Founder Interview – Blair Waller of Soda and SociaLoop

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When did you launch the company?

We did our first beta launch in February 2017 after about 9 months of development whilst I was working elsewhere. We launched our first official app in July 2017.

What does your company do?

SociaLoop is building a social ecosystem that connects consumers with businesses by creating a total rewards cycle between each.

On one side of the loop we are building a suite of social apps that make it rewarding to connect with people socially. On the other, a marketing and data analytics tool for businesses in the hospitality and public space sector to attract, engage & retain these highly social users as their own customers.

The apps we are building all have a simple role, to help people connect more easily with each other.

The modern human has walked the earth for 200,000 years but we’ve only communicated digitally for 40 of them, so it’s no surprise we’re pretty rubbish at it! In very late 2015 I saw an opportunity to create a dating app that would solve this slow, sticky, monotonous digital connection process and to make dating social again. That’s where our first app, Soda (which takes its name from the term social dating) came in.

Soda is the first of four planned apps that will all be powered by the SociaLoop platform. When businesses sign up to SociaLoop they will be able to target and attract users of these apps as well as accessing our analytics dashboard to help them boost and optimise customer footfall.

SociaLoop enable the user a clarity on marketing spend and ROI that is far superior to data that any platform can currently provide.

What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?

We have two completely different customer segments.

For Soda we are targeting the 24-35 year old demographic who have tired of digitally focussed dating apps.

For SociaLoop we are targeting the hospitality & public space sector. Our initial key customer is bar owners/managers, but this will grow to anything from coffee shops to museums.

Why did you launch the company?

I knew I had an idea that people would get behind. I had brainstormed for about 12 months prior to that lots of weird and wacky business ideas but none of them had any real scalability.

I really wanted to create something that would move fast and have a global reach. I wanted to create something that addressed a genuine problem and actually improved people’s lives.

What is your background?

I have an engineering background, I spent 3 years in the oil & gas industry before deciding my true motivation was elsewhere.

I have found that engineering is actually a very powerful grounding to have as a business leader. I use the numerical, analytical and problem solving skills that were formed during 5 years at university every single day in my role.

I absolutely love numbers and more importantly I love learning from numbers so our move to become a data player was a very exciting step for me.

What startup process did you go through?

I started working on the business whilst I still had my full time job in Aberdeen. So, typical of most founders, I was doing long hours after work, begging friends & family for help and trying my hardest not to let my boss find out what I was up to during my lunch hour.

It was a real struggle to reach the point where I had to choose to remain in work or make a go of the business. However, the decision was easy.

What process have you gone through to get to where you are now since startup?

When you’re in a business that needs to raise capital to grow you very quickly learn the value of every single pound in the bank. Personally, I have developed enormously moving from role to role within the business. The constraints that are placed in larger companies whereby certain duties must be passed to other members of the organisation are non-existent with startups. If something needs doing, you do it. If you don’t know how to do it, you learn how to do it.

As a company we are really sharpening up our processes, we aim to learn from and optimise everything we do with a huge emphasis of utilising all the data we collate in the process.

What are your plans from now to grow the business?

We are quite comfortable growing the model in Edinburgh for the moment. The more we grow the user base here the more value we can offer our business customers.

Once we have monetised the B2B side of things we will be going for our first large investment round to help us expand across the UK.

To support this expansion we will continue to add brilliant individuals to the team filling roles in finance, business development, software and data engineer roles.

What are your goals for your business?

Once we have fine tuned the model in Edinburgh and tested scalability in the UK I would like to see us reach into an overseas market by 2019.

We have recently learned of some opportunities in the middle east so we may hit that goal sooner than expected.

I want to continue to grow our team in Edinburgh as I think this is a fantastic city to run a tech company from.

Did you get any start up support?

Yes, we were accepted onto Elevator’s fantastic 3 month accelerator programme. This was an ideal environment for me to test the business ideas and assumptions and really streamline things going forward.

After that we got accepted for Entrepreneurial Spark’s 6 month enable program which gives us access to a hugely positive support network.

Are you getting any growth support?

Not at the moment, however we are in talks with a number of parties.

Have you ever entered any competitions?

We have, but unfortunately we’ve been unsuccessful with Scot EDGE twice. Or maybe I should say fortunately. Each push back has forced me to re-think the business, and question every element of what we were doing. With each application we have developed enormously, and the previous applications were literally a shell of what SociaLoop is now.

Have you raised funds to develop your business? What and how?

I initially self funded the project to the tune of £15K then did a private raise of £55K. We were awarded a £5K grant from Scottish Enterprise to help us develop the V2 of Soda. Finally, I have taken a £25K personal loan from Virgin Startup.

What kind of research did you do into the market?

More and more people around me started stating similar pains associated to dating app usage so I went out to validate the market, I performed some primary research and got some amazing results.

On the business side of things I have done a lot of problem validation through physical meetings and surveys. Again, the results have been astounding and we are definitely crafting a great solution to a very real problem.

What are the three main challenges you’ve faced so far?

Funding, Recruitment, Battling Giants

Have you ever had to pivot or change direction?

This company started as a dating app exclusively before I quickly realised the value we could offer the venues on the app was enormous. Soda was putting people into real world venues but these business were oblivious to it and they couldn’t learn from it.

We very quickly decided to have a strategy shift towards a platform approach that would fully serve this industry and plotted out 3 further apps that would also drive people into real world venues.

Have you ever approached a mentor or business leader for advice?

Yes all the time! Scotland is a fantastic place to look for support and advice. I have 3 excellent mentors who I regularly meet with. I am also a member of Entrepreneurial Scotland which is a great network.

Who inspires you?

Both my parents are incredibly hard-working individuals, they have always grinded and grafted for everything they have got themselves and have given me. That spirit and determination to achieve was very inspirational to grow up with.

Locally, I think Cally Russell is hugely inspirational, very much a true hustler.

James Watt from Brewdog is a phenomenal innovator. Everything they do seems to break boundaries. I enjoy the mantra Brewdog preaches of “What would punk do?”. Breaking the mould is the only way to stick out in today’s world. Fitting in just doesn’t cut it.

What startup lessons would you like to pass on?

You don’t have to launch at a lightning pace. We invested heavily in product and rushed the launch and user acquisition drive.

Go at a pace you can handle, don’t be afraid to put your idea out there and validate them thoroughly.

How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
It’s definitely getting there. The attitude, support and potential is there in droves.

I simply don’t think people are exposed to this world early enough. The Americans are leaving us in the dust in terms of “Startup”/Entrepreneurial education.

When I think back to the business management classes I had at secondary school it makes me laugh to think how irrelevant/dated it now seems. It needs to start from the bottom up. Not enough visibility is created for younger people which could be improved on.

Edinburgh is being heavily regarded as the underdog ready to steal London’s crown of most innovative city in the UK. Founders here need to know that they can make it happen. Innovation inspires innovation.


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