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Podcast: Building A New Way To Pay with Tom Weaver from Flypay

Tom J:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Lighthouse London Podcast. I’m Tom. Today I’m out and about. I’m in sunny King’s Cross, very sunny in fact, surprisingly so for this country. I’m at the offices of Flypay with

Tom W:

, the CEO and co-founder. Hello.

Tom W:

Hi.

Tom J:

Well, thanks for coming in. I’m here. I came to you.

Tom W:

Thank you for coming in.

Tom J:

Thanks. No problems. I’ve been doing a bit of research into the company. Sounds like you’ve come quite a long way in a relatively short space of time. Why don’t you give us a bit of a background of you and Flypay?

Tom W:

Sure. Well, myself and my co-founder actually have backgrounds in customer experience and consultancy. After a number of years of struggling to get the next job in through the door and delivering that and struggling to get the next one in, we kind of realised we were in the luxury position of being paid to find other people’s problems. We were tending to consult for quite large, bricks and mortar brands around the experiences people have from the moment they walked in until the moment they walked out. Essentially our origin story, if you want to call it that, is that we had a restaurant group come to us and ask us to do a bit of work. The research that came out was really around the kind of typical experiences that people were having when they went out. It was one of those things you could see very, very clearly that the payment step was broken both for consumers and for restaurants. It wasn’t really a problem that could be solved by one particular retailer, so we looked at how we could solve it really across the entire industry.

Tom J:

That’s interesting it came out of that, very much coming from a finding a problem that existed in the world and then developing from there. What were you’re first steps in getting this moving?

Tom W:

Yeah. I mean, from the research that we’d done actually it took us another couple of years to really convince ourselves that nobody was going to do it. We sort of sat back and were continually sure that some big company somewhere must have spotted this too. Really it was actually my father who ran a business, Angel Company actually a number of years ago, not anymore he’s retired now, but sort of saying, “Hey, look. You know, just write a business plan. Get on with it.” But before writing a business plan, and this is a little bit about kind of our mindset anyways as founders, over a particular Christmas period after a really difficult period of consultancy, my co-founder Chris built a very, very dirty prototype.
But yeah, we built something. We actually took it to a customer. We actually emailed two customers when we got back from Christmas, one of them was Wahaca restaurant chain, one of them … about the same kind of size. Those guys didn’t get back, Wahaca did. We met Mark Selby, the founder, in early February 2013. It was one of those kind of glorious meetings where you show them this very horrific prototype and he liked it. He got it and he looked at it and he said, “I want it. Can I have it? Can I have it by summer?”

Tom J:

When you talk about prototype, I mean, we spend a lot of time designing prototypes for early stage founders of businesses. We’re firm believers in knocking something together however rough ready it is, and trying to prove value to a potential customer or a business, whatever. What did the prototype do? Is it just smoke and mirrors?

Tom W:

Yeah, it was very much smoke and mirrors. I mean, we’d essentially emulated the iOS version of what the payment app could look like. The idea was to demonstrate that in theory it should be possible to pay your bill in a minute from the moment you decided you wanted to.

Tom J:

Right.

Tom W:

We’d got some of the bits moving, but clearly it was all very surface level, and we were very open about that saying, “Look. This is how we think it could work.”

Tom J:

Selling the dream.

Tom W:

Exactly, we sold the dream. Then he said to us, “Give us the dream,” and then we had to go away and figure out could we actually build the dream and could we finance the dream and everything else. Actually it was a good place to start. Off the back of that we registered the company and then we wrote a business plan and then we raised some seed investment. We got going.

Tom J:

So the product you have now, I’m presuming it’s relatively different to when you started out.

Tom W:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s funny. When we look back now it was a great problem point, but actually that’s still the core product. It’s one of the ones that we’re most known for. We call it kind of Pay at Table now. It’s one of the flagship solutions that we built out. Very quickly because we were targeting large multi-site restaurant operators we found that there wasn’t really a one size fits all approach.

