Evan Davies of Intuitix: “Access to support”

Product market fit isn’t something that can be expected to be achieved overnight. It is however one of the most important milestones for a start-up to reach. Product market fit means you have a solution to your customer’s problems that they are willing to pay for. It may take a few pivots before you get […]

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Product market fit isn’t something that can be expected to be achieved overnight. It is however one of the most important milestones for a start-up to reach. Product market fit means you have a solution to your customer’s problems that they are willing to pay for. It may take a few pivots before you get to this point, but understand that once this is achieved, the world is your oyster.

Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.

Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?

In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan Davies.

Evan Davies is the 24 year old CEO and founder of Intuitix. Intuitix is a project management and data analytics software for infrastructure organizations. A year and a half into the business, they have recently closed £250,000 (350,000 dollars) seed funding round, and have doubled their client base over the past 6 months. You can find the Intuitix website here: https://intuitix.co/

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My story really starts when I left university. Unsure of what to do with myself, I knew I wanted to start a business, but wasn’t quite sure what in. I loved music and festivals growing up, and noticed a lack of camping gear aimed at the festival crowd, so a friend and I started designing and selling novelty camping gear. We sold both at festivals and online, under the name ‘Don Hardware’. The company was fully bootstrapped, with us both working full-time jobs to keep it afloat.

Things changed when I was accepted onto a prestigious tech incubator. I loved Don Hardware, but wanted to be part of something that could scale faster. So we formed a new team and a new idea — a software platform for innovation departments at large infrastructure companies.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

One of the advantages of the incubator is that it is fully demand led. That essentially means that we work directly with clients to formulate an idea that both solves their problems, and is a viable business for us.

We really knew we struck gold when we started speaking to clients outside of our initial contact. Every person we spoke to either struggled with this issue, or had to build a software internally to solve it. Some even said what we set out to achieve was an impossible problem to solve!

For us, that really solidified two things. That this was a problem that people were willing to spend money to solve, and that there was a huge gap in the market.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the help and support provided by our incubator, the Alacrity Foundation. There are two individuals — James Lewis and Wil Williams, who we can’t thank enough for their support.

With a fair few years under the belt, they had seen it all before. There was one particular moment, where our team were very close to ‘biting off more than we could chew’ on a particular project. Luckily, the incubator were able to identify and flag this very quickly. They advised us to scale back the project, into something that was more realistic. We followed this advice, and looking back, it was a very good thing that we did.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I would say one of our key strengths is our intense focus on the needs of the clients in our target verticals. By working closely with them, we have understood the challenges around innovation are particularly to do with the quantification and measurement of the benefits they produce. This is a challenge that has been largely neglected by competitors. We are at a stage now where the focus on this particular challenge has been validated by the market. Our results speak for themselves, after just over a year we are already working with 50% of the UK gas distribution networks.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Though time can often be a limiting factor here, we always try to give advice to teams or individuals who are at an earlier stage than we are. We know how difficult it can be starting a company. We have been there, and we were fortunate enough to have so many people lend us our time, giving us advice that has helped us to get where we are today. We try to repay these favors by giving our time and advice to earlier stage start-ups, knowing that they would do the same once they are in our position.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

First thing I would say is resilience. We’ve had lots of setbacks in the past, things like deals never materializing, team members unexpectedly leaving, etc. Having the resilience to keep your head up and to carry on I think is probably the most important attribute an entrepreneur can have. Without this, we would be treading water every time a set-back occurs, which they can and will, so having resilience to continue is very important.

The second most important I’d say is pragmatism. This is something that’s probably less acknowledge by the entrepreneurial community. It is important to think deeply about problems and try to envisage a perfect solution. Ultimately though, time tends not be on your side in entrepreneurship. That means often none of your available solutions will be perfect, so being able to pick the ‘best of a bad bunch’ and commit to it goes a long way. We’ve experienced this particularly in development choices. Many of the libraries we use in our platform are by no means perfect, but they did the job. We choose them, get the results we need, then make modifications in the future where necessary. It’s much quicker in the long term that trying to find the ‘perfect’ library (which doesn’t exist).

You would have definitely heard this before, but being able to work in a team is no doubt an incredibly valuable character trait. Any start-up that’s growing is unlikely to remain a 1 person team for long, so being able to work with others is invaluable. We’ve definitely had personality differences in our team before. Being able to put these aside and get on with the job is what we owe a lot of our success to, and I think that the whole team come out better for it.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

You’ll see a lot of start-up coaches and social media personalities who promote far-flung, off-the-wall thinking. That’s great — There is a time and place for that, and many successful businesses have come out of that approach. Having said this, businesses need to get traction fast if they want to survive. Most don’t have time to be testing different crazy ideas until the market starts to listen. When we started Intuitix, we were testing all kinds of crazy ideas. We really wanted to do something wacky and off-the-wall. The problem was, the more we extrapolated in these early stages, the further we were moving away from the customer’s needs. Eventually, we found that the most logical and conventional solutions were actually the best! Most importantly, the customers more easily understood them, making the value of our solution much easier to communicate.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Any start-up that sells to large enterprises will be familiar with long drawn-out deals that don’t end up materializing. In our case, it was a government tender that we all working on full-time for a few months. It seemed very promising throughout, until the last moment, when a much larger company won the contract.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

Initially it was difficult. We couldn’t help but feel demotivated, like we had wasted the last few months. In actuality however, we had gained valuable exposure throughout the process, which has contributed to some of the deals we are working on today. Having this outlook; viewing everything as a learning process and generally looking for the positives that come out of a negative situation is what encouraged us to keep going.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

