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Currently in the running for ‘Start-up of the Year’ at the Tech. Awards, which celebrate the best innovations in retail technology from across Europe, product discovery platform Product Guru was recently launched by Simon Coyle.
We caught up with Simon to find out how and why he launched his Software as a Service platform.
Do you have a technical/software background?
No, by training I am actually an accountant. I worked for blue chip companies like Diageo and IBM before taking the plunge and setting up a number of food, drink, and confectionery businesses. The idea for Product Guru grew out of me experiencing how the current product discovery processes simply don’t work for either buyers or suppliers. There was clearly a real frustration being experienced by so many, and I thought there was a huge opportunity to improve on that through a disruptive new technology tailored to meet the needs of both buyer and supplier.
What was the ‘aha’ moment where you thought this could develop into a business opportunity?
After developing a specialist dairy-free confectionery product, I had sent details to the relevant buyer at one of the UK supermarkets we worked with. We were already an active supplier with the retailer, and I personally had worked with their buyer. After spending six weeks trying to contact her, sending samples, emailing and calling, I finally got hold of her.
Having heard details of the product, she tracked down the samples and called me back. ‘This is amazing,’ she said. ‘It is exactly what I have been looking for – but we finalised the range review two weeks ago, so I can’t do anything until next year.’
This absolutely typified where we so often found ourselves, and I knew from experience that most other small and mid-sized suppliers found themselves in a similarly frustrating position.
With the sheer volume of samples and information being sent to buyers, it was almost impossible to get their attention and stand out from the crowd, meaning that suppliers missed out on opportunities, while retailers too often missed out on the best product options for their stores.
I had been thinking about the issue for a long time, and potentially how to solve it through a method of placing in-depth product information at buyers’ fingertips, but that was the exact moment when I thought, ‘Yes, I need to do this.’
How did you actually start assessing the marketplace and whether there was a demand for this service?
We assessed it primarily from our own experience, and from years of conversations with other suppliers and with hundreds of buyers – it was direct anecdotal evidence. Once I started to properly scope it out, I had more structured conversations with many of them, and ensured we fully understood the pain points in the process, and ensured that our new platform would meaningfully address them. The feedback was very positive.
General advice is to develop a MVP – Minimum Viable Product – so you get feedback from the target market. Is this something you did?
We didn’t build a MVP specifically, although we did launch the site with a test group prior to having the final site with all functionality available. Because we have good connections in the market, we were effectively testing various parts of the platform, using offline examples and parts of the platform itself, with buyers and suppliers as we developed the product, ensuring that the final products met their needs.
Again, they responded well to the notion of allowing suppliers to showcase their products to retailers and of revolutionising the way buyers discover new products – and to the technology itself, which they found to be straightforward and intuitive. We think that one bit of positive feedback which likened it to ‘Tinder for retail’ is very apt.
What technology did you use to develop your idea into a fully functioning SaaS platform?
I’m not the best person to explain the detailed technical build, but the platform is a fully bespoke, custom-built platform, that has taken over 1,500 hours to create.
Can you summarise the development of the service from the idea to the finished platform?
I’d had the idea in the back of my mind for a few years. Once I decided to make it happen and turn it into a reality, it took about six months of planning to devise, research and concept test the platform. It then took eight months to build and test the finished platform.
Can you give an idea of the costs involved?
Our developers cost around £60 an hour, so it’s fair to say the platform isn’t cheap!
However, that is of course just the beginning as we’re keen to realise the full potential of Product Guru. With that in mind, we have a significant plan of on-going development, including the release of apps, and the addition of further services to the site to make it as holistic an offering as possible.
We also have significant investments in marketing and our customer experience team to ensure that the full benefits of our service are communicated, then enjoyed and utilised by as many buyers and suppliers as possible over the coming years. We further expect to widen the team with 6-10 roles over the coming 12 months, so we’re excited by the possibilities of what can be achieved and of just how far Product Guru can reach.
After launching in June, we’ve already been shortlisted for the Tech. Awards’ Start-Up of the Year, so that kind of early recognition is very encouraging for our ambitions.
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