Jess Butcher is co-founder of Blippar, an innovative and internationally successful brand which uses mobile augmented reality technology and has been valued at £1bn.
Ahead of taking part in an online masterclass on 29 November, the entrepreneur discusses the inspiring story behind Blippar, shares her tips and calls for more to be done to promote women in technology.
How did you come up with the idea for Blippar and turn that idea into an actual business?
The idea started over a pub discussion between my two co-founders, Rish and Omar in the spring of 2011. They were talking about the rise of a new technology called 'augmented reality' and conjecturing over how, in theory, the queen's head on the £20 note they had in their hand could be replaced by Rish's. Omar, our CTO, achieved that within a week and the brainstorming started as to how to harness this very exciting new technology within different business models to effectively turn the whole physical world interactive through the 'eye' (camera) of a mobile phone. The idea of Blippar was born and I was invited into the founding team to help brainstorm how to take the idea of a real world 'visual browser' to market.
What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? How have the challenges changed as your business has grown?
Every stage of a business has different challenges. In the early days it was about taking a brand new tech (with a silly sounding name!) to market, not only getting a foot in the door in the first place but then getting our early clients to take a leap of faith with us on our business model and put their content within our app rather than their own. Since then, the challenges have changed dramatically; attracting and retaining the very best people, getting the right investors and funding, staying true to our vision (when dangled enticing pivots and diversions!), how quickly to expand internationally and where to first, and many more besides.
How did you convince major brands to use your technology?
We almost had to treat those early clients and brands as we did our investors. We had to convince them of our entire business plan and model and flatter their entrepreneurial mindset to invest with us in the longer-term consumer-behavioural vision. Some even needed convincing of our personal credibility as entrepreneurs, our backgrounds and funding. The more invested in they felt with our vision, the easier it was to close them and build long term relationships. I like to feel like they felt like those groupies that discover the band before they're famous! :)
What are your thoughts on women in technology and what can be done to encourage female led tech start-ups?
I would love to see more women in technology as they're shamefully under-represented. I'd like to see more women studying STEM subjects in the first place. I didn't, and wish I had so as to give me a better understanding and training on the coding and infrastructure side of our business. We also need to convince the right female sales, marketing and communications professionals that tech is now where all the best business creativity is happening. Tech is changing the world and tech start-ups are the rock stars of the future. It's a sexy (not nerdy!) career choice these days. I feel strongly that more female role models in the media and on public podiums will really aid this.
What are your three top tips for business success?
- Fake it till you make it
- Hire people better than you
- Find the right investors and keep your head down, staying true to your vision. Don't worry too much about the competitive landscape, just your own direction
Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
I've been fortunate enough to meet and get to know many successful entrepreneurs in the UK and the US, and all inspire me in different ways and have helped me along my journey. There is no one personality-type or formula that makes for a successful entrepreneur. I know introverts and extroverts, men and women, young and old. A few specific individuals include: My co-founders, Ambarish Mitra, Omar Tayeb and Steven Spencer; Caroline Plumb of FreshMinds, my first boss who started the FreshMinds business right out of university; Barry Smith, Gareth Williams and Bonomy Grimes of Skyscanner; Julia Hartz of Eventbrite; Aaron Levie of Box, plus my 'tribe' of awesome British female entrepreneurs who I've been fortunate enough to enjoy two trade missions to Silicon Valley with; all tremendously high achieving, fascinating women although too many to mention here.
Listen to more insights from Jess during our live online masterclass at 12.30pm on 29 November. Register here.
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