Revolancer | Insider Stories
This week we speak to Karl Swanepoel, founder of freelancer marketplace Revolancer.
This week we speak to Karl Swanepoel, founder of freelancer marketplace Revolancer. You can listen to the interview above or subscribe now with your favourite podcasting app.
HQ: Swansea, Wales
Founders: 2 - Karl Swanepoel (CEO) & Skye Brady (CTO)
[Auto-generated transcription plus minor tweeks, please notify of issues]
Karl: I'm absolutely all in favour of launching an MVP as soon as possible. And I'm usually the biggest advocate of this in the whole team. You know, I think I probably wind people up sometimes by by how kind of fast I want to move and how quickly I want to launch.
Rob: Welcome to the second podcast from Wales Tech Blog. Today, I'll be speaking with Karl Swanepoel, who with his co-founder Sky have created Revolancer. Born originally out of Aberystwyth University, Revolancer aims to give freedom back to freelancers. And today we're going to find out how.
Rob: Hi, Karl, thank you for agreeing to sit with me today. Let's start with some quick fire questions. Would you say that Revolancer is business to business, business to consumer, B2B2C or even C2C? Where does it sit?
Karl: Sure. I mean, it's it's quite a tricky one. I have trouble kind of describing this to potential investors all the time.
But I would say that we're predominantly a B2B marketplace platform. So we connect, you know, small businesses on the client side with freelancers who are also small businesses or some people treat them as consumers. But, you know, they are sole traders. So I would argue that they are small businesses themselves. But, you know, it's up to up to interpretation.
Rob: OK, great. And are you a SaaS company, an agency or do you have a mixed model?
Karl: We're a SaaS company predominantly. So we offer a marketplace, but we monetize through SaaS subscription plans.
Rob: And so are you invested or bootstrapped?
Karl: So we have raised investment. We got started with a grant that I secured from my university. I so I entered a competition that they have. It's called the InvenSprice competition. Was fortunate enough to win the one in 2021, winning about a 13000 pound grant.
Karl: About half a year later off that, we raised our first venture round. So we raised 160K, which was led by SFC Capital, who are based in London. And now, you know, a year later, in the final stages of raising our seed round.
Rob: That's great. Thanks for being honest for the numbers, too. It's really nice. And are you looking for investment, more investment in future? Do you think will you have another round or would you prefer to, you know, run with what you've got now?
Karl: I do believe that we will because, you know, to do well in our space and, you know, we're breaking into a space where there are a couple of multi-billion dollar public companies, you know, we have to grow very, very, very quickly. And the only way that that's going to be possible, you know, is with kind of external funding. So we are generating quite a nice amount of revenue that's growing quickly as well. So we are actually on track to get to a break even point within a few months now. But that being said, you know, we're going to increase our spend to be able to accelerate growth more.
Rob: Yeah, that's great. OK, so that's something that obviously a lot of product based businesses face, they, you know, and for you to get to break even point so early in the game, because how long has Revolance have been around?
Karl: We launched the platform in, I believe, September of last year. We launched the beta version, but we've been kind of open to the whole world for just under one year now.
Rob: So you see a break even point in the next one or two years?
Karl: Yes, I do believe it is achievable. I mean, I believe, you know, based on our current trajectory, if we are very careful with what we spend, which which we already are, but if we are, you know, very, very conservative with what we spend, we could get to a break even point like probably at the end of Q1 of next year. But I wouldn't want that because it means stifling growth.
Karl: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. It would mean stifling growth. So would be, you know, with the currency around that we're raising now, we're looking to increase our spend to accelerate growth. And then, you know, eventually we want to get to a break even point, but at a much higher scale than we are now. Yeah. Yeah.
Rob: I mean, people don't give you money to sit on it in the bank, right? So they want you to spend the money, invest in the product, multiply that growth. So what about yourself? You know, where do you come from? A bit about your background.
Karl: I was originally born in South Africa. I grew up there, then moved to Germany, then to England and more recently to Wales, you know, first to study. But now I moved here after that full time to work on the business.
Karl: Really, really enjoy living in Wales. It was great to to study here as well.
