Michael is the co-founder of GoRoadie, a Dundee based startup that helps driving students find the right driving instructor for them. GoRoadie has recently expanded to offer Glasgow driving lessons, and are currently helping driving instructors win more business.
I’m Michael Carr and I am a co-founder of Dundee-based startup, GoRoadie. Over the past two years I have been building this start-up with my co-founder Barry White, creating a product that helps learner drivers find the right driving instructor for them, and in-turn, provide driving instructors more business when they need it.
Our business started as a side-project, yet in the last year we started gaining traction, and the thought of investment entered our mind. As we found out in the last year, to be taken seriously as a startup , you need to not only build a product, you need to make money.
Like most founders, I dreamt of investment allowing us to dedicate our 9 to 5 to building the perfect product and generating a self-sustaining business. All we needed to do was build a nice looking product and have some users proving its value — surely then investment would come… right?
We’ve learnt a huge amount in our first two years through a great deal of trial and error so we thought we would take you through a few of the tips we’ve picked up on how to start a business
The game changing conversation
GoRoadie started as a fun project to experiment using some technologies we weren’t using in our day job. I wanted to see what the hype around Ruby on Rails was, and Barry wanted to play with animation on a webpage. It quickly developed into a product that we were showing to customers, gathering feedback, iterating and improving their experience — we even managed to allow driving instructors to get some new driving students for free! We weren’t too fussed with generating money — we had plenty of ideas how we could do that, but that was a problem for later.
Fast forward to a meetup with the CEO of a successful technology company in Edinburgh who agreed to meet us to hear about our product and give some advice. Barry and I sat there boasting about our conversion rate, vanity metrics and how we are helping driving instructors in Dundee. We felt so assured that what were doing was right.
The CEO listens, he doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm, but politely asks “what’s your business model?” And of course, we have that covered — “when we get investment, we can spend our time building a calendar system and we take in money from the driving instructor once we know the student is taking lessons week in week out, we estimated that could take 6–8 weeks to build, but we need investment to find the time to build it”.
The CEO tells us, if you can’t prove you have a business model, we are going to struggle getting investment. For a short moment, it felt like our dream had dashed away from us.
He continues to ask us questions though, “How can you generate revenue now? What is the quickest method?” We start spitballing ideas, it all comes together in a matter of minutes. He suggests that we go try some of our ideas out and come back in three months to report on how we get on. We jump in the car, and plan the work on the ride home.
Three weeks later, we were making money. We had proven that driving instructors would pay for the service we have built.
Here are 4 lessons made clear from this experience. 4 tips I hope you’ll take on board with your starting in 2018.
1. Be brave
Asking for money was nerve wracking for us. Fundamentally, it is why we put off adding a payment model — it’s the ultimate question “will customers pay for my service?” The only way to truly know is to ask them.
If you truly believe this is a service that people will want to use and pay for, let them pay for it. At GoRoadie, our current business model isn’t our endgame — we have other ideas of how we can monitise, however, what’s important is that we can prove we have built a service that pays for itself and can scale nationwide.
Screens from our prototype that we built in a few of days.
2. Speak to your customers
Between the meeting with that Edinburgh-based CEO and our first payments, we built a prototype and met our customers. We lumped it in with some other features. We asked the questions we were scared to ask: “You’ve just seen a paywall, how do you feel about that?”, “What do you think of the payment model?”, “Would you pay that?”, “Do you have any concerns?” and we got real honest feedback — some of our customers said to us that we were charging too little. What’s important to note though, is that there’s a difference between asking if someone will pay, and them actually paying. This gave us confidence to move on to build, but the question still wasn’t answered.
3. Live and breath agility
We always thought of ourselves as being agile. “Build-Measure-Learn” is something we preached day in and day out. Yet, we didn’t do this with our payment model. We needed to prove people will pay for our service. Only then did we know if we were on to something.
Live and breathe agility — validate your ideas early and often.
Think to yourself, how could we make money from our product? Then think “How could we do that faster?” Frugality breeds resourcefulness and innovation according to Amazon.
4. Find a mentor (or two)
Having someone to talk to who has been through the process of building a business before is invaluable. They can give you insights and advice. More recently, we spoke to the same CEO and they were impressed that we went out and started making money but now challenged us to start making money in another city. Quarterly drops-ins are a great way for us to measure our own progress with our mentor.
GoRoadie took so much away from that night in Edinburgh, but the advice wasn’t remarkable in hindsight. Sometimes as founders, we get carried away with our product due to our close proximity and the hours we spent crafting it. Investors of course will be much more impressed if your baby cow is generating cash. After all, their looking for a return on their investment, you as a startup founder need to prove that it is possible.