Posted: Fri 19th Oct 2018
Enterprise Nation member Ross Cox is the founder of Dispace, a co-working community that works with existing bars, hotels and restaurants and turns them into great places to work with extra benefits such as private rooms, food discounts and free events. He tells his inspiring story.
Describe your business in one sentence.
A flexible co-working platform and community delivered in partnership with hospitality venues to provide a mobile, low cost service wherever it's needed.
How have you funded your business?
Through an investor
Explain how you secured the funding for your business.
Luckily, I have enough put aside to get us going, although naively I thought this might see us through to revenue at least.
I absolutely underestimated the amount of early investment we'd need to get the basic administration and marketing foundations in place.
Fortunately our early fundraising paid off and we were able to secure SEIS funding for the business, with an investor who knows the sector and is willing to be very hands on (giving us labour as well as cash) so we're in good shape to get through the early stages of the business.
How did you come up with the idea?
We came up with the idea having regularly experienced the downsides of trying to work on the move, and recognised the cost prohibitive and inflexible nature of renting space.
We wanted something that captured needs of the exponentially growing trend of remote working in a way that aligned to principles of doing so, primarily flexibility and mobility.
We wanted to recognise that whilst the way we work is changing, the need for space to work and other human beings to work with (whether it be to sell to, buy from, collaborate with or just share some downtime) will always be constants, so if we could provide the physical locations and a ready made community to engage with in and outside of those locations, we felt we'd have a service that spoke directly to the future of working.
We'd seen examples of doing hospitality partnership co-working in other countries, but as a managed service.
We felt that this could provide the scale service inherent in delivering the solution more effectively if we delivered it as a platform, connecting the venues with the members in the context of an online community.
What start-up challenges have you had to overcome?
You name it. The usual stuff.
Creating an easy to understand proposition that is critical for a business acquiring customers online, and then delivering that message through an effective marketing strategy is the toughest part.
Once we have users, retention is much easier to control as we can directly influence delivery of the service. So whilst it is by no means easy, creating loyal customers is much more within our control than getting people through the door in the first place.
Whilst we understood the basics of marketing and could execute on the tasks, we really were novices when it came to defining the best strategy. We took the decision early on to invest in bringing an experienced marketing team in, initially on an outsourced basis, and whilst this isn't cheap the ROI is far greater than our DIY plan b.
And it means we can concentrate on product design and delivery, i.e. the tools the marketers need to acquire customers and the service levels we need to keep them.
What has been your biggest business achievement so far?
Recruiting partner venues. Ultimately we don't have a business without finding fabulous bars, hotels and restaurants who understand our vision and are willing to join us for the ride.
We aren't going to start buying and converting real estate - and that really is counter to what we are about in terms of putting value back into independents on the high street -so getting these guys on board, to share their spare capacity and create a compelling on-site experience for our members was critical to our success.
We are now getting venue in-bound so we're really excited about our ability to scale quickly geographically.
What is your next big business goal?
Hitting our customer acquisition and retention targets for this first phase. We need to prove we can get members in, paying and sticking around at volume.
We've taken the sensible decision to offer extended free trials to our early adopters.
We know that our day one service will always be the most basic version of what we deliver, and whilst we know we'll move quickly, we want to give our initial members the opportunity to see the service grow and help to shape it, before we ask them to assess if they're getting a fair exchange of value.
We want Dispace to scale, but to start with it is more important to create a handful of strong advocates that we can get to know and fully understand their motivations and goals for remote working, so that we can use this profile to reach more prospects with the right message.
What do you think will be your biggest business challenge?
In truth, it's about making the key decisions in terms of investing in the business.
The timing of hiring, increasing marketing budgets and increasing our joint investment in venues will dictate how well we get on. It's about recognising when we've proven something with a light version of the product such that the opportunity and value of that opportunity has created a business case to invest.
All of that is predicated on us remembering, above all else, to listen to our customers and deliver what they want.
Plus the odd lucky break along the way.
How has Enterprise Nation helped your business?
Enterprise Nation gives us access to people who all have remote working needs, so it gives us a chance to test our ideas, recruit customers and build advocacy.
It also gives us the resources and support we need to operate as a start-up who has to find low cost ways of solving challenges.
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
Somebody lesser known, and a friend of mine. Matt Eames is CCO of reviews company Feefo.
Matt had a raft of experience in sales before joining Feefo but probably hadn't taken on such a strategic role before. His personality and attitude shone through in the Feefo brand, making it an aspirational business to be associated with, either as a client, partner or by joining the team.
He proved that you can create a decent product and people will come, but if you get the articulation of the vision and attitude of the business right, people will naturally gravitate towards you and want to be seen to be part of what you're doing.
I share the vision to build something that people value, that people believe in and that people want to be part of.
What are your three tips for business success based on your experiences so far?
Thoroughly do your numbers, at all times but particularly at the start. If they look very ambitious and you don't have a bottomless pit of money, you should probably try something else as placing long-shot bets on business rarely pays off.
Don't spend ages asking for positive confirmation of what you are doing. Research is flawed based on sample size, relationships, artificial context (see political polling). You'll only know if people will buy when they have to make that decision. Concentrate on iteratively getting to the place to test that with minimal investment. Then understand objections, update and test again.
Surround yourself with the right people. Not just the ones you hire (trust and shared vision over experience every day) but the ones you talk to about your plans. You'll pick-up stacks of bits of gold that will help you shape what you do. Don't spend too much time in your head.
Anything else you would like to share?
Get the backing of your family. You'll need them financially, logistically and to make allowances for your absence and your mood.
Make sure you have the confidence that you have that before you start. And make time, every week to be a wife, husband, dad, mum, brother, sister, friend. You don't get to check-out altogether if you want to keep them on-board and look back in years to come and feel like a decent human being.
We're proud to have people like Ross as members of Enterprise Nation. Join Enterprise Nation today and become part of an amazing community of small business owners.