In Reviews We Trust

EP3: How actively listening to feedback helped me grow a multi million pound business: Eddie Whittingham

April 13, 2022 Callum Mckeefery
In Reviews We Trust
EP3: How actively listening to feedback helped me grow a multi million pound business: Eddie Whittingham
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Callum McKeefery, host and CEO of REVIEWS.io is in conversation with Eddie Whittingham, the founder of gofounder.com discussing the importance of garnering feedback and how it can not only grow your online reputation with customers but assist with growing the visibility of your business to potential investors. They then go on to talk about the lonely role of being a founder and how with a community of like minded entrepreneurs, GoFounder allows you to avoid roadblocks when creating your business.

Episode links:
Eddie Whittingham:
linkedin.com/in/eddiewhittingham/
twitter.com//eddwhittingham

Callum McKeefery:
linkedin.com/in/callum-mckeefery-1086b47/
https://twitter.com/callummckeefery

Show notes:
www.gartner.com/reviews/home
www.gofounder.com/

REVIEWS.io is a leading online review platform. Its used by over 8,200+ fast growing brands. To find out more please go to:

www.reviews.io
linkedin.com/company/reviews-co-uk

[00:00:00] Callum: So today we have Eddie Whittingham on the ‘In Reviews We Trust’ Podcast. Eddie has what can only be described as an eclectic CV. He's been a police officer, a lawyer, a private investigator and a startup founder. He sold his cybersecurity company startup to a NASDAQ listed firm. Eddie is now building one of the world's most supportive startup groups GoFounder.com.

[00:00:30] Eddie, welcome to the show. Really nice to have you on, I mean, your CV is eclectic to say the least. I've never had a former police officer on show before. How long were you a police officer? 

[00:00:43] Eddie: Hi, thanks for inviting me on. I was there in the police force for just shy of 10 years, actually. So quite a while I joined the police relatively naively, when I was 18 to be fair.

[00:00:54] Callum: Wow. And obviously the lawyer and the police thing, private investigator, how did they all come together in you starting you cybersecurity startup?

[00:01:03] Eddie: I'd been a police officer for a number of years and was looking for what could I do beyond that? I didn't see myself in that for the rest of my life. and at the time, the only kind of logical thing in my mind was to make a step and carry on in the legal sector. I obviously got a decent background in it to date, and so I studied law to then go as a trainee solicitor. Got a training contract in a really good law firm. It was kind of one of them weird moments where you sit down on the first day and you think, oh shit, this isn't what I wanted to do. I’d very much kind of gone along with the flow and thought, right, I'll become a lawyer. So I quite quickly, when I was at the law firm was kind of thinking, what else could I do? What do I want to do? What one of them think of me, I've just literally spent all this time and money studying to be a lawyer. And I was, I had to do two years as a trainee. I was seeing that this law firm was using private investigation companies for things like litigation debt and that sort of thing, and I just thought, do you know what, if anyone can do that, I could with my backgrounds and the mix of skills, and I thought, why not give it a go? So I effectively set up a job for myself is the reality.

[00:02:06] Okay. In that first one, again, was that really what I wanted to do ? studied it all that time to be a private investigator truth be told it wasn't. So then again, was just keeping an open mind really as to what could I do. Relatively organically stumbled into this idea of providing a bunch of services around helping businesses stop fraud and crime. And very quickly niche down into, into the one which was online training around cyber security to help employees prevent things like phishing and that sort of thing.

[00:02:37] Callum: Cyber fraud is such a huge space. I mean, I actually really liked the space. It's a space that I actively want to invest in. looking at it from your point of view, doing the training on the phishing side.

I mean, that's always going to be there and obviously you built up a good business and then you sold out. So how did that come about? Did they approach you before? 

[00:02:59] Eddie: I got approached after about three years on LinkedIn actually, just to inquire about working together really, it was largely as a result of some of the work we'd done in the space, and that was two fold, really. It was to build our brand up and get more awareness for us as an organization, but also came to the benefit of being noticed by the bigger players in the market. So we knew we were up against it, but what we also knew was we would try to approach things differently. So our whole ethos was can we make something that is fundamentally boring and what most people don't want to do and make it interesting.

