This week’s small business star is technology entrepreneur Tom Watson. As chief technology officer of Spacious, Tom and his co-founders help startups find suitable office space. As a company set up by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, they understand how important people’s working environments are to their success.
Tom’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in during his studies at the University of Warwick, when he set up a startup recruitment company Kick Campus, connecting talented university graduates to jobs in startups. After graduating in 2013 Tom went straight into Entrepreneur First (EF), a seed investment program for graduates. It was there that he met co-founder Tushar Agarwal and co-founder and Chairman, Rohan Silva. Together they launched Spacious in January 2014.
1. Finding a co-founder is a bit like dating
Finding the right co-founders can be a challenge. Entrepreneurs First teach you that the biggest risks in a startup and the biggest worry for investors are founders breaking up. We’re proud that the founding team of Spacious has remained together. Tushar’s background in investment banking and Rohan’s previous role as advisor to David Cameron and involvement in the development of Tech City, helps us vision the business from multiple perspectives.
2. We realised the demand startups had for office space
During his time in investment banking, Tushar had seen a lot of clients with empty property portfolios who were asking him what they could do about it. As far as he knew, there wasn’t anything that could be done. Having come to EF with this idea, we began throwing ideas around of what could be done to solve this problem.
It was at this point that we met Rohan. With his fresh perspective we realised that there were a lot of startups and small businesses that were in need of office space. Not only was London under-supplied, but also that the supply was not suitable for the changing needs of the businesses today.
3. The business began by hustling every contact we could
Our aim was to prove whether people wanted what we had on offer and so we built what is known as an MVP (minimum viable product). We were personally helping our customers rather than building technology to help them. You learn so much by starting like this, getting up close and personal to learn what they really wanted and valued.
We spent most of the time on our phones. We hustled every business connection, friends and friends of friends that we had so we could talk to them. We’d ask startups whether we could help them find office space and ask office providers whether we could help them find tenants. If they said yes then we’d have to go out and provide them what we promised. It’s not until we learnt as much as we could, and couldn’t feasibly continue in this way, that we actually built our platform.
4. Raising money has changed the way we’ve made decisions
Our business changes every day. We’re constantly changing the website, adding new features, improving our service and publishing more content. Being so small means we can be extremely agile. If a customer asks for a new feature, we can build it. If someone needs information that we don’t have, we can find it.
Since we first started we’ve built loads: the platform, an automated payments system, an online messaging service and we now have over 300 listings. We’re growing rapidly. It is scary to think that we’ll soon have gone from running the business alone, to operating as a team of seven. Raising money has really changed our business. It also comes with more accountability when making decisions, which is positive and should never be shied away from.
5. If you don’t take risks you can become complacent
We gave up the opportunity to build our careers to start this business. As a graduate software developer I could have a stable career and a respectable wage. For the first few months of the business we couldn’t pay ourselves. Both of us have burnt through any savings we had and not having that cushion places most of our eggs in one basket. However, without any risk involved you risk becoming complacent and that is a lot worse.
6. It’s tough working without a benchmark
Building a marketplace business is hard. Building a marketplace business with very few comparable companies is even harder. Spacious is a B2B marketplace with a SaaS (Software as a Service) revenue stream. Having nothing to compare it to has its positives, but it helps to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes.
Building a business in the commercial property industry is also very hard. It’s very archaic and cracking it requires respecting tradition while promoting new practices. The property industry’s history and nuances has made it extremely exciting, but has meant that we’ve had a lot to learn. It’s only now that we know it well enough that we can really start pushing boundaries.
7. Start small but think big
It‘s often said that you want to create a product that a small number of people love rather than a large number of people like. That is 100% true. But you also need to think big. People like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford had visions for how they wanted the world to be and they didn’t sway from that. Spacious changes every day. But in order to build our business we have to start small, doing something hard but achievable. After we’ve conquered that, we can become a lot more.
Find out more about Tom and Spacious by visiting: www.spaciousapp.com.
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.