Tom J:

Of course.

Tom W:

Almost even before we’d launch we were working with Wahaca, we were building kind of order and collect onto the solution. When we started working with GBK we were starting to add order at table. When we started working with pub chains we started to add bar tabs. We essentially built a suite of really what we now think of as our kind of commerce suite of applications, things that actually change the way that you order and pay when you go out. Then about a year ago we had kind of a big realisation after our series A. We were getting into a time when it was getting a lot more competitive that we could see a lot of more people really for the first time, actually people that were coming to the market and were winning stuff off of us, Mastercard in particular.

Tom J:

Okay, so existing kind of providers

Tom W:

Yeah. They were come along, they were looking at what we’ve done. They were coming out with similar stuff. Kind of added to that we’d sort of done the numbers. We’d kind of grown nicely and organically to about a million users of our own app, the Flypay app. We were also supporting customers that were doing branded applications, so people like Wahaca or GBK wanted to build apps on our STKs.

Tom J:

Nice.

Tom W:

As we actually looked at the next phase we said, “Well, what does it take to grow from the million users to well, how many users? How many users do you even need to do this at scale?” Obviously it isn’t a B to B to C business. You need both the chicken and the egg. You need the slights and the consumers. The big realisation for us was that we were probably going to have to pay for our consumers even if we were paying a pound per consumer, even having raised seven million which we just had, it wasn’t going to be anywhere near enough. In fact, we think that we probably really needed access pots of at least 100 million consumers in Europe. There was just no way we could come close. My co-founder likes to say at this point we pivoted. I like to say that we kind of evolved the proposition slightly. It was always the same proposition, but essentially what we realised was we needed to come up with a much cleverer way of scaling. So that’s when we built out what we now call flight, which is a app platform solution.

Tom J:

How have you kind of managed and kept track of that roadmap throughout the tech side of developing it?

Tom W:

It’s an incredibly evolving roadmap because in a way we’re continuing to build out now. In a sense they say the aspiration with flight is to be able to connect into other people’s consumer pots, so go after the places where the consumer already is, whether it’s other aggregate raps or I always call them the 800 pound gorillas and other places where the consumer’s already downloaded something, and also building out a suite of solutions as we call them, which other people in the tech industry and certain in hospitality tech.
We’re not one of those companies that has one thing and is just working on refining that one thing. Actually what we’ve got is quite a significant suite of solutions. What we’re trying to change towards is essentially working focused on the core of those to allow other people to integrate in rather than us doing a lot of work integrating out. Essentially what we’ve done is just have to refocus the company around some business units that relate to the different component parts of the platform. So we’ve got our API team that focuses on the integrations. We’ve got an SDK team that focuses on integrations in the consumer channels, and we’ve got a team that’s focused on building out the portal, which is the kind of heart of it all.

Tom J:

You appear to have done a lot of very complex integrations already with the things you’ve tapped into, so now I’m supposing that’s for other people, for them to build on top of. Right?

Tom W:

Absolutely. We like to think that we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting. Part of the problem in hospitality innovation is it’s very difficult to move fast because you’re so reliant on integrating with restaurant systems. Lots of people have tried to get around it, to not integrate, but fundamentally that’s where the actual data is stored and where it takes place.

Tom J:

Of course. Yeah, yeah.

Tom W:

To do anything really innovative you need to tap into that.

Tom J:

I don’t know the sector very well, but are there kind of like, a few big systems that it’s very difficult for people to move away from that have been there for a long time?

Tom W:

Yeah, precisely. I mean, the point of sale market is similar in other sectors as well, but in a way there’s sort of five or six big players that have maybe 70-80% coverage, so that’s good.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

Certainly if you look at the major multi-site operators the problem is then the long tail, it could be another 200 to 300 POS systems.

Tom J:

Yeah, okay.