[00:03:29] So we deliberately had a brand that was very different to the typical brands that are in the cyberspace. We were bright yellow, it was really punchy. So we had some BBC comedy writers write comedy sketches for us the whole shebang.

It was really varied. One of the things that we did really well was, there was a review platform called Gartner peer insights, which was particularly used in the cyber security space. And we built up a really good review reputation on that. and it inevitably got us noticed by not only potential clients, but also, ultimately the company that bought us, so it was interesting how the review process obviously holds value from a social proof point of view.

[00:04:07] But actually then also was one of the large reasons that a big organization suddenly looked at us and were like crikey, these guys are killing it. 

[00:04:15] Callum: Yeah, that put you on the radar. You do see that there's platforms like G2 crowd where we even collect reviews so we can compare against our peers and it definitely does get the smaller brands noticed on those platforms. It levels the playing field a little bit. If you're offering good service and you're doing a good job and you get good reviews, it can definitely get you noticed by the bigger players in the space and that's obviously what's happened with you.

[00:04:40] So how long did it take for the deal to go through? Was it quick and easy?

[00:04:44] Eddie: Well, yeah it took a while. There were times when I thought it was on - times I thought it was off, all the usual sort of stuff, really. But it's about not pinning your hopes on it. I hadn't gotten overly carried away with the fact that we were going to sell it. So my default was running a business that I started running and I was building and it was going really well.

[00:05:02] So I was never too much there really cause the, the backup was what I was enjoying doing anyway. 

[00:05:09] Callum: Right there. This is one of the things that I think startup founders struggle with. You've created this business. It's your baby. You've got your first customers. You've done great.

You've got great reviews. You've making traction. And now this bigger company comes along and goes, right. We want to buy you. Did you have that seller's remorse where you, after the sale went through, you were like, what am I going to do now?

[00:05:29] Eddie: This is something I've been asked before and the first person who probably raised this as a question was actually to my dear mom. She was like, but are you not selling your baby? Are you not going to regret selling it? I always had that in the back of my mind, what I was going through the post. I was like, well, I don't want to do is I don't leave that position where I regret, because that would be horrific. I think what I probably was relatively happy with was having come from like a job, when I was in the police, you in a negative way, you're almost given an identity based on the fact you're a police officer. So when I used to go to like a party or something as a 19/20 year old, I'd be introduced as Eddie, the copper. And I honestly used to hate that because I was like, that's not me.

[00:06:08] Like, I'm just Eddie. I've almost grown up with this thing of like, wanting to have a slight separation between what as a day job and my own identity. So I guess I was semi removed from the business in that sense. Second year the offer was more than fair. And I did very well out of it and, going into COVID at the time as well. Let's not forget. So there's all sorts of market problems on the horizon. I've been very fortunate. I can say. Yeah, touch wood. I don't regret it. 

[00:06:34] Callum: Awesome.

[00:06:35] I mean, all I know whenever I think about looking an exit or anything like that, and we have done in the past here at REVIEWS.io. It kind of makes my stomach hurt a little bit when I think about that process. And when I think about that end date, My baby's gone sort of thing. So after you sold the cybersecurity business. How quickly did you get back on your feet and launch gofounder.com 

[00:06:58] Eddie: Well Gofounder has always been like something in the back of my mind, probably even since I started my start-up initially I joined an accelerator program. It was run by one of the banks and Yeah. I found like the community aspect really helpful, but I think the thing that I personally felt laid down was some of the help and guidance from the entrepreneurs in terms of content.

[00:07:18] So, always was like, oh, I wish there was something better out there to help people. So as things are progressing with the conversations around the set-up of my start-up, I was kinda thinking, God, would it be great if I could build something that I wished I'd had when I started.

[00:07:33] So for me, that's how I kind of saw that was like a community of people in a similar boat. Cause. I don't know, it felt many people listen to this, but it's a lonely place when you're running And then also some of those early stage hand holdings of some of the key topics that we all go through, like, how would you hire a first employee even walking you through what your books mean and what are the basic things you need to understand from that?