Rob: But did you like it? Everyone who goes there seems to love Aberystwyth Uni?
Karl: Yes, I enjoyed it a lot. I have no no regrets about going there at all. And now I live in Swansea, which I see as kind of the city version of Aberystwyth.
Rob: Yeah. So you want to stay close to the sea at all times. Yeah, exactly. That's great. And what what took you to Swansea, actually? Why did you choose Swansea over anywhere else in Wales or indeed, you know, South Africa, Germany, England, all the other places you mentioned?
Karl: Sure. So, I mean, originally I wanted to move to Cardiff, but then actually it was still this year in January. I visited Swansea for the first time, just kind of an unlitle, you know, holiday for a few days with my partner. And I really liked the place.
I was extremely surprised because I really loved Cardiff when I first visited there a few years ago. So that's why I wanted to live there. But I have to say, I do prefer Swansea. And it's still in a similar place, you know, with, you know, also similarly well connected.
So that's kind of why I decided to move here. And as for why Wales in general,
I mean, what's very important to me is entrepreneurship, obviously. I mean, a large part of my life revolves around that and nowhere else, you know, in any country that I have been in or especially lived in, have I seen the, you know, enthusiasm and just atmosphere, you know, around entrepreneurship that I see in Wales. So, you know...
Rob: Do you think that's because you're a small country or a manageable country, say? I mean, I often have this from other entrepreneurs that, you know, you can walk down a high street in a Welsh city and see several other entrepreneurs that you know from entrepreneurial networks. And there's a lot of events around that. And, you know, it's just accessibility, I think. If you're in London or Munich or Berlin or anywhere like that, there are so many and the country is so big and the city is so big that maybe you just don't have that coincidental contact. Whereas here, it seems, at least in my opinion, everyone is kind of connected in some way on some level. And if they're not, there is this atmosphere, like you say, kind of like a culture where you can just reach out and say, hey, do you want to grab a coffee? Do you find that when you're working here?
Karl: I think that is a very large part of it. And, you know, another part of it, too, is just the kind of government funding, the different schemes that are available for start-ups. So, you know, for example, there's the Accelerated Growth Program, the AGP that we are a part of. So, you know, they're... You had packages through AGP as well?
Rob: You had packages through AGP as well?
Karl: Yes. So the way it works is through support packages. So we'd work with, say, a marketing coach, for example, to help us out with consults on different points. But just generally, I mean, through Big Ideas Wales, Business Wales, just the kind of government-funded support that's available for free, you know, to the end, and kind of business in Wales is just unbelievable. And I think that that plus just the culture here leads to such a great space for new businesses to get started. You know what I mean? I used to be based just north of London, so very much in that kind of London and Cambridge ecosystem. But I much prefer living here, you know, both on a part like personally, but also professionally.
Rob: It's Welsh government are going to love you, by the way, from these comments. You know, you're basically their PR poster boy now. You will be on the back of a bus soon if you're not already.
Karl: It kind of started when I was 14. I decided one day that I wanted to work for myself and that I wouldn't be happy working for anyone else. I don't know why I decided that, but regardless, I knew I had to come up with a way of actually making that happen. So I googled how to make money online. I found freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, and I joined them, and I sold some basic graphic and web design services.
But, you know, to cut a long story short, I really wasn't happy with how those platforms operated. So, you know, it was hard to get new clients in the first place. When I did get clients, the platform would take an enormous cut of the transaction. And then also to make sure that they could collect that, they would stop me from speaking with clients outside of the platform. So I realized at a young age that if I wanted to do well in the space, I would need to start my own platform. And so with that, with about 200 pounds at the age of 15, I started a platform called Buy Sell Jobs. And after spending all of the money that I had on, you know, on getting the platform up, I didn't have any money left to promote it, nor did I have any knowledge about online marketing. So what I did is I went onto Twitter, and whenever I saw somebody speaking about one of my competitors, I would send them a message and say, you know, hey, why don't you also join my platform and get more exposure? And I would do that over and over again every single day. And after a couple of months, grew the platform to more than 2,000 users that I was spending a penny on advertising.
