Starting a business from scratch is a daunting task. But if you’re passionate enough about what you want to do, are willing to work more hours than you ever knew existed (and have just a pinch of luck) then you’ve got every chance of success.
The business I created, Resolver, is an online tool that provides a quick, simple way for anyone to make a complaint about anything – and get their voice heard. I recognised that in order to make the process simpler, I needed to help businesses large and small manage the process of handling complaints effectively. Finally, I wanted to help businesses use the insight that their customers give them as an opportunity to improve their own business models.
In my case, the concept for Resolver came about from a really, really bad customer service experience when my boiler broke down. The immediate problem of getting the repairs done was a nightmare - but that turned out to be only half the battle. The subsequent, incomprehensible way the firm went about addressing my complaint was so complex and convoluted I realised that there had to be a better way to get disputes resolved.
Lots of people, from friends to business leaders, told me that I should focus on one market first (for example, complaints about energy companies) then expand from there once we’d trialled the product. While this is certainly good advice, I felt that a bolder approach needed to be taken.
I realised that to a certain degree, I needed to evangelise about Resolver. By convincing large numbers of key industry representatives, politicians, consumer rights experts and other key influencers I could launch Resolver as a multi-platform complaints tool. Many, many meetings later, Resolver was launched - with 1,500 companies signed up and covering 30 sectors.
Investment and initial challenges
Believing in the value of the product is crucial. When I was travelling around the country getting people on board, many people didn’t think I could bring the strands of such disparate industry sectors, dispute schemes and competition between brands together in one standard approach to sorting out complaints. But they saw the value in doing it – and that was half the battle.
Of course, making the business pay was essential in securing that initial funding that helped me get Resolver off the ground. I managed to persuade our earliest investors about the value of the product before we’d completed the revenue model, based on the logic of our approach. Though the Resolver tool for consumers is free, the range of services we can offer businesses – from software to strategy and planning is filled with potential. So unlike other ‘free’ services tied up with big data funding models, our paid-for services were more tangible.
What made my approach to funding different was the fact that most businesses show a model of their early plans and how that will lead to expansion. I knew I needed to demonstrate that consumers could and would use the service in large numbers.
When we launched, there was a feeling in some quarters that Resolver might in some way damage businesses, rather than help them to provide a better experience for their customers. This reaction wasn’t helped by some people confusing the Resolver business model with that of the ‘ambulance chasing’ claims management companies.
That’s why it was vital to listen to those very businesses that we were going to be working with to understand their concerns and find ways to demonstrate the value of Resolver. You have to lead by example - and by sticking to a strong ethics-based awareness raising strategy. Criticising businesses that are bad at customer service can generate headlines, but it can kill a useful business relationship stone dead.
If you know you’re going to be looking for investment, don’t expect that you’ll be able to get it quickly. I found that spending the time with potential investors early gave them the chance to understand the business (especially with a non-traditional, complex business model). Finally, where possible prove that you can deliver results before asking for investment.
Regulators, rights and existing schemes
My enthusiasm for Resolver was enough to get people interested in our product. But Success also hinged on an awful lot of diplomacy. From consumer organisations to regulators and ombudsmen, it was vital that I convinced them of the value of Resolver.
I did this primarily by engaging with them early in the process and showing that we were not adding an unnecessary step to existing complaints processes. It was also important that I demonstrated our value not just to them but in the ways we could help improve practices across various sectors. We did this by incorporating simple but effective ways in our system for people to give the necessary information to make a complaint. This was designed to facilitate early resolution without the need of regulatory or ombudsman involvement. Regulators require facts not theory, so working with them towards a common goal is an ongoing process. But as our data began to speak for itself, so they began to speak for us.
Let’s be realistic though. These organisations didn’t need to engage with Resolver. So I had to prove we were not going away. You get used to being told ‘no’ in polite euphemistic, direct and disappointing ways. What matters then is when making sure that they realise you aren’t going away.
In the world of social media and the internet, people source information and seek help in rapidly changing ways. So I built relationships with online pioneers of consumer rights, like Martin Lewis the Money Saving Expert so I could understand the needs of their many users. Working with Martin and his team gives us access to many people who simply wouldn’t have known about Resolver as quickly. But I knew full well that the underlying product had to be effective – or we risked opening the door to much more criticism than we ever could have imagined.
Using a three-hit system to get in touch with partners
Before launching the service, there were a lot of companies, regulators and government departments who I needed to engage with. It’s easy to get lost with such a huge to-do list. So I started using a trusty, three-hit system to get my foot through the door that worked time and again. Regardless of how you’ve made the first introduction, it’s important to follow up in writing. The system is ridiculously straightforward.
- Send out the first email in which you explain why you’re getting back in touch, a short overview and a few links. Very few senior people or executives respond to this initial approach – especially if it’s cold
- In the second email, you update the recipient on what’s happened in the two weeks since the first email. Keep it simple and use bullet points to separate out the key achievements so they can see the scope of what’s happening. Lots of people still don’t respond
- Finally, wait another two weeks and send another progress update email. This is the one that most people respond to – and keep responding to. Persistence is vital – but not to the point of being annoying. So it helps to be pragmatic about situations you can turn around straight away and ones that will be more effectively approached once you’ve demonstrated the value of what you’ve done
Listen to advice, but think for yourself
When I set up Resolver, almost everyone I met had opinions on what we should do, how we should do it and what was most important to focus on and get right first. This is great – listen to as many varied opinions as you can. Some advice will be good, some bad. What you should never lose sight of is the fact that no one knows your business as well as you do. So solicit the opinions of others as much as you can, but don’t lose sight of your vision in other people’s ideas and suggestions.
If your idea is strong, you’ll get loads of offers of support. In practice, those offering rarely deliver. But always accept a well-meant offer. Just don’t rely on it!
One final tip…
I’m so proud of what the team at Resolver has achieved. No matter what you do, have faith in your vision. It will evolve and you’ll need to adapt quickly, but if you believe in your product, you can succeed. No matter what though bear in mind that your plans will take three times as long and cost three times more than what you expect – no matter how much you budget for it.
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About James Walker
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. I specialise in taking difficult problems and turning them into opportunities.
If it hasn't been done, then it's because no one has worked out how to do it yet! Developed Resolver from taking a failure I had and working out how to create an opportunity.
I have been responsible for innovation, product development and strategy across the telecoms, integration, software, retail and now consumer rights markets. Each new experience
helps to create new opportunities.