Martyn Gould, Founder
This is a story which starts with deceit and betrayal, moving onwards to trolling and then to a new dawn of success via a new brand with new goals. It’s a story of two Founders losing their life savings.
It’s a story of dark days, hardship and real pain. Not a carefully manufactured BSS (bullsh*t back story) – real pain triggering very real levels of questioning and introspection.
If you enjoy stories of easy success with a touch of Disney glamour, this story is NOT for you.
And so our story begins
In 2017, Paul Doyle and I founded yboo, the World’s first free to use mobile app which matched the user to the best mobile deal based on price and signal strength where they live, work and hang out.
In the early days of yboo, a buyout offer from GoCompare should have been enough to calm the nerves of any early investor. After all, investing in any ‘new’ tech carries huge levels of risk balanced against the possibility of a 50X (or more!) reward. If you’re an investor, and a gigantic brand wants to buy part of your portfolio, you know you’ve invested in something great, right?
On this occasion, nerves were NOT calmed. Our investors ‘upped’ their stake considerably, eyeing an even larger prize, and with every single additional £1 invested they became more needy, less able to focus on the detail and required more hands on management than a class of 8 year olds abseiling for the first time.
Retrospectively, the lesson for Founders here is easy to see but I can tell you, as a Founder in the midst of this chaos, the lesson became a chameleon, impossible to distinguish in amongst never ending discussions and soap opera levels of drama.
In the same week as yboo MRR (monthly recurring revenue) hit 34K, on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, I received a telephone call which effectively told me that our investor’s bank account had been ‘temporarily’ frozen due to the actions of a previous director. I was told not to worry, fixes were being progressed and although I might see some ‘rather negative news early next week’, I should enjoy the weekend and not worry.
There was no ‘fix’
Our investors defaulted on their loan agreement and weeks later, yboo was placed into administration.
Our people were snapped up by other companies.
Paul and I made a buy-back offer*, backed by a financial giant, to allow our Investors to break even. Our offer was not acknowledged. Instead, the business was ‘sold’ to DixonsCarphone for 1% of its value.
Next, the most painful 5 weeks of my life was followed by months of unpaid activity transitioning yboo DixonsCarphone (DC:LON).
Life savings turned into Directors Loans, gone. 3 months salary unpaid. £3213.13p in expenses unpaid.
Paul and I, failed, broke, downtrodden Founders, feeling like we didn’t have a value or future.
I was personally trolled on Twitter, from numerous fake accounts, basically suggesting that we had done some form of deal with DixonsCarphone which meant we were walking away with lots of money. The trolling was relentless and lasted for months.
* on the same day this detailed offer was put to our investors, we talked about what else we could do to build a side hustle. We did this as we (correctly) believed our reputation to be so damaged that no-one would employ us. We named the side hustle rightsignal, later changed to rightcoverage to avoid a legal dispute. rightcoverage provides mobile and broadband connectivity ratings at any UK postcode for any proptech or person.
Tip for Trolls
Setting up a fake profile on Twitter doesn’t mean you’re anonymous. Unless you have MI5 levels of knowledge on IP addresses, you may as well troll from your LinkedIn account and tell the world what an idiot you are.
Hard graft, a total refusal to be beaten and a bit of luck
During the transition phase in mid 2020, we managed to pick up some piece work whilst building our side hustle. Looking back, both Paul and I have now lived on minimum wage for over 16 months. I personally would not have been able to survive without selling most of the things I’ve worked hard for over the last 20 years.
If you’re assuming this added to my feelings of hopelessness and failure, you’re correct. A big thanks here to the people who checked in on us over those months to make sure we were as ‘ok’ as we could possibly be.
It’s no secret that we liked working out of Wetherspoons for the odd day each week. Clearly, that wasn’t possible in lockdown so we rented a room in Regus Halifax for a day every week and In October 2020, got our head down in an attempt to make rightcoverage move from ‘eating cash’ to ‘making cash’.
I can absolutely tell you that the change from ‘eating’ to ‘making’ cash came about as a result of hard graft, a total refusal to be beaten and a bit of luck. We took a huge risk in how we positioned our service (as there is no need to register to use the service) and that enabled us to target a huge chunk of the population who are obsessed with privacy.
A sharp upturn in revenue in November 2020 convinced us that although we had no money, we could deliver decent margins if we could keep growing. We managed to beg and borrow cash to increase our targeting / messaging and drive more people to our service.
We doubled November revenue in December. Doubled December revenue in January and that story (double growth) has been fairly consistent since. We now rent a tiny room in the same Regus. We secured a Peer2Peer loan than more recently sold 1% of rightcoverage equity to help cashflow. We’re on track for 100K in MRR by quater 3.
No bounce back loan, no CBILS, no start up loan. No team**. No glamour. No focus on PR and no chasing glory. Just a solid focus on spending little and doubling that growth.
**we’ve allocated some shares in rightcoverage to our ‘old’ yboo team. Obviously, they lost yboo shares. Various reasons why really. Maybe that’s a story for another day but one thing is clear, they will have an exit and reward from those shares at some point this year if everything goes to plan.
I was asked recently to pull out the 5 main things I’ve learned from this story. Here they are:
1. We were not perfect. As Founders we tried our best, but ultimately we failed to control our stakeholders and we lost
2. You can instantly tell who will be there for you in the good times and the bad times. If you know someone won’t be around in the bad times, don’t have them around you at all
3. Never give up. Don’t let anyone else determine whether you are deserving of success
4. When you have investment you have more choices and more time – but act as though you have neither and you will grow quicker.
5. Split the risk. Create multiple start-ups across differing sectors and share the rewards with whoever backs you.
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