Rob: And do you still have this website?
Karl: And do you still have this website? No, in fact, I had to sell it. So the reason I had to sell it is because with increased traction, so at this point, we were getting 10 to 20 transactions every single day and growing quite quickly. Basically, PayPal locked my account one day. And the reason they did that is because they wanted to verify who was behind the account. And one of the things they wanted me to verify is that I was older than 18, which of course being 15, I couldn't do. So I went to my parents, I asked them, you know, can I have a PayPal account in your name? They said, no way, we don't want to lose the house. So that was a bit of a dead end.
Rob: I had exactly the same problem when I was a teenager as well. I had a web design business when, you know, web pages were, when I was a teenager, we're talking early 2000s, even maybe 1999. And it was exactly the same thing. PayPal was pretty brand new. They weren't doing checks until I started making money. And then yeah, they came down on me and I think they found out I was 14 and they held the money on the account and I was gutted because I was 14 and there was like, you know, maybe a thousand pounds, which for a 14 year old is a lot of money in this PayPal account and I couldn't get hold of it. But eventually there was some kind of transfer to parents. My parents did say yes, fortunately. So it's amazing. It's actually a much wider question there about encouraging entrepreneurship in younger people and, you know, how do they make money and accept payments and, you know, how does that system work? I have no idea and I don't know who's working on that, but it's super interesting because obviously it's something that we want to cultivate kids or teenagers or young adults to actually start creating. That's really great. Okay, so you had to sell the company in the end?
Karl: I did, yeah. I connected with somebody online on a web like a domain marketplace and I convinced him to buy the platform from me and the sale closed just before my 16th birthday. So it was a happy ending for me, absolutely.
But I do wish that, you know, I were older and I could operate a PayPal account because I think, you know, I could have scaled that business a lot more. But, you know, with Revlon, so we're in very much the same space. And the reason is, the reason why I started Revlon is because I saw that in the past seven to eight years since then to when I started Revlon, these large platforms hadn't changed or innovated what they do at all. So, you know, I knew that we could do a lot better.
Rob: Yeah, they're more complicated. My first business after university was heavily reliant on Upwork and it was brand new at that point. Very exciting, like this idea that you could get contractors from all over the world. Very, very exciting.
But weird rules, like you said, you know, can't contact them off the platform. They always used to push observing people's screens and that was just ridiculous to me. I wasn't going to sit there and observe someone's screen. I just wanted them to produce, you know, something of quality and pay them appropriately for that quality. And more recently on another startup that I'm working on, I've gone back to Upwork. First of all, it took a long time to contact them. It was impossible to contact them and because they had blocked the account or put a hold on the account because of inactivity and then the way in which you interact with individuals is identical to how it was 12 years ago. And as problematic, the fees are probably higher than they were.
And yeah, I'm just not feeling it as much as I used to feel it. I used to love that kind of idea and, you know, so you created this platform.
You obviously had similar experience in the past. How did you actually go about the first, you know, the first steps? How did you get it off the ground? Were you on your own as well? Or did you have a co-founder or?
Karl: Sure. So I, right at the beginning, you know, I came up with the idea by myself. I started by just writing a whole notebook full, you know, of kind of notes and ideas like I think in less than a day. And at that point, I saw that my university had this startup competition and I immediately just started preparing for that. And then after I entered that competition, you know, I was fortunate enough to win. I'm now a judge actually on the competition, which is really cool to, you know, be on the other side of it too. But, you know, after that, I then connected with my co-founder Sky, who handles our technical development. And then, you know, six months after that, we had launched, you know, built the platform, launched the platform and then raised our first VC funding.
Rob: How did you build it? Did Sky and yourself as well code it from scratch? Or have you used some kind of no code or fast development process? Or how did that start?
Karl: Sure. So, yeah, I mean, it's completely built in house. You know, it's a custom web application, which we built, you know, I kind of started and then Sky took over quite quickly after they joined. So it was quite a substantial piece of work and it's still an ongoing substantial piece of work. But, you know, it's very good to have. It's a real asset for the business to have it built in this way.
