ABOUT THE COMPANY
After a successful career as a Sales Director, travelling the world and enjoying a healthy package, a desire to try new things and push her personal boundaries led Michelle Cowan to review her priorities.
Deciding to take a break to review her options, she started to think about the benefits to running her own business, not least additional time with her family.
Eighteen months later and Michelle is the founding director of Justo Software, which she runs with business partner, Bren Adams. With their combined skills in sales, creative and marketing the team set about creating their first software product and brand, SMART.
The concept for the app came about when Michelle was chatting to people during her sabbatical. She comments: “When I was in the hairdressers or out for coffee with friends we would get chatting about social media and the apps that we use. I quickly realised that there were a number of consistent barriers that were stopping people from using social media for business; time, money and their own creativity.”
That’s when Michelle came up with the idea of a pre-populated schedule of topical posts, calendar dates and awareness days that start-ups and SMEs working in the business to consumer market could rely on.
Initially offering a 60-day free trial, the service is then a nominal fee of just £8.49 each month. This provides the user with two posts per day on each social media platform, along with two custom posts.
Furthermore, those using the app can select the frequency so that it meets with the needs of the customer. Posts that are presented are based on a series of preferences; industry or interest. So, what is showcased will be based on the specific requirements of the user.
Coming from a large corporate company, with the infrastructure in place to have dedicated departments to focus on certain business requirements such as HR, marketing and finance, Michelle had never needed to learn about these functions in any great detail.
When launching her own company, it was all new and she quickly recognised the value in taking the opportunity to access as many free and funded business support events as she could.
It was during this time that Michelle first came across the AD:VENTURE programme, whilst attending a LEP event in Wakefield about funding and how to access grants. Meeting with Business Advisor, Rachael Thurlbeck, Michelle learnt about the full schedule of funded events such as workshops in marketing, social media, HR and business growth.
Each was a half-day training session that featured networking afterwards and became an invaluable resource to the start up.
Working with Rachael, Michelle was able to get her business plan in place and focus on how to develop content that would give her a sustainable model and build over time.
Michelle comments: “It’s not just about the workshops and sessions, which have been great, but also about having someone who can be a listening ear. Just having the opportunity to sound things out and to have access to the thoughts and advice of professionals who understand what you are going through and what you need to know is invaluable.”
“A classic example of this would be Scott Sellars, AD:VENTURE IP specialist, who explained that if we were to put in place plans for international expansion we should look to license the product, not franchise. He also made it clear that we would need to register the brand and protect our idea.
“Dealing with everyday tasks meant we simply hadn’t considered all of the legalities that were fundamental if our company was to succeed and to meet with our ambitious targets in the years to come.”
Michelle also found real value in the networking sessions that are encouraged after AD:VENTURE training sessions. Here she learnt to use this time to validate her idea with other SMEs and people that could benefit from her product.
There’s no doubt that there have been some challenges along the way. As the product integrates with Facebook and Twitter, automatically posting to each platform, it had to go through testing and be technically and legally approved.
Far from being a simple process, it took five attempts for SMART to get the approval required to make it a viable app that businesses could rely on. In addition, Michelle and Bren had to become certified Apple and Google developers to ensure that the product could be made available from online stores.
Michelle comments: “These things weren’t anticipated but were there never-the-less and meant that we had to learn fast, particularly as we are self-funding. We had to do every single bit of development ourselves. At any one time, any of the app stores could have rejected us and that would have been it; all the time, effort and money wasted. Without the platforms we wouldn’t have a product.
“Although we got through this, I think that our resilience was helped thanks to a combination of the learning, development and the network of professionals that we were able to access.
“AD:VENTURE has helped us to accelerate our process, without it we wouldn’t have got here at this as quickly. I have recommended the programme to lots of other people, even a chap that lives in the same village as me!”