How to create an investor-smart software startup, with Katie Nicholson
42 min Katie Nicholson
In this episode Andrew talks to digital startup expert Katie Nicholson about funding, investment and the vital importance of having clear goals when you approach potential investors. Katie works on a variety of corporate and start-up related projects and recently became co-director of Founded and Startup Grind Isle of Man. Her skills span specialisms including software development, e-gaming and early-stage investment industries.
Connect with Katie on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/katienc/
Read the full transcript and access the show notes at https://adigital.agency/podcast.
Find out more about A Digital at https://adigital.agency
Get a free copy of Andrew's book, Holistic Website Planning at https://gothedistance.website.
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I think what's happened with digital is we've moved into this era where you can actually see how much you've spent on each customer – how long it's taken them to convert and that kind of thing. And it's actually moved more away from the creative marketing into data and the actual statistical side of it, which is really interesting. I think it's really important to make sure that any marketing spend is realistic and to have those kind of smart goals.Katie Nicholson Tweet
Andrew: Hello again and thank you for joining me for another episode of The Clientside Podcast. I'm your host, Andrew Armitage, and we're getting closer to our 50th episode of the show. This is episode 47, and we have a full back catalogue of episodes over on our website for your listening pleasure. And of course, you can find them all on your favourite podcast app as well.
Andrew: Now, the digital agency I founded called A Digital is the sponsor of the show, and you can find out more about us, them and that back catalogue of previous episodes over on our website at adigital.agency. Now, my guest on today's show is Katie Nicholson. She is the founder of Petra Consulting, and she's worked with lots of high growth startup businesses in the digital space. So we talk about pitching for funding and investment, the different types of investment that are available. We also talk about some of the mistakes that startup companies can make with their digital activities and why having clarity around investment goals are so important if you're going to successfully pitch to and benefit from investment.
Andrew: So if you're in the early stages of running a startup business and hope to secure external funding, then you won't want to miss this conversation. Katie works on a variety of corporate and startup related projects. She recently became coordinator of Founded and Startup Grind Isle of Man. Startup Grind is the world's largest community of startups, founders, innovators and creators. And Katie believed that bringing startup grind to the Isle of Man would enable the island's entrepreneurial community to connect with opportunities on a global level.
Andrew: Katie spent three years managing the Bridge Angel Network, nurturing early stage startups to the point of being pitch perfect, assisting with business development activities through strategic partnerships, investor relations and customer acquisition activities, and creating a tight knit community via events and networking opportunities. A qualified marketer, Katie's skills span specialism, including software development, iGaming and early stage investment industries. She's also an executive board member for the Digital Isle of Man Executive Agency and a real advocate for developing the island's digital economy. So welcome to the show, Katie.
Katie: Thanks, Andrew. Nice to be here.
Andrew: So just to introduce yourself to our listeners, tell them a little bit about your journey and a little bit more about your business, Petra Consulting.
Katie: Of course. So I'm actually originally from Cyprus, so I lived in Cyprus for the first ten years of my life, moved to the Isle of Man and studied marketing and management in Leeds for University. And then it was 2009 recession, quite hard to get a job, ended up coming back to the Isle of Man and taking up a graduate role here, during which time I studied for an MBA at the same time, and then kind of ended up staying on the island ever since.
Katie: So the first role was in marketing for a software company, which was a great overall kind of experience and entry into the digital world. That was when social media was really just taking off and companies were just launching Twitter accounts. I think Twitter was the main thing back then for businesses. So yeah, was really interesting start to my career and then I went on to work for Paddy Power in digital acquisition team. So acquiring new customers and really again great insights into like a really great brand, lots of fun stunts, lots of, you know, just very innovative ideas in terms of not always having the same big budget as some competitors, but being able to do great things to always get the profile out there, which is great.
Katie: And then I moved on to running an angel investor network and then I've kind of stayed in that area ever since. So that was 2016 when I started doing that. So now I work across a couple of different projects, so mainly angel investor networks and helping the Liverpool Angel Network at the moment and kind of keeping them going and also working with some software startups on the Isle of Man.
