What it meant for us to win the start-up sequence – Randa Bennett and Patricia Salume, VeeLoop
Many more of us have shopped online this year, but parents are likely to have additional concerns with their kids filling the basket.
Inspired by her teenage daughter, Randa Bennett started VeeLoop with Patricia Salume. The online service allows teenagers to put items into a virtual basket that their parents / guardians approve and check out. This means that teens can shop without revealing their personal information and leaving themselves vulnerable to cybercrime. It's also good reputation for teenagers without payment cards.
But as business picked up, COVID-19 struck. In the early lockdown, Randa and Patricia volunteered to do their neighbors' shopping for them. When they signed up, it wasn't obvious that this would be the source of their next big idea – and another arm for their business.
We met with the entrepreneur couple to find out more about their multifaceted company and how important the Start-Up series and Worth Capital were for their development.
Tell us more about VeeLoop and how the deal came about.
Randa: I have a 17 year old daughter and she has been shopping online since she was 13 and follows me with a laptop in her face and says, "Can you pay for it?" I'm in the technology and thought they could send me their online cart and I can review it.
I started looking into this and found that this is actually a common problem. Children don't always have the option to pay [for items online] and parents don't want them to pay. The more research we did, the more we realized that the need was there. Patricia and I got together and founded the company.
How was your experience with the start-up series competition?
Patricia: I think the process was pretty good because it was straightforward to apply. It worked in three steps – the first was a short application. If the judges like your business idea, they'll invite you to make a longer version and then the finalists will be selected for a deep dive. In terms of respecting your time, that was very good.
I think the fact that the online application opens it to anyone who has a business. It doesn't have to be based on introductions and "who you know". You can present your business idea and activities anywhere in the country.
Randa: To get into the point of Patricia, it is very frustrating from a founder's point of view when you approach investors and they say it is just "introductions". It restricts business owners from this clique of people. If you don't have a mention, you are basically not worthy.
We really suffered from it, so it was nice in the sense that the start-up series was very comprehensive. But what we also really liked was that the founders of Worth Capital check every application themselves. We have submitted many applications for other organizations where a very inexperienced person only looks at the world from their perspective. They say "decline, decline". I end up meeting older people in this organization and they say, "Oh, why didn't you apply to us? Come in and talk to me" and I say, "Well, I applied, but your filter rejected us . "
> See also: What it meant to me to win the start-up series – Phil Daneshyar, Kanda
I also think a soundboard is good for us. Patricia and I are very experienced – we each have around 22 years of experience. We're so business and passionate and so in love with business. Sometimes we don't see what's good and what's not so good. Sometimes the lines are merged.
Now that Worth Capital's Matthew is on our board as a director and mentor, we can pick up the phone and ask, "Matt, what do you think?" I think that's beneficial. If we are overwhelmed, we will hold sessions where we break things down and prioritize. So this is useful.
Patricia: It's also an unbiased view because they're not in the business every day doing the simple tasks. They have a completely different perspective when they come from outside and also see other companies. They come across so many companies and have so much experience that they can offer us a different perspective.
How has COVID-19 affected business?
Randa: Since our first investment, we've managed to increase the number of users, the number of families, and the number of retailers in the store. Unfortunately we were affected by it this year. The service we offer is very convenient for retailers and customers.
On the positive side, we've found something else to do. We used our experience and knowledge of payments and created another product during the suspension: vHelp.
It is a payment service for vulnerable people that reimburses volunteers for purchases. In the first week of the lockdown, Patricia and I signed up as volunteers. I knocked on my neighbor's door and said, "Can I help you?" I went and did some shopping for her. I came back and gave them the purchase and the payment process was cumbersome. She gave me cash and put it in a pocket and put it outside and I had no change. Every time we do that, it's problematic. Many people ran out of money and came to an ATM at stupid hours to avoid being around people.
Patricia and I walked vHelp past our investors and that's what we love about them – they are very proactive and receptive to ideas. We received the blessing and in a few months we made an app. Now we are offering them to volunteer groups across the country. We have a few onboarding features and are starting to use them. So it was exciting. We have also received a government grant that will help us grow quickly.
We made a conscious decision to keep vHelp under the umbrella of VeeLoop and not to found another company. We were very concerned about our investors because we have such a good relationship with them and we wanted to add value to this company and hopefully reward our investors.
What are your priorities after COVID-19?
Randa: The product we developed basically allows the volunteer to search for the person at risk so that they can take a picture of the receipt with their phone. The payment is initiated in the backend, the card of the person at risk is debited and the volunteer is reimbursed.
This could work very well for caregivers as well – and the local authorities tell us so. A son or daughter outside the cared for can pay for the shopping. We're still keeping VeeLoop, but we'd like retailers to take a break from redundancies and get a little out of [COVID-19] and then we'll start all over again.
> See also: What it meant to me to win the start-up series – Zaffrin O’Sullivan, Five Dot Botanics
What would you say to someone who wants to apply when you return to The Start-Up Series?
Randa: You should definitely apply for it, especially if you are EIS / SEIS eligible.
Patricia: It will only be based on the business proposal and you, the founder, because those are the most important things you are looking at. Even if you don't win, Worth Capital will still give you feedback. So the worst case scenario is that you get good and impartial feedback. The best scenario is that you get the investment and support!
Randa: I think it's also worth mentioning that it's really good for female founders. We checked out the stats they made and it was comforting for me and Patricia.
We usually do one thing before we go to investors: we look at their portfolio. You will be surprised to find that many companies across the board have only one type of founder – a certain population group, a certain ethnicity, a certain age. We thought we'd break the stigma and apply anyway, but in fact we found we weren't going anywhere with these places. It's comforting that Worth Capital doesn't consider your gender. In the end, they invest pretty much equally between men and women.
The Start-Up Series competition is back – a chance to raise £ 250,000 in equity