2 December 2019
Tell us about your professional journey so far and how bubble began.
My background is in journalism. After leaving university, I worked as a sports broadcaster and commentator for UEFA. However, I always had a high interest in business and after about a year and a half made the decision to join Betfair in 2008.
I wasn’t big into sports betting, but it was an incredible business to work for with many interesting challenges. I spent five years there before joining MarketInvoice, which was then a small but growing Fintech in London. It was a great experience with highs and lows that taught me a lot.
While I was working for these companies, I became a dad. My wife and I have three little kids now; Zeb is six, Thea is three and Ethan is one. The idea for bubble came from my own personal experience of how hard it was to find good childcare.
You realise quickly what an impact it has on your everyday life; it stops you from working, socialising, but also just doing the boring everyday things that we all take for granted before kids come along. Childcare was a massive issue for us and every parent I knew – and the sector as a whole had been completely left behind by technology.
I thought it was crazy how such a massive, daily problem for so many people, could be so underserved. Having worked at two hugely successful, tech-driven marketplace companies, I felt I could apply some of those learnings to solve what I felt was a problem that simply had to be fixed.
What has been the most challenging aspect of founding your company?
Founding a startup with a young family at home is especially tough. It puts big pressure on you both financially and emotionally. When you’re trying to launch a startup, your work can become all-consuming, 24/7, and finding the right balance between work and home life is hard.
Another big challenge is getting comfortable with the fact that things will go wrong and becoming adept at dealing with that reality is a key skill. It ensures you get good at acting with clarity and rationality during fraught times. It helps ensure you’re good at prioritising and thinking a step ahead, and most importantly it means you manage to get some sleep at night. When you run your own business you want things to be perfect, but there will be many ups and downs and I think the sooner one comes to terms with that the better.
What is your vision from the outset for Bubble?
Our mission has always been to make parents happier. We all have many struggles as parents, and across the board, childcare has to be one of the biggest. What motivates us is knowing that if we get this right, we’ll be making a massive difference to the lives of millions of people.
I think attitudes and expectations amongst parents have shifted massively compared to say 15 years ago. We rightly want to continue living our lives to the fullest after our kids arrive, whether that’s in the pursuit of our hobbies, our careers or personal lives. But at the same time, we remain extremely time-poor. We need help and we want bubble to be the platform a parent turns to to get it.
To what do you attribute your success?
I think we and I have a long way to go before we think about our success. One of the harsh realities about starting-up is there’s very little time to reflect on what you achieve – you’re always moving onto the next problem and trying to raise the bar higher. We are really proud though of what we’ve built and how we help our customers every day. That’s always our main focus and if we stick to that then we’ll be OK.
What kind of culture exists in Bubble, and how did you establish it?
Culture isn’t something you can manufacture, rather it’s determined by the character and values of your people, and we therefore place great emphasis on these when we make hiring decisions at bubble. Startup life can be gruelling at times. You need to work quickly, often with uncertainty and be willing to test new things and make mistakes. Having an open, collaborative and supportive culture that facilitates that type of work is so important, and it’s what we try to foster at bubble. We’re a small team that is passionate about what we’re doing, and committed to great work. The quality of our output is all that matters to us, and providing an environment that allows people to do their best work is what we’re focused on.
What are the most exciting innovations you have come across in your space?
Parents struggling to access great care for kids is an obvious problem, but a really hard one to fix, and to be honest there’s been a near-total dearth of innovation in the childcare sector, which is why we set bubble up.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned which have impacted the way you work?
Getting good at switching off – properly – has had a hugely positive impact on me and my work. Sadly it’s far easier said than done, and nowadays it takes a conscious effort to switch off – but finding little ways to help ensure I do has made me more productive, more relaxed and generally happier.
Do you believe there is a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
There is no secret formula and as someone relatively new into my own entrepreneurial journey, if there was one I’d love to find it! There are amazing entrepreneurs out there who vary greatly in terms of background, skill-set and outlook. There are also many ways to grow great companies. Some principles which are there throughout though would be huge personal belief, perseverance and sheer hard-work.
And last, what one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
Always focus on the customer – at every stage and especially pre-launch. There are a million things to think through when starting up, but in my experience the most important one is who your customer is and how you’re going to get them buying from you. You can design the best product and build the best paper business model in the world, but when it comes down to it, selling something new from scratch is tough. Understanding the distribution channels open to you, and building a robust plan for how to tackle them is the most valuable thing one can do when starting up.