Andrew: And just give us a bit of a flavour for the state of digital over on the Isle of Man. You know, it's obviously not a very big island, but over the years it has created quite a reputation for itself around particularly communications. What is the state of digital over on the Isle of Man as have you, seeing sort of more opportunities open up post pandemic with remote working or is that something that the reality of being on a small island you've always had to deal with?
Katie: Yeah, I think it's pros and cons really, and challenges. So I think that the Isle of Man punches, I would say, for a population of 85,000 it punches well above its weight in terms of its credibility and being recognised as an international business centre really. And there's some fantastic digital businesses based here and that continues to grow. We've got four or five world-class data centres here. Connectivity, considering where we are, is great. The Government's working at the moment to do a fibre rollout initiative to help some of the homes that are maybe not as well connected to have fibre and more accessibility.
Katie: I think in terms of remote working everyone's kind of struggling for skilled workers at the moment across all sectors. I think pre-COVID the Isle of Man did struggle to ... we had a shortage of developers and key technical staff, and I think that was a big issue for businesses. I think what we've seen across COVID is that that's now becoming an issue, as with everywhere in other sectors – hospitality, tourism, retail, that kind of thing. But I think it's probably given some people more freedom to be able to work somewhere with their laptop. You know, a lot of businesses now are allowing companies to go and work in different places for a certain amount of days. You've got obviously tax implications and that kind of thing, but it's been great for me because I can go with my laptop. Basically, if I'm not in the Isle of Man, I can just work normally. And I think that's become for me ... one of the benefits post-COVID is that that's just a bit more acceptable now and it seems more the norm.
Andrew: Yeah. And it must have really opened the opportunities for recruitment for companies that are based on the island. Obviously some digital businesses like data centres, they're going to have to have that physical presence there. But obviously not everyone's going to be a developer or a techie. So having some of the opportunities to take some of those remote roles from further afield must have become more of an advantage now.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And there's always, you know, lots of initiatives to get more skilled workers. The Locate Isle of Man, which is part of the Department for Enterprise. They're always kind of marketing the island and doing initiatives to attract people. But I think digital is obviously the most, to me, exciting sector to be in. So I think that the more we can do to attract people here, the better.
Andrew: Yeah, very good. Um, well, I can see you're quite an advocate for that, so I wish you well in that journey in terms of supporting those companies there on the island to continue to attract people. Now you've worked quite a bit with startup businesses, obviously, over time over time. Tell me a little bit about that experience. And, and what did you sort of observe, I suppose from working with those startup businesses from a digital perspective?
Katie: Yeah, obviously I've seen a number of things over the years – as my old manager said, you have to kiss a lot of frogs – and the process of getting people to be kind of pitch ready or ready to launch their startup. And the main thing for me is that often I would see people and they were so enthusiastic about their idea and they'd kind of I think what happens is initially people discuss their idea with their closest friends and family like they're in a circle. And what tends to happen is people are like, 'yeah, yeah, great idea'. Either they don't necessarily really understand the sector or they really obviously want to support the people.
Katie: So they kind of go for it and they maybe don't have that wider consideration of like, what is the real market need and how scalable is that? Is that business going to be like what happens when you've got to launch? What would you use the money for? And you know, people say, 'oh, marketing', but they don't really understand that. And I think people underestimate how important marketing is and having a really strategic marketer on board as part of a founding team, because I think the more that people go digital, the more people are spending money on PPC and all these kind of ad platforms and stuff like that. And I think that people can very quickly whittle away a budget really, if they don't understand what they're really doing with it.
Andrew: Yeah, sure. It can be quite frightening to see budgets disappear, particularly with advertising, I suppose in many ways. You know, would you discourage startups from obtaining funding and then spending that on advertising? Because it's not really an investment. I understand the value of putting money into advertising because potentially you can build an audience out of that. But if that advertising doesn't work particularly well or you stop spending on that advertising, potentially you've cut your audience off without any real tangible progress or assets to go alongside it. So would you would you generally discourage sort of spend on marketing? That's a difficult one, because I understand you've got to promote the business. You've got to have the marketing there. But it feels to me that there could be better or better ways of spending funding if that's achieved.