[00:07:56]Which you know, I never really got a good handle on until quite far into my business truth. Be told because I didn't want to learn about it, but I've never been given an easy way to learn about it was always like the dreaded meeting with the accountant that you never want it to go to. And so, yeah, just trying to make things more accessible for start-ups.That was the goal really 

[00:08:16] Callum: awesome. Awesome. How many members have you got founder at the minute? Do you call them members? What are they called? 

[00:08:23] Eddie: Yeah members. So it was about 900 and something people signed up. Mostly UK based. We can have of teed it up as a UK service. But naturally there's people from different parts of the world have joined as well. Cause they hopefully see some value in it. I mean, we did a freemium model start with just to get some people and get a lot of feedback and the usual feedback loops and things like that.

[00:08:44] And then, yeah, it's good to see there's an acrive community in there and hopefully some good business going around as well. Third one, 

[00:08:50] Callum: That's a lot of people given a lot of content. So how does the community work , can the founders talk to each other or have you built like different communications? Is it on slack or have you built your own system? 

[00:09:01] Eddie: So it's our own system. So effectively you can communicate direct private message, one another. But then yeah, this almost, this is kind of like a community feed, similar to when you go on Facebook. But one of the things that's been really useful is we've got this thing called burning questions.

[00:09:14] So the idea behind that is any question that you've got, that's keeping you up at night, stick it in there. I will respond. All the people in the, in the community will respond as well with their feedback and their thoughts. So, if you're hitting a problem, like shall I hire someone? Shall I get a part-time hire or whatever it might be - shall I  get a consultant. You can ask them like you're struggling with and get all the people's inputs. And personally, the reason why I think they are so valuable is because they're not loaded answers. If I was out on LinkedIn and I'm going to get loads of people trying to sell to me, which is not what you want, you want someone's experience of kind of getting through it.

[00:09:47] Callum: Yeah, I do get it. I get the, the community aspects. I I'd imagine, there's a lot of value there that they can get out of it. And I think, like you say, it's not handholding and having people in the community who maybe have already done it, who step along and say, right, have you hit this milestone?

[00:10:07] Do this before you make that first hire and it's also a gut check, isn't it for that founder is not too confident. They can post something and gut check it. Because like you said, being a founder is a lonely place. You can't really go and talk to your friends about it down the pub because they're not going through the same things as you right now. What do you think of the startup scenes, like in the UK at the moment, post-pandemic? You know, what's it like out there for founders? 

[00:10:37] Eddie: I think it's pretty active. I've been surprised at how active it has been. I think part of the whole comments that the great resignation and while that's probably more of an American than an English one, I think we're seeing people recognizing there are opportunities to at least set your own business up where you can earn what you're earning in employment and things like that. I think that's a trend that's not going to go away. I think that's probably a cultural trend that we're going to say for the next, however many years in terms of scalable startups, it's probably still a bit of a Rocky time.

[00:11:12]But, there's still plenty of investments happening, I'm still based in Manchester and there’s still a lot of  investments happening, people are still actively looking for it. There's some great VC funds you know, which are actively investing all the time as well. And from a couple of the angels that I speak to they're pretty busy as well.

[00:11:26] So I think all in all not as bad as I thought it maybe would have been. 

[00:11:29] Callum: That's really interesting. I think people have been at home, maybe joining the lockdowns and so forth and thought, you know what, I'm going to give this a go and maybe taken that leap.

[00:11:39] So hopefully people have done that because that would be a great use of that time during the lockdown to actually create a side business or something that they could go and build. Talking about funding. The UK has always liked hind the U S in tech funding. How do you see UK VC's stepping up?

[00:12:00] Eddie: Yeah, we don't currently have any VCs or angels involved in the platform. Deliberately at the moment. I think it's too early to try and introduce them, but I think eventually we might look at it not as a channel, but we would have the founders go out and try and find that. In terms of what's it like at the minute?

Yeah, you're absolutely spot on when you say we're still miles behind the US and the risk appetite is still completely different in the UK . If I'm honest, I don't think we're ever going to catch that up. However, there are still some really progressive VC funds and, and obviously, you know, progressive angels as well.

[00:12:37] Callum: Yeah, there's some really good angels in the UK. Definitely. And some got early round VCs in the UK. I just don't see the bigger VCs throwing,bigger checks around.

