At a glance
Name of business: Simplee
Business Type: Financial Technology (Fintech)
Key Learning Points
Don’t let distance put you off of working with the people you want
If you’ve had an idea for starting something, and you know there’s someone in particular that you would love to be a part of it with you – don’t be put off if they don’t live nearby.
It can be hard finding the time to work together on something when you’re a couple hours away, it can be even harder when you’re working timezones apart – but it’s not impossible and there are free tools which can help
Asana is a project management tool which you can access for free. It allows you to; access and comment on documents simultaneously, assign tasks to teammates and plan stages of work to progress through in order to complete a project.
Hernan’s listed it as one of his most useful tools for organising work loads keeping people productive and keeping his team motivated – if you’re working in a small team, it could do the same for you.
Making a good idea a great idea
Starting a business means you’re relying on the fact that whatever you produce is something that people want. Assuming that from the start without doing the market research to prove it could be the difference between you have a good idea, and a great one. Find ways to get feedback, whether that be a capture page or putting yourself out there by asking business owners if you can buy them a coffee in exchange for some feedback.
The perks of being an alumni
I absolutely didn’t know this, but you can still request access to your University’s library of academic journals even after you’ve graduated. This is an excellent way of getting your hands on some hard science to perform some market research without having to spend any money…apart from any crippling student debt you might have already accrued of course.
Didn’t go to University? Not a problem, if you have a willing friend that did then ask them to request access and borrow their account to access the papers you need.
The man, the myth, the legend – Hernan Dieguez. From the very first day we met seven years ago as fresh-faced 1st year students at Lancaster University on an unusually warm October afternoon, Hernan has always been an ideas man.
He’s that University friend that you’ll just be hanging out with that just thinks of some “great plan” out of nowhere. Fast-forward 4 hours and you’ll be wasted thinking ‘how the hell did we end up here?!‘ snow-boarding down some snowy hill using your bed headboards (which you had to spend an hour finding the right screwdriver to unscrew from the wall) at 10pm on a Wednesday night in the middle of winter .
Although some of his ideas were hair-brained, many of them were brilliant and every single one of them was amazing fun. Now while you’re unscrewing a make-shift snowboard from a wall you can’t help but get to talking, so it wasn’t long before I counted Hernan as one of my closest friends.
That being the case, I was wicked pleased to hear that him and some other friends had gotten started on a new business called Simplee. While it’s not yet a fully realised idea – read below for some inspiration on getting things off the ground during the early days.
Waddup mother f*cker
Hernan: Waddup dawg!
*Laughs* So starting things off, I was wondering if you could tell me about Simplee in your own words
Ok so, the idea behind Simplee is that we want people to start using their credit cards more because credit cards have so many benefits.
A lot of people in the US, and other markets – they use credit cards for pretty much every purchase. And I think in the UK, this isn’t so much the case.
I think it’s largely because people are afraid of getting into debt or there might be a lack of education – so the idea behind Simplee is that it will connect your credit card to your debit card.
Then every time you make a transaction on your credit card, we’ll automatically deduct a matching amount from your debit card so you can keep track of your money in the same way you do in a current account. Then, at the end of the month, your credit card bill will be paid off using the money collected throughout the month.
And then you’ll still get all the benefits related to a credit card without any need to worry about missing a credit card bill.
Nice! Where did the inspiration come from?
My dad has always been a big credit card user, and he’s always been going on about all the benefits he got from his credit card. He’s one of those guys that is aware of all the miles, and the points and all the stuff that you can do because we travel quite a lot.
So he was always hammering on about how we should get credit cards as soon as possible. And then my older brother was always saying that he’s constantly worried that he isn’t going to pay [his credit card bill] in time and so he always said that he wished he could make payments like…instead of him paying at the end of the month, that he could pay it every day. Like every time he made a purchase that he would pay it back straight away.
Then I thought that wouldn’t be too difficult to code out and so I started looking into it – at the time I was trying to learn how to code, and I was like ‘Oh, I’ll try and put something together’. And it went from there, and I started thinking ‘oh maybe I could do this properly, maybe there’s a market for that’.
Yeah, I remember you telling me you figured out pretty quickly that you wanted to get other people involved or have other people who might know a bit more about different areas involved – I’m thinking Sean here – so like, how did you go about pitching the idea to people, and how did that go?
So I’ve got two friends from Uni, and we’ve always kinda spit-balled ideas around – one of them is Seb and one of them is Sean.
Sean studied computer science and he’s really skilled in that area. Seb has pretty much been working in and out of start ups since he left University.
So we’d always throw ideas around and when I had this idea, I talked to them and told them the idea and they really liked it. Then Sean liked the…*laughs* I think this is the first time that Sean liked an idea of mine. Seb would always like the ideas and I think Sean was a little more critical.