Katie: Yeah. I mean, I don't think I'd discourage people from marketing spend. I'm a real advocate for like the importance of having marketing represented in the boardroom, for example, and some of the bigger corporates I've worked with. I think sometimes there can be a bit of a misalignment of the importance of marketing, but I think that it may be in the past it's got a bad reputation because people think, 'oh, it's just X amount being spent an hour on a bus or a magazine and it's not really easily quantifiable'.
Katie: Whereas I think what's happened with digital is we've moved into this era where you can actually see how much you've spent on each customer. You know, how long it's taken them to convert and that kind of thing. And it's actually moved more away from the creative marketing into data and like the actual statistical side of it, which is really interesting. I think it's just really important to make sure that any marketing spend is realistic and just have those kind of smart goals.
Katie: What I've seen quite a lot of recently is, start at kind of creating that community first. So almost building like a community online for free, for example, whether it's a LinkedIn group, whether it's a Facebook group, whether it's through like Mighty Networks or another platform, and then almost kind of seeing what the value is, building that audience, building relationship with them and then seeing where you can monetize it.
Katie: Because I think that helps rather than just blindly going in. Marketing's so competitive, if you've got any marketing spend that's being spent online, it's so difficult to acquire new customers. So I think it's just be mindful of that and try and think of like innovative ways that especially when you're a startup and you don't necessarily have a huge budget.
Andrew: And I suppose that ties back in with what you were saying earlier around people always restricting their idea or that early stage testing to their inner circle. Actually, if you build that community further afield, then obviously that allows you to put those ideas a little bit further out there and almost test them, validate them, and in some way, yes, you build that community, but you can always look for those buying signals as well in there that can help give feedback into how that product can be refined before perhaps it comes to market.
Katie: Definitely. And I think that obviously with Covid, that's kind of helped. I think in terms of what we probably know is what would have been an old fashioned focus group, you know, kind of getting people together, asking them questions, whereas now it's so much easier to just have an audience globally. It doesn't have to be people in your local town or city or working in a specific office or a specific sector. You can literally have people from all over and it's free for the most part. So I think that's something I'd really advise people to look up.
Andrew: And what in your experience has been sort of the key stages of startups getting funding? Is it having a clear plan? Is it having assets in place? Is it having a sort of a market, an audience that is ready to buy? What are some of the key things that those startups need to have in place before they go out to pitch for various levels of investment?
Katie: I would say definitely have a clear business idea and a business plan, but be mindful that that will change. And don't be scared of that. You know, don't be scared to pivot. If you get so far down the line and something you think, 'oh, actually, maybe we should do that'. Don't be scared to change. Because I think people often think, 'oh, here's my business plan. This is what's happening'. And then maybe like face a bit of resistance, but they should be open to that and just acknowledge that it is an iterative process and it's a journey in terms of kind of products or just really important to have like a minimum viable product that you can actually kind of demo to people, talk people through. It just makes it a lot more real. I'm definitely like a people person. I like to see stuff like rather than just being told and about an idea, if you can see it, or just a rough accepting that it's not going to be perfect. But I think that really helps people and it kind of just brings it to life more.
Andrew: Is that one of the biggest sticking points potentially? People sort of pushing for perfection? I feel myself being a perfectionist, it's a blessing and a curse. It's great that you can turn out things that you feel are really well polished and well delivered. But at the same time, it can really hold up progress. And, you know, there's a phrase I keep saying to myself that progress is better than perfection. I guess exactly the same thing applies here because only by progressing are you then getting that feedback. The more you hold on to something, the more it's stuck within yourself, I suppose. And it's an idea that still needs to be validated.
Katie: Yeah. And don't be afraid to get it out there because I think yeah, I can see how if you've created a product and it's like your baby and you want it to be perfect because you kind of don't want to put it out there to the world until you feel ready to do that. But I think the only way of getting the right feedback is getting it out there and just being open to that. And I always say to people, you don't have to take my feedback on board. It's just another opinion. But always kind of with the side thought that it is always good to get feedback from someone different because when you're so focused on something, sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees. And yeah, it's just good to have a different perspective.