Tom W:

Innovation and SMEs is therefore quite hard to reach because of that. Even the multi-site operators, when we started there were some really big players who wanted to work with us and couldn’t because their systems were too old. They didn’t have APIs out there.

Tom J:

Got it, yeah.

Tom W:

When the POS companies were starting to work with us they were having to write APIs and they weren’t really experienced at doing so.

Tom J:

Got it.

Tom W:

Things have actually moved quite significantly in four years, but even now POS companies are very focused on doing what they’re doing very well. They actually have got to the stage now where working with us has actually been quite useful. They’ve actually said, “Okay. Instead of having a lot of people come to us and integrate. We’d rather integrate once with you and you take care of that.”

Tom J:

Of course. You can do the rest, yeah.

Tom W:

That certainly wasn’t the picture four years ago where you almost had to fight a little bit to get integrated.

Tom J:

Yeah. I’ve seen the future and how it’s going to go and no need to then rely on you to do the tech world rather than them building it themselves.

Tom W:

Yeah. We like to talk about the future a lot because the future’s quite scary. When people start to think about all the possibilities it certainly-

Tom J:

Absolutely.

Tom W:

It does actually help in a funny way. I’m joking a little but I think the challenges that we had when we did start was that big companies could act as gateway or gate keepers even to us. They could say, “Oh, no. We think we might do that one day.” Because actually the possibilities of what people can do with technology has become almost so much more exponential now not only because smart phones are more sophisticated but because there’s more devices that can access these kind of things and that you can see the path of evolution beyond things like Alexa and Voice Commerce and Augmented Reality and all these new devices that may come along and sweep away our phones in a few years time-

Tom J:

Definitely, yeah.

Tom W:

It’s useful to actually penetrate past this point where actually it’s not just about one thing anymore. It’s not just about an app anymore. If it’s not about an app then actually then it’s about what is that future? What is it all going to entail?

Tom J:

I wish we knew that. Right? Yeah. So on the website that was mentioned of Alexa and that kind of stuff, obviously it’s something in your mind about how that kind of … Many experiences in our lives are going to change, but definitely the only one I can see that there’s some very exciting ways in which people could improve that experience in the future.

Tom W:

Yeah. Ultimately these things are always about the kind of interface into the experiences we often take for granted. The thing that we’ve been thinking a lot about and it is the kind of thing that also made us move away from really focusing on our own aggregation app and trying to acquire our own consumer, seeing the rise of things like Facebook Messenger and saying, “Look. Those guys have a billion consumers over there,” and we can see they were adding bots. This was back at the tail end of 2014, ’15. That was obviously going to change a whole heap of things, but then Alexa, Voice Commerce, I just think that actually we’re in a really exciting new age. The ability of those things to connect into hospitality will be great. The problem is what you don’t want is that every new thing that comes along becomes a new six to twelve month IT project roadmap for a CIO of a big restaurant brand. Ultimately by the time they’ve done that it will already be too late and they’ll be on to the next thing.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

Most of the industry is just starting to get their head around what an app is. That sounds terrible and I don’t mean … There are some really innovative brands in the sector and we work with some great ones. There are others that ultimately have just managed to get their execs to understand they shouldn’t be on the digital road at all. They should be getting on with these things.

Tom J:

That’s quite common. We come across people like that a lot, so half the battle is getting them to understand this is something they should be investing in. That conversation can take time.

Tom W:

It really can. It really can. That’s also ultimately why we needed to find cleverer ways of scaling the kind of merchants that we could work with. Ultimately what we’ve been trying to do is to get pre-installed in a way to open up the possibilities to do things. Whereas again, when we started it could take a year, two years to make a decision that they wanted to do anything. Even when they did it it would take another 12 months to get integrated and live. Most start ups don’t survive a couple of years. Right?

Tom J:

It’s a luxury you don’t have.