So Sean thought it was interesting and so we decided to try and build something together.
That’s awesome, and so they were both pretty up for it when you explained the initial idea – there was no arm-twisting or anything like that?
Yeah, I think they both kinda liked the idea and they were both up for the challenge – but obviously we all questioned certain aspects of it. I think that’s always just a good exercise to do, even if you do really believe in the idea just to try and find flaws in it or identify what’s going to be really challenging or things you need to consider further.
Seb especially is really good at that; I think he has more experience from working for a couple of start-ups from when they were really young. From literally being two people to being bought out by big American companies…so he really had that philosophy of really questioning things on all points. I think it’s just a useful exercise to do.
Oh nice, definitely a pro-tip! And, one of the other challenges I know you’ve experienced is being spread out across two continents. So how’s it been for keeping people focused on developing Simplee?
When I originally had the idea when I was living in Brazil, Sean was in the UK and Seb was in Colombia. So that was like 3 hours difference with one and 2 hours difference with the other.
That made it tricky to organise meetings – with the time difference as well as us all having jobs. So if it’s hard to balance when you’re all in the same city, then it’s even harder when you’re all abroad.
But the good thing is that when you’re all together, it forces you to be more organised. So from very early on we would get all organised – like we would have all these project management tools we would use just to be able to have meetings that were really productive.
Then, whenever we would do a Skype call, there was always an aim to it – something we were going to accomplish by the end of the meeting. I think that’s really important to have.
I think a lot of people just do meetings for the sake of doing meetings. I think you need to have a clear aim for what you are trying to accomplish and then give that time, y’know? So that was a useful exercise.
But it was tricky. Now I’m in London, Sean is like a couple hours from here and Seb’s in Colombia and so it’s still tricky. But what we try and do is allocate tasks and stay on top of each other.
We try to allocate tasks that we don’t necessarily have to be working on at the same time – so that the time difference, and location difference doesn’t affect us as much.
It sounds like you guys were great at staying on top of things. So you mentioned that you use project management software to stay on top of different jobs – what kind of software were you using?
So we use Google drive mostly, to keep everything organised with everyone having access to everything. Then the tool we find really helpful for us is Asana – it works really well.
You can assign tasks and keep track of where everyone’s updates are, you can message through it, we can comment on each others jobs and get feedback on stuff that we’re doing and then it connects directly with Google Drive so all the stuff we have on it we can use. So far we’ve found that really useful.
Nice – sorry what was that called? Asana?
Yeah it’s a company which is big with start-ups. I think it was Seb who initially introduced it to us as they’d used it in a start-up that he’d been working for at the time. But yeah, it’s quite a popular project management tool for small teams.
Did you have to pay money for it?
So no, I think there are premium services we’re only 3 people so we just use the free version of it. It’s worth checking out.
Sweet – nice tip! Has it been tricky keeping people motivated at all?
I think at the moment – like we were talking about this the other day – in order to do something like create a business, you have to really, really believe in your product and at the same time, have that hunger to succeed.
Currently, I’d say we don’t consider it a full-time thing that we’re working at – like for us it’s more of a side-project. The reason just being that we’re all pretty happy with our jobs and that in itself is a huge challenge. So that keeps us pretty motivated.
So Sean’s happy with his job and so is Seb…but it’s something that we enjoy working on, so it’s not that much of a struggle to do. Kind of like a hobby right? Something you enjoy doing.
But it is sometimes maybe hard to focus, because it’s a side project sometimes we might not give it the importance that we should. So that’s the tricky part and maybe sometimes when I have time to work on something, maybe Sean doesn’t have the time or motivation to work on that particular area. So it’s more about the timing for different people.
So what was your market research process before you decided to create the capture page?
So as I said, the idea came through my brother who said he wished that he had [something like Simplee] which encouraged me to think ‘Oh I wish I had something like that too’.
From there, I thought ‘ok, I’ve had this idea – is this just something that only me and my brother want, or is it something that maybe more people want?’
So the first thing I did was just ask around a couple of friends who were around the same age and were likely using their credit cards in the same way as us.
I tried to ask people that are naturally critical to see what they would say but yeah, at the end of the day they’re still friends and so I wasn’t sure how much they were agreeing with me because they actually like the idea or just because friends are naturally supportive.
People forget that names are something where the value comes after your product becomes a product and your brand becomes a brand.
I started doing some secondary research – looking into credit card usage in the UK in particular, and some other markets. Then we compared that with debit card usage and did a little work trying to figure out why people weren’t using credit cards as much in the UK.
The main reason seemed to be fear of incurring debt and so we felt like we might have something in our hands. At this point though, we started to feel that what we were carrying out was secondary research when what we actually needed was primary research – something we could just get by going out and actually asking people.