Andrew: Yeah, sure. I think it's like anything, isn't it? The more people that you can get opinion from, whether it's positive or should we say negative or let's be less negative and say constructive. That should all feed into the product ultimately to, to make it better and then potentially more attractive not only to customers, but obviously investors as well. Do you find that companies are well informed about pursuing investment? Is that something that is very often on their radar or is it something that they almost stumble into? Maybe they're not very clear on the different routes that there might be for growth. So is investment something they tend to start out with or is that something that sort of hits them along the way and they decide to pursue that?
Katie: I think it's varied, really. I think it depends where you are across the country. For example, in the UK, you know, there's different things available depending on the different regions and I can only really speak for the regions that I work closely with. So I know for example in the Northwest and Liverpool there are a number of different programmes in place and whether that's through kind of local authorities, whether that's through kind of growth platform type organisations where people provide workshops and insights on to funding and the journey.
Katie: I think that maybe there's a misconception because in the UK when you read headlines in the US you just see these huge figures – you know, Company X raises $25 million – and I just think that it's a very different funding landscape in the UK; there are companies raising that amount, but for the earliest stage startups I think it's really important to kind of have an understanding of that journey of like angel investment, seed round, pre-seed, you know, the benefits of each round, what they should be focusing on and also kind of if they actually really need investment, because sometimes I think people get really drawn into the whole idea of raising funding because they read about it or they've heard other people's experiences.
Katie: But often well, firstly, it really detracts from the day to day of the business. If you're a founder or a co-founder with a small team and you're looking, you know, you're going on the journey of raising funding and you're going around pitching, you're doing loads of calls of people. It really takes over your focus. So you really need to think about, is this something we want to do? And then have a clear plan of what the type of investor is that you want to take on board. Do you just want the money or do you want someone that can really be like a strategic advisor and really add value to you and just be really clear on that, I think. And obviously you can't expect everyone to know everything, but just ask – there's so many organisations out there across the UK that help with this kind of thing. And a lot of them are really well-supported through local authorities and the Government, the British Business Bank. If anyone's looking at finding out stuff about angel investing, the UK Business Angels Association, places like that have loads of great resources.
Andrew: And is angel investing really the first step on that ladder? I suppose again, it depends on perhaps what your ambitions are and perhaps what point you're starting from. I mean, a startup can literally be, you know, starting from scratch, but there could potentially be some IP in there to begin with. There could be obviously people who have come together and just the nature of their skills and experience sets them apart from a different kind of startup. Does that generally start with angel investing?
Andrew: Because I mean, we hear of Series A – various other different phrases – and obviously talk about those, those huge numbers. They're the ones that sort of make the headlines. But often at a smaller level, I suppose, you know, there's equally valuable opportunities for a startup. I mean, again, technically, any money surely is welcome for a startup, but is angel investing really that first port of call? And then as you grow, as you use that funding, you can build a network around investment and so on, and then you scale up to different types of rounds of funding.
Katie: Yeah. So I think that angel investing is really important and has a place for some types of businesses and it's not going to be suitable for all. I've been approached a lot of times with people who perhaps have a business that's more kind of ... they're looking for something that's more philanthropic. The benefit for an angel is getting in really early. The average angel investor aims to have a portfolio of ten businesses, and they do that on the knowledge that eight of those will fail completely and then one might do okay. And then the 10th would be like the rising star that almost makes up for the losses and more of the others. So I think they know that it's high risk and they understand that it's just being mindful of that and just understanding really what an angel investor is looking for. It's not a philanthropic play. They're not a charity. They're doing it to make money, you know, and it will work better for some sectors than others, some product-based businesses versus some service based businesses. Totally that depends.
Katie: And I think the main thing with angels is getting someone that's not just giving you money. So at that very early stage, when you're just starting out, they're giving you inside knowledge, be it a contact book of great connections that you could go and potentially pitch to and sell to. Or they might be a lawyer or an accountant and they can really help you like save on your professional fees, something like that. I think that yeah, angel investing at the early stage is very important and a lot of the people that I see now have actually already become like revenue generating or they've actually created the product through their own means and maybe they've done a friends-and-family round and they've had £50K of like seed funding through an organization or some grant funding and then they get to the angel stage. Angels tend to not just want to invest in an idea, they do want to see something. And so it's that tricky balance of, it is early, but it's not just, here's a piece of paper with an idea on it.