Tom W:

With the challenges here, and actually it became quite important to us and certainly our approach to raising money and keeping going, has been recognising that in any kind of B to B focused start up, actually runway is critical. Actually every bit of penny you raise should be focused on extending runway, not increasing burn.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

I know that that’s not often a popular view in kind of start up world, that often it’s about accelerating and pushing burn and raising more. In this space we’re in sometimes companies just take a long time to get going.

Tom J:

It depends on your situation, doesn’t it? It sounds like a very sensible choice. I’m quite interested in what happens when you first hit a customer, so someone sitting at a table in a restaurant, for instance. How has that kind of shaped what you’ve done and what you’ve developed over time?

Tom W:

From the consumer perspective?

Tom J:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom W:

Yeah. We’ve always been very, very interested in the whole experience just as seamless as we could possibly can make it. Ultimately from something like a Pay at Table experience, again we try to think about designing out all the steps that could get in the way. Actually our original solution, the very dirty prototype worked off a kind of QR code, an NFC equipped QR code on the table. The NFC in particular was awesome. We’ve got an Android phone. You can literally just put your phone on the chip and it would load your bill instantly and then you could see your bill and you could kind of click it and pay it, which is awesome.
Unfortunately because Apple never supported NFC and also the challenges really of deploying essentially stickers onto millions of restaurant tables. It wasn’t as scalable as we liked so we ended up defaulting towards a table number, which is the one unit of information every waiter should know. It’s either on the table already or they can tell you. Otherwise they can’t put your bill in the point of sale. We found this was a great way of essentially allowing the waiter to communicate this early in the process. If you’d like to pay your app, here’s some info and your bill is on table six. The consumer essentially enters that in. It connects their bill. They can split it and do whatever they like and pay it and leave.
Now, as we looked at this again and again and again there’s been a variety of ways we could have radicalised this solution. We could have essentially made it so you could literally just kind of auto-check in, auto-pay, whatever. You could do something really, really frictionless and seamless and invisible. The challenge is we actually don’t think the customer is quite ready for that yet. We actually think that we needed to introduce a certain degree of control and visibility, and almost it needed to feel like a much better version of the existing experience. It needed to feel very close to the existing experience. Every single product that we’ve developed we followed that philosophy a little bit, so bar tabs for example. We’ve kind of emulated the idea of putting a card behind the bar. We’ve also tried to make it so that when you get really drunk and you walk out because you’ve forgotten to collect your bar, your tab can actually still collect the payment and you an pay it.

Tom J:

Okay.

Tom W:

Again, we could have circumvented a lot of it but it’s ultimately about trying to make sure you don’t need to completely re-educate the consumer the first time they’re doing something. It feels familiar, just 10 times better.

Tom J:

Okay. Yeah, I can see that. It could make a big difference but it’s interesting, so the people aren’t really ready for that kind of thing. I’ve been so many restaurants where there’s a, “Download this app and you can pay,” and I’ve never felt compelled to do that kind of thing, but certainly see the value in one day having that kind of thing on my phone.

Tom W:

I think that is that is the change always with consumer acquisition. How do you get the first time use? How do you get then the repeat use? We’re very lucky in a way that our consumer uptake when people did give it a go has generally been fantastic. There’s a nice kind of virality to that if somebody’s used it before and they’re at a table and they’ve got it, they’ll get other people using it on the bill. It does feel kind of clean and cool and neat.

Tom J:

Yeah. Is it as much in the restaurant’s hands to get people to sign up for it as well?

Tom W:

It is, it is. That again is always some of the challenge in all of this. It’s how do you then get the restaurants really behind what you’re doing? We found that branded apps where they had their name on the tin were a great early stage way of doing that.

Tom J:

Good.

Tom W:

They’re more likely to commit to pushing their own app than they were your app. As we move forward our approach is actually going to be slightly different. We are still supporting branded apps but actually as I say, we’re trying to tap into 10, 20, 30, 40 other apps that the consumer already has and trigger those apps to let them know that actually the consumer can pay in that location. Essentially we’re flipping the emphasis from it being a requirement of the staff to push to actually the consumer realises they can already do this.