Rob: You have a technical degree of sorts. Do you do any of the development or is it more like the product side of it and obviously a CEO management of the company?
Karl: So much, much more kind of management. I mean, I did a tiny bit of development early on, but not really anymore. The one tech part that I am super involved in though is we use AI in automating quality control and that's based on a classifier that I wrote for my university, finally a major project. So I'm involved in that. But outside of that, you know, as far as the web development goes, I'm not, other than overseeing it, you know, kind of in the weekly meetings, I'm not involved in writing any code for it.
Rob: Excellent. So you have obviously got Sky as your co-founder. Do you have other employees already or are you still just the two of you?
Karl: No, so we're a team of seven right now and we are hoping to grow that to about 12 to 15 by early next year.
Rob: Oh, wonderful. So those seven, what kind of departments are they running or functions do they have within the business?
Karl: Yeah, so we've got two in tech, we've got two in marketing.
We have kind of a head of customer support and moderation and there's myself and then we have an administrative assistant as well.
Rob: Who was the first employee after Sky?
Karl: I think it was Ever. So she started as a marketing assistant, but she's now our head of marketing.
Rob: Yeah, so you've gone sales first, really. You've gone inbound, outbound first rather than augmenting the dev team or any other role, because, you know, a lot of companies get an office administrator quite early on. Some beef up the dev team early on. You've gone for sales and marketing.
So you felt pretty confident with the product. I'm guessing you felt pretty confident with the product that you and Sky had made quite early on and you wanted to start selling that to potential clients.
Karl: Absolutely. I mean, we really are kind of a marketing play first and foremost, because it's just about being able to reach as many people as possible. I mean, the platform that we have is, I believe, is very good. You know, I think I mean, I'm a complete perfectionist, so I think that I could tell you a million things that I wish were better, but I think overall, you know, looking at it, it is in a very, very good place and continues to get better and better every day. But we've been we've seen some great growth as well. So when we launched our beta, we had 100 users, then six months later, a thousand and six months off to that well over 10,000 now. So we've been growing quite quickly.
That's amazing. Yeah, no, that is amazing. You mentioned that you are a perfectionist. Do you think that's an important quality for a business leader or someone in a startup? Or do you think it can hinder you somehow?
Karl: Or do you think it can hinder you somehow?
Karl: Yeah, I mean, if it's managed well, I wouldn't say that I'm like, I would say I wouldn't, you know, just assign the perfectionist label to myself and then say nothing else because that's not quite true. I'm also very much about speed and efficiency. So I want you know that there's that great saying that, you know, perfect is the enemy of good enough, you know, and I'm definitely the enemy of done.
Rob: Yeah, it's it's a great it's so true, but you can definitely categorize people on where they fall on that spectrum. I have some people I know who really cannot release something unless it is perfect. And then some people I know who don't make it perfect enough.
Karl: So somewhere in the middle. Well, I think I probably fall into not making it perfect enough because there's this great quote by Reed Hoffman, who founded LinkedIn, who says, you know, if you're not morbidly embarrassed by your first product and you've waited far too long to launch it or something to that effect. So true. It's so true. It absolutely is. So, you know, when I say I'm a perfectionist, I'm all about refining something and making it better for the users that are using it, but I'm absolutely all in favor of launching an MVP as soon as possible. And I'm usually the biggest advocate of this in the whole team. You know, I think I probably wind people up sometimes by by how kind of fast I want to move and how quickly I want to launch things before it is actually fully ready, but I kind of want to get it out there, get people using it and then refine based on, you know, people using it and what they think of it and the experience they have.
Rob: Yeah, I suppose that's a really great lesson here. That's like a top tip, I would imagine, because all the startup literature says more or less the same thing, iterate, put out there, get customer feedback, iterate. It's kind of synonymous with the startup world and what's been happening over the last 15 years, let's say. It's obviously not how businesses used to be run. So you do have a culture shift and sometimes you can come up against that. You know, you wouldn't release a car, you wouldn't make a car that was not perfect, but at least safe and put it on the road. But software is a bit different because you can update on the fly. And so, yeah, there is a balance to strike and it is a really interesting one. And it does cause a lot of startups to fail because there's a lot of arguments within boardrooms, maybe where you have two different cultures and within teams, they just can't come to an agreement what to release, when to release.
