Last year an Iceland-based start-up Transmit launched a brand-managing software as a service tool Brand Regard. The service received undisclosed funding round in December and now has operations both in Iceland and UK. We talked with the company's founder and CEO, Geir Freysson, to learn how the company got started and what lessons can be learned from Geir's experience.
Geir received his education first in Physics in Iceland and then in Computer Science in UK, where he moved to in late 2002. After graduation he initially worked at British Telecom as a researcher. However, with time he got tired of 'writing reports that no one reads'. Around 2006, when the Web 2.0 started getting real traction in Europe, he got interested in doing something online so he quit his job at BT, moved to London and started working as a 'free-lance tech'. He also got involved in a couple of local start-ups as CTO but none of them took off. Though it was that experience that prompted Geir to build his own company.
His first venture was an online book publishing business that he built together with his wife. Three years after the creation the service was bought by Iceland's biggest publishing house. Around the same time one of Geir's friends who was working in branding software solutions noted that existing software is expensive and cumbersome. Since Geir was already looking for a new project, the idea inspired him to build a branding management software as a service to disrupt the existing market. That is how Brand Regard was born.
The company's clients can currently be divided into two categories. First includes large technology-oriented companies from Iceland that are working with fishing industry, like a cod liver oil exporter. Second category includes medium-to-large companies from various industries and countries that have a high proportion of online advertising.
Though Geir does not personally have background in brand management he stays on top of things in his industry by maintaining constant contact with clients and people working in the field. 'I am lucky to be living in London and having access to Soho. It is a melting pot of people and ideas. You can just plug yourself into the start-up community there and learn a lot from other people.'
Most early-stage companies receive a lot of criticism. 'As an entrepreneur you need to take some feedback on board but develop thick skin against some criticism', Geir claims. 'For example when clients would like a certain feature to work better, we listen to their feedback'.
But Geir suggests taking lightly feedback from people who do not understand what exactly you are doing and how exactly your business model works. 'At an early stage one VC we talked to claimed the idea of Brand Regard was outdated, something that was popular in early 2000 but is over now. I ignored that because I knew that back in 2000 there was no technological infrastructure in place to enable our business model.'
Geir claims the biggest lesson he learned from running a start-up is that everything takes longer than you think. From setting up a meeting, to launching a feature or closing a deal. 'We have a rule of thumb - multiply the time you think it would take by Pi (3.14), then you'd get a more precise estimate. This is important to plan correctly the time and money you'd need for the company to keep running.'
Despite all the hardships of building a new company, Geir points out that the best part of the job is its creativity and freedom. ' I am personally interested in disruptive business models and disruptive technology. Running an own company allows that because you can be creative. You can take the company to any direction you want, you have absolute control over how you work and where you are going with it.'
Geir also highly recommends building B2B rather than B2C services. 'It is easier to build B2B services, even if it is less sexy. You need less time and money to start bringing in revenue. Once you closed a deal your burn rate slows down and you can keep going for longer. With an ad-based B2C business you need to acquire a lot of users before you can get any real money. If you want to build a truly successful B2C service, you need to go to the Valley.'
When asked what advice he can give to fellow entrepreneurs from Nordics or Baltics, Geir notes: ' In countries with smaller markets it is easier to reach decision-makers and clients because social networks are much smaller and tighter. It is much easier to find the right people to refine your idea or help you build your company. Hence, building the right network of people is easier'.
Final piece of advice for entrepreneurs-to-be: 'There are currently a lot of software industries that can be disrupted. Find a problem that costs people time and money and that's being solved by an industry with very high margins. Build a service around that and you're a disruptor'.