On the up · 4 May 2017

Playground entrepreneurs go from selling penny sweets to securing £1m investment

Charlie & Owen
Hunnam and de Rusett grew frustrated with innovation in management software

Owen Hunnam and Charlie de Rusett first went into business together aged 11, selling sweets to fellow pupils in their school playground in Kent.

With the money they made, the budding playground entrepreneurs founded a mobile disco business. Dinamic Discos generated £2,000 per month before all their equipment was stolen and the pair were forced to close the business aged 16.

Now both 30 years-old, the two friends have co-founded Idea Drop, which uses smart software to capture ideas within organisations, giving everyone at a company the opportunity to have their voice heard.

Their new venture recently secured a £1m investment, and Idea Drop is now used by SMEs across 61 countries and 318 cities, and the platform lists Fortune 500 engineering companies and UK police forces amongst its clients.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business? 

We’re Owen and Charlie, co-founders of Idea Drop, a London-based technology company that helps organisations everywhere capture, curate and implement the best ideas from their people.

Idea Drop was born from our frustrations with the current innovation management software market, when we attempted to deploy an out-of-the-box solution into our tech stack at Yellowball. We found that the existing solutions lacked focus, have long deployment times and complex pricing structures, which mean that they are not widely accessible.

For most businesses and organisations, the process of gathering, organising and executing new ideas is generally costly and time consuming. Regardless of size or sector, ideation processes typically happen from the top down, with those highest paid and most senior usually sharing, validating and carrying out the most ideas.

Where there are existing ideation initiatives in place, such as intranets, suggestion boxes or annual staff surveys, these tend to be siloed and prevent collaborative, transparent and bottom-up innovation unfolding.

Idea Drop delivers a simple but powerful cloud-based solution for organisations to capture, curate and action the best ideas from their people. Via an intelligent ranking algorithm, the platform also automates the curation process, by scoring every idea in real-time based on social signals and interactions.

This enables the most promising and exciting ideas to organically bubble to the surface for the attention of managers and decision-makers faster. Out-of-the-box social tools also make it easy for colleagues to collaborate, enrich and validate ideas. Other key features include individual innovation scores, challenges, reports, search, analytics and idea cloaking.

(2) How long have you been around for?

Idea Drop was founded and received initial seed investment in March 2014. After a period in stealth, during which we completed beta testing, product development and extensive market discovery and insight, we officially launched in September 2015.

We previously founded Vine, a regional publishing group which was acquired by Local World, a division of Trinity Mirror, in December 2013. We also co-founded Yellowball, a full service creative consultancy, of which a majority stake was acquired in February 2015.

(3) How do you make money?

For organisations with up to 250 users, we offer a self-service £7 user/month pricing model. This is most popular with small teams and startups.

Beyond 250 users, we switch to an enterprise licence model, where the price is dependent on the size of the user group and the licence term. Enterprise clients also gain access to bespoke customisation packages, SSO, integration with other third-party tools in their tech stack and priority support.

We also offer a range of consultancy, implementation and internal launch services, which is an additional revenue stream. These are delivered with our global consultancy partners and also in-house.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

We believe the global idea management space is significantly underserved and, remarkably, this tech sector along with the key leading vendors, have failed to innovate in recent years. We’re building a beautiful experience that is not only a joy to use but has meaningful and measureable ROI for every organisation.

The highlights of areas in which we are different from the key competition include our strong focus on UI/UX, native mobile apps (most competitors are web or mobile-optimised only), ongoing investment into R&D and the release of new features, our algorithmic idea curation and the speed of deployment (Idea Drop can be self-served out-of-the box within 90 seconds, unlike most of our competitors).

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

In the early days of founding a business, everything seems virtually impossible and a stream of continued setbacks and disappointments can take its toll on morale.

In our experience, we have found that remaining laser focussed on the vision and having an unrelenting drive to succeed are very powerful. We have also always tended to launch businesses that have synergies with our existing skill sets, experience, customers or market knowledge as this mitigates risk and makes it easier to launch something quickly.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date? 

Winning a contract with our first major client, Kent Police was a key milestone. They are one of the largest and well regarded police forces in the UK, and the reaction and results they saw from the platform in the first few weeks after launch exceeded all our hopes and expectations.

The success in Kent also enabled us to focus on showcasing Idea Drop to the other 42 police forces in the UK, including winning the Metropolitan Police as a client earlier this year.

Closing our recent £1m funding round was also a major milestone, as it served as validation of our vision, existing traction and ability to execute. This fundraise, in September 2016, brought the total raised to £1.2m and comprised 34 new investors. 

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

In the early days of founding the company in 2014, we were also running our digital agency, Yellowball, full-time. Running two businesses together is very challenging, and we realised that to give Idea Drop the chance to evolve and thrive in the way we wanted, we’d need to focus all our time and resources on it. This led to us existing the Yellowball business in 2015.

One of our other regrets was turning down an acquisition offer for our publishing business back in 2012 from one of the largest publishing companies in the UK. At the time, we believed the offer undervalued the business – but we ended up accepting a considerably lower offer a couple of years later.

(8) In five years’ time, we will be… 

Continuing to chase the entrepreneurial thrill of building something from nothing. Business, technology and people excite us both – so we’re likely to be uniting that trio of interests in some way.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Take an agile approach to everything you do. Agile development is a software methodology that focuses on working in short, two-week ‘sprints’, before shipping the work, then getting feedback and slowly iterating over time to improve the experience. This is far more effective that working for a prolonged period towards a ‘big bang’ launch.

The same principle can be applied to all areas of business – marketing, operations and internal processes, for instance.

In short, something doesn’t have to be perfect before it goes live and you can make improvements based on feedback along the way. This allows you to move much faster and remain competitive.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

We’re both admirers of the younger generation of successful entrepreneurs that prove that building an incredible business can be great fun, doesn’t have to conform to traditional ideals of what business means and have a vision to change the world for the better on a huge scale.

Figures that spring to mind include Patrick and John Collison (co-founders of Stripe), Tom Blomfield (co-founder, Monzo Bank) and Eoghan McCabe (co-founder, Intercom).

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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