While technology, consumer shopping behavior, and online engagement have evolved dramatically over the last decades, e-commerce has failed to keep up with innovations and trends in social media, live streaming, conversational and cross-border commerce, or virtual shopping.
Tired of the constraints of this one-size-fits-all blueprint – the homepage, collection pages, product pages, and checkout – entrepreneurs, creators, and brands want to push the boundaries, innovate and scale their stores.
This is why we are excited to back Popup, a no-code e-commerce platform for merchants of all sizes, on a mission to change that. Founded by Matteo Grassi and Corey Holmes, former co-workers at Shopify, Popup is a fresh spin on e-commerce platforms.
The company offers a modular, customizable platform for sellers to serve their unique customers anywhere in the world. Recognising that most shoppers’ journeys aren’t linear, Popup enables sellers to direct consumers to multiple entry points and pathways to purchase.
Popup Stores allow sellers to visually control the customer journey – creating powerful sales journeys and unique, personalized experiences that convert visitors into paying customers. On the backend, Popup offers the ability to optimize workflows by automating tasks and helping marketers to A/B test pages, journeys, checkout, and more. Thus, they provide actionable data that sellers can use to improve their customers’ experience.
Popup’s visual drag-and-drop Journey Builder helps sellers set up their stores to guide customers through the entire buying process. The no-code, modular approach to page sections allows sellers to uniquely customize their site to their brand and customers’ needs.
Frustrated with creating short-term fixes on existing e-commerce platforms, Holmes and Grassi recognized that the industry was broken and decided to change it. “The experience was clunky and not intuitive at all for both the creator and the customer,” explains Holmes. “Especially for businesses who lack the budget for a completely custom commerce solution, there hasn’t been much choice. The back-ends are archaic, and the front-ends seem amateur. Businesses are struggling to compete.”
He adds: “When we started building Popup we knew it couldn’t just be another bandaid app that sits on top of an existing platform. We had to build entirely new commerce capabilities that enable people to do things once considered impossible. Enabling them to build unique, personalized experiences while having control over the customer journey.
With Popup, entrepreneurs, creators, and brands are (…) given the flexibility to ignite their imagination and redefine what is possible.”
Alongside its commerce technology, Popup has created a community for those inspired by entrepreneurship to gather, learn, mentor, and network. They also launched Popup TV, an entertaining, educational, and thought-provoking channel dedicated to redefining entrepreneurship through original content.
Grassi emphasizes the two-fold vision for Popup: “We’re entrepreneurs and we serve a community of entrepreneurs. There is nothing more gratifying than to provide a platform that businesses of all sizes can use…and use well. Popup will enable businesses with what they need to compete. And we’re creating better shopping experiences along the way for everyone. It’s a win-win.”
On why we invested, our Managing Partner Carlos Espinal comments:
“The number of e-commerce entrepreneurs is booming, while consumer behaviours are constantly changing. We are excited to back Matteo and Corey, two e-commerce veterans with a strong entrepreneurial and creative spirit and a keen sense for customers’ needs. We believe Popup will be a game-changer for the online commerce industry.”
Popup raised $3.5M in pre-seed round funding led by Accel, joined by us, 20VC, Sam Parr (The Hustle & My First Million Podcast), Kieran Flanagan (SVP of Marketing at Hubspot), Johnny Boufarhat (Founder & CEO of Seedcamp-backed Hopin), Alex Zaccaria (Founder of Linktree), Jeff Weiser (Ex-CMO of Shopify), Blair Beckwith (Ex-Head of partnerships of Shopify), and others. The funding will be used to launch Popup, grow the team, and invest in marketing and partnerships.
To learn more about Popup and join the waitlist, visit popup.store.
As stricter privacy laws come into effect, companies of all sizes are actively looking for ways to adopt their first-party data strategies. With the end of third-party cookies, marketing teams are the most impacted and need new, privacy-compliant data solutions to optimize their campaigns across all activation platforms. Legacy customer data platform solutions (CDP) such as Adobe, mParticle, or Salesforce present many limitations to wide adoption, especially for companies with small marketing budgets. These limitations include expensive subscriptions, complex technical implementation, and the fact that they store customers’ data in their backend.
This is why we are excited to back, DinMo, a Paris-based SaaS platform for non-technical teams that can help businesses access and use customer data without code. Founded and led by Oussama Ghanmi, ex-Chief Data Officer at the French Next-40 Edech company Ornikar and a seasoned data consultant – DinMo is on a mission to create a new standard for the Customer Data Platform industry by leveraging companies’ existing cloud data warehouses.
While working as Data Director, Ghanmi identified a new way to solve the rapidly growing need for marketing teams to have an easy-to-use solution to access and use their customer data across all their activation platforms.
“I worked for a global apparel brand on building a data platform on Snowflake. At the end of the project, someone from the marketing team asked me to add a table on a dashboard so he could extract the data in a CSV file, then build some audiences out of it. He was also uploading these audiences manually to advertising platforms every week. It didn’t make sense, and I immediately saw an opportunity to build on top of the warehouse a solution for non-technical teams to connect their data warehouse to all their activation tools,” says Oussama Ghanmi
Easy to implement, DinMo can be live in minutes, and companies can see their data flowing immediately. The product’s two main features – data segmentation and activation – enable users to create customer segments with a visual audience builder based on online and offline data and then sync them to all marketing platforms with one click.
“We are convinced that by cutting data and tech teams bottlenecks, business teams can iterate rapidly and generate value for the organization. We started by simplifying the data segmentation and activation tasks, but we didn’t want to stop there. We are working on a set of new features to ensure they use data effectively and then show them the incremental value they generate by each strategy,” adds Ghanmi.
DinMo launched publicly in early September and already has several paying customers, including public French real estate company Nexity and the French VOD company Salto.
On why we backed DinMo, Felix Martinez from our investment team comments:
“With the phasing out of third-party cookies, companies are actively looking for ways to adopt first-party data strategies. It’s the perfect timing to launch a new generation CDP for marketers and we believe Oussama and the DinMo team have the perfect blend of proximity to the problem space and operational expertise to become a key player in the modern data stack. We at Seedcamp are super excited to be leading their preseed round”.