That’s where the idea of building the landing page came from.
So you were saying there that you were looking into academic articles, how did you go about finding those just for anyone who might not be sure?
For this, Google’s your friend. I also found out that you could request access to academic materials through my University as an alumni.
Yeah, so I emailed my University and explained the research I wanted to do and if there was the possibility of getting access to academic articles. They agreed, and now I have portal access to be able to access digital materials from the library whenever I want.
Once I found out that that was possible, I contacted a couple of friends and asked that they make the same request to their University so I have access to as wide a pool of information as possible.
Holy shit, I never knew you could do that.
Yeah so that was really good and then, I’m lucky just because FinTech (Financial Technology sector) is so popular at the moment.
Since 2008 there’s been a really really big interest in FinTech, especially in the UK so it means there’s a lot of material out there which was lucky for me researching this.
That’s awesome – I can’t believe they offer that to alumni and I had no idea, that’s really good. Who did you email for that?
I think I just got in touch with the University library and they put me through to the right people and just found their information online.
There was also a portal specific to the business school and so I emailed them and explained what I was doing, that I was an alumni and they were quite supportive. There’s even a program that they pointed me to which offers mentoring and even investment potentially, which was quite good.
So follow up with your Uni if you went to one for material to perform market research – that’s a great tip.
Actually another thing I did to validate my idea was to reach out through my network. So because Seb is my co-founder and works in start-ups, he knew people in the FinTech area – people like CEOs or founders of similar things in the industry.
Obviously they have loads of experience which can be useful. When I was in Rio, I asked Seb to arrange a meeting between us and some CEOs where we’d just meet up for coffee and have a chat about the idea.
A couple people were up for it, so I pitched them Simplee and got their feedback which was super useful as well – with their experience, they were able to ask questions on subjects which highlighted to us the kinds of areas that we needed to go back and study further. Also to get validation on your idea from people like that just gives you a huge amount of confidence.
Wow that’s amazing, it shows that you have to be bold and just put yourself out there from the very beginning. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. A lot of people would just think ‘man, I don’t want to ask a CEO, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing’ but you managed to get their time just from going for it.
Yeah, I just think, look through your network. You’re likely to know people in those positions even if you don’t realise it straight away. So it’s always good to reach out and see if you can find anyone that might provide use.
So then with the product itself, what’s been your plan for bringing Simplee to life? What kind of stuff have you guys done so far and what kind of stuff do you have planed for the future?
We have the idea, but we didn’t want to start building something before we had confirmation that there’s a market for it. So we looked for stuff out there – we think there’s a market but we are very much of the philosophy that the sooner you get feedback the better.
Rather then going out and building something and getting it all polished up, we’d rather do as little as possible in terms of development and start by seeking the feedback first.
So what we did is we designed the concept landing page which shows what the app might look like and shows the benefits of the app. We got that ready, so now we want to start pushing that and start getting visitors to the page and get people signing up.
So basically our plan is to see if people are interested and whether they’d be open to having a chat with us, and then we’d give them a call or send them an email or whatever and just try to understand like: ‘How do you manage your finances?’, ‘What kinds of products do you use?’, ‘Why did this seem interesting or not interesting to you?’, ‘Why do you think this will help you and how would this apply to you?’
If there’s not much interest then we’re going to have to reconsider, pivot or maybe scratch the idea altogether, and I’m ok with that.
If they do like the idea, then I want to try to understand what would make it a great idea..
Just try to understand how people use financial products and whether people might be interested in this or not. And if they’re not, just try to understand what we could do and if they are, try to investigate which features exactly they would want.
Essentially we’re using it as a tool to try to start a conversation, and the sooner we have that conversation, the better. Just to make sure that we don’t build something that ends up being something customers don’t want. I’d rather wait to make sure we know what people want before doing anything else.
If there’s not much interest then we’re going to have to reconsider, pivot or maybe scratch the idea altogether, and I’m ok with that. If they do like the idea, then I want to try to understand what would make it a great idea – getting feedback ensures that people get something that they want and that they would actually find useful.
So then in terms of your process for creating the capture page – how did you go about that? I ask because I remember the first thing I said when I looked into it was ‘Holy shit – this looks really good and really professional’. How did you make that happen?
The idea for the page was essentially to do a couple of things; the first thing was express that we had this idea and describe what we think are the benefits of using Simplee. So the page is very much orientated around that; the potential benefits of the product.
I want to understand if people see those benefits, if they understand them, and if the app makes sense. So the page is to confirm that, and then we added a sign-up option so people can sign up to indicate to us the level of interest in the product.
