Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I launched Startups of London in the September of 2019 because as a migrant entrepreneur who had moved to London in early 2018, I was surprised by the total lack of rich media content about the startup scene here. Yes, there were the occasional blogs and funding news in social media, but there wasn’t a media company profiling these startups with video and rich content.
Startups of London started as a documentary business with office visits to startups with a camera crew, but the pandemic has changed the business a lot. Now it is a lot more focused on SEO and discovering new niche areas of need.
Over the last 2 years, the content we created reached more than 100,000 people in the UK. We are the number one organic result for a lot of key search terms used by our audience and have sizeable traffic that is on steady growth. We also grew the team to 5 people in total including me. Over the last 6 months, growth was our primary focus rather than profitability, but we still did well with B2B deals and B2C products.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My expertise is understanding human behavior. Yes, I know it sounds vague and unusual! I studied psychology and sociology, went on to do a master's in consumer behavior. My academic interest is still very fresh. I have researched and written 5 books such as the one on Belonging, two on Recruitment and Career Decisions, one on Happiness Through Critical Thinking and the last one with the title Startups Grow With People.
Rest is about a growth mindset.
So I sit at the intersection of entrepreneurship & business on the one hand, and human behavior on the other. I find it to be enriching, it gives me a lot of novel ways to look at things and solve problems.
I have built a few startups before, so I had some experience. One of these is HGO Video Learning (Or HerGünÖğren - meaning, LearnEveryDay) a unique micro-video learning startup that has grown 100% every year for the last 4 years. It is now the number one video learning company in Turkey, used by almost all of the top enterprises.
I had two failed projects, one a graduate recruitment business and the other on building company culture for startups. I currently dedicate a small portion of my time to two more side projects, namely, toolbase.io which provides personalized SaaS tool recommendations, and HeartSpace, a chatbot assisted relationship skill-building app. I would say time management, prioritization, and delegation are areas of strength for me. That being said, I see the value of going all in one project in many contexts.
Back to building SOL and the London scene, I also mentored a lot of entrepreneurs and made a living as a consultant and a speaker internationally.
So startups and entrepreneurs were my target audience as well. That’s how I found myself searching for more info online, only to be disappointed by the lack of content out there.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I would say we are pre a product-market fit still. We have sources of revenue and sources of traffic, but which one is the best - most optimum growth channel for us? That is a question we are still trying to answer. We have done live-stream consulting sessions, individual People-to-Know videos, physical visits to startups, Zoom recordings. We offered ads on our site, went into B2B partnerships with large brands such as Illumina and some very big tech names. Because this is a customer-funded business, finding the right channel is very important to us to maximize our value and growth.
Because we are the only business that is serious about investing any type of time and resource into covering London startups, we have a position of advantage.
We don’t have many photos of the early days, unfortunately, and if we did I don’t think it would be much more than us staring at our computer screens - not very glamorous!
Our team is made up of our Head of Content, our SEO and web lead, our social media and production specialist, and outreach & content specialist. We use a clear structure of OKRs to set goals and openly communicate about our level of reaching the goals we set.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The best strategy that worked for us has been focusing on organic - high-value content creation. The first big break for the growth was a report entitled London Startup Ecosystem Ultimate Report it collated 18 startup documentaries we had shot so far, with some additional research by our team. It became viral on HackerNews, rising to the number one spot and remaining there for a day. It was a much welcome giant blip in our traffic. It didn’t cause a radical change in the business but gave us the signal that this was a possible growth channel. Since then we have sustained our efforts in social media, but doubled down on creating good, well-researched, in-depth content on our website - which is paying off! Overall, about 70% of our traffic is due to good SEO and quality content. The rest of that 30% comes from a mix of social media and direct word-of-mouth traffic.
Also, in London, face-to-face dialogues and events are a huge part of the scene here. Or they were! That’s why the pandemic has been particularly disrupting for our business. I think it is exceptional that we have simply survived since our business model became impossible overnight.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Doing good! Our content is getting a lot more traction. With lockdown coming to an end, we will resume visiting startups in their office once more. Focus is growth rather than profitability for us, but since we have a good reach we started getting 2-5 organic leads daily. Many startups and entrepreneurs in London have heard about us at least once or twice, which is huge!
Nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than going to a random event and hearing “Ah, I know you guys!” when I say I am the founder of Startups of London.
The future will be more tactical for us in the sense that we have to be really careful with how we spend our time and energy. Building a sustainable revenue model while providing content that provides a service or some value to our audience is key.
Every business is a media business nowadays, which means, if you start as a media business like us, this gives you incredible mobility and flexibility in the future direction you take. Sometimes more choice makes decisions more difficult.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I now have a much more clear grasp of the startup scene of London, perhaps more than 99% of the entrepreneurs out there. That was at least one of my aims, so reaching that feels good. I can easily visualize how money flows, how opportunities are created, what type of people make decisions, and so on. I have written about my observations on these in detail on startupsoflondon.com especially on the ecosystem report.
I think we went lucky with the team, too. There is great synergy. We value radical transparency and high-quality feedback beyond all else. It is a good work culture that I am happy to be a part of.
The biggest force out of control was the pandemic, dwarfing all other factors. There was a very real chance I could have decided to close this business down and move on. But I believe in its potential to be the “Voice of the London Startup Ecosystem!” as is our motto.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My thinking around startups has almost two distinct phases. The first one is under the influence of what I call Silicon Valley Intellectuals. Paul Graham comes to mind, Peter Thiel comes to mind. Think about their thoughts on scaling a business, what makes a startup successful etc. While they are correct in most of what they say, a lot of it is contextual. It is mostly true if you are in the Bay Area and building a software startup. My first and second startups were in Istanbul, and it is a very different ecosystem that forces you to move differently. Access to capital is different, the decision-making processes of customers are different, the pace of growth for the business is different. So in time, by trial and error, I have seen the limitations of that kind of thinking.
This is also true for London. Discovering and sharing how London is different has been one of the motivations behind Startups of London.
My second phase has been more shaped by the likes of Nassim Taleb and Ray Dalio. Now I believe I have a much more nuanced understanding of risk, decision making, how markets work, how to win, what type of games to play, and so on.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Honestly, however long you think it will take for your startup to succeed, double or triple it. How much work you think you will need to put in before your startup succeeds, double or triple that as well.
Rest is about a growth mindset.
You can also join our community to learn from the other UK or London-based entrepreneurs. Just look for “Community” on our menu.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
London based, business development and growth-focused people can reach out to us via [email protected]
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