We are excited to lead DinMo’s first investment round, joined by our friends at Kima Ventures, Motier Ventures, Financière Saint James, and an experienced cohort of business angels with proven track records in building successful tech companies in marketing and data fields, including Amirhossein Malekzadeh (cofounder of Logmatic) and Stéphane Levy (Founder and President of Labelium).
With the fresh funding, the DinMo team plans to accelerate its product development by hiring more engineers within the product team, and adding performance reporting features, and covering more data use cases for nontechnical teams.
To learn more about DinMo and to start for free, visit dinmo.io.
The DinMo team is growing. Check out their career page.
The shift to remote work for the customer service industry during the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay. With it comes previously unforeseen challenges, in particular: isolation, a loss of work-life balance, and pervasive workforce surveillance. Spreadsheets and archaic workforce management software have been long outdated, and remote and hybrid work clearly proved their inadequacy in running companies. Furthermore, in an uninspired effort to preserve efficiency and work productivity, many managers fell into the trap of invasively tracking and monitoring their teams, further eroding the trust-based employee-employer relationship.
This is why we are excited to back, Surfboard, a collaborative planning software that connects disparate systems and data, aiming to make work more human by reducing burnout and increasing scheduling flexibility to match how people want to work. Founded in 2021, at the height of the Covid crisis, the UK-based company is on a mission to redefine how teams work together through increased transparency, fair scheduling, and collaborative team planning.
The status quo for managing Customer support teams includes cobbled-together systems comprising ticketing providers, time-off data from HR platforms, meetings from calendars, messaging from Slack or Teams, and spreadsheets. When adding in the complexities of remote working, multiple time zones, and flexible work patterns, scheduling becomes a nightmare for managers and leads to underperforming teams.
Surfboard’s intuitive and easy-to-use platform streamlines team management and scheduling into a quick, seamless, and adaptable process. Within one week of using Surfboard, customers have seen an 80% reduction in the time spent on scheduling and a significant improvement in service levels. Surfboard’s growing roster of customers includes Bloom & Wild, Cuckoo Internet, Lick, Wolf & Badger, KatKin, and Hypervolt.
Natasha Ratanshi-Stein, CEO and founder of Surfboard, emphasizes:
“Poorly managed scheduling kicks off a vicious cycle of long wait times, lost revenue, employee churn and increased costs. Support teams should always be treated as profit centres and it’s impossible to do that without orchestrating your team efficiently and fairly”.
”I’ve seen first-hand the demoralising effect that the existing set of workforce management platforms, including spreadsheets, has on support teams at a human level. For support teams to thrive, individual team members should be empowered to work collaboratively alongside management and their teammates. That’s our vision for Surfboard.”
Surfboard’s integrations include ticketing, chat, and telephony systems such as Aircall, Dixa, Intercom, Salesforce, and Zendesk. The platform’s robust forecasting model balances availability, skills, and fairness to build optimal support team schedules easily. Team members can collaborate to adjust schedules based on changes in demand or availability. Furthermore, Surfboard automatically pulls time-off information from HR systems such as Personio, Factorial, Bamboo, Hibob, and Google Calendar.
Collaborative scheduling enables agents, or surfers as the Surfboard team call them, to work with their managers to manage their time together, build schedules that suit their best styles of working, and are flexible enough to accommodate their life outside of work. Teams are empowered to communicate directly within the platform to find the best outcomes that satisfy customers’ needs and expectations while encouraging a healthier work/life integration for surfers.
On why we invested, our Managing Partner Reshma Sohoni highlights:
“We are impressed with Surfboard’s traction since we wrote their first cheque in early 2021. Their timely solution, relentless focus on their ‘surfers’’ well-being and customer satisfaction, as well as their long-term vision, will supercharge Customer Support and Success in a more collaborative and efficient way to the benefit of all parties involved. Natasha has lived through the problem and is well equipped to tackle it successfully.”
We are excited to double down on our investment in Surfboard and join their $5m seed round, led by Speedinvest, with participation from Fly Ventures. The funding will accelerate product development, helping Surfboard achieve its mission of connecting support teams in a simpler, fairer, and smarter way to make work more human. Surfboard plans to grow its team, deepen integrations and build more functionality to become the single source of truth for all support team planning.
In Part II of our Seedcamp Firsts series on customer operations, Rona Ruthen and Natasha Lytton delve into scaling – a phase when change is the only constant.
Rona shares her incredible experiences scaling operations across various roles, including VP of customer operations at Monzo, where she helped the company grow from 1 million to six, all largely over the Covid pandemic. With more than 15 years of experience in FinTech financial services and payment solutions in companies in Israel and the UK, she is a seasoned expert in scaling up customer service and operations.
“You want everyone to be fully aligned with the vision of the company priorities and what you’re trying to achieve. If you get everyone behind that, everything else gets easier. It sounds simple, but when you’re a company that, let’s say where you were 50 people three months ago, you’re now 75, you’re going to be 150 in six months – not everyone remembers the priorities or the vision or understands it in the same way. You have to say it over and over again.”
If you’re short on time, we’ve pulled some key learnings for you below, but we strongly recommend you to listen to the full conversation to learn how to first set up customer operations in your company.
Watch it on YouTube or listen to it on your favourite podcast platform.
Deep Dive Q&A on Scaling Customer Operations
Natasha Lytton: As someone who really had to embrace it, why is change the only constant in the hyper-growth, scaling phase?
Rona Ruthen: The key is everyone looks for the hockey stick growth, and that’s what every company is trying to achieve. It’s just that when you get there, it’s super, super painful, and you get all of the unexpected. You want to be happy about onboarding more customers than you plan, but actually, it’s super painful internally. You have all of the growing pains of a company that’s now growing super fast – from 50 to a hundred to 150, and sometimes to 500 and a thousand people – when you probably don’t have the right people to manage it that way. Or you have great people, but they don’t have the experience, and it’s hard for them to scale themselves up.
Basically, everything is moving up, and everyone’s required to perform at a very, very different level to what they’ve expected to be doing while you’re also trying to actually be really happy about it. So quite painful, and yes, change is the only constant.
