The next Entrepreneur in our #FounderSecrets is the awesome Nick Marshall with his company Twistar. Twistar is a new type of customer feedback device that supports companies in understanding their customers quickly, effectively and more easily.
Having cut his teeth running his own recruitment consultancy, working with hardware was completely new territory for Nick and required a lot of learning. However, after tackling more than a couple of challenges during the journey so far, he is now very confident with the direction his business is going.
The most difficult aspect with hardware is the amount of parts that have to be coordinated. Even with experience it is impossible to prevent delays and errors during the project. The key is to seize these phases and fill the gaps with working on other parts of the business such as pushing into new territories or visiting new clients.
During his journey, Nick learned that you have to always keep a sales-oriented mindset and constantly pitch to everyone around you in order to hold your team together and keep the door open for new opportunities.
With Twistar, Nick has won several awards but his favourite moment since he starting up was the (successful!) live demo of his product in front of one of the leading specialists within the market.
In the next few years, the plan is to prove out the concept and take ownership of the vertical they are targeting. Nick is positive that if they can do that, Twistar will be golden.
Nick’s advice for you? You have to be 100% committed!
Meet Nick, Founder and CEO of Twistar, a new type of customer feedback device that helps businesses get more (consensual) information from their customers, faster and easier than ever before. Twistar’s journey started around two and a half years ago, with nothing more than an idea and a challenge. Since then it has evolved, pivoted, changed and juggled and they now have a product, pilots and partners which is helping the business push forward at pace.
The tricky job with hardware is that, honestly, everything takes a really long time. A project with a thousand pieces will not work if 999 pieces work perfectly but one piece is broken. So, having finally reached that 100% functional point, Nick and his team can now start to improve the components to make the hardware faster and cheaper.
Difficulties and challenges
Before Nick founded Twistar, he had run his own recruitment consultancy business for about eight years. This gave him a good footing in understanding all the aspects that running a business entails, and this helped give him the confidence to take his idea further.
In the case of Twistar, the challenge was going into an area Nick had not really worked in before. Hardware and the whole technology game were really new to him, so he had to learn a lot very quickly and speak to various people about tons of different things.
Luckily, Nick met companies like Studio Graphene in the early days of this journey and he is convinced that we were nigh on instrumental in the success of Twistar to date (thanks Nick!).
The biggest challenge in Nick’s opinion has been the sheer number of moving parts that are associated with hardware development. The process is vastly different to launching an app which you can develop and then check if everything runs properly, before releasing updates at will. With hardware and with Twistar in particular, they had to build the concept, the first hardware, the operating system, the associated apps and on top of that, the team had to build all the other components for the connectivity.
Even though they tried to spot bottlenecks within the project in advance, all of these moving parts made it very difficult because something can break, something overheats, something does not work, something does not connect and all of a sudden it kicks in a 2, 3, 4, 5 … week delay. So, as a founder it has been invaluable to work with outsourced specialist teams, as it's meant that any downtime on the project has not been paid for - people have not been paid for sitting around doing nothing!
These delays also gave Nick the chance to focus on other aspects of the company, such as the development of the market, pushing into new territories, visiting new clients, and refining aspects around manufacturing and the supply chain.
Nick is a big believer of learning from solving problems, and is pragmatic about the learnings you can gain from perceived failures.
However, the one thing he wishes he could have done differently was looking at refining the business model when changing from working with end clients to working with resellers, channels and partners. This pivot came quite late in the game, but immediately gave him an addressable market that could be easily targeted, had a lot of scale to it (and a lot of big numbers attached) which provided a much faster route to market. Nevertheless, before this point a lot of time had been spent looking at products that were already built like dashboards and, looking back now, Nick wonders why he ever messed about in that space - especially since he has no interest in building dashboards!
Learning, successes and favourite moments
Nick’s learnt a huge deal across his journey, but his biggest realisation has got to be that you are constantly pitching. A lot of people in the start-up world assume that pitching only extends to investors, but the reality is throughout the start-up journey you have got to sell, sell, sell to everyone all the time. You have got to sell to partners, to your suppliers, to your contractors, to your staff, to everyone to keep people engaged and on board during the journey and to keep the momentum in the project. The minute you start losing this momentum from one part of your team or one part of your project, supplier, manufacturer or developer, people can quickly become disheartened and lose faith and confidence in the vision.
Nick’s had some great early awards success already, with wins from Dubai Tourism New Design, however, the thing he has taken the most satisfaction from is the amazing feedback of specialists in his target market, towards Twistar as product, the concept and the timing. It’s all about taking the right product, to the right market, at the right time.
Nick’s favourite moment to date, but also the moment he has been the most nervous, was when he was invited to Arizona to do a live demo of a Twistar device on stage with ForeSee. He describes this opportunity “as big a ticket you can probably get”. Doing a live demo with hardware can be risky - there were a few hiccups during the demo but overall it was an awesome presentation, and an incredible experience for this young team.
Next steps and future plans
The next step for the Twistar team is to prove out the theory in the real world. Nick is currently working on pilot projects with key partners, so the plan is to get the pilots right, scale in the Middle East, Europe and the US and working to learn where, when and how people are using the device. Furthermore, the aim is to demonstrate how world businesses can understand their customers’ feelings and engagement preference through voice analytics.
Nick sees himself working within entrepreneurial roles for the foreseeable future and he is very excited for Twistar’s journey. He thinks they have got around another five years before Twistar reaches the point where it has to be rolled into a larger organisation to be able to supply at scale.
A piece of advice
The most important advice Nick gives anyone in his position is that you have to be 100% committed to your idea.
“You cannot wobble about going into another job or having a backup plan. You have to take a few knocks and pushbacks, and things do not necessarily sit quite right within the first one, 3 or 6 months, but you have got to battle on and power through that and be all in, all of the time. You have to make more compromises, you have to work harder than everyone else and you have got to keep focus if you want to be successful.”