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James Macfarlane is regarded as one of the most exciting young entrepreneurs in the UK. Having been involved in online business since is was just 15, he went on to develop one of the UK’s leading online maternity networks, which led to a best selling parenting book and frequent appearances in the media.
In 2014 he tuned his attention to the world of mobile content and mobile payment. Within 18 months he'd developed a new multi-million pound business with staggering month on month growth, and less than two years later he had won Midlands Entrepreneur of the Year.
We met with James to understand the potential pitfalls such rapid growth presents and how he has consistently overcome these challenges.
Stay lean – The first thing is that we’ve always stayed lean. With our turnover we could have grown the team to a considerably larger size than it is, but by staying small we’ve remained nimble. We’re competing against PLC’s but they just can’t shift their focus quickly enough, where as we are a team of just 11 people who are always on the same wavelength. It’s such an asset in a fast moving industry like ours.
Learn first, then delegate – I could have brought in a management team by now, but I wouldn’t have known what I’d want from them. I need to first ensure I have experience in every facet of the business. I have dealt with customer issues, built websites and managed operations. Only when I fully understand an area will I bring someone in to manage it for me.
Accountability – you must clearly define accountability for each person in the company. It’s not a blame game, but if someone knows they’re accountable for something then they’re far more likely to commit and get results.
Fix one problem at a time – when you scale quickly, things will break, but you can’t possibly fix everything at once. We make a list of all the contributing bottlenecks – lead gen, conversions, quality of delivery, lifetime value of customers – then we put them in order of priority and get to work fixing the main one. Again, this is a lot easier to do when your team is lean and nimble.
Choose your partners carefully – Our partners are so big that they can make or break you, so you need to ensure they’re going to pay on time. When we work with a new partner, we start small and once they’ve started paying us we’ll then look more seriously at scaling revenue with that partner.
Be honest to employees about how difficult things will be – Because mobile billing is such a new industry the technology is constantly changing, so we tell our new developers that they have to be ready for rug to be pulled out from beneath them at any time. What works today may not work tomorrow, so you have to be constantly up for a challenge. This is not an environment for someone looking for an easy ride.
Pay attention to the big players – a lot of companies like to say that they’re “innovative” but are they really? For a long time we were just trying to keep up. Now I can honestly say we’re ahead of the market and shaping how things are done. That said, it’s still not like we invent things from scratch. We pay close attention to the biggest brands and listen to what they have to say. You need to understand their priorities because that’s a good sign of what’s to come in the future, and if you can align to their key interests then you’re probably going to do pretty well.
Realise that customer experience and brand are the same thing – we deal with impulse purchasing, which means that 99% of the brand experience actually happens after they’ve already bought from us, but that doesn’t make the brand any less important. It’s this post-purchase interaction with the brand that determines their lifetime value (how many months they stay with us). Furthermore, we work with huge mobile carriers that care deeply about their brands and would never be associated with a company that didn’t take its brand seriously.
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