Trying to balance urgent and important is a great scale-up challenge, but you have to embrace that. You just don’t know what it’s going to feel like and look like. Unless you get there quite quickly and get a lot of people to feel the same about change, it’s very, very difficult to do it.
Natasha Lytton: How do you recommend, or what great examples have you seen of how founders and executives can really bring everyone along for that journey and embrace change as you scale?
Rona Ruthen: First is communication – just being as open, transparent, and communicative as possible. Communication is difficult, especially when you’re scaling.
My tip for communication, by the way, is just there’s never too much of it. Repetition is everything in communication. If you said something so many times that you’re starting to get uncomfortable about it, then that’s probably almost good enough but probably not quite there. I can’t emphasize that enough.
You want everyone to be fully aligned with the vision of the company priorities and what you’re trying to achieve. If you get everyone behind that, everything else gets easier. It sounds simple, but when you’re a company that, let’s say where you were 50 people three months ago, you’re now 75, you’re going to be 150 in six months – not everyone remembers the priorities or the vision or understands it in the same way. You have to say it over and over again.
Also, having conversations when we actually say yes, startups and scale-ups are fun, they’re exciting, they’re the best place to be, but they’re also very, very difficult – you have to acknowledge that.
Warn people when they come in through the door or through the hiring process. Especially when you’re a high-growth company, tell people, this is hard, this is different, this is change all the time.
You sign up to one role, it may look completely different in a week, and it’s definitely going to be completely different in six months. You either have to get on board, or you’re just not gonna enjoy your ride. So I would say a lot of communication around what it feels like to work in a scale-up.
Natasha Lytton: I love that. And the idea of repetition because to become excellent at things, especially if you think about athletics, you train things, and you repeat, and you repeat and repeat. Whereas when it often comes to business or even personal life, you feel the idea of having to repeat yourself is a negative and you shouldn’t have to do it. We have to reframe that thinking, and repetition is helpful if it means that we’re getting the message across and bringing people along with us.
Rona Ruthen: A hundred percent. When I got the role of managing all our customer operations at Monzo, which was 800 people at the time, then grew to 1200 people that was my biggest learning. Communication was my biggest fear in a group as big as that. It didn’t matter how many times I said something, or my team said the same thing to their teams. It almost felt like it was never enough, even when we understood that that was the key.
You could have different channels, different people communicating the same message, different times, different mediums, whatever you think about. But just use that repetition because it does make a difference. And you know, you want that feeling where you wake up any team member in the middle of the night and ask, What’s our goal for this quarter? and they know exactly what you’re going to say. You want everyone to feel that way.
Natasha Lytton: What frameworks do you use or do you recommend for prioritisation, and how do you approach prioritising actual internal tools and efficiencies within an organization itself?
Rona Ruthen: I believe that it’s worth taking the time and building out business cases. Not necessarily to the extent that maybe some of us think of a sort of corporate business case that you spend six months building just to decide if we wanna do a thing, but spending a few days looking at all the data, understanding or estimating how much work it would take and what impact would it have on different teams across the company. What involvement you would need from different teams, whether that’s security teams or compliance? What is the benefit of doing this thing, and what is the cost of the business in different shapes and forms of doing this? That helps prioritize against other things that you’re doing.
It sounds like a lot of work, but actually, that’s also a really good way of getting conviction around how you decide to prioritize within the company. And then, when it comes to internal tooling or operational processes, that’s where it gets tricky. But also, that’s been my career, battle in a way.
I believe there should be product and engineering teams within operations because it is very, very tricky to prioritize across both the growth and revenue side of the business against operational efficiencies and customer experience. Separating them out to some extent makes a huge difference in being able to achieve all of these four goals because ultimately, if you think about growth, revenue, and operational efficiency, it feels like the faster, cheaper, better information that you can’t actually choose all three. Separating it out and having different teams prioritize different elements of that equation is a good way to go.
Again, it’s about making strategic decisions for the business in terms of what your priorities are. You have to be really clear about what your goals are because otherwise, how do you prioritize one feature against another or one change against another? It has to be prioritized against what you’re trying to achieve as a business, which, again, with communication and transparency, should lead to really good alignment across the company.
It all sounds great when we’re having this conversation. It’s a bit more complicated in real life, but that’s what I would start with – this sort of waterfall of company goals – How does that align to metrics that we want to achieve? How does that look like in terms of features? How do these features step against one another? And what would it take for the business to actually get all these things done? and how far you go with each of these phases? That could vary depending on where you are as a company. It could be a two-hour exercise or a two-day exercise, or a two-week exercise.
Also, when you consider that we’re talking about scale-ups, that’s also when the company starts growing in terms of the number of layers you have to convince about doing something. You might have a senior leadership team or an executive leadership team. So it’s not just getting your own conviction that this is the right thing to do. You also have to convince and get buy-in from more people across the company.
Doing the exercise is not just for you to get comfortable with it, but also how you then communicate to people across the company, whether it’s different teams or different stakeholders, that is the right thing to do and that it’s worth fighting for.
Natasha Lytton: As organizations grow and scale and there are more of those layers and hierarchies, how do you recommend that different functions and the leaders actually present ideas to the senior or executive leadership team? What are the best examples you can speak to of how people do that across a whole organization?
Rona Ruthen: Good question. I don’t know if this is controversial, but I’m quite a believer in OKRs. I don’t think it makes a huge difference if you call them OKRs or goals, but I think marrying a top-down and a bottom-up approach is where I see the most benefit. Where the top down is, I want to know or decide what the company goals are, and then I want to have the people on the ground or the people who are building the product come up with the best ideas for how we achieve them. That’s how you get this long list initially, that you can turn it into a shortlist and then eventually make those decisions and build it all the way up the ladder.
There are different ways of doing it. You could have product reviews where people present different ideas and then also review the progress in building them. You could have quarterly OKR or planning sessions where you just spend the time figuring out what we’re going to do over the next few months, the cadence of planning can change materially because it could be yearly goals, then six months planning, and three months for future planning.
