Posted: Mon 22nd May 2017
Jamie Sutherland is the chief technology officer at Mallzee, the Edinburgh-based app that allows consumers to shop from over 150 top fashion brands in one place.
Ahead of speaking at the free Amazon Academy ecommerce event in Edinburgh tomorrow (23 May), Sutherland shares the story behind Mallzee, his thoughts on Scotland as a place to do business and how to build a great app and workforce.
A few tickets remain for the Amazon Academy. Book yours here.
How did founder Cally Russell come up with the idea for Mallzee and turn that idea into a business?
The idea came about when shopping for jeans and looking across multiple websites for a decent pair that he liked. He has always been entrepreneurial and was interested in creating a business around product recommendation. The problem about finding great clothes is a global one so the idea grew legs from there.
Why did you decide to join Mallzee and what key start-up challenges did you face in the early days of the business? How did you overcome those challenges?
Cally had formalised the idea and raised a small seed round of funding. Callum Stuart, our COO, and myself had a start-up previous to Mallzee which had recently failed so we were looking to start a new project.
Cally was looking to hire some technical people which we were vetting for him then the realisation that we should just be working on this hit. It was a great technical challenge with massive scope for where the business could head, so we jumped in!
Looking back the first major challenge is first hires. They will set the culture for your company along side you.
Having competent people is not enough. It's got to be people you want be with as well. Fortunately we are very lucky to have a great pool of talent in Edinburgh and more importantly people with the drive to start something new and take a risk.
The second is continuing to iterate on a product that people want. Having the right people from the start make this process a lot easier. Listening to feedback and adapting your product into something that is what people want and beautiful at the same time takes a lot of graft.
What are the benefits of running a business in Scotland?
Quality of life here is pretty astounding. This is helping to not only keep the great amount of talent coming from our universities and colleges but it is also starting to attract people from London and other parts of the world as Edinburgh makes it's name as another tech hub. 40% of the people in my team at Mallzee have moved to Edinburgh for this reason and love it here.
Scotland is a small place, there are lot of people willing to help out to see great companies succeed. It's also a very well connected country. I'm always amazed at how well the Scottish network can get to people who can help with various aspects of your business.
How has Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped your company?
Our ethos here is pay to take the pain away. So we try and utilise AWS managed services where possible to allow our developers to work on the products we're producing and not worry about infrastructure and certainly not hardware. Thankfully AWS gives us that choice.
The initial start-up plan AWS gave us was key in letting us research and develop some of the more technically challenging parts of our platform.
Without this initial voucher we would have had to wait months for our revenue to catch up to allow us to research our tech to that level.
We're now using at least 10 of the AWS' services to deliver our platform.
We try to work in as server less a way as possible so between Lambda, DynamoDB, Elasticsearch and API Gateway we are able to run the major parts of our platform without having to think about the underlying infrastructure.
What are your three top tips for creating a successful app?
1: Remember that you had a vision for your product and unless that has proven to be a failure push towards it. Just always have your customers best interested in mind. Listen to their feedback and improve based on that.
2: Metrics, figure out early on what parts aren't working. Remember that for every person that gives you feedback about something that's wrong, there are countless many more who have felt the same way and have just dropped it. Figure out your key funnels early and track them.
3: Hire a great team and let them do what they do best. Hire smarter than you and leave ego at the door. Challenge what is being produced, but trust in their reasoning if you can find no flaws.