So it is interesting you said that you push sometimes the team to release things that they might not be comfortable with.
But at the moment, I would argue it's working for you. So and perhaps now is the time as well while you're growing fast.
Karl: I think we've got a really good balance in the team of different people with different kind of perspectives, preferences, so it all balances out very well.
So, you know, you kind of need dreamers and doers on the team.
You know, so like a diversity of skill set, background, everything is very useful. And I think that we definitely have that. But, you know, my team has this running joke at Revlon about a cull timeline, which I tend to be quite optimistic about how fast I want things done.
So, yeah, there's a whole term for it now.
Rob: Are your team remote or are they all local to Swansea?
Karl: So a couple of people from the team do live in Swansea, but we are all working remotely at the moment. But in fact, actually tomorrow, well, we don't have an office currently, but tomorrow we're all meeting in Cardiff for like an end of year kind of retrospective and looking forward to the next year, which is quite exciting.
Rob: I'm going to talk to the bars and find you. That's nice.
It is nice to do. It is nice to have a like a retreat or some kind of bringing together because otherwise, I don't know, remote working for me works really well, but at the same time, it's different from actually just sitting with the people you work with every day. So that'll be really nice. How did you find the people you work with, your colleagues?
Karl: Oh, I mean, all in completely different ways, to be honest, but in terms of how I found them, but in terms of how I sort of evaluated them and so if they were the right fit to work with me, I do have a few interview questions that I like to ask, which...
Rob: Go on, give us a few. Scare everyone.
Karl: The first one is, what is a popular opinion you disagree with and why?
And that's a very effective question, B, because basically, it doesn't matter so much what they say, but it's more about being able to see that they can think out of the box and think differently from the crowd and that they think things through as well. So, you know, they're not just like parroting some opinion they heard, but they actually like came to this thought, you know, this opinion of theirs after plenty of thinking. I mean, the majority of people who I'm working with now, what they sort of said for their popular opinion, I personally, you know, like, you know, their disagreement, I personally disagree with, but it doesn't matter because it's not about that. I'm looking for people who can see the world differently to most because that's exactly the kind of people that you need working in a startup.
Rob: Yeah, I was going to say that we haven't got all day because I have a lot of different opinions from the general consensus. I think I'll be cancelled as well. So let's not let's not go. I also had a when it went employing people, I had this question, which was, let's imagine you have a client presentation on Thursday, but you're up against it and you haven't finished the presentation. Would you deliver a non-perfect presentation on Thursday, or would you deliver a perfect presentation on Friday late essentially? And again, my take on this was, there was generally the same answers to this.
It was basically reliant on your experience and what you thought about that because it's a bit like the perfect and done thing. We said earlier, it a lot of the more experience you have, the more likely you were going to say, look, just just do it on time because that's when the client wants it. It doesn't matter if it's not perfect because you know, nothing ever is perfect. The younger ones or the less experienced not necessarily to do with age, you would say no, it has to be perfect. And we had one person I remember he answered something clever and it's these questions that kind of, you know, they stop you make you think and you think okay, they've thought about this differently. And he said, if it's late, it could never be perfect. And I was like, oh wow, you just blew my mind, you know, like this is totally, you know, left field answer and it doesn't matter.
You know, there is no right or wrong answer to this. Like you just said, it's just that you've thought about it and this guy did think about it. So yeah, I love that. I love those questions. I know that people are terrified of these questions in interviews, but I think they do serve a purpose and I think if people realize there is no real right or wrong answer, well, they can sometimes be really wrong answers, but generally speaking, there is no real right or wrong answer.
Karl: Yeah, absolutely agree. I mean, questions like these I find are really good at understanding what kind of a person, you know, that you're speaking to and, you know, it's much better than, I mean, than the typical things of like, tell me about yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? I mean, I ask those questions too, but I'm much more interested in the answers to, you know, questions like these.