For scale-ups, there is no one answer in terms of how you do this. The key is actually, every six months, you stop and figure out if the way you’re doing it right now is working: if the planning and the cadence are working for you, and if enough people feel bought in across different levels – whether that’s the executive team or the people who are actually building the features and products. So I think when you scale up, the key is, actually, not What is the right answer? but Is it working for us now? Do we need to change it?
Natasha Lytton: And I guess being comfortable with what got you here might not get you to that next stage. And it might have worked, but actually revisiting things because it may be time to think of something different.
Rona Ruthen: Even the change between having two products teams to having five or seven or 10 it’s a huge difference in terms of how the company should be run there are so many people to coordinate between, and there are so many decisions about staffing, and what to build, how to build it, when to build it, when to launch, and so many questions come up that you didn’t have to deal with before. Just figuring out what the process to get to those decisions is. It’s going to be different now than it was six months ago, and it’s going to be different in six months than what it is now.
Natasha Lytton: We know that in startups and scale-ups, hiring is one of the most difficult things, and finding the right people to take on the journey and help navigate those different stages of what the company needs. You have done a very exceptional job at building high-performing teams over your career. How have you gone about doing that? Any guidance on what you look for or the sort of people you’ve brought in to help achieve that?
Rona Ruthen: It’s a really great question – mostly because I don’t have a good answer. I think it’s a mix of when you think of scale-ups, you usually get into these positions where you have some team members already in place because either you personally inherited a team or you grew into a team, but there’s already something in place. And so I think the first stage is understanding the different skill sets and different personalities, what’s working well and what isn’t within a team, and then where do you need to get to?
I like personality tests. I’ve read some critical articles, but I think they provide a common language that can be used to understand how different people work and communicate. So, for example, if you know the insights workshop where you get different colours, and they represent different parts of your personality. For what it’s worth, I’m 97% red, which is very action-oriented and not surprising to people who work with me I cut to the chase. I’m very direct. It’s very clear in my sort of personality to test outcomes, but it actually helps in understanding how that affects people around me. And helps them understand how to communicate with me, and the same for people in the team who might be very yellow or very blue and want to create that language that actually helps in how you work as a team. That’s one thing that I do recommend doing, and there are different types of tests, it actually doesn’t matter which one.
I think it’s more about how you create a language to understand different personalities and how they interact. And then it’s about understanding, again, going back to company priorities, team priorities, setting really clear goals for your part of the company, and how it interfaces with other parts of the company.
Once you understand that, you can start asking questions around: Do we have the right skill set? Do we have the right capacity? Do we have the right focus on values or some of the softer qualities that actually create a successful, high-performing team? And then, you can start looking at job descriptions and how it all fits together. I also strongly believe in the sort of Amazon approach for single-threaded leadership. So ideally, you create teams where there is one clear leader. I also like being the queen of my own kingdom when I manage teams. It’s just easier for everyone when there’s a very clear hierarchy, not for the sake of hierarchy but for decision-making and structure. If everyone is owning different parts of what you’re building and then knows who to interact with, it’s just easier to get things done. So I do recommend having single-threaded leadership, very clear teams, ideally cross-functional, where they can actually get things done from beginning to end, and then just seeing how that all works together, in terms of personalities, values, and interaction. And then just spend time together. I like to mix very focused, agenda-driven meetings with some very light, no-agenda chats that could be either work-related or personal, vulnerability-based trust, as corny as it sounds.
These are really great exercises that get people to get to know each other, understand who they’re working with, and become a team. It’s worth the effort.
Once you create that high-performing team, you also have to assume that you may need different things in six to 12 months and that you have to be really mindful of their progression because, especially when you hire high-performing ambitious people – they want to know what the next stage is for them – you have to match that up with what’s happening in the company, with what’s happening in the product, and to always keep an eye on that. So it’s a constant focus.
I personally really enjoy it. I know not all managers do, but I think for most managers and leaders if you invest in that part, everything in your job gets easier because you have amazing people doing amazing things with you.
Natasha Lytton: That is so important, making sure that the people that you bring in can actually grow and have the room to grow alongside the business while also knowing there are some bits that are just not certain because you don’t know where the business is going to be in six months time.
Natasha Lytton: If there was a single learning one to take away from your experiences in scaling Monzo that you’d impart as wisdom to other people, what would it be?
Rona Ruthen: Great question. I’ve given this a lot of thought, trying to figure out what I would’ve done differently. I think we were always conscious of some of the fires that were burning. There was always a big one and a couple of small ones, but I think we didn’t always take the time to have a structured review of ‘What’s going to break next?’. Sometimes you have a gut feeling, and you know that that thing is not as robust as it should be, and it’s likely to break.
What I would do now is have a list of all the things that I should take a look at every six months or so, and that could be org structure, personal development, delivery-specific operational or other processes, and features depending on what the company does. And I would just say, ‘Okay, this is fine. This is on fire, but we’re on top of it. This is fine, but probably will break in a year. This is actually likely to blow up in three months, and I should do something about it now. So, I think just being able to have a more structured view of the different fires and the ones that are coming up that you may not have thought about would make things a lot easier.
Natasha Lytton: One eye on the fires that aren’t even there yet. Basically.
Rona Ruthen: Yeah, one of the examples at Monzo – and this is no one’s fault – we were hyper-growth, and there was Covid, there were so many things going on. We had an office in Vegas, and it was open for what seemed like a good decision at the time, starting with 80 people and quite quickly grew to 150.
And at that point, we realized that it wasn’t the right choice for us to actually have an office in Vegas, which in hindsight, I would’ve wanted to be able to look at and make that decision a year earlier. It would’ve been less painful, and it would’ve been more appropriate.
We didn’t make the right decision, and I’m very proud of the way that we handled it, we could have done it earlier, but there were other fires. And we just didn’t know.
If you missed Part I, where Rona talked about setting up customer operations in early-stage startups, you can read our Deep Dive here or listen/watch on your favorite platform here.