Andrew: And is it getting harder to raise investment? I mean, there's obviously a multitude of different channels now with things like crowdfunding – is finding investment generally becoming something that's harder? Because I mean, there are obviously still unique ideas and unique products, but there's obviously a much more crowded marketplace, particularly around web-type platforms and products, SaaS apps, those types of things which have ... there's not many of those now that are new. You know, inevitably, you look at the big ones, like the Basecamps of this world that have sort of done project management and got hundreds of thousands of users. And you see now a lot more niche type platforms coming in to serve very specific markets. Is it getting harder to find investment or is it just a case of having an idea that is going to be strong enough to break through that startup phase?
Katie: I wouldn't say it's harder because I think that it's a lot more accessible to people now. You know, Covid meant everything went online. You could pitch to someone in London, but you could be based in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Like it literally helps so much on that front. And I saw that through Startup Grind, we were able to go online and I was able to dial into events in Boston. And, you know, I would never be able to go to listen to a speaker in Boston or watch companies pitch there. But just by being online, it really helps. So I think it is more accessible, but there's a lot more kind of noise to cut through.
Katie: And so for investors on the most part are really busy. You know, they might be staying on boards, they might have their own businesses, their own families. They don't have time to sit there and wade through 50 pitch decks a week. So it has to really catch their eye. You know, they have to be really interested in either that sector or be really kind of invested in maybe an angel syndicate or an angel network because they know that they can rely on that. And just an incredible deal flow. I think it's more accessible, but there's a lot more of it out there. And I think going back to Basecamp and companies like that, I think that that kind of ties in to just proving yourself a bit and actually having a bit of market traction before you go and look for investment. Because why should this person invest in you when there's 20 other companies like you? And also I read an article earlier actually about not just creating features for the sake of creating features, you know, and actually making sure that your user base or potential user base want those features and just making sure that it's relevant. And I guess less is more. And that was that.
Andrew: Which again ties back into that idea of community and having that audience because that's really a sounding board, isn't it, to be able to make sure that you're sort of staying on track and you're delivering features and benefits that are ultimately wanted. But I think it also goes to show that perhaps back in the day – I forget exactly when Basecamp came out – when the initial SaaS platforms were hitting the market, that's where your idea was probably enough. But really what you're saying now is people are wanting to see something a little bit more tangible and not only the idea, but how that's going to scale and grow, because I guess ultimately that's what investors are looking for, is it?
Katie: Yeah. And I mean, even just from my own experience, I can think back over the past five, six, seven, eight years of so many of those platforms and so many of those like app work-based tools that I've used, signed up for, and just none of them have stuck with me, you know. And some of that might be because in one company we used Trello a lot and it was great and I've tried to use it since, but unless your whole team's kind of bought into it, it doesn't really work. And I use it sometimes personally for my own kind of notes.
But Monday.com, Basecamp, I've signed up to all of them and I use Slack a lot now because it's used in both of the main organisations I work with. But I think that, yeah, it's just, it's difficult to kind of cut through that noise and to really stand out and to keep hold of that user base as well. Because I think a lot of the time people bring clients on, on a free model and maybe even to freemium. And as a business grows, they want to charge them more and all that kind of thing. And at that point people then reassess and say, 'should we be going to this next best thing or do we stick with Basecamp?' or whoever it is.
Andrew: Sure. Yeah, because I think there are so many SaaS apps out there, it almost looks an easy model. If you can find the right kind of product or service to scratch an itch, then yeah, what could go wrong? But obviously we've seen certain SaaS apps fall by the wayside and I think that adoption cost is far greater than people realise as well. And that's where you talk about making it stick, you know, the people-process-culture piece around a lot of these SaaS apps for adoption can actually be quite hard. You know, it's not just something that can be achieved in a 14 day trial.
Andrew: We're big users of SaaS apps, but I daresay there's still features that we're not using potentially two years after we've started using that particular platform. So making sure you are making the most of it and that you're not getting into a situation where you've suddenly got ten SaaS apps because they're all just $29 a month, and before you realise it, you've got a $300 bill every month for bits and pieces that you're not really using and don't necessarily all talk together particularly well. I think that's part of the adoption battle and obviously that's where these SaaS apps put a huge amount of effort in around customer success people and all the webinars and everything that goes with it.
