This is the third in our new series “8 Questions” — in which we sit down with founders in the Playfair portfolio to share their entrepreneurial journey.
We first invested in Mandeep back in 2014, in the very early days of Playfair. We were inspired by his vision to bridge the worlds of beautiful offline retail with the power of online. Mandeep, alongside his co-founders were in that category of founders who you just know will find a way, somehow, to build an unstoppable business, and that’s why we first invested a year before they even had launched Trouva.
Fast forward to 2019 and Trouva now works with over 800 of the best independent boutiques in the likes of Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam, bringing together 150,000+ unique products on their platform.
Today, we sit down with co-founder and CEO, Mandeep to hear his story from deciding to take the plunge as an entrepreneur, to building Trouva to where it is today. 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 an entrepreneur?
Back in the day, I used to develop websites from my bedroom and trade domains. I think I’ve long had that unavoidable entrepreneurial hustle. After starting my career as a strategy consultant and then as a private equity investor, I saw the starts and middles of many great companies, but I couldn’t escape that itch to be on the other side, doing the hard work myself and building my own vision full-time, not someone else’s part-time.
2. Can you take us back to the beginnings of Trouva?
I quit my city job in 2013 and set to work with my co-founders on realising our grand vision to connect online and offline retail in the world’s first marketplace for bricks and mortar independents.
A perennial marketplace question was and still is:
Do you start with the supply or the demand side?
In our case, it was definitely the supply side; signing up small shops to our vision and then providing the demand once we had built the product they needed.
3. What is the hardest lesson learned since day 1?
The hardest lesson I’ve learned is how to remain certain of your vision as a founder while accepting that the path to get there will not be smooth and you will have to change direction many times along the way.
For us, that change came from listening to our customers. It’s so important to balance your internal “I’m right” ethos with the flexibility to listen to what your customers are telling you about their experience using your product and interacting with your business.
I’m cheating here, but a second key lesson:
There are 99 reasons why a business won’t succeed, but as an entrepreneur you have to listen to that 1 reason it will.
Knowing when and who to listen to is vital.
4. What has been your strangest day as a founder?
It was a “pinch yourself” moment on business rates review day when small shop owners rang us to say they’d been kept in business thanks to Trouva. It was amazing to realise that you are genuinely starting to have the impact you had long envisioned for people far beyond your own personal circles.
Another one of the strangest days was definitely when one of Britain’s most famous comedians bought his Christmas gifts from us. If I say what they bought, I’ll give away who it was 🤫.
5. What have you learned from your investors since you first fundraised?
First, choose the right investors. Take the right size fund for the right cheque size so that they can really give you the time and support you need. Be a prize in their portfolio, not one of multiple ‘plays’.
When VC funds talk about their network and reach as a value-add, this should be 1) the power of shared experience — adding value from seeing the details behind 100 companies, over the same time period you see just a few — and 2) introductions. Not just to a large volume of people, but to those whose successes and mistakes you can really learn from.
6. As a founder, what is your proudest achievement to date?
It was surreal when we reached one million people visiting the Trouva website in a single month. It’s that unique moment when you sit back and find it hard to visualise just how many people are buying into something that you and your team have built from an idea. I think what I’m particularly proud of is to have created something powerful enough to have taken on a life of its own.
7. Crystal Ball: What are your plans for the future?
International expansion. We already know people love Trouva and it’s now a case of bringing what we do to as many people around the world as possible. We already have shops in over 10 countries in Europe, and customers buying from the US, but we want to go one step further and build a global network of the best independent stores around the world. The high street woes may only just be beginning; the quicker we can build Trouva, the greater positive impact we can have.
8. #1 piece of advice to an aspirational founder?
Make sure you hire people who are better than you at a specific skill.
There is no way you’re the best at everything and you definitely can’t do everything yourself, however great the urge as a founder!
Coming to trust these key people that you’re constantly leaning on and learning from as you grow your business will be the foundation to building something that can outgrow you and your co-founders.