Check out our growing Seedcamp Firsts Content Library here: sdca.mp/SeedcampFirsts
We’re excited to introduce Seedcamp Firsts, the definitive guide to the all-important first steps in company building brought to you through first-hand experiences and lessons learned from the brightest minds across the Seedcamp Nation.
The power of the Seedcamp Nation comes from the incredible breadth of experience that’s been lived across it. We want to open up this hard-won knowledge and insights from the exceptional founders we’ve backed to our Experts Collective, Venture partners, and our core team.
Our ultimate goal with Seedcamp Firsts is to help support the next generation of exceptional entrepreneurs navigate those critical first steps in building a business.
Check out our growing, multi-media Seedcamp Firsts content library:
1. 🎙️ The founding story of Maze. How to test, explore and validate your first product ideas as an early-stage startup: The first edition of Seedcamp Firsts features Jonathan Widawski, co-founder and CEO of Maze, a Seedcamp-backed growth-stage company on a mission to democratize product research. In conversation with our Venture Partner Devin Hunt, Jo explores everything from prioritising what to build, and when, to how to evaluate customer input in product development decisions.
2. 🎙️ How to first kickstart your content strategy and its power as a key differentiator: Learn all things content from Raphael Allstadt, Co-founder and CEO of tl;dv, and Tom Bangay, Senior Director of Content & Community at Juro – the masterminds behind the companies’ content strategies – from why content was first determined to be an essential part of the business and shaping the early strategy to execution measurement and key learnings for early-stage founders. hosted by Natasha Lytton, Head of Brand and Network at Seedcamp.
3. 🎙️ How to set up customer support and operations as an early-stage startup: Our Head of Brand and Network, Natasha Lytton, speaks with one of our fantastic mentors, Rona Ruthen, about setting up customer support and operations in early-stage startups. Rona is one of the best people to learn from on this topic following her experience scaling Fintech unicorn Monzo among other well-known startups, including Curve, a Seedcamp portfolio company.
4. 🎙️ Scaling Customer Operations: Change is the only constant: In Part II of our Seedcamp Firsts series on customer operations, Rona Ruthen and Natasha Lytton delve into the hyper-growth stage of company building. Rona shares her lessons and experiences scaling operations across various roles, including VP of customer operations at Monzo, where she helped the company grow from 1 million to six million customers. Learn why communication, clear goals, and single-threaded leadership are essential and how to get buy-in from people across the company.
5. 🎙️ Making big bets as a DeepTech startup with Victor Riparbelli, Co-founder & CEO of Synthesia: Victor Riparbelli, co-founder of our portfolio company, Synthesia, speaks with our Venture Partner, Devin Hunt, about making big bets, how to get comfortable with long-term product decisions, and learning from mistakes.
6. How to Lay the Foundation For and Implement Your First Strategic Partnership: Our mentor and executive at portfolio company, Elliptic, Elsa Said-Armanet shares her best insights on how to select a strategic partner, prepare and carry out your first negotiation, and measure the results of the collaboration.
7. How to Build Your Early Engineering Team. Part I: Sourcing Engineering Talent: Our Expert in Residence, David Mytton, shares his hard-won insights on how to build your early engineering team. In Part I, David focuses on sourcing engineering talent, from writing a compelling job ad to defining your selection criteria and identifying the right channels to reach out to potential candidates.
8. How to Build Your Early Engineering Team. Part II: Selecting Engineers: In Part II of his piece on building your early engineering team, our Expert in Residence, David Mytton, walks you through the five stages of selecting engineers.
9. How to set up a fully remote and distributed team. Lessons from Maze and Gitlab – April Hoffbauer, VP of People at our portfolio company Maze, shares her insights on how to think about and build a remote, fully-distributed, and asynchronous team from day one. Tune in or read more here.
10. How to create and scale an iconic community. Lessons from Sorare – Our Partner Sia Houchangnia chats with Dan O’Kelly, an early Community Lead at Seedcamp-backed fantasy sports unicorn Sorare. They cover all things community building, including: the importance of community in building a fast-growing startup; founders’ key role in setting up the vision and building the foundations of an authentic community; the early tactics Sorare used to build their community, and more.
Stay tuned for our next editions!
Our Managing Partner Carlos Espinal’s Q & A with Niall Riddell and André Pinho, founders of Paua, on the interoperability of an ever-expanding yet fractured charging network and making Electric Vehicle (EV) charging user-friendly
On a recent epic road trip across the UK this summer, I had my high hopes of a seamless charging experience shattered. Besides having to queue up at some stations, finding others out of service, and installing at least 15 apps to cover all the services on offer, I found the cost of electricity for EV charging to be all over the map – ranging from 28p to nearly £1 depending on where the stations were based and their speed of charge.
This cost variance is much wider than in petrol/diesel vehicles and feels like an unfair penalty for those wishing to help the environment through cleaner vehicles. To aggravate things further, charging speeds range from dead slow to 50x faster depending on where the charger is. These further exacerbate the problem of range and cost anxiety for EV owners – after all, time is money. The reality is most people and businesses care more about their time when they are travelling from A to B than p/kWh.
Despite current geopolitical and energy market developments, the demand for Electric Vehicles is on the rise. Customers’ demands are also changing, putting pressure on EV infrastructure providers to offer higher-quality services. In particular, for commercial fleets, for which reliability and cost efficiency are make-or-break factors, improved access to EV charging and fleet management are pivotal.
To understand the dynamics of the EV charging market and ways to make it more accessible and user-centric, I turned to the EV charging experts Niall Riddell and André Pinho, co-founders of Paua.
Carlos Espinal: What problem are you solving, and what is your edge?
Niall Riddell: We help businesses transition their polluting fossil fuel cars and vans to emissions-free electric vehicles, we do this by providing them with the best possible public charging experience.
Charging an EV is a very different experience from fueling a petrol or diesel vehicle. You need to manage the process of finding, charging, and paying for your public EV charging needs (we have written about this here). This process creates friction for any EV driver, but this becomes a real challenge for a business with – large EV fleets where this problem is multiplied.