Tom J:

They can do it already. Yeah. Is that an integration with say, Deliveroo and stuff like that? I saw there was stuff on your website based around that.

Tom W:

Well, Deliveroo are one of our partners. We’ve got a number of people that would fit, probably more and more, we call our solution side of the business. If you really want to innovate in this space somebody needs to go around and lay all the train tracks to all of these locations once so that anybody can drive their trains over those tracks. One of the drivers in this case is Deliveroo. They’re leveraging some of our point of sale integrations as are a number of others, both in delivery and booking and other parts of the customer journey, rather than building integrations themselves multiple times.

Tom J:

You’ve raised a load of money so far, some money came from Time Out. Is that right? And you’ve also-

Tom W:

Yeah. We did a series A, seven million with Time Out and we closed their 3.5 million extension from Just Eat actually in-

Tom J:

Cool.

Tom W:

… September 2016.

Tom J:

Is the Just Eat one because they want to start leveraging your talent energy and what they do? Is that the reason for-

Tom W:

Yeah, very much so. I mean, they really loved what we were doing and they could see that actually the delivery stuff that we were doing was really interesting, the POS integration stuff that we were doing was really interesting. They could see some applicability for their own estate. We quite like the idea of strategic investment. Again, it’s not for everybody. It comes with some pros and some cons. Personally I found that the pros have significantly outweighed the cons so far and it’s both with Time Out and Just Eat being incredibly supportive investors, being there when we’ve needed it, not being there too much in our face when we just wanted to hunker down and get on with stuff.

Tom J:

That’s always handy.

Tom W:

Ultimately we love investors who are bringing something other than money. In a way, what we’re looking for with both of those guys was how do we get access to your scale? Time Out, you’ve got an incredible consumer base. They’re a great brand. How do we ultimately tap into those consumers in the places we’re in, which is part of our flight strategy. Time Out could be a great consumer channel for us. For Just Eat, again you’ve got an incredible restaurant base. How do we tap into that?

Tom J:

What’s the feedback been from say, the restaurants you’ve integrated with your systems? Does it vary massively or have their been generally very positive-

Tom W:

I can say very positive. I think we’ve got a great relationship with a number of our restaurant partners. Some of them have worked with us for years now. We and try and push the boat. We try and do things that are always looking ahead and trying to take everybody on a journey with us. I’d say that we’re trying to build out to scale now, and I think one of the challenges really with moving from a early stage start up where you can over service a very small number of clients-

Tom J:

Of course, yeah.

Tom W:

… and spend a lot of time with them to suddenly at that stage where the number of locations or things that you’re trying to access is vastly beyond. That’s a challenge.

Tom J:

Yeah, okay.

Tom W:

That’s going to turn and say, “Okay,” to everybody, “sorry we can spend less time with you.”

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

What we’ve actually built is a whole load of tools that actually enable you to do yourself what you were having to ring us and ask us to do. It was a bit of an education process to then take people through. I think we’re out the other side of that really well now with getting a load of new restaurants signed up. The speed and acceleration has been dramatic since we launched the platform, and actually ultimately we’re able to work with a much wider number of restaurants and we’re able to allow them to do things that they weren’t capable of doing before. We’re feeling very positive about the space we’re in and the direction we’re heading.

Tom J:

What’s the makeup of the team at Flypay?

Tom W:

Mostly development. I’d say we’ve got four teams. There’s a commercial team, the SDK team, an API team, and our sort of front end flight pool team. Those business units are all pretty kind of cross cutting, so obviously the API team is mostly kind of back end engineers and our project manager and some dev-ops people. It’s only 40 people, so we keep it pretty lean. You will always feel like there’s too much work to do and you could never get through your roadmap fast enough. I think that would be the case even if you had 400 people, 4,000 people or 40,000 people.

Tom J:

There’s always more you could be doing. Right?

