Anx Patel, CEO and founder of GoKart, on his experience of founding his app.
Technology and small businesses: they have an interesting relationship.
The democratisation of business technology has meant that small companies today have access to enterprise-class digital solutions. Furthermore, the efficiency, affordability and simplicity of popular digital tools such as Quickbooks and Slack have enabled agile startups to compete with larger firms on a more even playing field.
At the same time, high-growth technology businesses also pose a risk to SMEs in the same industry. Take the hospitality sector as an example; the rise of Airbnb has resulted in a sea change in the way consumers search and book holiday accommodation. As a result, many independent hotels or bed and breakfasts have struggled to find customers, with a Morgan Stanley report [pdf] showing that 42% of Airbnb users have replaced a traditional hotel stay with an Airbnb property.
Ultimately, however, new technologies – whether created for small businesses, by small businesses or both – are typically developed in response to products or processes that are not fit for purpose. And as such, first-hand experience of a sector is a huge advantage for any entrepreneur.
Ideation through industry experience
More often than not, the best ideas for technological innovation come from people who have an in-depth knowledge of the industry or market they are looking to disrupt. I would certainly like to think that this is true of my tech business.
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My goal was to develop a tool that would help small independent businesses in the food and drink sector overcome the problems they face on a daily basis. Specifically, our app was launched to enable restaurants to easily order ingredients from a range of high-quality suppliers, making a hitherto slow and out-dated process far quicker and cheaper.
What’s more, as well as making the process more efficient, by bringing together hundreds of eateries to order through a single platform, these smaller independent outlets can benefit from the same cost savings that would typically be the reserve of large chains.
Importantly, the inspiration came from personal experiences within the retail sector. My father owned a shop and, despite him urging me towards a different career path, shortly after university I chose to open a shop of my own. Thereafter I worked for large national wholesaler Nisa, working across its chain of UK convenience stores.
For more than a decade I ‘cut my teeth’ in the food and drink industry, and during this period it became apparent just how difficult and expensive it was to order stock, making it nigh on impossible for small independent stores to out-compete larger rivals who can buy items in far greater quantity, thereby enjoying significant cost savings.
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Tackling this long-standing problem and creating new opportunities for smaller players in the food and drink space became a huge passion. I strongly believe independent businesses should prosper; in the UK, after all, we are a nation of shopkeepers, food lovers and innovative entrepreneurs, so why not bring these three things together.
From my perspective, it’s vital that our high streets remain vibrant and act as a nursery for brands to grow.
Convincing others to share in your vision
Like many tech entrepreneurs, my inspiration to build a new digital solution was borne out of first-hand frustrations with tedious and inefficient processes in the sector I was working. Yet identifying a problem that needs addressing is, of course, just the first step.
Thereafter come the hurdles that any new tech business faces – the proposition must be developed, refined, launched, funded and adopted. But again, experience within the industry that one’s new startup is operating in is a massive advantage.
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Firstly, spending time working within a particular market will typically mean that a professional has developed a strong network of contacts in that space. This, in turn, gives them a head start when trying to find early adopters for their product or service.
In my case, when speaking to prospective customers – both restaurants and suppliers – my previous professional roles meant I have a real understanding of the challenges, barriers and pains they encounter regular. This makes the sales pitch for the app far more compelling.
More generally, business leaders must know how to get others to buy into their vision. From new hires and investors to customers and partners, being able to passionately and clearly communicate the concept for the company is essential to its long-term growth. Being able to ‘speak the same language’ as prominent industry figures has been hugely important for my company’s development – it has enabled us to secure financial backing from the likes of Just Eat; the founder and CEO of London restaurant chain Tossed; and the founder and former CEO of the UK’s largest food procurement company PSL.
I would say that the single greatest investment I have made while running my business has been for public speaking training; not only did this help me talk more confidently in public, but also ultimately it improved the way I could communicate my ideas for the business.
But again, context is everything – to get people on-board with a product, an entrepreneur must know which pertinent issues their business is going to address. In my case, it is the volatile and out-of-control pricing of ingredients for restaurants that is making it so hard for them to succeed. Further to this, there is little transparency over what constitutes a fair price for goods, while the ordering process is blighted by offline, time-consuming, inexact and inefficient methods. These are the problems the app tackles, and this is what we focus on.
While the app is the technological solution, these are the all-important problems it solves; and ultimately, this granular knowledge of the inner workings of one’s industry are integral in shaping the way a product is developed, marketed and sold.