Paua has built all the tools to do this at scale for a business adopting electric vehicles. Paua provides one app to find chargers, one card to start the charge across thousands of EV chargepoint belonging to various charging network providers, and all aggregated into one simple bill. This saves businesses an enormous amount of time finding the best and available chargers, starting the chargers, and collecting receipts. Businesses can access all of this in one place and control it in real-time.
Our edge is that we provide access to the largest charging network in the UK – with over 20,000 chargepoint connectors – focused on helping businesses. We are also the only company in the UK that provides integrated app and cards (this is important as some chargepoints only accept cards and some only accept app requests to start charging). This combination enables the best possible charging experience you can currently have in the UK.
Carlos Espinal: How has the EV charging infrastructure evolved in recent years?
Niall Riddell: When I started in this space, there were no public chargers that you could just go and test on. There was still a broader debate on connector formats. Problems focused on cars that were unreliable at charging (the old Renault Zoe used to cause an earth fault on certain chargers and “brick” it for the rest of the day). Pricing was even more ad hoc, with a lot of time-based and fixed fees dominating the system. There were no credit card readers. Everything was app and card based. And there was NO ONE ROAMING! Oh, and sometimes chargepoints just failed for no reason.
So there are still problems, but they are changing. And this shouldn’t surprise us. Take any new modern technology; none of it is seamless, and whenever a user makes a transition into that new technology, there are still a lot of things that they struggle with and that don’t work quite right. What’s interesting is that these are the problems of 2.5% of innovators. We haven’t breached that yet (we are around 1.5% EV on the roads today). And we cannot look at the 1.5% for answers on what the 98.5% need. These will be different answers, and we will gain some of these as we head into the next 10-12% of early adopters.
Carlos Espinal: How can the user experience be radically improved?
Niall Riddell: There needs to be increased incentives for the deployment of charging stations, but more importantly, interoperable ones (i.e., no proprietary billing systems or required app-downloads or payment cards to use a charging point).
André Pinho: Whilst we currently provide the best charging experience, we know the EV charging experience is far from optimal, here is a list of areas we believe needs improvement in the industry:
Ultimately we need to provide the drivers the confidence that we can take a pin in a map and convert this into a trusted charging experience. Most drivers, when low on charge, are asking one key question: Where can I get a charge?
What we need to do at Paua is give drivers ‘range confidence’ so that they know that they have Paua, and therefore they can trust us to provide them with power everywhere.
Carlos Espinal: Should information about when a charging point is available be more uniformly shared across the network (e.g., a global use system)?
Niall Riddell: The Government have PA consulting looking into this at the moment (they have spoken to us). Some networks are worried about exposing too much sensitive business data. If you have the availability data for chargepoints of a publicly listed network, you could very accurately predict their top-line revenues every quarter! Also, one can find out which of your competitors’ locations have what levels of utilisation. So whilst I am supportive of a centralised repository of chargepoint data for the static data (location data), the dynamic status data needs additional consideration. Also, the quality of the data is not great, and different networks implemented the same standard in different ways or, worst, deviated from them.
Carlos Espinal: Should all charging networks abide by an equivalent of the open banking standards that allow aggregator networks like Paua to be able to offer people more choices even if there is still a benefit to using the individual networks on a local basis if that’s your preference?
Niall Riddell: It is quite possible that this is what Government has in mind. But many of the businesses in this space are still developing their tech capabilities. We have been working with many of them to enable OCPI, and educating them on what is needed. So there is a cost to these new businesses and, as such, another possible barrier to entry.
André Pinho: This is the concept of roaming and the OCPI (open charge point interface) standards that we use to integrate with most of our partners. It’s tough to mandate this. What if a charging network does not want to have to deal with low-volume partners from a billing perspective? However, overall we are starting to see wider adoption of these standards and willingness to collaborate across charging networks, this is an important step towards greater and improved user experiences.”.
Carlos Espinal: How can the coverage of the EVs charging network be extended, including in rural areas?
Niall Riddell: Just as certain sectors of transport receive subsidies today, so will EV charging require subsidies in the future. When consulting with the Scottish Government in 2017, we drew the analogy of the subsidised bus routes in the highlands and islands, and it is likely that infrastructure in these rural areas will need some form of central Government support. However, for heavily frequented locations, this will not be required (think motorways and trunk roads).
One of the greatest advantages of charging infrastructure is that it is a lot less intrusive than having to build and service a petrol station, for example, it can be easily fitted to car parks of major attractions, pubs, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, etc. Chargers also come in a variety of speeds ranging from charging a vehicle in 15 mins (highway ultra-rapid chargers) to 10 hours (residential style slow chargers), the cost of these chargers can also range from £100,000 to £1,000, respectively. So rural areas are likely to install the slower types of chargers (these can fully charge a vehicle in 2-5 hours) that can help drivers get out of sticky situations in rural locations or to get a charge whilst doing something else but avoids the same level of investment of ultra-rapid chargers.
Local authorities are also getting quite active in this space recently, and we are seeing some big commitments to deploy chargers across rural areas. Cornwall is a recent example of this.
Carlos Espinal: What are the biggest challenges your industry faces?
André Pinho: Firstly, standardisation across multiple parties, all with varying interests Ultimately, that standardisation has to be toward the consumer benefit. For example, there are multiple vehicle OEMs, multiple chargepoint OEMs, multiple software providers, and multiple varying use cases of the infrastructure. At its heart, most EV drivers want to answer the following question: “Can I get a charge?”. However, with variances in connectors, charging speeds, new language, data, payment methods, etc., this whole space becomes a headache.
Secondly, understanding of a new technology. We have to re-educate people on the fundamentals of energy and, in particular, electricity. We now buy electricity in kWh (that’s a big W for Watt, who was a person) rather than litres. We have new connector types and a new approach to charging (“do I plug in first or start the charge first?”), we have new places to go and new time on our hands (“What do EV drivers do whilst charging” is now a Google search phrase – we mostly do normal stuff like drink coffee and go to the toilet, and if we have to, we sit in our car). Education around the home charging ecosystem, around tax benefits, selection of tyres, vehicle efficiency, and how to service an EV are all new things that need to be considered.