Rob: So if we go back to Revolancer, do you have many users using the platform now? And actually explain for us the difference between a freelancer and a client maybe on the platform?
Karl: Sure. So a freelancer is essentially, you know, a skilled professional who's offering their services. So it could be a graphic designer, a web developer, you know, a marketing specialist, those kind of things. And then, you know, the client is basically typically a small business that is looking for a website or for a logo or for a marketing consultant. And then what the platform does is it connects those two. So, you know, a client can come on and say, I'm looking to get a logo designed and then, you know, graphic designer can reach out to the client and then the platform can facilitate that, you know, communication and transaction.
Rob: How do you know that they're of quality?
Karl: Yeah, so we've got an automated quality approval process where basically right now it's manual, but we're building the data set up every time, you know, that we make a decision on that too. Then over the longer term, be able to automate that, you know, almost fully.
Rob: And is that IP in your company? Would you say that's part of your IP there? Yeah, I would say so, yes. Okay. So that's the freelancer. Who's the typical client?
Karl: So just a small business that's, you know, looking for a logo or a website or something like that that they would hire a freelancer for.
Rob: Okay. So let's imagine I run a florist business, a flower shop, and I need some flyers designed. I can come to Revolancer, post a job as a client, and someone, a designer, to design me some flyers. And then does it go to like a marketplace, an open forum, or do you go and select the people you want to work with?
Karl: Sure. So you can actually do it in one of two ways. So you can browse listings that freelancers have already set up. So for example, you know, like there's a freelancer called, I don't know, Bob, and he will design you a logo for 500 pounds, you know, and I'll do three revisions. And then you can just go and buy that directly, and you can compare listings between different freelancers. But then on the other hand, what we see most clients do is they'll request a project. So instead of browsing freelancers directly on the platform, you'll just fill out a form that basically says, you know, I'm looking to get a logo designed, I'm looking to pay 500 pounds, I want to have at least three revisions to make sure it's right, you know, and basically just post that. And then freelancers like Bob in that case can come and directly to you, and then you'll kind of get that shortlist of people who have said they're able to do the job, and you can kind of choose from there.
Rob: So the first model is a bit more like Fiverr, and the second is a bit more like Upwork. Sure, yeah. Do those platforms, are they aware of you? Have they contacted you? Do you have any relations with them?
Karl: I know that one of them is aware of us, at the very least. We don't have any relation, any kind of relationship with them. I mean, ultimately, my kind of thinking around it is, while I fundamentally disagree with how they do it, they are ultimately looking to bring freelancers, you know, work opportunities, which we are too. So they are serving the same kind of fundamental mission as us, which I commend them for. But what I am not so pleased about, and the whole reason we exist, is that I believe that they are charging freelancers too much. They're charging too high commission fees. They're restricting freelancers too much and how they can communicate with clients. So we're looking to solve those issues, you know, and then ultimately just also provide a bit of variety to the existing market.
Rob: There is another marketplace, I think, called TopTal, or at least it works in a little bit like an agency model, whereby as a company, I can ask TopTal for certain skill sets, and they will find several people I can interview and then contract through TopTal. It's kind of like a recruitment agency, but also freelancer contractor based. They obviously cornered a market where you assume, because of the name, that they are the top talent. You know, it's difficult to become a freelancer on this platform. Do you foresee also a future where you have kind of the expert level skill, intermediate level skill, and basic level skill, and then using your AI, perhaps, would you be able to determine if one of those freelancers fits in one of those categories?
Karl: Yes, I mean, we already have freelancers of all kinds of different skill sets, and we collect data that indicates that as well. So TopTal, they only allow the top 3% of their applicants, of freelancers, onto the platform, but they're also a completely different kind of animal. So, you know, if you run kind of a small business like a florist, for example, you're not going to go to TopTal because you'll be paying tens, you know, possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds. Also, the way that I believe that they make their money, or at least it's how they used to until very recently, is basically, you know, you'll kind of say, I'm looking for, I don't know, let's say a web developer. They'll tell you, here you go, you can get this web developer for 50,000 pounds or something to deliver this project. But the way that they make their money is this web developer might have actually quoted them 30,000 pounds. So they're now taking a 20,000 pound cut from that. And if you think that I'm, you know, using a hyperbole there, I'm really not. They do typically take even higher than that, so around 50% of the, or 100% of the quoted price they add on top as their fees. That's kind of how they operate, which I think works if you're working with very large corporate clients and then much higher ticket services. I still don't like it, but you know, sure, I can see how that works. But it certainly wouldn't work on a lower level, like with something like Fiverr or Upwork, which is more where we're competing.