Tom W:

There’s always more you could be doing. You accelerate as fast as you can with the resources you have until it feels really, really painful. Then either you lengthen the roadmap or sometimes people get really creative and they find ways of solving things that they wouldn’t have otherwise solved. The thing that sticks in mind for me is we once had a couple of guys that were on sort of general kind of support issues, some developers. One of them in particular, whenever he had something come in, instead of solving it he would write the scripts to solve it for the next time. That was just brilliant. He saved so many man hours.

Tom J:

I’ll bet. Yeah.

Tom W:

It’s not natural that everybody would do that.

Tom J:

No, definitely.

Tom W:

I don’t think it’s bad. Sometimes I feel a little bit of pain and certainly resources are a constraint, and constraint can be good.

Tom J:

That’s a good thing, definitely. Yeah. Given all the money in the world you’ll often start building stuff you don’t need.

Tom W:

Yeah.

Tom J:

How do you stay on top of that development roadmap? How do you decide which feature gets done? How are you planning that?

Tom W:

We essentially set yearly goals about where we’d like to be as a business in a year’s time. Then every quarter myself, my co-founder Chris who’s the CTO-

Tom J:

Got it.

Tom W:

… and a couple of the other senior people go in and get together and do a rough draught of the quarterly goals, where we pretty much look at what’s coming in as pressures from clients or what’s the next logical thing that we need to be doing, and we’ll start to craft that into some over-arching goals. We’ll then involve their head of each business unit where they can say here’s … from things that we’ve been doing in this quarter what we’ve realised that we need to be doing in the next quarter is this. We’ll then sort of refine those. They then take it into a couple of weeks of planning with their teams where they structure those into objectives and key results for the quarter. Then essentially we have the three months of delivering against those. Some of the teams also factor into personal OKRs as well.

Tom J:

Right.

Tom W:

But we leave that on a team by team basis to make that decision as how they go forward. Essentially therefore the kind of roadmap is although we have a general sense of all the things that we want to build across the year we don’t structure a yearly roadmap, we structure yearly goals and where we want to get to. Then essentially the roadmap is defined on a quarterly basis.

Tom J:

What are the kind of bigger surprises that you’ve found along the way in any aspect of all this?

Tom W:

I think how long everything can take sometimes to get to the point you thought you were going to make. Again, I think if I look back at my first business plan I’d probably feel a little bit ashamed and embarrassed about some of the things I thought would be possible within three, four months. I think you underestimate a lot of these things, so that’s definitely one key thing for me. As I say, sometimes it’s very hard to kind of take a step back because it’s all happening so quickly. We’re four years in. In some ways that feels like eight and in some ways it feels like one. You know? I think the thing that we’re not surprised by as founders is that this is very much like a roller coaster ride where there are days when things are happening that are incredible and on the same day you can have the worst news possible as well and you might have that multiple times a day.

Tom J:

That’s a thing that comes up quite a lot are the highs and lows of these kind of fast moving companies. That is quite up there with the times.

Tom W:

I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming but it does tend to hit often all at once. You kind of tend to level out a little bit over time, so the highs don’t hit you so much. You forget to celebrate, which is really bad.

Tom J:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom W:

We kind of have to remind ourselves to really celebrate our wins. The highs kind of hit you less but the lows hit you kind of a bit less as well but you learn to deal with it.

Tom J:

How do you kind of pull the team up when something bad goes on?

Tom W:

Well, I think we try and just take a very calm and measured approach to every situation. Clearly with every tech start up sometimes the tech isn’t going to work how you’d hoped it would. You can get really stressed out and upset about that, but it actually doesn’t help anybody solve the issue faster.

Tom J:

No.

Tom W:

We just try and talk it through. We have proper debriefs after anything that goes wrong. Sometimes we’ll do proper company sharing. In the early days we had something called the donut rule where if somebody caused a major error they’d buy donuts for the team. That was kind of nice in the early stages because as the company got bigger and bigger and bigger the pain of causing error was greater and the number of donuts that you had to buy got bigger as well. We stopped that recently. The company got a bit too big and that.

