Isn’t it crazy how much can change in a year?
Around this time in 2019, I was sitting at my desk mulling over how I could potentially bring voice to the internet. Fast-forward many months, and my growing team and I have just launched our first product, Vox: the online voice messaging platform for business.
The success we’ve seen already has been exciting, humbling and motivating. By the end of our launch day yesterday, we were beyond excited to be voted #1 Product of the Day on Product Hunt - which we fully recognise is a huge honour for any new tech startup!
We’ve also been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received so far from our early adopters; more than a hundred brands, teachers, marketers and podcasters looking to start listening to and engaging their customers, website visitors and followers through voice.
Today, I want to share with you exactly how we got to where we are today - in the hope that it might inspire you to begin making your vision a reality too.
Of course, every tech startup is completely unique, and the journey to launch will look and feel very different for everyone. But we believe there are a few guiding principles that will set you on the right track for success. So let’s jump right in:
#1 Come up with a great concept
Of course, the first step to launching a startup is to have an idea. The idea doesn’t need to be fully formed - just a thought about how something can be improved, or how things could be different. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll find your best ideas come from addressing a personal dissatisfaction or frustration - something that you’ve noticed is missing in your day-to-day life.
Keep this idea in the forefront of your mind, sleep on it a few nights and don’t let any perception of the arduous road ahead dissuade you from giving your idea the space it needs to flourish. Ideas need time before they can ignite into something more.
For me, I found that I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the state of customer communications on the internet. There was so much talk out there about the importance of ‘listening to the customer’ - but I could see very few businesses actually doing that.
It seemed to me that with chatbot technology and automated messaging on the rise, too many businesses were beginning to prioritise speed and automation above all things - forgetting that real, human relationships have always been built through meaningful conversations between people.
I knew there had to be a better way for people and businesses to communicate online. And around May 2019, as I was walking through a park to a meeting, it dawned on me. What if I could combine the convenience of modern messaging with the power of real human speech? What if I could create a product which would empower organisations to use their most valuable communication tool - voice - to listen to, engage with and understand their customers?
All around me, I saw people speaking into their phones, communicating with their friends and families through WhatsApp Voice Messages. Why? The answer was simple - it was easier, it was faster, it was more natural and it communicated more. So what if people and businesses could communicate with the same ease online?
Other experiences I was having got me even more excited about the potential of voice messaging for business. In particular, after one fantastic encounter with a Google support agent, I started to see how some of the greatest businesses were already incorporating asynchronous voice communication into their customer communication processes (with great success, I might add!).
I believe the best tech startup concepts are ones that are founded on the simple premise of actively making a difference in people’s lives. If I could help one customer deliver their message to a business quickly and easily (and not hunt for phone numbers, battle with chatbots or wait for live chat agents), and if I could find a way for a business to get closer to a customer by delivering personal service, I knew I’d be on the right track. And so, telbee was born.
#2 Do your research!
For the first three months, I worked solo on starting up telbee - and getting a lot of research done was absolutely crucial at this stage. I had ticked the box on having an idea I really believed in, but I now had a lot of planning, thinking and talking to do.
Of course, for all successful businesses, thorough research is an ongoing process even years after the company has launched.
But at the very beginning of telbee’s journey, the research stage involved having a lot of conversations with industry experts and consumers, finding out whether my idea was feasible, how it would work on a practical level, who would derive the most value from the product and what they would use it for.
#3 Start growing your team
Having founded a couple of businesses on my own before, I already recognised and understood the importance of having a team - however small - right from the get-go. After my first three months of doing things solo, I knew it was time to find a business partner. And that’s where Bernie came in.
Bernie and I had been to business school together many years before, and I knew he was now actively looking to help build a business that would make a tangible difference in people’s lives - just like me.
I reached out to Bernie in May 2019 and, to my delight, he agreed to join me on my journey to make the internet more human.
What was really great about our partnership was that Bernie and I brought two completely different perspectives to the table, but shared the same vision of bringing businesses and customers together through voice.
Ultimately, I believe that building a strong and successful team is about finding the right kind of synergies and complementarities with the people you work with every day. At telbee, we’re building a team who have different - but complementary - strengths, listen to each others’ opinions and are united by a common goal.