Rob: So you mentioned that your fees are perhaps less than some of your competitors. What is the pricing like? Who pays? Does the client pay or the freelancer pay? Or how does it work?
Karl: Sure. So existing platforms will frequently charge 20% plus. That seems to be the industry standard. We don't charge anything. We don't charge any commission fees whatsoever to, you know, clients or freelancers. And we instead have a monthly subscription plan for freelancers where they can pay to have access to additional features, but equally they don't have to. And they can certainly get their first few clients without paying for the paid plan.
Rob: What is the biggest challenge that your company is facing right now?
Karl: I'd say the biggest challenge right now is fundraising. You know, even though we're doing quite well, the fundraising environment has changed enormously from this time last year. You know, whereas last year was maybe one of the best times in the past 15 years, whereas this year is decidedly the worst time in the past 15 years to fundraise.
Rob: Because of the cost of living crisis or financial crisis?
Karl: Lots of different things. Financial crisis, the war in Ukraine, cost of living crisis, just general kind of uncertainty in the market is causing, you know, it's causing VCs and angels alike to really be very selective with their funds and where they allocate them. So I'd say that that's probably the biggest challenge right now. So it's basically just, you know, securing the funding to take what we have and have proven works on, you know, like a smaller scale and then scaling it to a much larger scale. But we are now in the final stages of closing our round. We're in conversation with several potential leads and we have already got about 70% or so of the round secured.
Rob: So that's great. Who would be your next hire, do you think?
Karl: So after this round closes, we've already started kind of, you know, putting the fields out, but we're looking to hire two salespeople, two developers and a product manager.
Rob: Okay, so what about so far? You obviously had a business when you were younger, when you were a teenager and you've been running Revolancer for a couple of years now. What is the biggest lesson that you've learned so far and what do you wish you had known a couple of years ago?
Karl: I mean, I think it's the same answer for both, which is just the importance of just not giving up, which I obviously haven't, but there have been times in the past where I've gotten quite close, you know, and thinking like, oh, maybe a traditional career route is just better for me. You know, I'm talking like years ago now, so well before Revolancer, but just kind of, you know, seeing my peers at school really focus on schoolwork, going to good universities, going that kind of traditional track. I never wanted to do that. There have been times where I kind of felt like, oh, maybe what I'm doing, you know, is just, it's too hard, you know. There have been those doubtful kind of times, but what I wish I knew back then and what I would say is, you know, my greatest lesson now is just never give up and that's exactly the mentality that I'm in right now. I just will not give up.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, it's really interesting because I know many people have spoken about the same thing and I started my first company after university and all my friends, I did a business degree, right, so all my friends went into banking, went to the City of London. By the time they were 25, 26, 27, they were earning numbers that I couldn't even imagine and here was I in my bedroom trying to build a business, finding it difficult to get a mortgage because you're more or less self-employed when you run a limited company and I did have moments and I know a lot of our peers, a lot of people who have started businesses have moments where they think, what am I doing? Shall I just go get a quote-unquote normal job?
But yeah, I think sticking with it is challenging and not everyone can do it because of other circumstances, but yeah, I think determination is perhaps one of the greatest contributors to success.
Karl: It certainly is. I mean, there's a great book, Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, who's a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University and he wrote a list of the top seven things, the top seven traits that determine success in people and intelligence is not on the list at all, by the way,
You know, it doesn't matter how smart you are, it doesn't matter how able you are, it doesn't even matter what connections you have. I mean, those things matter to some degree, but what makes the biggest difference is just not giving up and just keep trying.
