'I wish I had worked out sooner that it's not that hard to start a business'

Things fell into place when this entrepreneur realised he didn’t need to be an expert in everything.

By Conor Wilson Co-founder, Sproose

LAST YEAR I set up my own startup to take on the laundry-delivery business and there’s one regret I have so far – I wish I had done it sooner.

Something that maybe put me off – and probably puts a lot of people off – starting a business was falling into the mindset that you need to be an expert on a sector to set up a business. That is what I thought for a long time.

I came up with ideas for different businesses and apps but was wary to try it out, because I didn’t know anything about building an app or about the industry I was looking to get into.

I regret letting this mindset get the better of me for a while. I only kicked the habit of thinking like this at a previous job. I was working at an energy company and I realised that although everyone had a particular set of skills, nobody was an absolute expert. What we were doing was managing outsourced talent.

There are all these barriers to starting a business, but as long as you have some money in the bank, you can outsource your way around them. That can be as simple as getting some advice from someone you know or paying someone to solve the issue.

Conor Wilson Sproose co-founders Pat McKenna (left) and Conor Wilson
Source: YouTube

Diving in

After I realised I could set up a business by outsourcing, I literally sat down with a pen and paper and starting to think about everyday problems I could try to solve.

I eventually came across this idea – imagine if you could get your laundry picked up and delivered back to your door freshly cleaned.

I went through a few ways thinking how this would work, including an app that would link up with an old retired person willing to do the laundry for their local community while they’re watching Emmerdale.

Then, as I was fishing around for the best solution, I saw there were other laundry apps with the same idea popping up domestically and internationally. I made the naive assumption that they were doing it right.

That’s another easy trap to fall into. When I saw people with an idea like mine getting funding, I thought they must have it all figured out, because they did the unthinkable – they convinced someone to give them money.

I just ended up trying to follow their trail and run a similar pickup and dry-cleaning service. It took us a few months, but we found out that the same model doesn’t work for us.

I don’t regret diving in like that – you would be surprised how much you learn in the process. For example, we realised that there are already launderettes doing pickup, so why would we go against them when we could just facilitate what they do?

It would have taken me maybe six months to come to that conclusion with pen and paper, and I would’ve have made any general progress, built up connections in the industry nor developed a real solution.

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Source: flickr

New idea

Even though the first idea didn’t work, we have realised that there is clearly a big demand for laundry pickup and delivery. The key change in focus now is that we are trying to facilitate the existing laundry businesses, not fight against them.

So our new model will allow us to scale the business faster, because the company is more tech-focused, which means I don’t have to do a full-time job by day and be a transit van driver by night tagging people’s laundry.

When you get an idea to work on like we have now, it’s exciting for the first few months, but it can be a bit depressing. Things will, for the most part, not go how you would like.

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We haven’t been rejected constantly, but we did apply to the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme and were rejected, then applied a second time and were rejected again with the old business model.

I can’t pinpoint a time when things started working out for the business, but I guess a huge turning point was being on Dragons’ Den because it helped stir up competition between investors.

Once you have interest from someone who wants to put money into your company, you will suddenly find that a lot of people start approaching you to ask if they can put money into the company.

Since appearing on TV and receiving an investment offer through the show, we have had lots of different offers for high valuations and accepted some here and there.

We also got an offer from a top incubator in Belfast and were finally offered, and accepted, a place on the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers Programme – phase two.

Suddenly life has gotten a bit easier because people have started putting money on the table. I just wish I had spotted sooner that it’s not that hard to start a business.

Conor Wilson is the ‎co-founder of laundry startup Sproose. This article was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on business mistakes and what can be learned from them.

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