- “I dropped out of school at 16 to start my first software company”.
- “I had never hired anyone, never run payroll, never rented an office”.
- “Prior to Paddle, I built software from my bedroom”.
What else you should know about how to start a startup without appropriate knowledge and with no money? Check out the story of Christian Owens, the Founder and CEO of startup Paddle made in England.
Tell us, please, what is Paddle?
Paddle is a commerce and subscription management platform for software companies. Our goal is to remove all of the operational barriers for a software companies growth – from taxes to internationalization, payments, and billing – to enable them to focus on building incredible products and delighting their customers.
How and when did you make up your mind to create such a project?
I dropped out of school at 16 to start my first software company. The company overall went pretty well, but at some point, I noticed how much time I was spending on ‘non-core’ (but critical) activities. From how we’d take payments, deal with international taxes, manage currencies etc. I went in search of a solution. Something that would solve these challenges, and allow me to focus on building my product – but such a solution didn’t exist.
When I was 18, in 2012, I decided to start Paddle, in an attempt to solve this problem – for every software company once and for all.
Do you want to start your own project but you do not know how? Do you need the help of professionals?
What is your professional background, and how did your knowledge and experience come in handy in this project?
I have very little professional background. Paddle was my first real “job” after starting the company at 18. Prior to Paddle, I built software from my bedroom.
How did you start? What experts were involved in the project at the beginning?
After deciding to start the company, I went in search of an investor. Not particularly because I needed the money to start – but actually because I needed help. I had never hired anyone, never run payroll, never rented an office. I met an angel investor called Mark Pearson who invested £150k to help me start. We moved into his office and went from there.
What about startup financing? Where did you get investments? What were the difficulties you faced while getting the money? Tell us about this procedure.
Until a couple of years ago, financing was a very opportunistic endeavor. We were fortunate enough to have a very supportive angel investor represented by Mark. Through the first few years of the business and our first $2-4 million in capital raised, this happened reasonably organically through relationships we’d built over time.
As the business matured, we started to get more investor interest. We cultivated relationships over time and focused on investors that could really add value to us as a business. We have ambitions to build a huge company, that changes the way software companies are built, and software is sold. By having such ambitions, and such a long-term view of the company, that ruled out a lot of investors who may have been investing on a different timeframe. Through careful building of relationships, and continued focus on our long-term mission – we’ve been able to raise over $25 million to date to help us progress toward our vision.
Who are your customers?
We focus on selling to software companies, of varying size. We look for companies who want to grow, and have big ambitions – these are the best customers for us.
How did you get your first customers?
Initially, we just talked to people. Founders, CEOs, those creating these software companies we wished to serve. We spoke to them about their pains and problems, and how we were thinking of solving them. This then evolved into a sales process, which then evolved into our marketing and how we do this at scale today.
What mistakes did you make from the very start of your startup journey and how did you manage them?
I think learning to recognize the incredible people within an organization, and how to retain/develop them, as well as the people who don’t fit and removing them from the business quickly. This is something I didn’t fully understand when I first started – the importance of it and is something I’m still getting better at every day.
What was the biggest obstacle on your way and how did you overcome it?
I think hiring incredible people and creating a culture and environment within the business for those people to thrive is both incredibly difficult and incredibly important. I think through a process of constant awareness, and iteration, you can overcome these obstacles.
What were your greatest successes, and what did they depend on?
It would be interesting for our readers to find out about how technical founders succeed in the non-technical aspects of startups: accounting, marketing, sales, finance. How do you manage these points?
Today, more than ever before, there are vast amounts of resources that exist online. This wealth of knowledge can help even the most sales or marketing shy founder become competent in these areas. I’d say the biggest driver of this, however, is to understand these areas enough to be able to hire people who are much more knowledgeable than you to own those functions in your business.
General questions dedicated to the industry
How do you think, why so many startups fail?
I believe today – especially in software – it’s easier than ever to start a business, but harder than ever to scale. The cost to start has come down dramatically, from AWS, to access to capital, to an abundance of tooling. However with all of those things comes increased competition, and the bar for quality (in every area: product, marketing, customer support/success, sales) is much higher than it has ever been.
There is a popular question nowadays connected to mental health crisis in entrepreneurship. Does it familiar to you? How do you tackle it?
When trying to do extremely hard things (build a company, change an industry) there are certain elements of that which are going to take a toll on one’s mental health. I try to advocate for people taking time for themselves, and encouraging an environment where people can talk openly about things they’re finding difficult.
What is the most valuable business advice you’ve ever received?
I think “Hire people better than you” or “Strive to be the dumbest person in a room”is sound advice that I try to follow with every hiring decision – especially at an exec team level.