After 10 years of hard work...

After 10 years of hard work...

This is the story of a start-up that became a scale-up.

It will hopefully offer some helpful thoughts and tips to first-timer or aspiring entrepreneurs. 

I always liked the expression "after ten years of hard work we became an overnight success!". Admittedly, it is self-serving if your company has been around for almost 10 years and it only experienced real traction in year nine going on ten.

The truth is we (DigitalMR) have spent a lot of time and money on Research & Development funded by seven grants: six from Innovate UK - we could not be more thankful, and one from the E.U... It took seven years of focussed R&D to create listening247 in today’s manifestation: a Social Intelligence SaaS for market research power-users on its way to becoming a DIY SaaS for end-clients.  

Some people called us grant junkies! No matter what anyone says or believes, those grants allowed us to stay away from institutional investors until today - I will come back to this later.

Another related (and probably cliché) phrase I like is "Timing is everything". The discipline I am referring to, kept changing names: first it was web listening then social media monitoring then social media listening then social listening & analytics and now social intelligence; whatever the name, this data source and insights discovery approach took what feels like forever to become mainstream for the market research function in organisations.

It took social intelligence spend eight or nine years to get to 3.4B US$ (Reuters) in 2017; it is predicted to be 9B US$ (DigitalMR) by the end of 2020 and 16B US$ by 2023 (Reuters). Many people have published predictions about the size of this market in the past and they all overestimated it. They do say that humans overestimate the short term, and then (as a result) underestimate the long term. In other words, if we are conditioned that this market grows by a few hundred million US$ per year we will be taken by surprise when the proverbial “hockey stick” appears. 

Well, this article is making sure its readers will not be surprised by the exponential growth of the social media listening and analytics market. 

After all “a rising tide lifts all boats”!

I find proverbs, sayings, clichés and buzzwords quite curious linguistic phenomena. Where do they come from, who coined them, how many different interpretations do they have? Take the term ‘scale-up’ for example: “a business that is in the process of expanding”. 

Yes, but by how much? 
Is 20% enough? 
Should it be over 100%? 
What if the “expansion” is 300% of 1,000 US$ - does that count?

Whatever the definition, one of the big four accounting firms thought DigitalMR fits the profile of a scale-up and was invited to participate in an institutional fund raising program; our very first institutional round. The funds will allow us to accelerate our growth and the process will help us sharpen our focus and fine tune our business plan.

Staying away from institutional investors for so long has pros and cons.

The pros:

  • Did not have to give away shares at low valuations
  • Full autonomy
  • Less stressful life

The cons:

  • Slow growth
  • Cash flow issues
  • Lower credibility as a business

The moral of our story is: perseverance will eventually get an entrepreneurial team to where they want to go... but I think the more succinct description of our state of mind all these years was stubbornness; and the belief that “whatever does not kill us makes us stronger”.  Stubbornness may sound like a negative attribute to have, but it really is what kept us going.

Another interesting phrase I saw on the Skype account tagline of a teenager was: "Failure is not a motherf&%*!% option". 

Quite inspirational, don’t you think?


Share this article: