Founder Spotlight: Tim Hall, Simporter
Get insights into founding teams as they navigate their own growth journey. There are several stages of success on every scale-up journey before the elusive unicorn status, we are focussing on those different stages with our Founder Spotlights.
This spotlight looks at landing in new markets, how to engage with corporate customers and growing a business across multiple geographies.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your name, your role, company location, and where you're at as a business to date?
I’m Tim Hall, the co-founder and CEO of Simporter, and I'm located in Atlanta in the United States but our business is distributed in a lot of different markets. We have people in Ukraine, Western Europe, Brazil and in the States.
What problem are you solving?
We really are passionate about making sure that large FMCG companies have access to better ways of measuring if their new products are going to be successful. And the big problem that they face is they use a lot of opinion and legacy methods to test products and wind up rolling out a lot of products that just don't succeed on the retail shelf.
Depending on which study you look at, as many as 95% of the new products that are launched will fail within two years and so there's billions of dollars of waste there.
We want to change the game by providing really strong tools to be more predictive of what new products companies should make and prescribe the features and attributes they should put into them for a better chance of success.
What success have you seen?
For clients that have used our tool to launch a new product, their sales have been higher than for similar products launched without using our tool.
The rate of difference is 22% higher revenue for products that have gone through our methodologies than products that they launch using legacy methods.
A 22% increase in revenue when you're talking about FMCG companies at the scale of our clients is really profound value.
We first met just before the Scale Retail programme started in May 2020. Why did you decide to join that programme and what did you gain from it?
We decided to join because we thought it would be a great way to clearly understand what UK based global companies, both FMCG and retailers, were looking for with technology to really understand what we would call a target persona, the people who are looking for new applications and tools to grow their business.
We have clients that are in other markets in Europe and US, but it was really a focus of ours to deepen our understanding and footprint in the UK. So you guys had a natural fit for us with that respect.
We also had participated in a number of similar kinds of accelerators, different programmes from different providers, to introduce startups like us to large corporate partners and they have been successful for us. We were naturally inclined to join, knowing that it's a pretty good model for getting to know large corporate targets of ours.
Where was the business two years ago compared to now?
We’ve doubled each year. So we've grown really rapidly and we're pretty happy with that. We have sights on a much higher number, but it's grown quite well.
Have you seen any traction since going through the programme in the UK?
During the programme we met several corporations that were important targets, and we learned a lot from the interaction, it made us better at understanding enterprise needs and how to meet them.
Today we have several global clients using our solution in the UK, really large brands that you would know on the supermarket shelf. And before we went to the Scale Retail programme, we really had no presence, no business in the UK, and now we do. So that's been very positive.
What would you say was the biggest thing you gained from joining the programme? And what advice would you give a new company looking to join?
The biggest thing we learned there was it was really a solid way to fine-tune our go-to-market strategy and think not just at a high level, but also very tactically.
The programme really helped us with improving our messaging in such a way that it really made sense through the target audience's lens.
I think a lot of times founders like us, we become really enamoured with our technology. We become really enamoured with the problems it solves. We were assigned mentors on the Scale Programme as well as presenting to some of the clients and getting continuous advice about how to frame things to really find the pain points that matter for the target audience. And that, I think, was the strength of the programme that helped us going forward.
What challenges have you faced as a US startup trying to expand into the UK market during Covid?
I don't think the challenge was specific to UK market versus US market. It was more the challenge of meeting and doing business remotely because of the Covid situation. So, as you know, all of our meetings were virtual, and that does kind of slow the rate of conversation, slow the cadence of having meetings and being able to talk across the table and problem-solve together.
We can get a lot more first meetings because it's virtual. So our frequency of meeting clients is pretty high but you can just get more accomplished with a 1-hour meeting in person than virtual. Now, naturally, you can do more virtual meetings over the course of a week than in person.
But the more complicated your solution may be, the tougher it can be to sell remotely if it's not familiar to people. We've grown really rapidly during Covid, so you could argue the inverse of you have more meetings so you have more business because of it. But I just know, having been in sales for a good 30 years, that we do lose a little bit of the persuasive ability when we're in different rooms.
What would you say are the biggest barriers or challenges of working with big corporates as a startup?
They generally don't have, in most cases, a point person who knows how to introduce your technology to different user groups in the company.
Some corporates will have an innovation outreach champion and they will take a leading role in saying, okay, that application could be really interesting for this division. That application could be really useful for this use case or these people, and then they sort of facilitate the introduction and keep the ball rolling, those people are very useful.
However, most of the corporates we work with don't have a point person or we're not engaged with them if they do have them. When we meet them we often hear, “oh, this is interesting but I don't know if it fits in my area” because the more novel your solution is, the less likely it's going to fit neatly in someone's box.
They may say that this part is interesting to me, but this other part is more for our R&D, or this other part is really more the marketing people or perhaps even sales operations. So with these corporates, because they're so large, it's difficult to know where to go once you get a foothold in there, who's going to be the user group, and how you kind of tailor your message to fit each one. There are lots of different constituents.
What signs do corporates give to show that they actually care?
They'll join and participate and engage in certain things. For example, they would join events like the Scale Retail Programme. So they'll have people who are engaged in outreach and not just going through the motions, but actually engaged in it. So that's really critical. And those people usually are fairly high up so that they've been through the organisation, and while they're not necessarily carrying a business unit, a P&L, they know the ropes.
Does it make a difference if they're suitably senior compared to a more junior innovation manager?
Really depends on the person. The ones who are senior seem to get stuff done because they know the organisation really well. I don't know if you can put them in a bucket and say only have really experienced people, but by and large, from our standpoint as a startup we're trying to engage across different touchpoints in the organisation. The more senior person in the outreach area, the better it's been for us.
You've got quite a dispersed team across the globe. So if you've got a team in the US and across Europe, what's been the challenges in growing and scaling an international team as well?
Well, I think it's the same challenge for pretty much everybody in tech, which is recruitment and talent management. Talented people get recruited to go work elsewhere often. And so we take our talent very, very seriously. We spend a lot of time making sure the right people are on our team and making sure they have the tools and resources to succeed.
What do you love about running Simporter?
I love working with smart people, and while that may sound cliche it's true. My cofounder is my son Dillon, a tech savant and it’s amazing to work with him day to day. In the same vein, I really love working with our teammates and customers, and that's what gets me up every day. I get to engage with really smart, talented people on both sides of our equation.
What's one piece of advice you'd give another founder who's trying to grow and scale a technology company.
Really work hard at trying to stand in the customer's shoes and understand that what they're looking for may be different than what you're offering, but you can get there. So many of us will have really great features and want to talk about our features but our customers don't really need those. They need something different.
The more advanced our technologies are -- for example if you're in the AI field -- the more you have to interpret things for people who aren't in those fields.
And I think there’s an entire career field emerging for people who can navigate between technology and traditional business and persuasively articulate how AI can solve thorny business problems, and what business actions can be taken from it.
What's the future for Simporter?
We will become a unicorn while remaining a wonderful place to work.