Consumers have survived for years buying fuel in litres and considering vehicle efficiency in miles per gallon, so it’s clear that people’s knowledge can bridge this gap. But we need more informed educators out there. When someone stands at a bar and says, “I am thinking about buying an electric car,” and their conversation partner can strike up an intelligent conversation around what they need to consider we will be a long way forward.
Carlos Espinal: What’s the most exciting recent development you think will have a material impact to EV charging in Europe?
André Pinho: Paua! [laughs]
800volt architecture in cars with an ability to charge at 200+kW, adding up to 150miles in a fifteen minutes top (we are back into petrol and diesel refill times). Cars are now computers on wheels with a battery attached – vehicle to grid, connected car, plug & charge are all possible with the additional technology.
Carlos Espinal: What is next for Paua?
Niall Riddell: The number of businesses transitioning their petrol and diesel vehicles to EVs has been incredible. It is currently growing at 50%+ CAGR. This has been very noticeable in cities with clean air zones like London, where there are financial penalties for driving polluting vehicles. We know this will continue to grow as many big companies have made big commitments to phase out their fossil fuel fleet and consequently have already put orders for these vehicles, just a couple of months ago, Hertz announced they would purchase an additional 175,000 EVs from GM. We are perfectly positioned to support these companies into this transition.
We have some exciting announcements coming in Q4 both from further expansion of our networks, customers, partnerships, and product development (including a whole new product we are now trialling with selected customers).
As we grow and succeed, we will be fundraising again. With this, we’ll announce our European market entry, where we are already working with a number of market-leading partners to access high-growth European markets where we can bring real value to customers.
If you are keen to follow us and hear more about the charging world – Sign up to our short newsletter – Paua Points.
In our latest edition of Seedcamp Firsts, our Head of Brand and Network, Natasha Lytton, speaks with one of our fantastic mentors, Rona Ruthen, about setting up customer support and operations in early-stage startups.
Rona is one of the best people to learn from on this topic following her experience scaling Fintech unicorn Monzo among other well-known startups, including Curve, a Seedcamp portfolio company.
“Exceptional customer service or customer experience in an early-stage startup should provide the customer with a feeling that whatever they need is either embedded in the product itself or is easily accessible to them.”
If you’re short on time, we’ve pulled some key learnings for you below, but we strongly recommend you to listen to the full conversation to learn how to first set up customer operations in your company.
5 Key Takeaways:
Key Questions to ask before you set up Customer Operations
Watch it on YouTube or listen to it on your favourite podcast platform.
Deep Dive Q & A with Rona & Natasha
Natasha Lytton: Why are seamless customer operations a prerequisite for the success of early-stage companies?
Rona Ruthen: I get asked this quite a lot, and I think it’s quite important to acknowledge that the answer isn’t necessary “it is critical at the early stage.” It’s a strategic decision that every company needs to make. And actually, something to revisit at a different point in time because you can start a company and not optimise for customer operations or customer support, or customer experience. Sometimes, whether it’s based on your own values whether it’s the type of product that you’re launching, it is critical for the success of the company.
Sometimes you can do without, and you can sort of scrape through it for a while until it’s the right time to create an exceptional experience. The first stage is deciding if it’s critical for you and not just letting it sort of hang around what you’re doing and making a conscious decision. We also live in a world where we know that customer experience is quite critical for every product that we use and that we care about. So the full customer experience is critical for most products these days, and there are multiple ways of doing it, especially when you’re a small startup.
It could be fully manual, no one has to know, and sometimes it’s even better because you can be very personalized about it when you only have a small number of customers, and sometimes it’s just easy to build the thing and automate it from day one.
So it really is about understanding, is this a USP for your company at this point? Is it easier to do it manually or not? What do you want the experience to be?
Natasha Lytton: On that point of manual versus automation, when do you suggest companies start to switch from manual to automated?
Rona Ruthen: There are two elements to this, and I have my own guiding principles for how I think about it. In terms of elements, there’s what you need, what works better for you as a company, whether you’re optimizing for efficiency, and what’s the right thing to do from a customer experience perspective.
And again, those change over time, the way I think about them, my guiding principles are around first: Is the process structured and mature enough? If you’re building a new product or a new feature, sometimes you just don’t know exactly what it looks like or how it works, or what it would look like six months from now because you’re still in that discovery phase. So that’s the first question. The second thing is, What is the current scale of the process or the manual work? And what would it be in six or 12 months? If it’s one or two people, then maybe it’s not even worth considering automating it. Then, ultimately Is the customer experience negatively impacted by the fact that it’s manual? Sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it is.
If it’s only one person doing the work and growing to three people, it’s a great customer experience for now, and it’s not a fully mature process. Keep it manual. Don’t even worry about it. But, if you’ve already got 10 people doing it, it’s going to grow to 20 people doing it – the customer experience could be negatively impacted by backlogs and longer wait times. Then you should be at least thinking about automating it, if not further ahead in the journey.
But it’s also a game of trade-offs, right? It’s not usually one process against the other. You have 10 of them, or 20, or sometimes a hundred, and the trade-offs are not just between the internal processes, it’s also against other product priorities and other resources across the company. Prioritize within customer support, customer operations, and customer experience. Then, you also need to figure out how to prioritize against what else is happening across the company.
If you think about the companies where focusing on that early is essential, What does exceptional customer experience look like?
Natasha Lytton: You have been at organizations where it is world-class. How did you go about defining that and what could other founders take away when they want to first start think about setting up customer service and operations and their businesses too?
That’s a really great question. Like most things, you start with the customer: What do they need, what do they want? What would make the feature or product work better for them? I think there’s a layer of experimentation. You never know until you try whether it’s the SLAs (service-level agreements) for customer support.
Intuitively, we all want quicker, better now. But actually, do you need that for all things? Probably not. And so that’s where you can sometimes push the boundaries and just figure out what is a great experience.
