Launching a Student Start-Up; My Story So Far!

Back in 2018, while studying my undergraduate degree, I co-founded a technology start-up to help independent venues increase their revenue. This is the story so far, en-route to our first million!

A couple of weeks before Michael Loney and I entered our first ever pitching competition at University. At the time I was studying Human Geography, and would take the role of non-technical co-founder, while Michael was a Computer Science student and therefore the technical co-founder.

We entered the pitching competition, run by Santander, hoping to get feedback and validate our idea for the business. We ended up winning all the prizes on offer in what was a clean-sweep for our idea. £250, office space for a year, mentoring and access to networks secured we decided to incorporate, start designing and putting time and effort into building up this start-up!

Launch month!

19 months after first conceiving the idea GAIN APPLICATIONS LTD, or GAIN was launched to the public. With 14 partner venues secured for our pre-launch in Swansea (our university city) things were looking bright!

The previous 19 months had been blood, sweat and tears of painstaking bug fixes and changes to comply with App store regs, data laws and to be the best MVP we could bear to launch.

We had also crowdfunded extra funds, taken part in government funded accelerator programs and attended numerous trade shows and entrepreneurship meetings to spread awareness, build up a network of similar student entrepreneurs and more experienced business-people or specialists as well as making sure to have enough venues to make the launch successful.

Launching with around £150 advertising budget is a challenge, when you have very limited experience in advertising it is pretty much impossible; however, we managed to find some effective routes. Sneaking into lecture theatres before classes had started to leave leaflets on each and every seat, we also hid sachets of hot chocolate, with qr codes to our app all around the university library and finally we started to place advertising stickers at all our venues around the city. Now these very low cost methods generated 2,500 registered users onto our platform in the first week. This was way over the estimated 300 we would achieve and meant we could quickly go out to sign more venues up. This cycle of singing up users, and using that to leverage more venues, and then this attracting more users was key to our early growth.

Lockdown strikes! Our platform becomes useless.

Lots of thinking, supporting our partner venues and planning for the future!

We decided to not charge any of the venues on our platform for any of the services we had provided them, over £700 of ‘revenue’ we were leaving on the table. We decided to start using our social medias and app for awareness of our partner venues takeaway and delivery offerings (something we don’t cover as a platform and therefore earning no revenue off of). We also decided to pivot our business model going forward, and have used the year of lockdowns to revamp the platform with feedback we had garnered from our MVP.

More pitching, this time a bigger competition, bigger prizes. We walked away with over £2,000 in funding to help with the redevelopment of our app, to buy hardware to support Michael with development, and to make sure we were in a position to relaunch!

We are finalising our new look platform, focusing less on the discounts and more on the data and helping venues grow. The pivot we made from a commission based business model to a subscription should help us be able to plan spending and investments further into the future, it should also help us generate needed cash much faster!

In September 2020, we were positioned as a purely ‘discounting platform’, allowing venues to flexibly offer discounts when they were not busy, and sharing these to users on our app. Taking a small commission when someone redeemed an offer in store. Now we are moving into offering this, but also building a robust data and analytics function that can help benefit the venue even more. They can see where their customers travel from, what their customers think of their venue, how many new customers we are attracting everyday, how their footfall compares to similar venues in the same city, what hours are their busiest and if this coincides with the weather, day of the week or special event as well as much more customer demographics helping support future menu, pricing, opening times etc.

All for £10 a month!

Over the past 3 years we have built a platform that is helping more than 25 independent venues increase their revenue, we are helping over 10,000 users discover some hidden gems, while saving a few quid, and we are helping local charities by donating a small amount every time an offer is redeemed. All while remaining a team of 2, having spent less than £5,000 and having no prior experience.

If you would like me to write about any particular part of our journey and what we have learnt, please leave a message below.

You can follow our progress @thegainapp

Interested in finance, data and business. Writing a mix of research and opinion!

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