This may sound strange, but we actually formalize this process so that everyone has a chance to be open and expressive about their feelings. As a tech start-up, we follow the agile methodology for software development. This includes a ‘sprint retrospective’, a meeting where we analyze our ways of working in a self-reflective way. We use this meeting as chance to express our feelings with one another, as by sharing, we are able to offer non-judgmental support to one another. It’s a useful exercise that improves group moral, so I’d suggest replicating something like this to any new start-up.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

So for some context, our current business is venture-backed, whereas my previous business was bootstrapped, so I’ve really experienced both sides of the coin. I’d say it totally depends on what industry you are in, what you want the business to become, and most importantly, your runway. Important things to consider are that some industries are more attractive to investors that others, so if you’re in an ‘atypical’ industry, you might find it hard to raise money. Secondly, is that if you do raise capital, it will often come with terms. Investors tend to want a business run in a certain way, so make sure their ways of working (and future ambitions for the business) are aligned with yours. Finally is runway. Most businesses will take longer to start generating revenue (or profit) than expected, so if your runway is limited, then you may need to consider raising capital.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Balanced Team

This is so important, and can easily be overlooked in a start-up. In order to succeed, each team member’s skills should each complement one another, with everyone bringing something unique to the table. Otherwise, your team can have weaknesses that you’re unaware of. These may only manifest when it’s too late, so make sure all bases are covered from the outset.

2. Aligned Strategic View

Having everyone on the same page in terms of what their objectives are with the business, their commitment level and their ways of working are paramount to successful start-up. If there are differences, it’s important to find a mutual common ground which you can work towards. Without doing this, you run the risk of individuals moving in different directions to one another. This can result in stagnated progress or worse individuals quitting leaving the business in a difficult position.

3. Product Market Fit

Product market fit isn’t something that can be expected to be achieved overnight. It is however one of the most important milestones for a start-up to reach. Product market fit means you have a solution to your customer’s problems that they are willing to pay for. It may take a few pivots before you get to this point, but understand that once this is achieved, the world is your oyster.

4. Access to support

The popularity of tech incubators, accelerators and clusters has proven that no start-up is an island. Everyone needs some support from time-to-time. By surrounding yourself with mentors, support and opportunities, you’re far more likely to succeed.

5. Culture of transparency

A culture of transparency is probably not the first thing most people think of as key to a successful start-up. We’ve seen in our time however that this is can be a really important factor in a start-ups success. By having a culture of transparency, you can ensure that everyone speaks up, issues are resolved quickly, and honest feedback is always provided. This really goes hand-in-hand with a balanced team. You want everyone to be part of the decision-making process, so you need to make sure everyone feels okay with speaking their mind.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The first mistake we often see is start-ups trying to do everything in-house. We also see start-ups outsourcing too much, so it really is a tough balancing act. The problem with doing everything in-house is that you lose time doing tasks that you could cheaply outsource. You are also unlikely to be extremely qualified at everything, so the quality of output will most likely suffer. On the other hand, outsourcing too much can be expensive, and the knowledge is difficult to retain. Every situation is different, so there’s no ‘hard and fast’ rule to deciding which option to choose. I would say though that if you consider something a core competency, it should be done in-house. Whereas if you need a degree to do something (which you don’t have), it should probably be outsourced.

‘Boiling the ocean’ or ‘biting off more than you can chew’ is the second mistake we often see. It’s easy to fall into a trap when you’re just starting out of trying to please everyone, or ‘going for gold’ and ending up building an MVP that’s huge. The problem with this is that it will take a while to complete, and once it is complete, there is fare more to go wrong with it. MVP should be as it is described ‘minimum viable product’. Save the bells and whistles for after you’ve got your first few customers.

Inadequate testing of ideas and concepts is another trap we see start-ups fall in to. Anyone who has read ‘The Lean Startup’ will know the importance of continually testing ideas, concepts, processes and product. It can easily be pushed to the sidelines though when development pressure builds. Keep this in mind when developing your start-up to avoid the risk of building something nobody wants to use.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Having a daily structure in place is probably the first thing I would recommend. It’s important to build set breaks into this also, with a clear cut off time for finishing work. Of course, there are going to be times when you have to burn the midnight oil, but if you keep a clear schedule, you’re minimizing the risk of work piling up.

Next thing I’d recommend is setting limits for yourself. It’s easy to get carried away and put too much work into your schedule that is unlikely to be achievable. This will only demotivate you, as you feel like you haven’t done enough. If you take a rough estimate for how much work you can achieve in a given week, you can use that as the benchmark for future scheduling. This keeps you on track, focused, and most importantly, is achievable, which will be more motivating when you do finish the week with all your tasks complete.

Finally, I’d suggest speaking up when you’re struggling. There is always support out there, whether it be from team members, mentors, friends or family. Don’t be afraid to speak up, it’s perfectly natural for founders to struggle with their workload sometimes.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think I would like to create more collaboration between start-ups. We’ve already touched on how valuable incubators, accelerators and clusters can be. There really is no reason in the digital age that start-ups can’t collaborate further, even when separated by distance, languages or time-zones. If we could create some kind of global network, where different start-up founders can collaborate on different projects, lending each other support and advice, I think that would be bring a real positive impact to the world.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Building on what was mentioned in the earlier questions; I think it’s incredibly important that start-ups have the best mentors and support possible. Some of the well known start-up mentors that you may have seen online include Gary Vee, Tim Ferris and Dan Martell, so meeting any of them would be an honor. Likewise, the most well respected incubator is no doubt Y-Combinator, so meeting any of the founders of that would be equally incredible.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow us on Linkedin or head to our website blog.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thanks, you too.

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