So we might get like a thousand visits to the page but then if no-one signs up…. the views are not necessarily an indication that people like your page. So we’re looking at things like how long people are spending on the page and whether people are signing up or not.
In terms of the design and the looks, pretty early on we started to look at other financial apps, other financial products and then the interesting thing was – I’m really interested in psychology and sociology and so it was interesting to see – how people think of certain colours and how certain images might influence their decisions. We found that 90% of banking apps use the colour blue – so the first decision was, we are not going to use the colour blue.
So the idea is that we are creating a product which is quite different from your typical finance app, we want to do things differently –
– demonstrated by saying ‘WE ARE NOT BLUE’ *laughs*
Yeah exactly – f*ck blue. *laughs*
And then we all agreed on purple because it’s different and stands out quite a lot and you wouldn’t expect any – or at least I wouldn’t – expect that of a financial company.
Also it’s a nice colour which is different, so then we started with that. And then we wanted the whole thing to be quite casual; we didn’t want to present a really formal product because our target market is millennials.
But then we didn’t want to seem unprofessional, and I think with financial products you want to pass off as being fun but you also want to demonstrate to people that they can trust you with their money – so we tried to strike a balance between that. So yeah, we went from there.
Nice, and with the graphics I remember you telling me that you found a resource which let you use graphics for free but I can’t remember exactly what you said…
Yeah so no-one in the team is a designer. We’re probably going to need someone to help us with that at some point, but yeah. We also didn’t want to spend any money or any time doing the webpage because this is very early on and so we just wanted to get it out there quickly.
So we used a bunch of graphics from Flaticon and then we credited the designers.
Yeah, I think that’s awesome. I think a lot of people can forget that you can search around and find those types of things for free…
Yeah, and I think especially early on – like you just want to get things done as quickly as possible right?
And the most common pairing of founders for a start up is a business-minded kind of person and a tech-y person and even though you might think you have great taste or whatever, you have to remember that you are not designers and never will be *laughs*
So it’s good to get a designer on your team, just to help with that kind of stuff. But if you don’t have someone and can get it for free, that’s great. And never forget that this is the very first version, so you’ll always be able to make changes later on with a proper team if things evolve.
Absolutely. That’s something I wrote about recently in an article – one of the first things you have to do when you make a website is choose your domain name which is terrifying because you think ‘holy sh*t, I’ve not even made this thing yet and I have to name it?’
It’s intimidating – especially when the name is generally the most powerful piece of branding which most companies will have – and I had to reiterate the same point which is that you can change the name later on. When you’re just trying to put something out there – just put it out there and figure the details out later. You’re not stuck with whatever you put together first.
Exactly, we went through it as well – everyone does – where you’re wondering ‘What’s a good name’ and you feel like all the good names are taken. People forget that names are something where the value comes after your product becomes a product and your brand becomes a brand.
Google is a great name now, but when Google first named Google they probably thought ‘this is sh*t’ or like Yahoo or Facebook or whatever. Those are great names now because of what the company has become – it’s not because of the name.
Yeah exactly, especially when you consider things like Facebook was called ‘The Facebook’ originally and they changed it later on – these companies evolve and people move on.
One of the other questions I wanted to ask was; starting a new thing is pretty exciting – what have you enjoyed most about the process so far personally?
I think it’s just pretty exciting to build something. You know, like something that didn’t exist before but now exists. Also just building something that you think is going to help people is exciting.
I think with finances in general, like finance management – especially for young people, it’s something that’s scary and is something that they’re not sure how to do…just anything you can do to empower those people is great.
And I think the use of credit cards and use of credit responsibly is super, super important so anything we can do to help – even a little aspect like that is quite exciting.
The final question I wanted to hit you with is if there’s a subject which would be useful for you to learn more about which I can go away, research and create an article on? The idea is to provide some valuable information for you, and anyone else who might be in your position.
The next challenge for us is to try and drive traffic into the landing page we’ve created and to start having conversations with our users. So any advice on how to do that successfully would be very much appreciated.
Essentially, I think our needs will go through many changes in the future but right now that’s our biggest challenge – trying to start those kinds of conversations.
Thanks so much to Hernan! I want to try something different with these chaps, and so I’ll hopefully be starting a recurring segment which keeps track of Simplee’s progress.
The idea being that by keeping up with Simplee, readers will get a continuous, inside look into the life of a tech start-up, and their struggles and many victories along the way. What do you think – sound good?
If it does, then I’m pleased to announce that this marks the end of Part 1 of our conversation with Hernan at Simplee.
Once again, if you would like to be a part of the conversation and have the chance to provide feedback which will have a direct impact on the direction of a tech start-up, I know the guys would love to hear from you.
Join me in signing up to their contact list; no spam, just the chance to shape something awesome.
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