Erez Nounou is the founder and CEO of Bizoogo.com, one of the UK's first crowdsourcing platforms for start-ups, designed to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with the ideas or the professional expertise they need to start a new businesses. He previously trained and qualified as a solicitor at Norton Rose LLP with experience in international, corporate and banking law.
Q: When did you set up the business and why?
A: We launched just over a month ago in March 2012, as a solution to the problem of having a business idea but lacking the technical skills or industry know-how to develop it. What I wanted, but couldn’t find, was a meeting point for aspiring entrepreneurs across all industries and areas of expertise that were interested in working together to start new ventures. So at a time when your personal network doesn’t stretch far enough to fill the voids, those of us with business ideas can have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with the professionals we need to help develop our ideas, and those of us with technical industry experience (at all levels) can have access to dynamic new business ideas, with all the challenges and satisfaction that comes with it.
Q: Starting a business during a recession can be a risky strategy; what were your motives behind starting the business at this time?
A: The recession was actually a really influential factor in the decision to start up. Unemployment is at a 17 year high with an average of one job to every six applicants, traditional lending sources are down across the board (whether that’s a bank loan or friends and family), and growth continues to slow. Right now our greatest solution to the economic challenge is to encourage job-creating entrepreneurs. If we can’t find the jobs and the banks won’t lend us the funds, we can overcome the challenge by working together to make the jobs in collaborations that share resources. Not only do we now have the opportunity to bridge a skills gap, which opens doors to entrepreneurship for pretty much anyone, we’re also able to avoid paying disconnected third party service providers, at a time when risk and uncertainty is highest, by partnering with the people who have the skills we need.
Q: How does Bizoogo.com compare to other online business communities? What research did you carry out before entering this sphere?
A: We’re taking traditional business networking into the social media age with a dynamic, open and interactive environment for ideas to be shared and for users to connect and collaborate together to take projects beyond the ‘light bulb’. For the first time ever we’re using the 'crowd' to source the solutions aspiring entrepreneurs need by working together in partnerships that share the technical and financial demands.
After seeing that no other community like us existed, I found that on top of our general economic challenges, over 44 percent of the population want to start a new business but don’t act - a problem described last year by Enterprise UK as a "massive ambition gap".
The potential of the crowd was already being used really effectively online in funding new projects, disseminating information and sharing and curating experiences, so tapping into this wave of people power and collaboration seemed like a perfect solution for bridging the 'gap', starting new businesses and spreading the risk and responsibilities across a team.
Q: Managing cash flow is vital for businesses especially during times of economic downturn, what plans do you have in place to control costs and stay competitive?
A: As a start-up ourselves, one way in which we do this is through cost effective marketing. Every day we’re getting a little better and more effective (or lucky) at running a social media marketing campaign. We’re fortunate to be starting this up at a time where most people are plugged in and engaged online, which gives us a great opportunity to reach our audience at little-to-no cost by doing it ourselves. And although we’re not the only ones, and it’s a challenge for any start-up to be heard through all the ‘noise’, it’s a huge bonus when you’re cash-strapped and can’t afford dedicated PR.
Q: What is the single biggest regulatory hurdle that you have had to overcome?
A: Starting up, from incorporation through to IP and data protection has been a learning-curve but fortunately there are quality online resources that walk you through and tell you what needs to be done and how.
Q: Have you noticed any effects from the changes announced in the 2012 Budget aimed at encouraging small business growth such as easier access to finance and tax cuts?
A: I think the effects of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme will take time to filter through but it’s a really important change and it’s great to see the Government finally taking positive steps to promote investment in UK entrepreneurship and technology start-ups. Like I said, with so few jobs relative to applicants, there’s really not much choice for them and we need and should be getting as much support as possible.
Q: How important do believe it is for all start-ups, regardless of industry to establish an online presence?
A: It’s essential. You only have to look at the stats to realise more and more UK households are connecting to the internet year-on-year and the proportion of those internet users that are engaging in social media and creating new content is constantly rising. So with more quality time being spent online, and with all the transparency that comes with search engines and with the massive influence or klout that social media gives to an individual, every start-up needs to be tapping into this space to be seen and heard.
Q: What are your plans for the business moving forward?
A: We want to build a diverse, dynamic, creative and ambitious community across all industry groups and areas of expertise as quickly as possible, which means spreading the word and making sure we have as many ideas for development as there are professionals looking to be involved. We really hope everyone gets behind the movement and takes ownership too because if we each bring in a slice of our own communities it gives everyone a better chance of finding the people and opportunities they need.
At the same time we’ll be working to make it the best possible environment it can be for connecting and collaborating on new businesses.
Q: What advice could you offer to other budding entrepreneurs?
A: My advice is to act and be realistic about the challenge. There’s no point guarding your ideas in a 'safe place' because you’re too afraid to talk about it or you’re afraid someone might steal it, only to then regret it when the opportunity passes. It’s much better to put it out there, see what people think, investigate if it has legs and then focus on finding the talented people you need to turn it into an awesome reality. Competition is inevitable so it’s important you get over that fear, have some fun with it and focus on being better. We’re trying to create a space that allows you to do these things and hopefully we’ll be able to encourage more start-ups and better innovation as a result.