How These Founders Gave Up Their 6-Figure Salaries To Solve A $56B Problem

Ivor Colson
Founder, Omnifia
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How These Founders Gave Up Their 6-Figure Salaries To Solve A $56B Problem

I’m Ivor, and together with my friend Chris, we founded Omnifia.

The workplace has a big problem today: so many disjointed workplace applications result in huge productivity losses. When we try to find the information we need to do our jobs, a tonne of time is wasted switching from application to application. This is time we could spend doing something we love, whether that’s at work or spending it with friends and family.

And we’ve experienced this too. So at Omnifia, we’ve made it our mission to accelerate workplace productivity through the seamless connection of applications and information. The problem is massive, with over 255 million affected worldwide, making it a $56bn problem to solve.

Since taking Omnifia full-time in January 2022, we’ve managed to get over 210+ companies signed up to our waiting list. We’re in the process of onboarding selected companies onto our beta over the next few months.

If you’re interested in accelerating your productivity and saving yourself time, you can sign up for early access here.

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Ivor Colson (L) and Chris Stevens (R)

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Before starting Omnifia, I had about 9 years of experience across commercial roles in world-class art institutions, publicly listed companies and in recent years industry-leading startups and SaaS. In my last role, I joined in their first year, and we became an industry leader recognized by the likes of KPMG and CB Insights.

But, throughout my career, I’ve always been incredibly pained and frustrated by the hours it took me to find the information I needed. I often found myself jumping from application to application - often completely forgetting what I was looking for in the first place!

Validate your idea as fast as possible.

Once the pandemic hit, this problem increased tenfold. The workplace changed, but the apps didn’t. We became dependent on them, but they seemed unequipped and unfit for purpose. As we wasted hour upon hour trying to find information, Zoom fatigue became ubiquitous, interruptions were constant and productivity took a big hit.

Once Chris and I realized we could build a system that could connect all of these disconnected applications, Omnifia was born! We had met at the University of Liverpool back in 2008, where Chris studied maths and I took classics.

What we do is simple: we unlock a single touchpoint that enables you to seamlessly find information. You can search across all your apps with Ask Omnifia, discover the latest updates in real-time via the Workplace Feed and find cross-app analytics with Insights.

We save our users a tonne of time, so they can spend it on doing the things they love!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Once we realized we could build this system, we started to send surveys and conduct interviews with potential users. I scoured my network and utilized every connection I had to get time from people. What I found was people want to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

The survey asked respondents what applications they used and what productivity problems they had in the workplace. The results were staggering: over 70% stated they found it a daily pain to find workplace information, and over 60% said they were constantly being interrupted throughout the day. We also asked what applications people used, so we could prioritize the development of our integrations.

After the survey, I held 50+ or so interviews to discuss the problem further and propose potential solutions. We discovered an all-in-one search would be a beneficial feature to improve the discoverability of workplace information, so Ask Omnifa was born.

The interviews also made us realize that many teams find it a pain to check updates across multiple platforms. Whether it’s seeing messages on Slack, Google Doc changes, HubSpot deal flow, or emails in Gmail - it takes time to individually check each app. This was when we invented the Workplace Feed - one place for all your application updates.

After gathering this feedback, we made the first stab at the application with the Alpha in December 2021:

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We then showcased this to the same potential users. Whilst Workplace Feed and Ask Omnifia showed promising engagement, they found the platform noisy. There were too many things going on that distracted me from the value of the core Workplace Feed and Ask Omnifia features. We knew what we needed to do: consolidate the feed and remove the additional features like the notepad.

Just this month we released Omnifia V.1.0 to our first cohort of users:

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Using the feed to get fast workplace context and to locate the draft for this interview!

All the users we’ve onboarded have become Weekly Active Users (WAUs) and early engagement is promising. Overall, from Alpha to V.1.0 the main changes were; to reduce additional features, cleaned up the design to make it more user-friendly, and critically: enabled 8 out-of-the-box integrations.

Looking forward, it’s becoming clear what we need to develop to offer a solution that users will pay for - which is the next step for Omnifia.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Omnifia is pre-launch, but being a SaaS business, a lot of work has gone into getting us where we are today.

We started the project as an experiment alongside full-time jobs in April 2020. This was in the middle of the pandemic when we found ourselves with a lot more time on our hands!

After speaking to potential users, we realized we weren’t the only ones that found discovering workplace information a pain, so we became even more passionate about the problem. In May 2021, Chris and I officially dedicated part of our working week to building Omnifia. At this point we couldn’t take any salary, so we needed to have a part-time job that covered our living expenses.

For the evolution of Omnifia, the next step was to develop the Alpha, test it across users and raise investment on the back of this. This would enable Chris and me to take Omnifia full time and also to make our first hire. In December 2021 we managed to raise investment from some great angel investors from GTM Hub, Charlotte Street Capital, Cambridge Angels, and FIRST - allowing us to work on our dream full time! This was a watershed moment for Omnifia, as we could finally focus on the project 100%.