Katie: Yeah, just on that, I think that people are really busy and that's the thing that people don't people just want to use a piece of software for that purpose or they think they do, and so they don't have time to start reading all about it. They might have a demo I've seen on some of the software that I work with that people do the trial, but they might just use that because they want to do a certain thing while it's free, and then they'll set up multiple accounts and try and get another 14 days free and it doesn't really benefit them in the long run because then they're just coming through the pipeline again and again and they're not actually receiving the customer care that they would if they just signed up as a customer.
Andrew: What are some of the challenges in scaling if some of the businesses that you've seen that you've come across? Because it's obviously not just about getting more customers. Obviously, on the face of it, if you're looking for investment, that's going to be one measure. But as you scale, more customers becomes more problematic in many ways. So what are some of the challenges that you've seen as some of these startups have perhaps obtained funding or are preparing to pitch for funding that you perhaps had to help them overcome?
Katie: I think one of the ones that stands out for me is actually getting the right type of customer. Like you could have loads of customers that are paying you 10.99 a month. But actually would you be better off having more enterprise customers that you actually build a better relationship with? They might want added features that you can charge for bespoke development and that kind of thing, rather than the low hanging fruit, which you might say, 'oh wow, we've had like 200 people convert through our app this month', while they're only bringing in X amount rather than having eight or ten, but they're actually bringing in five times the amount and just being really clear about who you're trying to attract as a customer.
Katie: Yeah, I've seen that an issue for people scaling because it's often quality over quantity, I think is really important. And I think a lot of people have issues now with staff and hiring. You know, they want to scale, but their development pipeline is just sometimes huge and actually finding the right resource, making sure that they're then up to speed on your platform, you know, finding not just a developer but the right ... what kind of developer and that kind of thing. I think that it's the elephant in the room, really. I think because no one really wants to ... the UK or the Isle of Man ... no one really wants to say we're struggling for resource, but it really does affect businesses' ability to grow and scale. I think when it comes to funding, tying it back into the investment, I think it's a difficult one. I think that if you've got investment, it's just using it in the right way to scale and just being kind of, I'd say cautious of how you use that funding, really.
Andrew: Which presumably comes down to having a clear plan. You know, as you say, it's not a case of sort of obtaining the funding and then deciding what to spend it on, but actually going in with a very clear plan on ultimately how that is going to be spent and what sort of return then people can expect. I presume that's one of the number one questions that must come up. When am I going to get my money back?
Katie: Yeah, definitely. So in terms of just like what I was saying earlier, I think that actually also just paying attention to your existing customers and seeing how you can maybe help them more and making sure that you build a strong relationship with them and hang on to them when it's coming up. If you're, say, on an annual plan, making sure that they actually are renewing and then going and looking out for new customers and how you can bring those people. And so I think a lot of the time when I've been at pitch events or worked with entrepreneurs, they get really taken aback because investors ask them, 'what's your exit plan?' And it's a really confusing topic or question for a lot of them because I think they're unsure whether they want to openly say, you know, 'my aim is to sell this in four years and move on to the next thing'. Or 'I'm building this'.
Katie: You know, I've met so many people that are building a specific business with the sole intention of exiting to bigger corporate X. They've got that. They know that that company is in the market and has been acquiring that type of business over the past five, ten years. Obviously, things can change, but they do it with that primary goal. But they don't always want to openly say that because I think there's that kind of contradiction where they think, 'oh, people won't think I'm committed enough'.
Katie: But at the same time, then it comes back to, are you building a lifestyle business? Because if you're building something, sometimes people say, I'll just do it for as long as I want to, or until it gets to a certain point. But I think as long as the investor has a clear idea whether you say to them, you know, you can sell your shares or whether we might get acquired and you've got an opportunity at that point, as long as you have an idea of the options or you're willing to discuss that.