[00:12:47] Eddie: No. I tend to agree with that. And I, we are a long way behind America in that sense, actually, they're almost different yardsticks and goalposts in terms of the measurements, in terms of how to how's it, get it.

[00:12:59] And what qualifies you to get that as well. You can go far, far earlier to a VC in America, then you can here for example. We've got some pros and I think we've got a really good sort of generally speaking angels investment piece. And there's still a lot of angels willing to take very early stage punts. But yeah, I think the VCs are still quite far behind.

[00:13:17] Callum: So we have the big debate at the moment. Everyone was obviously in the office pre COVID and then COVID happened and then this new remote, everybody going remote. How do you see it from your standpoint with Gofounder? Do you think it's a good idea to be fully remote? Or do you think that people should get back in the office?

[00:13:38] Eddie: It's a bit of a hybrid approach for me. I think we're at a stage now where it's like, to be fully remote and will work for a lot of busy. Of course it will. Would I have wanted for my start-up to be fully remote?No, I don't think I would, because I think for what we were doing, when we were creating like training content, there's so much collaboration that you needed, I've still yet to find a tool that really is very good at collaborating online versus face-to-face. Well, yeah, for sure that the draws and the benefits of working from home are massive for the individuals, and I think it's been great because it massively empowers employees. I think the challenges for employers are that they've got to then figure it out. I think what I'm starting to see,  and even what I'm sort of somewhat semi-invested in, so maybe there's a slightly biased answer.

[00:14:22] There's a shift towards that real flexible work. So have a base, but maybe rather than ever in a, you know, if you've got a hundred employees, you have a hundred seats, you may be off 30 seats and you rotate it. Those teams need to collaborate on which days, that sort of thing. So yeah I think the hybrid probably is a way to go. Just with an awareness that employees are demanding more. 

[00:14:42] Callum: Yeah. We've gone pretty much hybrid here. I do find that some of our roles, especially development and marketing, definitely work better in the office because they can bounce ideas around. I don't know whether you can count that same communication over Zoom. I don't think you can. What's the biggest mistake you see new founders make in your network? What do founders inherently do? All those first-time founders. And how can we stop it happening? 

[00:15:12] Eddie: I'm trying to think of what I did. I probably got a list as long as my arm. I think sometimes it's not being totally receptive to the feedback. The getting of whether that feedback is a lack of sales or it's like direct feedback.I think the problem is, as founders, you are so married to your idea and you're so passionate about it, it's so weirdly difficult to listen to feedback. And I think the founders that  ultimately succeeded, are the ones that listen, that are actually listening and then adapt quickly. Sometimes I speak to founders they’ve been like flogging essentially a dead horse for months or years and it's quite clear, that's not going to work  an outsider. 

Well, they're just too close to it and they don't see that. The founders that go on to do well are the ones that are actually almost not too married to that. It's almost able to stand off a little bit to be able to move, to move it. kind of screwing yourself a little bit. 

[00:16:06] Callum: Yeah. I can definitely see that. I've seen very similar, like to what you say, where thier holding on too tightly to that idea and not pivoting off to something else when it's clearly not working. People not launching for me is always the biggest one. First time startup founders it is that they're not launching quick enough. I see people not, doing MVPs and just going straight in with a massive product. not testing that product before. It's so easy to test the product now so quick and easy.

[00:16:36] Eddie: Completely agree. But I think out comes from the fear of failing isn't it?

[00:16:40] Because as soon as they get out to market, the sooner it either will or won't work. And then that could be the end of the road for them in terms of their dream of being the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur thing is that it's a little bit trendy as well, which is a dangerous place to be. 

[00:16:54] Callum: I think definitely there's that fear of failure, but I also think they're not set up for success a lot of times they've not got the right co-founders or they're not backing themselves, or they're not learning enough. I see too many founders really waste so much time deep and buried in their own products. And it's painful. We had one guy, who left reviews that I had to come and launch a startup. And literally two years later it's still not launched. And I was like, come on, you've got a launch. 

[00:17:21] Eddie: What's really interesting is as a founder, you think it's got to be amazing, but actually like the tolerance out there is actually people are very tolerable of like quite poorly designed or poorly executed, things provided, they believe in it.

