Meet the accidental tech founders who are now turning £8.6m
PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:09 07 November 2019
Know Your Money was launched in 2004 by a pair of digital marketing experts who didn't realise what they had hit upon.
John Ellmore and Jason Tassie watched the rise of Google and were curious about what it could mean for their industry - launching a series of websites to see which would flourish.
Working on the project initially part-time, the pair had sites marketing everything from coupon codes to retail, as well as the relatively new concept of a price comparison site.
In 2014 Know Your Money had grown to be the most successful brand in their portfolio, and so the directors began pushing resource towards the site and hired Nic Redfern as finance director.
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The site turned over £2.6m in 2015, and within four years turned over £8.6m. As a result it caught the eye of the Sunday Times, which named it in its Tech Track 100 shortlist in 2017, as well as Deloitte, which named it a Fast Track 500 business last month.
While the founders firmly position the business as a tech company now, they didn't set out to ride the UK's FinTech investment wave which saw $1.5 billion invested in 2017.
Jason Tassie, commercial director, said: "We'd love to say it was a grand idea but that wasn't really what it was. We put some more resource behind Know Your Money and quickly realised we could really save consumers some money."
Mr Redfern said: "I think if we had the conversation about whether this was a tech firm back in 2012 we would have said it was a marketing company. Now we clearly are a tech company.
"The transition to becoming a tech company has been part of the growth curve, and getting that growth required a tech infrastructure and approach to underpin the way that we scaled."
As a result the team has heavily invested in data roles, meaning a third of their head count of 18 is now made up of these jobs.
But being a tech founder without a specifically software-focussed background has been "daunting" said director John Ellmore.
"We just had to learn on the job," Mr Ellmore said. "Once you get through those first few leaps of managing teams and bring on experienced skill sets then it really helps a lot."
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The pair have always had a DIY-approach to their business, never sourcing outside investment and instead bootstrapping it themselves.
"We've never had outside investment because we've never needed to," said Mr Tassie. "Where that does come with its pressures it means we can retain control."
Mr Redfern said that the nature of the company's investment is cyclical, one year experimenting and the next optimising on the results of the spending.
He said: "Because the business is completely organically funded it means we get growth but do it in a much more structured way. Spending your own money keeps you honest, you really have to understand what you're doing and the risks you're taking. You need to be prepared to pause things if it's not working and refocus on what's profitable."
Recent areas of investment include bringing in further machine learning to better direct consumer enquiries, sign-posted by Google adwords data and search terms.
Having worked at the likes of Google and (then start-up, now a £5m gifting business) BuyAGift themselves, the directors were keen not to let the tech overtake demand for their service.
"We've had an advantage with Google because of my experience working in their adwords team," said Mr Ellmore. "But sometimes we're even waiting for them to catch up."
"In my experience tech businesses struggle because they have an idea for a brilliant bit of tech but two or three years later they still don't have a business," Mr Redfern said. "Our challenge is the opposite. We know how to run a business and it has to make sense commercially. We'll never go out there and spend someone else's money to prove we can build a business."
He added: "It's business first and the tech has to be driving it forward instead of us building it and it being the other way around."
The business is not planning on expanding to new territories, with competitors like Go Compare and Compare the Market struggling to break into overseas markets due to differing consumer trends.
But when it comes to growth, the team feel that this is diversifying into more further B2B channels as well as into the consumer side of the savings comparison market.
And they plan on doing it all from Norwich.
"We don't really think about Norwich being this supposed 'backwater'. Most of the businesses that are really successful are here because they've driven their business this way and they've not done it for local reasons but because that's how it's grown," said Mr Redfern.
"There is this groundswell of tech in Norwich but a lot of the big players aren't that visible - in reality because they've got their heads down and making it work instead of spending time on visibility."