Katie: Because like I said earlier with the angel investors, it's all about a return on that investment. It is the long game. It's not going to be a 1–2-year return. I think it's normally 5 to 10 years depending on the business. But if they wanted to just put that money in an investment fund and sit on it for 25 years, they would have done so. It's finding that balance, I think, about being open and just openly saying, you know, and sometimes I think that works better. You know, this is our goal. Like 'we want to be acquired by X company and we expect to be in a position to do that in 3 to 5 years'.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, that level of clarity would seem to be more appealing and I think ultimately, yes, you want as an investor, presumably you want the money back, but you also, I suppose, are looking for stability and the clarity in that plan that ultimately lets them know what happens next. You know, what, as those goals get achieved along the way, what is the next step? And I suppose that helps to inform them at what point they might want to jump ship or even throw in more cash to support it further or take it on even in various different ways.
Andrew: That's really interesting because it's an area that ... you know, I don't run a SaaS app, I run an agency. We've come close to building SaaS type apps before, but we never have. And some of those have been very much sat within an organisation. So it's not something that we've ever gone down the route of pursuing funding for. So yeah, really interesting to hear your insights and to understand a little bit more about the structure of it as well.
Andrew: Look, we're coming up on time, Katie, but before we wrap up, I've been asking all of our guests in this season of the podcast just a few rapid fire questions. So I've got a few of those lined up if we can just rattle through those quickly. So the first question which I was going to ask was, what's the one app, website or piece of software, personal or professional, that you couldn't live without?
Katie: I think for me personally, it probably has to be WhatsApp, right? I travel a lot and my family is spread out and friends and work and I find it just being able to make calls for free on there and through WiFi-plus groups. And I've got different companies with different groups. I think for me, yeah, I'm all about communicating and I think that's probably the one I'd hate to lose the most.
Andrew: It's interesting. We've got so many channels now, haven't we? You know, email's become a little bit old hat in many ways, but it's the right tool for the right message, I suppose. What excites you in digital at the moment? You must see quite a lot of innovation and creative ideas. So without spilling any beans, what excites you in digital? What are you seeing that you think is really going places at the moment?
Katie: Yeah, all sorts of stuff. I think people focusing on reduction and kind of carbon and just looking at how they can be more environmentally sustainable. But whilst also using very innovative technology and kind of combining the two ... it doesn't have to be kind of a painful process, but you can become a business that does good as well and a lot of tech for good. I think that's really exciting.
Andrew: It's interesting, isn't it? Because digital itself obviously has a carbon footprint, which I think is rarely talked about. You know, we've got data centres that are huge consumers of energy, huge generators of heat and obviously they've got air-conditioning and everything else to keep them cool. So yeah, I think it's interesting how tech can be used for good, but equally we've got to recognise we could be part of the problem in terms of adding to that carbon footprint.
Katie: Yeah, I mean I think one example of that that I can briefly touch on is one of the companies I work with, e-sign electronic signature company, they've just launched a new feature which is a carbon count. So it actually shows you as you are saving what you're saving emissions-wise in real time every time you sign a document, and I think, yes, obviously they have servers and all this kind of stuff but there's case studies on how much is saved in terms of if you're posting a document, if that document's then flying across on a DHL on an aeroplane, you know, there's different ways of looking at it.
Katie: And I think if it's what technology and digital is enabling us to do is just to do things on a greater scale. So yes, you might be running servers, but how many documents can you process through that server versus how many times is someone driving to a shop, buying an envelope, buying stamps, driving to the post, you know, that whole process. And obviously that's just the way of the world by everything. Digital is the way forward, isn't it?
Andrew: This is the expectation that that's how people, particularly in business, I think are going to run their organisations and how they'll operate now. I think I probably know the answer to this having listened to you speak, but how have your working patterns changed since the pandemic? I suspect by the sounds of it you've always done a lot of travelling. So maybe they haven't actually changed that much.
Katie: I probably travel more, to be honest. I think that our borders were closed for so long and you know we did a really good job of keeping Covid at bay for a long period of time. But it meant that as things opened up elsewhere, it's been really great. Get clients in different cities and also go to events and just meet new people and just be back out there in person. I think that what I love is the flexibility to take my laptop and if I do want to go on a long weekend somewhere, I can. But I do think it blurs the boundaries of work. I can't remember the last time I had a day where I didn't check my emails, for example, and a blogger sent an email through to me, a newsletter I subscribed to yesterday saying about how it's really important to just put your out-of-office on. She said she deletes the Gmail app from her phone.
