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A Year in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Tue, 17 November 2015

This blog is the third of a special Shell LiveWIRE Global Entrepreneurship Week blog series aimed at celebrating innovation and using it to take your business idea and 'Make it Happen!'
As the current ‘Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ I’ve been asked to reflect on the year since winning the competition, prize money, and, of course, the honour such a title provides.
 
I remember being at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria, surrounded by some of the greatest innovation in Europe – it was meant to provide a welcome three-day retreat from the stress of the office for inspiration. Yet, as I was congratulated over the phone, I was now required to submit a 5,000 word business plan for the Shell competition having reached the final, my heart sunk a little. Whilst Joel (my business partner) swanned around the royal palaces and museums of Vienna, I stayed in the hotel room the whole time, bashing out a business plan because, in true ‘tech startup’ form, we didn’t have one.
 
I was bitter then, but a few weeks later, standing up on the podium at The Royal Festival Hall, award in hand, with a very proud date (my mum, naturally), I was glad to have put the effort in. I had told the judges about the amazing plans I had for the £10k, and yet, reality set in 2 days later. Between crucial funding rounds we were hit with an HMRC bill and the £10k went straight into that. I never saw it again. Easy come easy go.
 
Truth be told, I was putting on a brave face at the time of winning the competition; our concept was decent, but built for web, and the mobile revolution was knocking on the door, and I knew we were about to drastically change. Thank God we did. We were running out of money and investors wouldn’t put back in. We did some back of the napkin type drawings, contracted a Pakistani development agency, and launched Grabble 2.0 as a “Tinder for fashion” app.
It went viral.
 
We were one week away from shutting our doors, but one gloomy Sunday night before X Factor and after the football we launched on Twitter and it blew up. The next day we were number 7 in the lifestyle charts (ironically one spot behind Tinder), and were named “Best New App in 34 countries”.

Daniel Murray
 
In tech they call that change ‘a pivot’. Thank God for the pivot.
 
Immediately we started to get cash in from investors and within two months had closed a £750,000 round. I couldn’t believe it. We finally had enough cash to build a team. And build a team we did.

Up ‘til this point it had been Joel, myself, and three graduates (plus some contractors and freelance designers and developers) all clubbing together to try and make this thing stick. Suddenly we had a plan. We hired a fashion director, a CTO, a product manager, a head of growth, in house developers and a designer.

Suddenly we were truly innovating on our product in quick, meaningful cycles. We were testing out our proposition and learning what stuck, making mistakes, noting the failures, and trying more. We tried to be great at search, great at personalisation, great at algorithms, great at everything at once, trying the student market, the high end market, the mid market – you name it, we tried it. And we got it all wrong many times.
 
We spent a lot of money trying these things but they were such valuable learnings. We finally had a proposition that took months of iterations, new designs, and some serious vision to get towards, and it was a team effort.
 
We continued to win awards, and get a lot of attention in the press. Forbes named us “London’s hottest startup to watch in 2015”. Hubspot (the global go to blog for marketing) wrote about how we were changing the face of ecommerce for the future. The Sunday Times did a profile piece. And for both London Fashion Weeks, there we were, at the top of the homepage in “Best apps for LFW”, right next to Vogue.
 
Then there were the awards. Best Startup at the Drapers Awards (meaningful for me as my late father had subscribed since I was a child), Best Mobile Experience at the British Fashion Council Awards, and the Winners of Pitch at Palace.
 
That prize in particular has seen me pitch at Buckingham Palace, St James Palace, and Kensington Palace almost every two months to a room of unbelievable people. Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), John Johnson (Buzzfeed), Sir Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web). I mean, we are talking some lifelong heroes, and they had sat next to me in the palaces for dinner and heard me pitch – not to mention Prince Andrew, Fergie, Eugenie and Beatrice have now heard me pitch at least six times. I can say that the food at St James’ Palace is better than that at Kensington Palace (but still not as good as my mum’s). What a ridiculous thing to even be able to give comment on.
 
In my ‘spare’ time, I’ve co-founded a London based group for tech and creative founders to have dinner, share stories (ups AND downs), contacts, answers, and all sorts. What started out as a dinner for 10 has grown to an incredibly engaged group of 130 amazing founders who, through the medium of a collaborative email list, communicate with one another to provide helpful tips, advice, introductions and in quite a few cases, funding. Over £500k has been raised from within the founders group. We collaborate to share knowledge through ‘Ted X’ style events, all I need to do is pick the venue, everyone else contributes the rest – it’s a beautiful thing.
 
Joel and I have worked countless nights past midnight, plus entire weekends spent in the office. Never mind the seven day metric, we’ve cruised past 30 days straight at times and admittedly my personal life, friendships, relationships, etc. have suffered. However, our collective ambition and increasing pride for the product that started off as a drawing in my mum’s kitchen and is continually disrupting a retail and publishing industry through the mobile medium is something we wouldn’t give up for anything.
 
We were only one week away from folding; genuinely the Shell LiveWIRE prize money got us past an awkward tax bill, and our launch campaign got us through another funding round. Twelve months on we have just raised a further £850,000 from Angels (bringing us up to around £2m of angel funding – no mean feat to have stayed away from Venture Capital for so long). However, the opportunity before us is immense. It’s global. It will take 60 straight 18-hour days, and I can’t wait. We have just begun to put together our investment documents for a £5m Series A round. We have just moved into a beautiful new office in Finsbury Square.
 
That team of five last year is 14 today and will be 18 by the end of the month.
 
It took us a year of slow, painful, sad, lonely, really difficult, demotivating days to get to 3,000 users on our web platform. After winning the prize, we pivoted entirely, now we reach almost 3,000 new users a day.
 
We are the fastest growing mobile commerce app in the UK. Apple launched a new shopping category - we are featured at the number 1 spot, considered by them as the “Best shopping app”, according to the national email they sent out.
In Berlin last week, we presented to Zalando (the biggest pure E Commerce retailer in Europe) about how we win on mobile. Their head of mobile showed us an email she sent to the CEO who asked who the best mobile e-commerce app in Europe was. She said us, ‘by a country mile’.
 
Next month we are presenting to every single L’Oreal brand about the future of mobile content. In two weeks, the head of e-commerce for M&S is coming in to the office to get ideas from us. In January their CTO asked us to present to their whole e-ommerce team. It’s fair to say I’m proud, but it’s even fairer to say that the award is shared, as is every moment, not just with Joel, but with my team.
 
The one thing I’ve done well is hire. It is the one thing I hope I always do well, because it’s what has made the business what it is today. I currently work with the most talented people I’ve ever had the fortune to work with, and they are amazing, supportive, kind friends, and it makes me proud every day, and I hope I can continue to attract people to our vision because then who knows how great this journey could be.
 
So, as I pass the baton, I pass on this advice; find yourself a business partner you trust with your life who ideally can do everything you can’t, and hire a team of people who challenge you, are smarter than you are but admire your crazy ambition to build a company that you can all be proud of. That’s been our winning formula so far, and long may it continue.
 

About Daniel Murray (Co-founder of Grabble)

Daniel Murray is the co-founder of Grabble and the 2014 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Grabble allows fashionistas to ‘grab’ items on the go by swiping right to like or left to pass creating the ultimate fashion wish list.  Users can also access their wish list directly on their desktop Grabble account allowing purchases to be made on a tablet or laptop.
 
You can follow Grabble on Twitter @Grabble.
 

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