It’s seems apt that the company David Hellard co-founded has the word ‘zip’ in it. Hellard is a ball of energy, reeling off Zipcube’s pitch with inspiring zest. The company’s aim is nothing less than revolutionising the meeting room.
We spoke to Hellard about his vision for Zipcube, the co-work movement and how to handle the amorous attention of VC backers.
This is the latest in our The Investibles series of startup profiles.
1. What is your investment status?
We closed a large seed round towards the end of last year, we are currently rolling out our new technology and proving our business model before we open up for Series A, if we need additional funding.
2. Describe your business in one paragraph; what’s its vision and what problem does it solve?
Everything meeting rooms. We provide free space management software and an online marketplace to manage your meeting rooms internally, monetize your rooms externally or find and book a meeting room anywhere, all on one platform.
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Private offices can now manage their rooms online and with an app for free. If their rooms are empty they can rent them out. If their rooms are full they can book someone else’s or book a nearby hotel, co-working space or serviced office. Meeting rooms are sat empty 60% of the time – with zipcube.com that’s changing.
3. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
We were inspired by the impact Airbnb had on the hotel industry and wanted to find a new industry that could be disrupted. Office space was the answer, but unlike Airbnb we have not limited ourselves to just private offices (our industries equivalent of residential), you have the choice of a private office, a hotel, a coworking space.
Zipcube.com is more akin to combining Booking.com with Airbnb. It gives our customers not only a wider choice, but also cheaper options to traditional space.
4. What’s your addressable market?
The meetings market in the UK was estimated at £1.6bn in 2011, but this was only for meetings for over 12 people and longer than four hours.
Our average meeting size is less than 8 people and average booking period less than four hours, so the market not counted in these figures is extremely large.
Uber significantly increased the number of taxis booked by changing the price point of taxis. Once customers have easy access to meeting rooms, significantly cheaper than they can currently, it will also change their behaviour, increasing the size of the market.
5. What’s great about your team and do you have a mentor?
Our team offers a variety of viewpoints. Guillaume, the CEO, comes from private equity in France. Will, the CTO, was designing systems for HSBC and Imperial College, and my background was events marketing with Accenture, dealing with hotels and conference centres on a day-to-day basis.
We are mentored by Laurence Marlor, founder of Rentalcars.com and Andrew Weisz, former MD of Goldman Sachs and startup investor. For the past year, we have also been part of the MassChallenge, an incubator with countless mentors who have offered free training and advice, which has been invaluable.
6. What key challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We started out as a platform for meetings, desks, conferences and events, so the first challenge was refining our offering, as the four markets were too broad to creative a platform with intuitive UI.
We decided on meeting rooms, as they were the only vertical where customers would book through a website, without having to visit the space first. Creating simple technology is also extremely complicated, as meeting rooms and the way they are priced is surprisingly varied. It’s taken a long time to get the technology right, but we know that it puts us ahead of our competition.
7. How have you funded your startup and why did you choose this route?
We were self-funded originally and then lucky enough to receive a UKTI grant through the Sirius program and Ignite 100.
We received additional support from the MassChallenge, who not only housed us, but also provided expert mentors and a prize of £25,000. Since then we have raised a large seed round, which will see us through to proving our business model, when we will raise Series A, should we need to.
8. How do you market your business and how successful has it been so far?
We have not aggressively marketed our company yet, mainly because until we had the free space management software, the website was based solely on booking requests and required a lot of customer support, so we didn’t want to flood ourselves with bookings until more of the process was automated.
We have done well in pitch competitions and startup competitions in general, winning Thinking Digital and coming second at The Pitch 100, which is run by the team behind BusinessZone, and Pirate summit in addition to a MassChallenge Gold award and being selected for the Everline Future 50 list.
Because we are a transformative technology we have had a fair bit of press interest, featuring in the New York Times, Evening Standard, Forbes and the Economist. Companies and venues have been coming to us to use our free software and once a company are using Zipcube to manage their internal meeting rooms, they’re naturally going to book external meetings with the same system and that’s when we make our money.
9. What are your plans for the future?
Bigger and better. We want anyone to be able to instantly book a meeting room anywhere, at any time which means that our software needs to be robust enough to work for a private office and a hotel, a coworking space and a restaurant’s private dining room.
We will obviously expand into new countries, but also expand into new spaces. Any professional space that could be used as a meeting room will soon be on our platform, whether that’s a private dining room or the bank manager’s old office.
10. If you started again, is there anything you would do differently?
We should have thrown out the minimum viable product of our website and rebuilt it from scratch. Our website was built by several contractors and as a result was unscalable and a mess of code.
Will, our CTO, had the unenviable task of having to rewrite and debug five different sets of code, whilst maintaining a working site and it took us a very long time just to develop a website whose backend could deliver what the front end promised.
We also spoke to VCs too early. Following our pitch at The Pirate Summit we were approached by many of the leading VCs which was flattering, but we were not established enough to have the traction for Series A funding. It wasted a lot of time needlessly, as we were still small enough to only need seed funding.
11. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are starting a business?
Get a support network, it’s vital. Whether that’s as part of an incubator like the MassChallenge, a group of industry experts or evangelical customers. A great idea can be implemented in so many different ways, so you need to be constantly testing and gathering feedback to get it right. An incubator is a shortcut from having to learn from your own mistakes – learn from others mistakes so you don’t have to.