I spoke to Zia Yusuf, the co-founder of lifestyle concierge app Velocity Black, about the challenges that come with fundraising and expanding overseas.
Founded in 2014, Velocity Black is backed by investors including DIG Investments, Force Over Mass and Initial Capital.
Here’s what Yusuf had to say about the company’s progress to date and his upcoming plans.
Q: What were you doing before Velocity Black?
I was an executive director at Goldman Sachs, firstly in global research and then in the securities division.
During my five years in the world of finance I saw the power of technology as a disruptive force and how entire industries were being transformed by exponential growth in technical cognition. There was an amazing opportunity to harness these advancements in technology to help people get the most from their time and enrich their lives.
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Q: Where did the idea for Velocity Black came from and why?
My co-founder Alex Macdonald and I both worked in excess of 80 hours a week, and it quickly became clear that in this digital age, time is our most precious asset. We only live once, and too often we did not make the most out of opportunities to travel, meet people, read a great book or visit an art gallery because we lacked the time.
There’s a huge part of our lifestyles that remain too analogue, so we set about founding a company to liberate people to be the people they want to be. To live a life full of moments that matter, unburdened by the ones that don’t.
Velocity Black is a 24/7/365, lifestyle enhancer powered by human experts and machine intelligence, which simplifies and enriches your time. From discovering and booking restaurants, organising flights and hotels, to flying fighter jets or swimming with orca whales.
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Q: You’ve raised £30m in funding from investors. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs currently fundraising?
My advice to entrepreneurs looking to raise capital is to never give up – be persistent.
Never has a small group of individuals had the ability to create huge impact on the world – that is the power of technology. This means fundraising requires a big vision, a well thought out plan, and most importantly an outstanding team.
It takes different types of personality to make a successful business, and never underestimate the truth that people invest in people. Some investors continue to have linear perspectives on how to deploy their capital. Seek the ones who understand the bigger picture and truly understand your vision.
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Q: You’re expanding across Europe, the US and looking to move into Asia. What are the most challenging aspects of fast-paced international expansion and how have you overcome them?
Without doubt, the most challenging aspect of international expansion is adapting a product to local cultures. Each region has its own incredibly diverse norms and expectations. Today, it is not difficult to create technical architecture to scale internationally very quickly, that’s a great advantage of being a nimble startup.
It is fascinating to see European food delivery startups with lots of resource turn up in Asia, only to find that food delivery was deemed culturally inappropriate in some regions. We all appreciate that no matter how fantastic a product or service may be, it takes intimate local knowledge to tailor them to a local audience.
Q: How can startup founders build good teams and retain talent?
This is singularly the most important challenge any founder faces.
The best entrepreneurs in history have been outstanding talent scouts. The best way to do this is to establish firstly a small group of the sort of people who will define your culture.
Once those people are working harmoniously together they will become self-selecting in choosing other people to join the group. The best people are in high demand, which is why it is important to have a vision big enough and an environment that will enable them to thrive.
Q: In your opinion, what are the best ways entrepreneurs can establish and nurture good company culture as their company scales?
A good culture is many different things depending on the company.
Being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult things to take on in life. It is vital to work with people who will inspire each other and enjoy what they do. This means writing down the values that really matter to you, and finding people that align and appreciate these.
It takes a lot of discipline to only hire people who really buy into those, but it is worth it. When people value the same things, they are much more likely to work well together towards the ultimate goal.
Q: Where can we expect to see Velocity Black in the next five years?
Velocity Black is growing fast and enriching the lives of thousands of members around the world. The number one source of new members is driven from existing members, which is a great sign. We have some exciting new products launching in Q1 that will transform the member experience again.