It’s not often that you hear about a start-up created by two fathers from a flat in Peckham and a conservatory in Yorkshire, but that is exactly what FanFinders is. Helping companies connect with the parents of Great Britain since 2013, Alec Dobbie has guided the company into the top 100 tech start-ups in the UK and hopes that FanFinders will be the go-to place for pregnant women and new mothers.
What does FanFinders do?
FanFinders acts as a value exchange connecting consumers with brands they want to speak with, with our own network of over 1.6 million women we offer pay on results marketing services. Our network puts the consumer in charge whilst simultaneously delivering against our partners’ KPIs whether it’s consumer insight, first party data acquisition, app downloads, site traffic, mass exposure, e-mail marketing or social media we have it all covered.
Where did the idea come from? Did the children inspire you?
When my wife was pregnant, we were both heavily spammed by baby marketing companies and brands who bought and sold our data from the baby clubs you are encouraged to sign up to during pregnancy. Most of the marketing I received was of no interest to me or my wife, it was never targeted to our life stage of parenting and was just annoying spam.
I thought that there must be a better way for brands to interact with parents. As new parents, we were keen to hear about offers and promotions and try as many samples as possible, and so I thought about digitalising the lead generation strategy.
Our strategy allows brands to generate a lead right at the beginning of their journey – pregnancy, and find out as much insight as the brand wants about the individual – anything from location, to due date, where and how they shop et cetera. – whatever information is most useful to the brand. The idea has proved popular with both brands and consumers, as we never sell data, the consumer can be confident that their details will only be passed on to companies they have chosen to engage with, and the brand knowns they have generated a truly genuine lead. In just over 2 years, our mum and baby network ‘Your Baby Club’ has developed into the fastest growing mum network in the UK and can boast over 1.5 million UK mums and mums-to-be.
How did you know there was a market for it against Mumsnet and other companies?
There are many companies out that have a dual purpose, a consumer face and a business backend, on the whole they are heavily content lead and give mums a digital space to find like-minded people, read about real life experiences and product reviews they want to know about. I am all for this, I think it’s great, however they are businesses and so they have to monetise in some way or another. We are different, because we are not content lead, we deliver the deals, samples and discounts women want without the ‘fluff’.
Our method allows the consumer to be in charge and if they choose to connect with a brand offer, only then will the brand gain anything from that consumer, it’s a value exchange and both sides win.
How did you get by without additional funding or investment? Why wasn’t that a choice?
As a start-up business we’re in a relatively unique position in that we’ve never really needed investment. Other than the startup capital of £1500 from 3 of the founding directors we have been entirely self-sustainable. This is important to us because the business is owned 100 per cent by the directors which gives us a lot more freedom to grow the business as we want to.
Describe your business model?
We work with brands to develop campaigns that will attract the right audience for the product or service they are looking to promote. We charge a cost per action whether that’s a site visitor, a completed survey, a new customer or a fully opted in set of data it’s a flexible model that can be made to work for any business we work with.
What was your first big milestone?
In business, I think it’s hard to nail down big milestones as the goal posts are endlessly moving, sometimes it’s difficult to see the defining moments. For FanFinders it comes down to three: firstly, getting to the point where people actually used our product, secondly brands were willing to pay us and thirdly (after lots of attempts) we found a way to scale and increase our member base number dramatically.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
All entrepreneurs need perseverance, as starting a business isn’t easy, there will be ups, downs, high and lows. However, if you build the correct team with the correct people it will make life a lot easier. Make sure you can step back sometimes and take a view of issues – there is always a solution, it’s just sometimes a little hard to see. When I find myself blind-sighted and unsure what to do next, I take an hours walk my dogs and think. The time away can pay its self-back immeasurably.
Where do you see yourself and FanFinders in five year’s time?
In five years’ time I would like us to have multiple vertical sites running in multiple territories around the world. We are already in the UK and the USA, but within five years I would like to be operating in China, India and South America as a minimum. We currently have 1.6 million members and within five years I would like to scale that to 30 million members globally driving over 100 million clicks to partner sites per month.
If you weren’t doing work on FanFinders what would you be doing instead?
Most likely working on another tech startup. However, if I was working on something different, it would mean that I wouldn’t have met most of my current team and without these guys we wouldn’t be able to hit it so hard.
What is your business and life philosophy?
We have a motto and I think it works across the board ‘be smart, nice and get sh*t done’.