Wriggle’s journey from the Pitch to food app darlings is all about iterations. When Wriggle’s founder Rob Hall took part in The Pitch, BusinessZone’s small business competition, his business was still in its infancy and the app was rudimentary.
That was in 2014. These days, it’s a whole ‘nother beast. “Time’s gone quick, hasn’t it?” says Hall, reflecting on his part in the competition.
Wriggle is essentially a marketplace for local, independent eateries and bars to promote deals. Wriggle users scroll through the daily offerings, pay through the app and present a unique code to the vendor. The app’s seamlessness has made it a favourite staple in Bristol’s cafe culture, and it has now expanded to Cardiff and Brighton.
But Wriggle wasn’t always an app. It's MVP (minimum viable product), Hall explains, was an email service. “We had, say, four hundred people on a mailing list and I’d email them and say ‘there’s a deal at this cafe, ten places available’. Then when they replied, I’d just send them a made up code. They would pay me the next day by bank transfer.
“We did that for two and a half months to test it. The next version was the one we did with a little bit of money.”
The “next version” Hall refers to was Wriggle’s very simple, initial app (also the one they showcased at The Pitch). “We got our first £20,000 from Webstart Bristol [a local incubator],” he says. “That was enough to build a stripped back version of the app.
A lot of people think with an app that you build it and then you stop. In reality, you very quickly realise ‘shit, there’s bugs everywhere’.
“We outsourced the development to Russia. So we were able to build that first version for £6,000. It was pretty basic. When we started, we only had about three-to-four offers a day. It was very manual behind-the-scenes, we created the listings every day.”
To get a developer in the UK would’ve been too expensive for Wriggle’s short runway. And neither was finding a technical co-founder an option, says Hall. “No one was going to ditch their well-paid jobs to come work on my unproven company.”
The Russian development experience was “fine”, ultimately it got Wriggle, well, wriggling. “Looking back now that we have tech in house, it was a different world. It wasn’t nearly as good as the app is now.”
Again, the iterative spirit of Wriggle shines through. Once the building blocks were in place, the product was diligently added to. “A lot of people think with an app that you build it and then you stop.
The company’s next step is what a recent shareholder update called “a modest bridging round” of £200,000.
“In reality, you very quickly realise ‘shit, there are bugs everywhere’. In terms of how we got where we are today, we took a big step a year ago when we broadened out with guide articles and content marketing. That’s part of a broader evolution that will continue for years to come.”
The company’s next step is what a recent shareholder update called “a modest bridging round” of £200,000. The company’s Bristol operation is now profitable and a central goal is to get all three cities to break even.
“If we do that, then we’ve got a clear, profitable business model that works in multiple locations. And then we’re gonna say ‘right, let’s take this across the UK’,” Hall explains. “We had a good year last year, but we realised that we needed a little cash in the bank to hit the break even target next year.
“There’s a lot of people that have failed in this hyper-local space. But we’re going to be in a strong position if we break even and say ‘look, this works’. We can roll out city-by-city at a profit - or we can get more investment at a good valuation and step it up a gear. But we’d be in control.”
Hall’s steady growth trajectory for Wriggle ties in with his advice for prospective Pitch contestants. “The biggest mistakes we made is rushing something out. Don’t rush it. People talk about an MVP - but it’s not a minimum viable product, it should be a minimum loveable product. Consumers are harsh, you want to be sure you nail the product.”