Katie: And I don't know if I think it's hard when you run your own business to actually feel like you can do that because you want to be able to respond to your clients and not just be off the radar. And then I guess the downfall of WhatsApp is if sometimes if you don't reply to an email, people just jump on Whatsapp anyway. So yeah, I think that post-pandemic, it's just allowed a lot more flexibility I think, and it's allowed people to just have a bit more of an open mind in terms of where they work and how they work. And I think that's it's changed a lot for the better, really.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. I think we're all benefiting from more flexibility. I know I am. I'm a little bit more rigorous with my time and my personal time as well, spending time with family and things like that as well. And on that subject of time, if you had an extra hour every day, how might you spend it?
Katie: Probably reading. I've got so many books that I need to read and definitely I definitely prefer reading a physical book versus like a Kindle or reading my iPad. But literally I think because I'm interested in so many different things and I see so many people that I follow recommending books and various topics, I'm just always there on Amazon – which again, Amazon, another good tech platform – but being on the island, I would advocate for buying local [laughs]. But yeah, I think that I've got so many books that I really want to read, so I probably would focus on that.
Andrew: And are those more fiction or professional business-type?
Katie: Professional books. So I've got the guy that founded Salesforce, got his book on Atomic Habits. I've got that one. I start them all. I'm like two or three chapters through each one, and then a new one comes and yeah, so I just would like to kind of focus on them. But then sometimes if I go on holiday, I think, 'oh, do I really want to read this like book about like software or tech? I'd rather just zone out'. So, but yeah, there seems to be loads of good things out there.
Andrew: Very good, great. What is the most important personal attribute that you feel you bring to your job?
Katie: I would say empathy probably. I just always try and put myself in the other person's shoes. I think that it's really a lot of the time you just take people at first glance, so to speak, or first experience, but you just never really ... I mean, I've seen it even in very close, like personal circles. People act or respond in a certain way and you might be like, whoa. But instead of judging, you know, or thinking, why is that being offended by it? Just maybe being a bit more kind of aware of why people are acting that way or to try and always make people feel comfortable in a situation because then it helps bring out the best in them.
Andrew: Yeah, great. And final question, for someone who might be at the start of their career in digital, what advice might you give them?
Katie: I would say explore all avenues and be aware of your market and your competitors. But don't be afraid to change and try something new.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. It sounds good advice. I think it is about trying, isn't it? Trying and learning. Yeah. I think the old adage, if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. So, yeah, I'd absolutely agree with that view as well. Well, look, Katie, it's been fabulous talking to you. Really enjoyed having that conversation. Tell our listeners just where they might be able to follow up with you online if they want to find out more.
Katie: Yes. So you can find me online on LinkedIn. My name is Katie Nicholson on Twitter @NicholsonK or my website for founded is founded.im
Andrew: Brilliant. Well, we will put those links on the show notes, which we'll put on to our website as well, along with the transcript. So, Katie Nicholson, thank you very much for joining me this afternoon.
Katie: Thank you.
Andrew: So that was my conversation with Katie Nicholson, founder of Petra Consulting, over on the Isle of Man. My thanks to Katie for being a guest on the podcast today. As you can tell, she's very much involved with the investment and startup communities on the island and of course, the UK mainland as well. So do look her up. If you're looking to join those communities, we'll add the links from today's conversation to our show notes page, which can be found on our website, adigital.agency/podcast where we'll also add her social media profiles for you to find out more.
Andrew: I hope you've enjoyed today's episode of The Clientside Podcast. We'd love to hear your comments or feedback, so do get in touch. You can find me over on LinkedIn or Twitter, or if you're interested in more about what Adigital does as an agency, then you can go across to our website, adigital.agency, and if you want to get in touch, then do reach out on social media or drop an email to hello@theclientsideshow. We'd love you to spread the word about the series of The Clientside Podcast. So please tell your friends and colleagues. We've had some fabulous guests on the show, and if you can leave a rating and a review, then that would be massively appreciated as well. I'll be back in a couple of weeks' time with the next episode, so I hope you'll be able to join me then. Take care and I'll see you next time.