Tom J:

I can imagine that’s quite a hefty bill.

Tom W:

Yeah. People were starting to get sugar overdoses.

Tom J:

What would you say are the kind of biggest mistakes you made along the way?

Tom W:

There’s certainly been products that we’ve built that we should have spent a lot more time really diving into before we started building. I can think of one product in particular that we started to build because a client had kind of pushed us that way.

Tom J:

Got it.

Tom W:

We were finding it very difficult to say no in the early stages. You kind of think that you need to agree to everything especially … which is a bit more B to B oriented in full control. In a consumer thing the consumer’s a bit more distanced. But when you sat across the table from someone and they say, “Really love that. Can you do this,” and you say, “Of course.” There was a few instances where we built things without really properly testing some of the assumptions behind it, either from a market perspective or from just the internal nature of what it would require to build it. As then you started to get spread a bit too thin in building out that product it became too much of a distraction and then you realised that actually it wasn’t what you were doing anyway. So something that felt like it was an extension became a whole new thing. It could have been a whole new company. Certainly the mistakes we made were not delving deep enough into thinking through what did it really take to build this out before we built it?

Tom J:

Yeah, okay.

Tom W:

Maybe that’s partly because I guess we are the kind of start up where it isn’t building one thing, so even though we’re kind of a platform approach there’s a number of components of that that are quite discreet in their own rights, whereas I do think some people obviously have a very focused nature of this saying, “It is this and that’s what we’re doing,” whereas in order to capture what we’ve been able to capture we’ve had to more broadly and thinly cross everything that we’re doing. It’s easy to make mistakes. It’s easy to jump into building something out, waste a whole load of time and resource and fundamentally money, building something that ultimately then you end up binning. I believe every start up probably goes through it eventually. You can see the big guys go through it all the time.

Tom J:

Everyone, yeah. I mean, most people do that early on and learn from there and try not to do it anymore, but it’s quite natural.

Tom W:

I think the success if anything was actually being brave enough sometimes to make the decisions to pull the plug on stuff. That actually has found us we didn’t have the ego attached to those products to say no, we were going to make it work. Actually we were able to say no. Even actually the switch from being more of a kind of consumer fronting app to thinking more in terms of a platform, that was originally very difficult for everybody but funnily enough, not for us as founders. It just felt like the obvious next step, whereas even taking employees on that journey, taking even friends and family and of course the investors and everybody.

Tom J:

Definitely, yeah.

Tom W:

It was a journey to take everybody else on and we reached it with relatively little emotion. That was just kind of like, “This is the obvious next thing. There’s no way we can do this.”

Tom J:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom W:

But then trying to take that around everybody else required a lot of effort. But being able to make those calls and commit to it and not look back, I think is pretty important.

Tom J:

It is tough that the mention of ego there is quite an interesting one because you invest so much time in these things and you’re so bought into it that that can be quite painful to do sometimes. It’s important to step away, I guess, and look at the logic behind it all and make decisions based on that.

Tom W:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t think you would start a business if you didn’t have a degree of ego. I think there is something in there in most founders, whether they can recognise it or not. Not in necessarily even a bad thing, but that’s just part and parcel sometimes of what it is. But also the kind of attachment, the love that you could put into crafting some of your early products and the belief that everybody has, because again you don’t start anything thinking you’re going to fail. You start everything thinking it’s going to absolutely be the next greatest thing.

Tom J:

Yeah, change the world.

Tom W:

It’s going to change the world.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

That’s therefore the kind of loop which is very hard to step out of because that can also be a very dangerous loop, certainly if actually that momentum isn’t there and the traction isn’t there and if you’re stuck in that then for too long then that’s where you see people run out of runway. Right? That all goes south very quickly.

