Craig Buchan
Craig Buchan

Start: Craig Buchan, Founder and Managing Director of Qpal

QPal is an app that allows users to make cashless payments at events via contactless technology in order to help reduce queue times and increase event revenues, while also giving event organisers access to data about their customers and sales.

Craig Buchan, Founder and Managing Director of Qpal, answered a few of our questions about how his idea is growing into a successful business.

This article first appeared in AberdeenStartup.co.uk.

Q. So where did you initially get the idea for Qpal?

A. For 10 years I’ve been attending live music events but repeatedly found myself frustrated with the length of time it takes to enter the venue and get served at the bar. By working in the IT space for a couple of years, realising the growth of mobile payments and the rise in the Fintech sector, I identified a growing gap in the market and came up with Qpal.

Q. Like many entrepreneurs you took a very brave step, changed your career and focussed everything on your business venture. How did you feel about this career change?

A. I’ve had others mention how brave a decision it was, for me though it felt natural and the right thing to do. I was trying to juggle both for a period of time but as Qpal picked up traction I wanted to push it further, something had to give. Securing a place on the Elevator Accelerator Programme was key to my decision, getting the nod from Elevator resulted in me handing my notice on that day. If you have a great business idea, have a foundation level of support, then you have to give your all to it and commit.

Q. Had you ever considered or wished to run your own business in the past?

A. Yes, 2014 in my final year at University I’d thought of an online retail concept that was quite niche to the typical online experience. The research backed up my idea, the market was ready for something like this and I was in deep discussions with friends and family about giving it a serious go. After graduation time when I had time to reflect/evaluate, I made the judgement call that I wasn’t experienced enough to run my own business and didn’t want to make the sacrifices quite yet. I decided to get out into the field and gain further business experience so I was better equipped for the next light bulb moment – best decision I’ve made.

The funny thing was a year or so on a company called Enclothed appeared on Dragons Den and were successful in securing investment. Their concept was very similar to what I’d thought about so I felt quietly pleased that it wasn’t just a wacky thought I’d been trying to pursue!

My advice on this one is coming straight out of University to run your own business is a monumental task and tip of the hat to anyone who pulls it off. If your business idea isn’t under threat, then go out and cut your teeth in a challenging role. Getting the opportunity to work closely with senior management is also crucial so you can see what works, and what doesn’t in terms of business ownership. It will ultimately set you up better for when you take the reins.

Q. You took your idea and pitched it to Elevator to become part of the Elevator Accelerator Programme, how much do you feel this contributed to your business and it’s success?

A. I owe a lot of gratitude to the Elevator team for giving me the opportunity. The programme allowed me to really push the boundaries of Qpal and we wouldn’t be at this stage without the direction provided. Of course, anyone on the programme needs to execute well but given the right tools there shouldn’t be any excuse.

Q. What steps did you take after you had completed the Accelerator Programme?

A. I was fortunate enough to be offered office space at Elevator so I kept the routine of working from there. They either liked my patter at lunchtime or wanted to support a potential high growth business!

Operationally it was about keeping the momentum going, building a team around me and getting the product to market. It’s important you make the transition from Founder to Managing Director and distribute responsibility otherwise you risk suffocating the growth of your business. Of course you need to continue to oversee every aspect but delegation is a fine art, something I mastered well whenever any DIY work was required in my flat over the years!

Q. How have you adapted to becoming a business owner and maintaining a work/life balance?

A. You have to keep the balance and take a step away from the laptop from time to time, otherwise your head becomes scrambled and productivity levels drops, work smarter not longer is my advice. I’ve continued to play a lot golf this year which has been refreshing, firstly to get out in the fresh air, but secondly to retreat from the heat of the battle and think about the business in a calmer perspective. Just like parents don’t stop thinking about their kids, as a business owner you never stop thinking about your ‘baby’ – it’s how you manage those thoughts that are constantly running through your head.

Q. What has been your greatest achievement whilst building up Qpal?

A. Without doubt the official launch of Qpal at Hops in the Garden in July. I’d worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year to grow the business and to finally see my ‘baby’ spring into action in a live environment was a proud and reflective moment, but not one I dwelled on for too long as I know there is a long way to go on the journey of Qpal.

Q. What are your hopes or plans for the future of Qpal?

A. We have the vision of Qpal becoming the leading global provider of cashless event solutions and data analytics services, and I firmly believe we will achieve it.

Q. Any final bits of advice for budding entrepreneurs out there?

A. If you get the opportunity to join an accelerator programme, do it. If you get invited to networking events, go. If you get turned down for finance at the banks, expect it. Make sure you’re ready to take some hits, but trust me, when the highs come they’re worth it.

This article first appeared in AberdeenStartup.co.uk.