The Business Owner: James Harrison and Carlos Butler, BillHub
Aiming to help with the irritating task of sharing household bills, the entrepreneurial duo talk about 'singing from the same hymn sheet'
Founders: James Harrison and Carlos Butler
Location: Old Street, London
Proposition: Payments platform for house sharers
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
We’re the only payments platform for house sharers to send, spend and manage their money between housemates – like PayPal, for shared finances.
How did you finance your business?
We managed to secure private, external funding to help with the initial growth period of the company. To receive the backing of hugely successful investors was a big boost for myself in terms of validation of my idea.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
I think recruitment is a big thing for small businesses. Securing top talent who can significantly add value to your business but who have the right ambition and ethos isn’t always the easiest task. The culture and personnel of a business is critical and if everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet then not only will it show in results but also in motivation for employees.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
Delegation. I have always been very heavily involved in the tech development side of the business and as we have grown and will continue to do so, I have had to learn to leave others to run their sides of the business as I don’t have the time available to be as hands on as I was in the early days.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
We have budgets set aside for marketing and PR activity and naturally we make outbound enquiries in terms attracting new customers. Possessing partnerships with high-profile and modern companies has also proved fruitful for us – the likes of Muscle Food and Zipjet.
We have also found that simple word of mouth has been influential for us – student communities tend to be tight-knit and based in a specific area of a city or town, so a useful service or platform can be exposed to a large group in a short amount of time.
That is why we put so much emphasis on customer service as ensuring people have a positive experience of BillHub from first interaction all the way through account management is absolutely paramount.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
I don’t think it is essential, especially during the early days. If you are going to export, you must do thorough research, every country has its own identity and culture and you may need to adapt your offering/service or the way it is marketed to be successful.
I think small businesses can on occasions become a little obsessed with exporting when a stronger focus on the core UK market may be more beneficial.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
One that springs to mind is Noteshelf. It enables me to have multiple notebooks and easily store any diagrams, scribbles or the rare moments of inspiration. I don’t have to have paper notebooks anymore and pages can simply be downloaded into JPEGs to I can easily circulate notes after a long meeting to other members of the team or anyone else I want to keep in the loop.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Balanced, ambitious and supportive.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
It’s no secret that one in two small businesses ultimately fail and I think there could be greater support from the government to try and avoid this being so much the case.
London is the tech capital of Europe and I think more could be done to try and maintain this – at the moment there is a bit too much red tape for burgeoning businesses and there is sometimes too much emphasis placed on turnover as opposed to company’s potential.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
It may sound an obvious one but it’s hard not to have huge admiration for Richard Branson. He started something from scratch and made it a huge success. He could have easily sat back at that point but he wasn’t satisfied and kept on pushing Virgin to the next level, and today they are one of the biggest companies in the world with multiple profitable strands to the business.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
In three years, the ambition is that we will have become a household name and will have established ourselves across Europe and be well on the way to achieving success in the USA.
Our technology and offering means that we can be a success in the vast majority of countries but as alluded to earlier, we are fully focused on being consumer champions for the UK as our first port of call.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
I would say looking after staff and recruiting intelligently is one of the best ways you can ensure to keep finances lean. High staff turnover can prove costly in terms of time and expenditure taken to replace these assets but training employees and making sure they feel valued is a far easier process and one that will reap long term benefits.