Tom J:

You talked about testing assumptions there before, which is obviously a very important thing to do. The prototype was an assumption tester. How do you continue to do that moving forward? Are you still making rough prototypes of things and testing? How do you-

Tom W:

Oh, very much so. Yeah. Again, we now very much try and get a really good market assessment before we build stuff, so nothing really goes into the pipeline of work before we actually really know there’s people that want it. So we always pre-sell any new product. We get commitment, we get heads of terms signed, we assess the opportunity for a number of the different bits and we make sure that the opportunity size is big enough. We do a lot of thinking about actually if there’s anything new. For example, we’ve got a new solution coming up. It’s really interesting development of the space, which we’re thinking of as almost like a data pipeline out of the point of sale that anybody can almost subscribe to with the merchant’s permission. Merchants say, “I’m going to give access to these guys and these guys are going to listen to these events, and these events could be all this stuff.” It can be used for a whole variety of different stuff. It kind of came around mainly from this space because we had 15, 20 different providers coming to us and asking us pretty much the same thing.

Tom J:

Makes sense.

Tom W:

From a commercial perspective, once we evaluated all of those we understood the size of the opportunity.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

Then the next part was looking at what the prototype could be from a design perspective. It’s obviously easy nowadays to build great design prototypes. There are a tonne of tools are fantastic around mocking stuff up and we’ve got great designers who can do that whenever there’s something front end. The missing gap, and I think this is maybe consistent for everybody, and it’s not necessarily a practise we see often. It’s one that we’re trying to make sure we really do, is prototyping from a back end perspective. The reason I say that is it’s often everybody’s instinct to build the final solution straight away. You think, “How do I actually spend a bit longer doing this, make sure it’s the right thing first time around, to really try and to minimise the kind of technical debt that you might incur if you don’t do it that way?” Right? People see technical debt as a really bad thing. My view is slightly different, is that actually it’s worth incurring a little bit of the technical debt first time around until you really know what’s right

Tom J:

That’s interesting.

Tom W:

You might start something and realise that you just got the wrong stack of tech there and it’s just actually harder than you thought or actually you’ve got the wrong assumptions from the commercial things. Again, you can start going down a rabbit worm and it can be a very expensive rabbit worm. The bigger you get and the more people you got working on something the more difficult that could be. Now, that’s a philosophical challenge because that’s not actually the way that most companies develop. Certainly it’s not for every developer, either. We constantly take that swing between are we going to be robust and proofed and designed right and architectured well from the beginning? Which bits do we actually not really know what we don’t know and should we just build something quick and dirty, get it up and running and then bin it deliberately and start again?

Tom J:

Then learn from your mistakes and move on.

Tom W:

Absolutely. We’ve started doing that with some recent products and that’s definitely been the right approach.

Tom J:

Right, okay.

Tom W:

Rather than taking those things and going, “It was right. We needed to improve them,” it’s been very clear that they were completely wrong and we needed to do the next bits, but fortunately we hadn’t wasted much time on them.

Tom J:

You could only really find that by doing-

Tom W:

Absolutely.

Tom J:

… by getting going. Yeah.

Tom W:

The principles were right. The commercial principles were right. The business demand was still there.

Tom J:

Yeah.

Tom W:

It was just the way of actually tackling that problem needed to be done slightly differently.

Tom J:

Interesting. Yeah, I think that’s been really interesting talking to you, learning a lot about the company and where you’re going. Sounds like big things are planned, so thanks for taking the time out. Is there anywhere we can find you online or anything you’d like to promote?

Tom W:

Check us at the normal sources, Twitter, web on flight.tech and everywhere else.

Tom J:

Cool, awesome. Well Tom, thank you very much for your time.

Tom W:

You’re welcome.

Tom J:

Everyone go off and learn more about Flypay and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more very, very soon. Thanks people for listening in. You can find more content on our blog, wearelighthouse.com/blog. We’ll be back for another podcast very soon at wearelighthouse on social channels. See you all again some time.