[00:17:36] So you're a hundred percent just get it out as quick as humanly possible to see if someone's willing to give you some cold, hard cash for it. And that's the only test that. 

[00:17:45] Callum: Cold hard feedback. I mean, just listen, just go on Twitter and all your peers launch, get feedback from your peers and then innovate on it. Feedback is the innovation loop. You need your own ideas and you need that spark, but also you need feedback to reinforce those ideas and help you pivot and help you make decisions. And that's probably my biggest thing. What's the most promising startup you've recently seen coming out of the UK. There's gotta be one where you've gone. Oh my God. If they do that, everything right here, they're on for this could be a unicorn.

[00:18:22] Eddie: I think people chase this unicorn status. I think, yeah, I'm a, I'm a firm believer that, you know, you can make very, very, very profitable businesses that can get you healthy, healthy, exits, or a great lifestyle.

[00:18:36] Just doing what everyone else is doing, but you just do it better or cheaper. So loads of great businesses out there, like so many amazing new start-ups I see, but I can't put a finger on a good Unicon. 

[00:18:48] Callum: Probably for me in the UK at the minute there's a couple of really good startups in the app space, in the Shopify app space. I see a few where they, I think they really could go on to do amazing things. There's a lot in  Manchester way and Middlesborough, and in the north of the country, I see a lot of good tech startups coming out of that area. Definitely Sales fire Aero Commerce is one that I think could be a dark horse. I think they've got a really big opportunity. What's the one piece of advice you would give to all startup founders apart from. Join co-founder of course. Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:19:25] Eddie: Apart from that, I think just get on with it. Take action and get moving like. You can spend days and weeks on a business plan, but you'll rip it up the first week. You could spend years making the perfect product. Don't just get out as quick as humanly possible, even if it's crap, just get out and test it and get the feedback stuff.

[00:19:45] So like with every there's so much to do in a bit, You cannot afford to take too long. So it's like, this is a classic bit of advice. Like if it's good enough, then it's good enough. Don't wait for perfection just to a decent level of seven out of 10 and move on. And you've got to do, you've got to do a seven out of 10 across every part of your business to be successful.

[00:20:03] There's no point doing a 10 out of 10 on one thing. And then you're a three out of 10 on a sales, it's pointless.

[00:20:08] Callum: Just a funny thing. Only wrote the business plan for REVIEWS.io. In the cinema, why all my kids were watching a movie in the dark. I literally did the whole business plan on my phone in an hour, I did the SWAT analysis, I did everything during a, a Pixar cartoon. I can't even remember which one it was. It might've been, it was a while ago. So it might be toy story two or something. But yeah, I really agree with you there. You've got to take action.In those early days, you've got to get out, meet people and have conversations. The one piece of advice I always kind of give is look, the more conversations you have, the luckier, you will get.

[00:20:51] The more clients you will get. More feedback you will get. I don't care whether it's face to face conversations or on Twitter. LinkedIn, but the more conversations you have, the luckier you get every single time.

[00:21:02] Eddie: It's doing things for me that aren’t scalable when you start, you know, you know, when I started mine, it was obviously like a sort of SAS, cybersecurity, SAS business effectively. And, but, but I started that by selling. to people at a cyber security networking event. And my first customer is 15 quid a month, which is nowhere near where we ended up. And by the end of it, we were taking inbound leads for 40 grand in contracts. But you have to start somewhere, have to do things that aren't scalable and for me.

It was like going to loads of network and events, which clearly weren't worth 15 quid a month, but they are to get you started. And that's the point? Isn't it? Like, you're not above that, don't think you're too. 

[00:21:42] Callum: Yeah, no, definitely. Eddie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate it. I will put Eddie's LinkedIn and Twitter handles in the show notes so you can give them a follow.

[00:21:55] I would definitely recommend it, some really interesting stuff about being a founder and definitely go and look at his solution. Gofounder.com. Really appreciate Eddie. Thank you so much for being on ‘In Reviews We  Trust.’ 

[00:22:12] Eddie: Thanks so much. 

[00:22:13] Callum: Thank you for listening today. In Reviews We Trust is a bi-weekly podcast where I hope to be bringing you advice and insights from brands that are taking the e-commerce world by storm.