The Business Owner: May Al-Karooni, Globechain
With the circular economy set to be worth £1 trillion by 2025, we talk to May Al-Karooni who counts Nandos and Skanska among her clients
Founders: May Al-Karooni
Location: London, UK
Proposition: Online reuse platform that connects businesses, charities and people to enable them to reuse unwanted items
Size: Globechain has well over 10,000 users (businesses and individuals) and over 1,000 corporates signed up to give away items via the platform. The company is bootstrapped and break-even, and is run single-handedly by May Al-Karooni, with no co-founder.
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
Globechain is a reuse platform that connects corporates who want to throw away items, with small businesses, charities and individuals interested in reusing. The business model is a Pay to Give, Take for Free model, where corporates pay to upload and give items, and charities, small buisnesses and individuals can request and take those items for free.
We have no competition. When I first launched in 2014, Globechain was a new business model that no one understood and didn’t know if it would scale. We had to really do our research, and lead with our vision and innovation. The circular economy is now said to be worth £1 trillion per year by 2025.
How did you finance your business?
Globechain has been fully bootstrapped for three years, and with no funds at all, we’ve reached 1,000 corporates signed up, and over 10,000 users and we are active in 11 European markets.
I made the decision very early on not to pursue funding after spending a few months understanding whether investors would take the risk and that Globechain was not within the traditional criteria for government funding.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Get other people’s advice in the industry and your peers in the sector you are in. Have no shame in approaching people you admire or want to speak to. Look for mentors to promote you and believe in your cause.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
My biggest challenge is to make sure Globechain achieves growth in the most efficient way. With marketplace businesses, the challenge is always to ensure supply and demand is balanced so we are careful to control both sides so not to scale too quickly and disrupt the balance.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
Globechain has done very little marketing, most of the growth has been organic. I have deployed a cost effective program including a multi-channel digital market initiative, and some targeted PR across relevant media segments for Globechain.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
Absolutely, thinking global from the get go is crucial for any small business in this day and age. Globechain has presence in 11 countries and is in advanced negotiation stages with several global partners.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
I definitely couldn’t live without Skype, it allows me to not miss any single call and the ease of using the business skype whilst abroad is so useful. Whatsapp is great for keeping in touch with the team when everyone is out and about!!
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Lean, visionary, and integrity.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
There is always more the government could do to level the playing field for small businesses, especially when it comes to the costs associated with growth and scaling. I see Globechain as a great way to fill that gap. We help corporates dispose of items, but on the receiving end we’re making it easier for small businesses reuse some of this equipment for much cheaper than if they had to buy it brand new. We provide firms with a cheaper option to sustain one of the aspects that’s essential to their growth.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
I don’t have a hero or anyone in particular as I believe you have to motivate yourself and aim high and true so I am always striving to improve myself. I take inspiration from lessons I learn and books I read to educate myself and understand how to build the business. I particularly like Malcolm Gladwell books as he takes complex situations and explains them in simple terms that I can relate to!
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
Since the launch, I have been focused on scaling Globechain. As a platform that connects corporates to businesses and individuals, my priority was first to sign up some pioneering corporates to test and help achieve critical mass in terms of items on the platform. In a second stage, now that several significant corporates have uploaded enough items my focus has shifted to getting more individuals, small businesses and charities on the platform, searching and finding items to reuse.
We’re delighted to already have dozens of huge brands are using Globechain; from Nando’s 400 + restaurants, to Barts Health NHS Trust alongside Skanska, Radisson Blu Hotels, Axis Europe Plc and Simba Sleep Mattress. In terms of end users, the platform is growing at a rate 18% per month.
In three years my goal is to consolidate Globechain’s growth in the UK and to scale into more countries globally.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
I would recommend delaying the funding process for as long as you can. Having no funding made me really think creatively about how to grow revenue, who to target and get on board, and what to spend where. Having tight budgets really makes you think innovatively about how to grow, which I believe strengthens the business. After all, it was innovation that made you start your journey in the first place.
Funding is a full-time job. If you do decide to go for funding, put a strategy together from the start and stick to it. An investor or private equity firm will always be asking: ‘how does this make money?’ Be prepared!