“8 Questions with Playfair” ft. Bryony & Barny @ Hullabalook
This is the second in our new series “8 Questions” — in which we sit down with founders in the Playfair portfolio and ask them to share their startup journey.
We first met Bryony and Barny back in 2016 and were impressed by their chemistry as co-founders, together with the depth and range of their shared skill sets: from deep tech expert to product guru, they’ve got it all.
Fast forward to 2019 and they now have 7 leading customers in 9 countries, including a flagship partnership with Made.com, and are as busy as ever building the next generation of e-commerce experiences.
We hope this can help other founders and aspirational entrepreneurs in their own ventures, from day one to wherever they are today.
1. What inspired you to be entrepreneurs?
Bryony: I’ve always wanted to have three different careers that build on each other — corporate, startup and creative. Corporates give you an important grounding through training and support, as well as some financial flexibility. Startups allow you to apply everything you’ve learned and to own your story. My final creative stage remains somewhere in the unknown future!
Barny: I’ve been a techie since the early days — I was writing code at thirteen and made my first pocket money selling software I wrote to learn Latin for GCSEs. Selling it on ripped DVDs to people from Australia to the US whetted my entrepreneurial appetite, but wasn’t quite the product with the market size for investment!
2. Can you take us back to the beginnings of Hullabalook?
We met back at BAE systems, where we spent the first 15-odd years of our careers. We’d previously turned down opportunities to start companies because we hadn’t found the right co-founder, but this was the perfect fit: we could discuss tech and business together.
You might have thought working between the UK and Australia respectively would be a barrier, but it was over one of many early/late calls that Barny finally dropped the question: “So, shall we start a company?”
3. What is the hardest lesson learned since day 1?
Know your limits and how to balance your priorities.
It is incredibly difficult to stop yourself working every waking minute on the baby that is your company, but building and running a company is a marathon, not a sprint.
Balancing the way you scale your engineering and sales function is key. Like the chicken and the egg problem, you can’t sell something you haven’t yet built, and you can’t build something that you don’t yet know people want. This is a timeless challenge, but we have learned that being agile and aware means you can always stay one step ahead so you can react quickly.
4. What has been your strangest day as founders?
Every August, we run a six-day hackathon, now dubbed “Hullafest”. Last year, we launched a successful mission: sending the “Hullabot” team mascot into space, with a camera attached to prove it. A permit from the Civil Aviation Authority, a long drive out to the Malverns for a 4am launch, and a race across England to the landing point almost in the North Sea later and we’re confident that was our strangest day to date.
It was obviously a lot of fun, but it did also have the serious aim of reinforcing our cultural values, even as a young company, of being: 1) unashamedly geeky, and 2) clever, but never talking down to people because of it.
5. What have you learned from your investors since you first fundraised?
Joe Thornton at Playfair Capital has been invaluable on the recruiting front since day one. He helped us build a blueprint for hiring, which now means we can hire for new roles more easily, cheaply and effectively than before (we still haven’t ever had to pay recruitment fees). More broadly, Playfair’s single backer, Federico Pirzio-Biroli, means they can be time-scale agonistic, genuinely supporting early-stage companies like us.
The board of any company is crucial, but it can be a true asset if you get it right as a startup. Across our board, we have always looked for a balance of skill sets to help us grow in a balanced way. Alongside Playfair’s expertise, Robert Dighero at Passion Capital has brought his wealth of finance knowledge in a CFO-like capacity, far before we could bring on that function full-time, while True’s retail knowledge runs deep in the sector. We’d love our next investors to bring an added dimension of product and marketing experience.
6. As founders, what are your proudest achievements to date?
Our first customer: Made.com. We are pretty proud that they were the first prospect we ever spoke to and that the partnership continues to this day. It shows we know who our ideal customers are and we know how to continue providing the product they need. Winning a Retail Tech award for our work together is just the icing on the cake.
7. Crystal Ball: what are your plans for the next three years?
We have spent the last couple of years building out our platform alongside our early customers. With less than £5,000 total spend on marketing since we started, this quarter we hired a sales function to share our fantastic product with more customers and we’re excited to see the pipeline swelling with interest from around the world.
If you’re an investor, reach out and we can tell you more.
If you’re looking to join a fast-growing company with unbeatable culture, get in touch!
8. #1 piece of advice to an aspirational founder?
Go and find yourself the best co-founder out there because, with the right person, you can do anything.