At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community. This week, we spoke with Alex Preece, co-founder at Reward Cloud, a platform which champions the use of digital gift-cards.
He shares his views on the power of mentorship, the challenges and joys that come with being your own boss and the difficulties he’s encountered with recruitment.
Tech vertical: FinTech
Staff count: 9
Q: When was the company founded, how many employees does it have and where is it based?
Gareth Gillatt and I founded Reward Cloud this time last year with our own funds and we officially registered our company in March 2016. We currently have nine people working for Reward Cloud and we’re based by the sea in Brighton and Hove.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
Gareth and I left our consultancy jobs to start a gift card marketplace. The original idea was to help people sell their unwanted gift cards, but we soon realised that the real potential came from the B2B sector. In spite of the fact that 80% of gift cards for businesses are for personal use, a large chunk of these are still physical cards – which means a lot of manual work. We saw an opportunity to optimise this market by putting all this information in the cloud, making it easier for business to automate gift card management.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
I left school with no GCSEs and managed to get into an Army Foundation college and obtain my A Levels. After this I served with the Household Cavalry as an airborne reconnaissance trooper and served in both Bosnia and Iraq on active duty. My business partner and I met while we worked at the comparison website MoneyExpert. We left in order to start the UK’s first daily deal website, Local Daily Deals. We subsequently sold this to MoneySupermarket.com in a transaction worth £11m.
Q: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I’ve jumped out of a military aircraft flying at 600 feet, 11 times.
Q: How is Reward Cloud going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?
We’re currently on track before the end of the year to process more than £10m worth of face value gift cards. Recently we just completed our seed funding round backed by one of Europe’s most successful VCs, Passion Capital. We’ve grown our team to nine people, signed deals with large businesses including the biggest UK cashback website, Quidco, which has presented opportunities in Europe. Gareth and I have been blown away by the traction we’ve got in such a small amount of time, we’re excited about the next year and the busiest season in the diary approaching fast.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
Recruiting good people. Raising money was not necessarily easier, but more straightforward, because Gareth and I already have a proven track record having sold our first business to a PLC a few years back. But finding good people that see your vision and that want to work as hard as you do is a hard task. So, now that we’ve found a great team, and we’re growing, we make sure we look after everyone!
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?
Being your own boss. To me it was everything I expected it to be; challenging, rewarding, unforgiving, tiring and relentless. Our mission it to move the UK’s £6bn market of physical gift cards into the digital age – and inspiring a team to agree to follow you on this mission has delighted me. Gareth and I want to be the VISA of gift cards. And, even though controlling Reward Cloud’s destiny can be daunting at times, knowing the end result is a positive one for customers and businesses motivates our team.
Q: Have you had a mentor? If so, who and what did they do for you?
Throughout my life, I’ve had lots of mentors. I remember my grandad showing me round an Army barracks in Windsor where he had served for 24 years. I look back now and think it was the best decision I had made by serving in the same regiment and getting all the qualities the British Army gives young men and women. I also remember certain periods in the army where things were very hard, especially while on active duty. There were a few officers and close colleagues during these very hard times that really helped, but in reality you all mentor each other in a roundabout way, you stick together and just get through it.
Q: What five pieces of advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?
1. Don’t be afraid if you find out that your original idea is rubbish – just move on and start fresh.
2. Work harder and smarter than anyone else
3. Find a co-founder that agrees with your vision and is just as hardworking as you are
4. Ask for help and be busy in the right way. Get yourself out there – call, email and be persistent
5. Never give up
Q: And finally, based on your experience, what is the best advice you can give to an entrepreneur going through an acquisition?
From experience, ensure you’ve got a well experienced commercial lawyer to help you get the best deal possible. You’ll know from the feedback what you can and can’t do and how far you negotiate the terms. Be pragmatic and focus on what’s best for the company and your employees long term.