was inspired to set up his digital agency, Better Than Paper, following a gap year travelling. On his way around the world he met many entrepreneurs and took copious notes about how they ran their businesses. He returned to the UK with a bulging notebook and a head full of ideas.
Better Than Paper launched in March 2011. Their product allows businesses to instantly create slick digital magazines by pulling content from across the web and publishing in real-time to mobile and tablet devices.
The time felt right and I wanted to take control of my life. Many entrepreneurs I met on my travels ran successful businesses in some of the harshest economic conditions. I came back fired up with ideas , so I just knew I had to make a go of it.
I’d been head of Client Strategy at UTV Pitch Media (owners of talkSPORT radio) and had worked across a variety of disciplines. We launched the first talkSPORT digital magazine and back then, I could foresee a massive opportunity in digital and mobile publishing. So when Apple launched the first iPad it seemed the right time for us to launch the business.
We launched as a mobile agency, offering mobile strategy, apps and related services to business. But we soon realised that there was a gap in the market for a publishing tool to gather up content from around the web, so we moved from an agency to a product model. The product is aimed at the customer publishing sector and replaces other slow and expensive methods of publishing content.
You can spend an awful lot of time chasing every opportunity that comes along, which is what we did at the start. You meet lots of people with great ideas, but many of them can turn out to be dead ends. So you need to learn to be smart and have a clear idea of what works for your business model. After all, you need to earn money to pay the bills, so we’ve learned to stay focused and turn down offers that are not core to what we do. This saves a lot of wasted time.
I believe a business is defined, not just by its people, but also the quality of its clients. So when we started out, against all of the advice we were given, we didn’t take any small jobs. Instead, we pitched only to big brands and it took many months for us to get our first big client, but we now have a great portfolio of big brands which has meant we’ve been able to build credibility very quickly.
Running a business is not a 9 to 5. It becomes your life – or even a lifestyle. You can’t switch off from it just because you’re not in the office.
When we set up, we traded down from a house to a small flat so that we didn’t have to worry too much about living costs. My wife was supportive of that idea, and it’s important to get the buy-in of anyone close to you before you start, because your business will impact on their life.
If you’re the conscientious type, you have to be firm with your hours, otherwise you can become your own worst enemy and find that you never have any time away from work. I haven’t taken a proper holiday in three years!
But working long hours feels different when you work for yourself. I can work late into the night, but find time for my family if they need me.
We’ve just graduated from the Accelerator Academy and are now seeking investors to help us to grow the business. We hope to double in size over the next 12 months, taking the team from five to 10. We have an ambitious three-year business plan that we want to deliver and we’d like to become secure and profitable. That will be validation for all of our hard work.