27 February 2017
You displayed entrepreneurial skills at a very early age, tell us a bit more about that experience?
I started my first entrepreneurial activity at the age of 12, selling customised computers to my friends. It was an exciting adventure at the time, although I can say that excitement has never changed over the years. I was learning a lot about the basics of business: buying at volume to achieve economies of scale, marketing / pitching / selling, margins, value of time and value add. I learnt a lot and to be frank, made up a lot of the stuff along the way but each time when I’ve said anything or made a decision I regretted, I learnt from that. At that time, it was an experience which I personally wanted, the desire to stand out from my peers. As they were having leisure time, I chose to learn about setting up a business and coming up with ideas & solutions to problems. I enjoyed problem solving and got a huge amount of satisfaction seeing people pay for the solutions I offered.
What led you to create Urban Massage?
I’m constantly looking for the next business idea which can come from a problem I’ve had personally or someone I know has encountered. With Urban Massage, it was a personal experience which led me to do a deep dive into the health, beauty and wellness industry where I discovered how broken it was. On a weekend sometime in late 2012, I was under a lot of stress and my neck, shoulder and back was ridden with knots and pain. I was in dire need for some R&R – I decided to head online to search for a local spa or massage clinic that could help me. With a common perception that when you live in a city like London (one of the world’s most advanced cities), one would expect that you can book an appointment for just about anything within the hour – and how wrong was I… Having trawled through pages of search results, made numerous calls, I felt that I was heading down a one way street of “no we’re fully booked”, “we’re not open please leave a voicemail” and I just wondered why am I even calling to book in the first place? And why wasn’t there a service that could come out to me. During the whole booking experience, I had questions around trust, quality of treatment and overall whether I could get a service that would resolve my needs? That lightbulb moment sparked and led me to dive the customer lifecycle and where the pain points were. It gradually led me to look into how the industry worked in general, how the supply of massage services worked, who were these massage therapists and how they engaged with finding work. And that was the beginning of our mission to empower the world to book and to supply wellness services in urban areas – all over.
What are the pain points of operating in a market place?
When setting up a marketplace, you’re basically setting up two businesses at the same time. You have to cater for two customer base with different needs, whilst at the same time balance the two side of your businesses to ensure it operates efficiently so they can transact efficiently. It is no easy task! Over the course of running a market place, you surprise yourself and excel in areas such as analytics and data – for example, ensuring a balance between supply of therapist available to book and demand for their services is a constant challenge. Before I go way too deep in to the hundreds of challenges, the third key challenge is getting each market we decide to launch to critical mass or that “tipping” point – where users are easily able to book a therapist near them when they want. This is super essential to ensuring a great customer experience. That first time they use your app, giving them that WOW-factor is so important to the sustainability of our business model. In practice we don’t have any control over when these self-employed therapists want to work, but we use a lot of data and insights to predict what supply the platform will have available versus what demands are expected. If supply doesn’t look great, then we need to reduce marketing spend to reduce demand. We’ve built some pretty boundary pushing stuff that dynamically balances these challenges with AI and machine learning.
What are the key features of the model you developed?
To enable the user to book an expert within and hours notice , we utilise technology to do all the heavy lifting. Working out where the massage therapist partners are and how long it’s going to take the to get to the user’s location given the current travel conditions and appointment’s he /shes has already scheduled. This works in real-tm for on-demand bookings but we use predictive algorithms for advanced bookings – as a technology platform we are the only one globally that can empower the user to select the specific therapist they want, when they want. This is a huge technological advantage we have over our competitors, but also essential in providing the user a personalised experience.
How would you describe your Funding experience in London?
Our funding experience in London has been pleasant – London is a great place to raise finance especially for technology start-ups. The vast selection of great venture capital funds that have cropped up in the past 5 years have been a big trend as a result of the support of the government. The availability of capital in London has made is easier for us to explore options and to compare what value each fund can bring to us, something more than just the capital. I personally feel London is one of the best markets to raise financing globally and is increasingly competing with the US Funds.
What are the three factors that influenced investments into Urban Massage?
1.The entrepreneurial spirit of the founding team, the tenacity, drive and vision we have
2.The business model, product market fit and the ability to demonstrate a large global market for us to tackle
3.Ability to execute well and demonstrate of initial traction was key in securing our early funding.
How did LCIF’s participation help your grow plans?
LCIF co-invested with one of our round’s lead investor – Firestartr, its participation added additional value to the group of investors we had on-board at the time. Not only did LCIF’s participation add more capital to the round, they also gave us access to a network of entrepreneurs, government representatives, he mayor’s international programme and more. It has been an invaluable contribution to our company’s growth.
What are the issues you are facing scaling the business to the next level?
Going through hyper growth is always challenging, because ultimately it is a constant balancing act – making sure all your plates are spinning correctly, and at the same pace. For me, it was essential that I personally don’t become a bottle neck to my team.
The first exercise I did after our investment round was to build up my leadership team. This has been key to the scale we’ve experienced. Simply, it has taken many aspects of my job (which were functions that didn’t quite fit with anyone else) in the past away from me and I could focus on what’s to come in the future, and plan out our strategy.
Further, while you scale, it is important you manage your risks appropriately, anything from managing your marketing investment appropriately to maintaining culture and cohesion as more people join your organisation and how you organise your legal entities in a way that enables you to replicate your business model in other countries. All of which has been part of the process we’ve undergone but much of it being fully supported by my leadership team.
What are your growth plans for Urban Massage?
We’re at a stage where we’ve achieved good product market fit, and of course we’re constantly improving what we’re doing.
Our growth plans are quite simple. International operations have always been at the forefront of our strategy and so in the past 6 months, we launched Urban Massage in France and Austria. We have plans to launch in more countries across Europe, S.E.A and North America in 2017.
We always get asked, how about other verticals like beauty, Fitness etc. At Urban Massage, we really believe in focus and the need to be dominant in a single market whilst pre-empting what’s to come in the future. Ultimately, we provide a tech platform to enable ‘experts to you’. Its important we establish our brand in the $48 billion massage space before we expand to other fields, when that becomes a reality it would depend on how fast we dominate this space globally.