Serial entrepreneur Alex Depledge knows a thing or two about startups and what it takes to make them successful. And she thinks established brands could be doing more to leverage the advantages they have over nascent businesses.
Depledge, who co-founded Hassle.com, the online marketplace for home services acquired by Helpling in 2015, will be imparting this knowledge and other insights during her session at Adobe Summit EMEA, “Why do established brands often fail to capitalise on their edge?”
It’s Depledge’s experience in building startups that has given her a fresh, outsider’s view of the corporate world and her belief that big-brand CMOs could benefit from spending time in the trenches like their smaller, “roll up your sleeves” counterparts. That said, she appreciates the immense value that comes from owning an established brand name.
“It’s even harder to build a brand now than it’s ever been before because of the amount of noise in the marketplace,” she explained. “It’s so much more difficult than when we used to just have four television channels and four radio stations.”
Open To Input
Depledge’s route to success wasn’t always smooth, with plenty of lessons learned along the way–the first of which was to appreciate what you don’t know.
“I think most people are arrogant and think they know what people want,” she said. “That’s something we certainly did. And when we finally asked them, we found out it was completely different to what we thought.”
It was only once Depledge and her Hassle.com co-founder, Jules Coleman, narrowed their site’s focus that the platform started to take off. “When we specialised in cleaners, we saw our site grow very quickly,” she said.
This revelation started a journey of empirical discovery–one that was long overdue, Depledge said. “Many companies are great at collecting data but not so good at using it,” she said. “At the start, we were no different.”
After delving deeper into the analytics, however, she and Coleman started to see some invaluable patterns that helped smooth operations.
“I think in both Resi [their current business] and Hassle.com, there was always a magic number,” she said. “In Hassle.com, our magic number was 30–an average of 30 hours of cleaning per cleaner on the platform. If we went to 31 hours, we would be short on cleaners, and if it dropped to 29 hours, we would have cleaners asking for more work.”
So what separates the successful startups from the rest? Depledge cited naivety, grit, and vision when asked to distill the necessary mentality into three elements. The first on the list might seem a touch surprising, but, as she explained: “If you’re not at least a little naïve, I don’t think you’d ever do it because it’s so bloody difficult. You have to believe that you can achieve it.”
Of course, grit is vital. “It’s not like you’re in a normal organization where if you can’t solve a problem you can go to your manager. You solve it or you fail,” Depledge said. “And you’ve got to have the strength of vision to think big and execute small. Most people are either big thinkers or they’re good at details and execution. In a startup, you need to do both.”
That, however, can be draining. While she is an advocate of the dedication and determination required to make a new company work, Depledge also has been vocal about her own episode of burnout and depression. The deluge of responses her personal story has received showed her that people want to talk about these issues.
“As someone who’s had a degree of success, I think you have a duty to tell people that it’s not all amazing,” she said. “Otherwise, people compare themselves to an idealised version of life that is unobtainable.”
Join us at Summit on Friday, 4 May, for more about how Depledge thinks big brands should capitalise on their position in the marketplace.