So I think exceptional customer service or customer experience in an early-stage startup should provide the customer with a feeling that whatever they need is either embedded in the product itself or is easily accessible to them. My ideal would be that every feature has intuitive and embedded contextual support or information within the feature itself. Then there’s a layer of easy self-service and then the right channels to contact support. Again, that is harder to build based on the product, and initially, in a small company, that could just be two-three channels that are very easy for customers to access with short SLAs and just providing the experience that it’s easy to use the product. The bottom line isn’t support. The bottom line is: customers are trying out your product. They want to engage with it as much as they need or as much as possible. You want them to engage with it. You want to make that whole experience easy, end to end. Support just needs to be a part of that, not something that you do on the side. If they’re contacting support, probably something didn’t work in the product, and you want to close the loop and make sure that the whole experience is great.
Natasha Lytton: How can companies think about what they should have in place for what they need for customer operations, be it in the alpha, the build stage, to launch, and then as you scale and grow much larger?
Rona Ruthen: Honestly, I think it starts by actually caring about the customer, which sounds basic, and every company would say that they do. It really makes a difference, especially when it comes from the top, and it’s embedded in every layer across the company.
I would make sure that that’s very clear within your values, your culture, and your org structure – everything that you need to make it really, really clear that the customer does come first. If you use that lens for most things, it’s easy to make a decision that is right for your customer.
Initially, in customer operations, we hired very independent thinkers, very hungry to do the right thing by customers and by the company. And that just meant they went beyond the call of duty in terms of doing the right thing for the company. And that was enabled by processes, by the right budget, by making sure that it is easy to go above and beyond for the customer. Over time, you want to build that into the right processes and to be able to scale that experience. And then obviously, it’s about talking to the customers and listening to the feedback, whether that’s directly doing user research, surveys, whatever helps you get feedback from the customer, but also, just reviewing what works from the data qualitative and quantitative that you get from what customers are using and what you’re seeing.
If they contact us on calls more than chats, then maybe that’s an indication that we should be mindful of. Or if calls take way too long, then maybe we’re not that good at solving things on the phone, and we can direct them to a better channel for them. So it really is about understanding what they’re telling us in multiple different ways and making sure that we do something about it.
Natasha Lytton: How do you recommend startups think about making sure everybody is interfacing with what’s actually going on?
Rona Ruthen: It’s super tricky. I think initially, in early-stage startups, it feels really easy because everyone can jump on tickets and everyone can engage with customers, but quite quickly – as everyone has a day job, so they’re quite busy doing what they’re supposed to be doing – pulling people in to engage with customers gets more complicated.
Also, your processes get more complicated. You don’t want everyone to jump on support unless they know what they’re saying to customers. Especially CEOs and founders can be very disruptive. Over time, you want to create and enable other people in the company to engage with customers. By the end of my time at Monzo, we had Friday sessions where we would jump on tickets. But we did that by shadowing one of our customer service operators and making sure that whoever wanted to do the same had the ability to shadow someone and look at any process or customer supports tickets as they wanted to.
But it was structured, and it was sort of handholding rather than, you can just jump on the system. You need to ensure it’s easy and that it’s accompanied by the right people who know what they’re doing. And also, again, reinforcing the importance of it.
It’s important to just be very clear and mindful of what you’re optimizing for. Initially, in an early-stage startup, you’re usually optimizing for flexibility. You don’t know exactly what you need, what the process is, and what the customer experience is going to be.
You need people who can just flow with that ambiguity and help you build it out as you go. So you usually need people who are a bit more experienced than your standard customer support profile. You need them to be willing to take a bit of risk to go a bit beyond the just, I’m going to respond to the question I’m being asked by the customer right now.
You want them to be able to engage with different types of people and roles across the company because, more often than not, in the early days, if you wanna solve a problem, you have to go to the engineer that built the thing because you don’t know what the problem is. You need people who can just work around these things quite flexibly.
As you start scaling customer support, you need more consistency and more standardization in how you respond to customers, and how you interact with them. Especially if we’re talking about FinTech or regulated industries, where working within the boundaries of what you’re allowed to do is critical. So that’s probably the point where you start writing down some of the processes, making sure it’s documented, making sure it’s clear what to do and what not to do. And at that point, you probably need and want a slightly different profile of customer support or customer operations agent, which is probably a bit more entry-level and willing to do quite repetitive work for a while, but with a bit of flexibility.
You also need to be mindful that this is positive but challenging when you’re managing customer support, a lot of people think of it as an entry job, but really, really quickly, they want to move on to the next thing, which I think is amazing, but you also need people to actually do the work for a while. Balancing that out is tricky but important when you’re building out a team.
As you start scaling, you have more people coming in at the entry-level, and not everyone is going to be able to move up or move sideways at the same rate. And so, setting expectations when people come in is critical.
Natasha Lytton: Any mistakes or things you wish you had perhaps done differently in the early stages?
Rona Ruthen: So many to choose from! I think if I was doing the very early stage again, I would probably have planned a few different scenarios, aligned with company growth scenarios, and figured out what I would need at different points along those journeys for, let’s say, six or 12 months, and then tried to optimize for something in the middle and from some level of flexibility. Sounds obvious, but I think more often than not, especially on the operations side, it’s a lot more reactive than proactive. I would try to be more proactive in terms of planning and understanding the potential scenarios that might happen and how I could ideally be one step ahead of most of them.
That’s the other thing that I know now that maybe I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. Hiring one extra person, or I call this sort of rounding up, at the very stages it’s definitely not going to be the downfall of your financial bottom line as a startup, but it can make all the difference in terms of providing a great customer experience and just having fewer burning fires and long, long nights and incidents.
Understanding a few potential scenarios and rounding up in terms of the size of the team would be one of my reflections. And just embracing change. We all joined startups thinking that we’re gonna love the fast pace, the ever-changing environment, not knowing what’s gonna happen day to day, but most people like at least the good balance of some consistency and structure with some change and bringing people along that journey. No day will look like what you had in mind that morning or the beginning of the week, and definitely not the beginning of the month. It’s quite hard. And so, how do you communicate around that? How do you create that transparency?
How do you create some level of consistency that allows you to actually embrace the change in a good way? It takes a lot of effort, but that’s critical.
Stay tuned for Part II, where Rona will join us to go much deeper into everything around scaling, where change is the only constant. We’ll be delving much more into how you can bring teams on the journey with you and how to embrace change as you scale.
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