Fast-forward to June, we’ve been joined by Josh in the dev team, and we have over 210 companies signed up for our platform. These companies range from micro startups like ourselves, all the way to some of the biggest and best-known brands in the world.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

As we are pre-launch, the main focus has been on growing our waiting list. Our strategy has organically grown signups by 10-15% each month. As a small team, it’s super important to know exactly what tactics to employ and to consistently stick to them. We mixed inbound with some inbound tactics:

For outbound, I utilized LinkedIn to reach out to prospects. I initially tried to email too, but I found response rates were far higher on LinkedIn, so I focused on this. Something that helped increase response rates was speaking to attendees in relatable events. For us, these were events on application integrations. That way, you know the person is interested in your topic area, which makes it more likely for them to be interested in what you do. Keep your message short, personalized, and benefit-driven.

With inbound, SEO is becoming increasingly important for us. It takes time and patience, but if done correctly, it can become a critical marketing channel. Over the last six months, our organic traffic has grown by over 110%.

For us, this growth has come through blogging. Using a tool like ahrefs to find keywords you can rank for is the first step, then write a blog post of 1,500 words or more on the subject. Do this 10-15 times, and you should start seeing results. We’re now starting to focus more on getting backlinks, which also helps with your domain authority and ranking.

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Early days of traffic, but growth is promising

Once a visitor comes to our website, most likely through SEO, the next step is to get them to leave their contact details, so we can keep in touch and reach out when the time comes to release the platform. We have our main “Get Early Access’ CTA on our site but also a newsletter in our website footer that we send out every month.

Having a newsletter is key. Not every sign-up is ready to buy straight away. Often they need to be nurtured to the next stage of the buying process. Our newsletter keeps our community engaged whilst informing them of what we’re up to. If you launch one of these, ensure you make the subject and content within your newsletter engaging. Utilize personalization, and GIFs, and be concise with your copy.

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Last month we showcased Ask Omnifia in a handy little GIF

The industry standard open rate is about 21%. By following these simple rules we manage to get an open rate of 42%!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The future looks very promising. There’s great demand for a product like ours, the Annual Contract Value (ACV) of our pipeline is over £700kk, and we aim to be revenue generating by the first quarter of 2023.

Over the next months, we will onboard more companies onto our platform, anywhere between 50-100, and iterate our product based on their usage and feedback. Early signs have been great and 100% of those we have onboarded are Weekly Active Users (WAUs).

Looking longer term, we have an ambitious vision at Omnifia: we want to set a new bar in workplace productivity. This will be possible by allowing our customers to benefit from the latest advancements in AI and specifically Natural Language Processing. Through this, we hope to become a household name and accelerate the productivity of millions worldwide.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Validate your idea as fast as possible. This can be done to some extent through secondary research, but prioritize validating it with people other than yourself. You’ll learn a lot faster, and you’ll de-risk your hypothesis. For us, this meant validating the problem through a survey and interviews. The results were convincing, and it made us realize we were not only solving a problem we had but so many others too.

Once you’ve validated the problem, validate your solution. Speak to your market and present your idea to them. We could have progressed to this stage more quickly by using more mock-ups, but we managed to validate the idea with our MVP with 50-100 companies.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use the following tools, and our communication method as a company is async-first. This means we prioritize non-instant communication, and we never expect another team member to respond instantly. We find this massively increases our productivity as time spent in meetings and Zoom fatigue is minimized.

The tools we use are:

  • Slack: As a remote-first company, Slack is our primary communication medium
  • Google Workspace: We use the drive to create all our internal knowledge and documents. Gmail to email etc.
  • Trello: Project planner
  • HubSpot: Manage sales pipeline
  • Notion: Our intranet, linking to the relevant files on G Drive
  • WebFlow: Our website builder
  • VSCode, Git: For development

As you can see there are quite a few, so we use Omnifia to easily find the information we need from our tools!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Hooked by Nir Eyal. A great book on creating products that form habits.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. Another superb book on building formidable teams.

I know it’s an obvious resource to recommend for startups, but the Y Combinator videos on specific topics have been incredibly useful for me. Whether it's sales, pricing, or product design, they always have some great takeaways from experienced people.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Validate the problem first by speaking to your users or potential customers. Then, when you come up with a proposed solution, validate this with the same set of people.

Try and do both of these steps as quickly as possible with the minimum amount of effort. Fail fast and cheap. You’ll be surprised that you can validate both of these things without doing much work or spending any money at all.

Most of all: back yourself. Apart from extreme cases where people are in very unfortunate positions, I think a lot of people don’t start a company due to a lack of confidence. Granted, it’s not something everyone wants to do, but I think a lot of people get put off because they don’t back themselves. If you have a mindset that allows you to learn and improve from the experiences, that’s a large portion of the battle.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for engineers to speak to. Especially those interested in AI and the future of work. We also have a position open for a marketing and sales intern. Previous interns have gone on to work at companies like Bain & Company, so the experience will be valuable for the right candidate. Check our careers page.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Ivor Colson, Founder of Omnifia
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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