1. Startup Journey

EmailOctopus SaaS startup mentoring – interview with Tom Evans

As a self-funded startup with a remote global team, we’ve learnt some valuable lessons on our journey. And through our SaaS startup mentoring programme, we want to share our knowledge with others like you in the same field.

We invite anyone with a question about running or starting a SaaS company to schedule a call with our Chief Operating Officer, Tom Evans. He’s been working in startups for more than 10 years. And as a volunteer constable in the British police force, Tom is always looking at ways to give back to the community and help others.

So to help you decide whether Tom could be a suitable mentor to you, I caught up with him to chat about his experience working in startups.

What made you first join the world of startups?

I’ve only ever worked in startups and small businesses, and I actually fell into my first startup almost by accident. I wanted to design sports equipment and travelled to a town called Meerut, in India, to spend time fully understanding the process of how cricket equipment was made. After six weeks there, I returned to the UK where, by luck, soon after a new cricket brand launched. I joined the founder there, working with him on designing, sourcing and producing their equipment.

During my time there we raised approx £500k in investment, before running out of money after two and a half years. That experience was enough to get a foot in the door with a new tech startup, where I ended up spending five years working on product, analytics and conversation rate optimisation.

You need to take risks and make decisions to keep going.

Tom Evans

What do you enjoy most about working in a startup?

I enjoy seeing the direct result of my work. And there’s less red tape, allowing me and the business to move quicker. I think it’s massively important to have a real bias towards action. Spending time making decisions and implementing them as quickly as possible – I think the fear of failure in a startup drives that. You need to take risks and make decisions to keep going.

Tom Evans and the EmailOctopus founders at the AWS Summit
Tom Evans and the EmailOctopus founders at the AWS Summit in 2017

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during your time with EmailOctopus?

The most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned, and continue to apply at EmailOctopus, is to always focus on the problem. Whilst action is important, there is always a need to ensure that it’s necessary. I love to constantly be asking, “why are we doing this?”. A lot of the time you can reduce the amount of work you’ve got going on by being ruthless about what problems you’re prioritising solving.

Running a SaaS business is a slow, uphill climb that requires perseverance

Tom Evans

What tips would you give SaaS startups struggling to grow?

It’s firstly important to understand why you’re not growing and find out where the main issue lies. For the majority of early stage businesses their problem will be around insufficient traffic to their website, which is then not converting.

So it’s important to find out why you’re not getting that traffic. Does your SaaS actually solve a problem a lot of people have and will pay for? Does the landing page explain the product well enough? Why should they use your product over other solutions, does it provide more value?

These kind of questions need to be asked to your target audience, to understand exactly why your business hasn’t caught on in the way it should. But always bear in mind running a SaaS business is a slow, uphill climb and will require perseverance.

Who has been a mentor to you in the past and how have they inspired you?

I’ve never actively sought out a generic ‘mentor’, and I’m not sure I ever will. What I do have is a group of trusted personal friends. And almost of them have become friends through working together in the past. Friends such as Jonny White from Ticket Tailor, or Donovan Frew (who I worked with at Secret Escapes) are experts in their own domain and are great at asking questions. For me, the most valuable input comes in the questions that they ask, as opposed to specific advice. If ever I’m working on something, I’ll send it across for their thoughts and then process that.

Working in a growing startup can be tough – how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

In the past months, with everything going on with the coronavirus, I think everyone has found work/life balance tough – working from home, with little to do outside of work. Though I suppose we’re still fortunate to have work to do. Prior to that, I usually make a real effort to have a start and an end to the day. I bookend the day with planning calls – a morning standup with the team and an early afternoon catchup with Jonathan (CEO and co-founder of EmailOctopus) as he comes online. I then try to only work between those two calls.

If you would like to chat with Tom about the issues your SaaS startup is facing, schedule a call with him.

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