When Sara Murray stepped up onto stage to pick up her Female Entrepreneur of the Year award at the GrowthBusiness Investor Allstars awards on 24 September, the ever switched on business builder made sure that her latest product was front and centre when the camera bulbs started flashing.
While the first few businesses she set up did not have any tangible products, her latest is positioned in the wearables market and is now coming to fruition after a number of years of design and development.
Murray is no stranger to creating a business and making it work. In the years covering the last tech boom, and subsequent bust, she founded and then sold Confused.com (first called Inspop) to Admiral in 2001.
However, it is her efforts in building latest venture buddi that saw her win Female Entrepreneur of the Year against illustrious competition such as Notonthehighstreet.com founder Holly Tucker and Decoded’s Kathryn Parson. Buddi, as mentioned, was created after Murray lost her four year-old daughter in a supermarket and quickly got thinking that there must be a simple solution.
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Looking to the US market and expecting to see a product already in existence, she was surprised to see nothing and so set about embarking on a maiden foray into building physical products in a very young wearables sector.
‘I’d built software companies before, which are easy and quick with low cash. I didn’t know what I was doing with this one, so saw all of the obvious people,’ Murray explains.
‘I met one company at the time which used a very expensive company to do designs, so thought I need to hire my own people to do this.’
Sara Murray is also a member of Vince Cable’s Entrepreneurs’ Forum
After utilising message boards and hiring the kind of people she believed were necessary to being building a product, Murray was firmly focused on making sure that the device would be small enough for a child to carry.
To finance the venture Murray took an interesting approach, only ever raising just enough money to get to the next stage, achieve the next milestone.
‘I didn’t have much money, so couldn’t waste any. I started out with a small value and then each time went out and said this is what I’ve done, this is how it works,’ she explains.
The entrepreneur believes that the process of raising has got a lot easier, with angel money a good way of securing little and often. From inception in 2005, buddi has now banked about £10.5 million.
As a bit of a pioneer in a wearables market now being taken pretty serious by global technology companies such as Apple, Samsung and Sony, Murray has had to deal with criticism that children would just not carry a device of the sorts. Labels including ‘brat nav’ and ‘chav nav’ have been levelled at it.
Buddi has developed products suitable for constant usage
‘There have been wholesale changes in the market, just look at what we are doing with partners and you can see it has chained so much in the last few years,’ Murray adds.
This year has been particularly significant for buddi, as it has finally made it though the laborious and time-consuming process of gaining US approval. With that market open, and product ready to ship, it is now all about marketing. This will all be driven by a new US CEO that Murray has hired, an individual described as ‘phenomenal’.
Already Murray is shocked at how much easier it is to ultimately do business overseas. With 49 per cent of sales already coming from foreign shores, she expects this to reach 75 per cent by next year.
Speaking to GrowthBusiness earlier in the year, Murray said that Britain is a great place to do business, as it is relatively easy to start a company, but does not enjoy the kind of government support that America does.
As a big fan of making government procurement more open to smaller businesses, Murray said, ‘We talk about it a lot but we’re not really doing it. Silicon Valley was, in my opinion, largely made by government procurement being given to small companies. So big opportunities for big contracts going to small businesses.
‘There are a lot of people here who are working in that direction, but it’s not happened yet. And if we could open that up and allow small innovative businesses to get into some of these bigger contracts we’d create the next generation of big companies.’
Another aspect that she feels the UK, and the entrepreneurs that populate it, haven’t got right is the ability to say what goes wrong. When a teenager, it was Richard Branson’s frank and open approach to revealing his flaws that inspired Murray the most. Embracing failure and learning from it is where we should get to, she says.
Scooping Female Entrepreneur of the Year at Investor Allstars is not the first time Murray has been recognised for her talents – she received an OBE in the 2012 birthday honours for services to entrepreneurship and innovation – and it will certainly not be the last. A combination of a smart product, multiple applications and smart marketing are set to track buddi all the way to the top.