“Britebill: From Start-up to Scaling” : Alan Coleman

 

Alan Coleman, a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, gave a talk on founding and scaling BriteBill, an online billing company which is currently scaling through international markets.

The Dublin Business Innovation Centre (BIC) is a business support organisation, established to provide development assistance to start-ups, from the start-up phase through to scaling. The organisation connects start-ups to investors, while also helping them to ‘get investor ready’, through incubation communities such as the Guinness Enterprise Centre.

Alan described taking his business from idea, to start-up, to scaling at Dublin BIC Scaling and Funding Series at the Market Hotel.

As an aspiring capitalist, a soon to be graduate and all-round eager beaver, I decided to venture to the quarterly event run by The Dublin BIC.

Alan began his talk with references to his business model, a recurring topic throughout the talk.

He spoke of his initial struggles with the business model, acknowledging that it had ‘operational problems’. It quickly came light that the general public was not interested in the software.

Alan reassessed his Value Proposition (See the Business Model Canvas below), after reviewing the business model, he reaslised that the original idea did not provide enough value for the intended customer. This realization forced Alan to pivot, which resulted in the company changing their Customer Segment and Channels, this was vital for the company as it gave the company a new premise to achieve their aims.

The Business Model Canvas (as seen below), is advocated by Steve Blank. It is often referred to as a template to disassemble a start-up and categorize the fundamental components of the company, possibly identifying the areas which need to be adapted or developed.

 

With the financial backing of an angel investment, a Minimum Viable Product was built by Britebill, to better understand the applicability of the product. The company then decided to strategically change the product, to instead target telecommunication companies. The product was iterated repeatedly and sales began to come (slowly).

This shows the importance of attempting to map-out the company, while also staying flexible so the company can adapt.

A notable part of this talk, was Alan’s clear problem about ‘sales’. He found that closing the sale was one of the most difficult parts of the process. The entrepreneur knows that they have built something from scratch, then to go and make the sale is difficult. Particularly in the case of Britebill, given that these deals were worth millions, according to Alan.

This could refer back to The Lean Startup Methodology, which attempts to gain the initial paying customers (early adopters) to learn from. This step may be difficult to engage in, especially if the product is not fully developed.

Britebill focused on the behavioral science aspects of the customer’s interaction with the product, similar to Dropbox, this was of particular help when pitching to investors. The strategy was also aided by hiring a software bill designer, who brought in significant intellectual property that helped Britebill distinguish itself from competitors.

This would be in-line with the Resource-Based View of companies, differentiating Britebill from competitors through their behavioral science approach, aided by their bill designer.

Alan also spoke of the importance of the non-executive directors. The monthly meetings with these independent board members allowed the company to continually reassess the company’s strategy and position, while also giving focus to the functional areas when necessary.

Colm Fitzpatrick also spoke of the importance of this ‘independent review’ within company’s in his talk (Lesson 2). This appeared to be another vital part of the success at Britebill.

The company has come on leaps and bounds since it’s initial contact with the market. While Alan spoke his journey, it resonated with me that the importance of remaining flexible and adaptable are key in a start-up. It is important to start small, then ensure that the business model is sustainable and scalable, and that the company is geared towards providing value to the customer through their given output.

Britebill was recently acquired for €231 by Amdocs.

My lessons:

  • Start small, fail quickly and adapt.
  • Don’t expand until you have a proven, functional business model
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