As a British technology business set up in 2008, and then spending its early years navigating through the recession, HulloMail has had to deal with a variety of waves and obstacles.
Now about to reach profitability after refining its product and carving out a share of the market, founder and CEO Andy Munarriz tells us why it is all about maintaining flexibility and reveals his tips for other entrepreneurs looking to burst through the break-even point.
(1) What does the company do, and how has it developed over the years?
HulloMail begun life as a voice messaging consumer product and, over the six years we have been operating, has evolved into a cloud and mobile communications service provider. This is via a combination of direct to consumer and also business-to-business products, which have been specifically developed for the mobile and financial services industries.
It is fair to say that our consumer service today is essentially our shop front. We are very proud of it and consider that we were the first of its kind in this space: a mobile network agnostic consumer visual voicemail service.
(2) How would you characterise the ‘start-up’ phase, and why do you believe you’ve now moved out of it?
In a nutshell, I would say it is the difference between optimism and realism. When I launched HulloMail, a plan was in place in terms of where the business would go, how the technology would be developed and what the exit from ‘start-up’ would look like. In actual fact, the reality is you need to remain fluid and flexible – adapt the business plan, technology and direction based on the customer need and the market conditions.
While we originally started life with a mission to kill legacy voicemail, we have evolved and I think that’s the key for any start-up wanting to succeed. While it has always been in our DNA to marry smartphone with network services, the downturn nudged us into rethinking enterprise mobile communications. As a result, we were able to continue to grow organically, enhancing and shaping our core platform to meet new opportunities.
Doing so has enabled us to grow and our products have reached a stage of maturity that means we are now out of ‘start-up’ mode, and now into our second phase of growth and stability.
(3) What would you say has gone into getting to where you are now?
Two things have helped to get us where we are today – an open mind and huge perseverance. You invest blood, sweat and perhaps a few tears into launching any business; I am not someone to give up. However you do have to know when to stop beating yourself up and look at flexing your approach, if the market calls for it.
In fact, I think you would be a lucky start-up to fully implement your initial product idea and roadmap over the last six years without any alterations. I believe it’s about flexibility as a result of good design, and also not to be shy to look into new opportunities as they arise.
(4) What has gone wrong along the way and what have you learned from it?
In the early stages, we couldn’t get the funding we needed to build out the consumer service that we really wanted and we believe it required. We also made the mistake in engaging with very keen and excited (at the time) mobile operators, only to see the opportunities fade into a never-ending sales cycle and their inability to truly innovate consumer services outside their core competency.
(5) How have your investors contributed to the future?
Our investors supported us through thick and thin and when there was no more money available it was faith in my ability to persevere.
(6) What tips would you give to fledgling entrepreneurs looking to push through to profitability?
My main tip would be to keep the team as small as possible; you don’t need as many people as you think at the outset – key appointments for specific roles is what is important. You need to take on keen and versatile individuals. I would say not to get lulled into believing that more experience is what you need. Sometimes the experienced can kill the optimism you require to build out.
(7) What does the future hopefully have in store for HulloMail?
We’ve developed a communication service for one of our corporate customers, which they are currently in the process of rolling out globally to financial institutions. It really is exciting times for us here. And, while all this is going on, we will also be rolling out a significant release of our consumer product to our UK, US and Irish users, which will be completed before Christmas.
Even though we have moved out of start-up phase, it certainly doesn’t excite me any less. There’s always so much happening and I’m proud to be working with my team and my customers on the next phase of HulloMail.