Of course, when you’re on a budget and don’t have a large in-house team, you’ll also have to do your research to find the best - and most affordable - talent out there to help you out with your pitch deck, website and designs (before you can hire more team members later down the line).
#4 Develop your product
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard Lean Startup’s golden rule of launching a new business: Start with a minimum viable product.
However, for us, it was a little more complicated than that. We were asking our early adopters to put our technology in front of their customers - rather than simply using it behind the scenes. This meant that Vox really needed to be robust, beautiful and spectacular from day one.
As you can imagine, creating a product that businesses could be proud to introduce their customers to was no small task. Nobody ever said developing a near-perfect product was easy - and I had to prepare to make some very tricky decisions along the way!
One particular challenge for us at telbee was choosing where to place our focus in the initial stages of the business. For example - would we start by developing an asynchronous or synchronous platform? This was a hard one as we saw buckets of potential in both!
After a lot of conversations with developers and potential customers, we decided that an asynchronous product like Vox was more innovative, interesting and would ultimately see a lot more uptake from businesses. So, we made the difficult decision to focus only on Vox initially - and to leave our other, synchronous concept on the backburner for now (stay tuned!).
As a result, we’ve now been able to focus our time on developing, refining and testing a product we’re truly proud of - and which we believe both businesses and customers are going to love using.
After about six months of developing Vox together, Bernie and I were in the exciting position to start preparing to get the word out there. So, we began growing a Marketing team; starting with our Head of Marketing, Justis, in April 2020.
#5 Refine and test
Our first real testing experience came in March 2020 - right around the time when the UK went into complete lockdown as a result of COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, we started a campaign called ‘Bless Our Heroes’ to help bring people together, lift spirits and raise money for the National Emergencies Trust.
The website we created - BlessOurHeroes.org - allowed people to record and share messages of thanks for the NHS and all the other heroes in their lives, as well as to donate money to the NHS.
This campaign was a fantastic opportunity to gather feedback from real people and start testing one of our future use cases for Vox. At the same time, we were able to raise hundreds of pounds for a fantastic cause - and show our genuine support and appreciation for the healthcare workers who are still doing so much for us out there on the front line.
After receiving a huge amount of both positive and constructive feedback from the campaign, Bless Our Heroes effectively became our first beta. This campaign gave us the opportunity to continue refining and enhancing our product, and was one of our company’s proudest examples to date of reacting quickly to being thrown a curveball. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Our official closed beta came a couple of months later in June, and we had almost a hundred early adopters take part. This group was made up of teachers, entrepreneurs and marketing agencies, largely gathered through conversations that myself and Bernie had been having with new prospects and through reaching out to people who had expressed initial interest in Vox on Product Hunt.
After a couple of weeks of receiving helpful and extremely encouraging feedback, we were ready to move Vox into its open beta stage. At this point, our voice recording technology started to be adopted by podcasters - another of our key use cases - and by the likes of startup training experts Build My Unicorn, who used Vox to receive and play back their audience’s questions during a live Youtube Q&A. It was wonderful to see our platform in action.
#6 Launch your product into the world!
A few months later, our product is now ready for the world - and we couldn’t be more excited for more brands to start discovering what Vox has to offer!
We launched on Product Hunt just yesterday (July 16th 2020) and have been absolutely delighted - and overwhelmed - by the way Vox has been received so far.
By the end of our launch day, we had been voted #1 Product of the Day on Product Hunt, and have been excited to welcome a whole host of new users over the last couple of days - who are just as excited about the possibility of voice for business as we are!
We’re excited for what’s next!
And that’s our story up to this point. We’re really just at the beginning of our journey, with plenty of room still to learn and grow - and we can’t wait for what the next chapter will bring!
In summary, building and launching a startup business from scratch certainly isn’t quick, cheap or always easy - but I can tell you from experience that it’s worth it.
It might sound cliché, but with a bit of hard work, passion and the right group of people around you, there really is nothing that you can’t achieve.
To find out how our voice messaging platform could help supplement your business’ marketing efforts, support channels or podcast, get in touch with Telbee today!