Rob: So yeah. My next one on that list would be hustle. I don't know if that was on the list as well, but it basically this idea that you've got to literally get out there and sell it. Making a great product, but not telling anyone about it gets you nowhere. You actually have to like, you know, I don't know if you've ever been to New York, but maybe they don't do this so much anymore, but when CDs were a thing and even after CDs were a thing, you'd have a lot of artists who were making a CD and literally being on the street in New York trying to peddle their CD on you, like buy my CD, you know, $10. Give me 10 bucks. Give me 10 bucks.
Rob: And I find it very difficult because I don't think in British culture, we would necessarily do that. We'd be quite embarrassed to do that, but in American culture, it was very much, you know, go out there and sell what you've created. Otherwise, no one's going to know about it.
It really is something you have to transfer to a business. We're almost shy sometimes to talk about what we do and shy to actually sell what we've spent hours thinking about and making.
And it's kind of ridiculous. Like if you don't sell it, no one will buy it. So yeah, I think grit is a good one. I think having that ability to sell, not in terms of like sales skills or process, but just this idea that you actually have to go out and tell people about it.
The amount of entrepreneurs who will not pick up a phone to talk to someone is incredible.
And I was like that when I was 22, 23, 24 as well. It scared the hell out of me. But once you've done a few Zoom calls and hopefully the pandemic has helped, you just get over it.
Karl: Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. So what one thing would you say that Welsh Government could do to improve the tech ecosystem here in Wales? I know you said earlier that you've been impressed by it, but what do you think could be done? And it doesn't have to be limited to Welsh Government. It could be a taxation thing. It could be anything.
Karl: Sure. I mean, I'm not an expert on exactly what is already provided. So if I say stuff here that actually already exists, then just be mindful that that's very much a possibility. But I think, and what I've seen already is more kind of grants becoming available at smaller scales. So I can't remember the name of it, but I believe that there is a grant in Wales now for young people looking to start a business where you can get £2,000. Well, that could make such an enormous difference. You know, whereas to a business of a larger scale, £2,000 might be absolutely nothing, but it can make a real difference if you're just starting out, especially if you're not paying yourself yet at that point. It makes such an enormous difference. We got to the point of where we raised our first VC funding, and the better part of a year, all on about £8,000. That included launching the platform, getting 150 or so users on by that point. Thanks. So, I mean, you can get very far. And then same thing again with buy-sell jobs. You know, I crewed up to 2,000 users and had the platform built all for £200, you know, about, I think, eight years ago now at this point or so, seven or eight years ago. I think that that can make a huge difference. So just that kind of financial support to small businesses really early on can make a huge difference. And I know that, you know, there is more being done for that. But generally, I do think that the ecosystem and support available in Wales is absolutely second to none.
Rob: That's great. And what would your one piece of advice be then to someone looking to start up a business in Wales?
Karl: I mean, I say same as anywhere else in the world, but you know, Wales is of course a fantastic choice to start a business in. But I'd say the most important thing is to just, you know, start putting yourself out there. Like, you know, keep going, don't give up, but actually put yourself out there. It doesn't matter if your website or product or whatever isn't perfect. The most important thing is just going out there and having those conversations. And I sort of have people ask me quite frequently, you know, people who aren't in this kind of space will just kind of say like, you know, oh, I could never start a business. I could never do what you do, which is absolute nonsense. Like, you know, I didn't have all the answers at the beginning. I still don't have all the answers at all. But you know, you kind of learn as you go along. So, you know, you want to start a business. Okay, step one, register a company. How do you do that? Well, you can Google that and find out for free, you know, and you'll be surprised. It only costs like £12 to do. So, okay, now you can do that. Then next step. Yeah, exactly. So, you're going to just go next step. Maybe you need a website, right? Again, you can Google that. You can watch YouTube tutorials. All the information is out there. You just have to accept that you won't have all the answers now or frankly ever, but you can start getting some of the answers by just going out there and looking for them.
Rob: Thank you, Karl, for telling us about Riverlancer. And, you know, I wish you all the success and hopefully we can talk to you again in a year's time and see where you're at.
Karl: Well, thank you very much, Rob, for having me on.