This week we speak to Lucy Heskins, founder of Oh Blimey, a marketing agency that helps startups and growth companies. This episode is packed with great advice from Lucy and is well worth a listen (or read!).
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Rob: Welcome to the Wales in Tech podcast. This week, I speak to Lucy Heskins of Oh Blimey This episode is packed with information for startups and growth companies. I really enjoyed recording it. I hope you enjoy listening to it.
Hi, Lucy Heskins. Thank you for joining us on the Wales in Tech podcast. We're going to start with our usual five questions, starting with what's your company called and what does it do?
Lucy: My company is called Oh Blimey and what I do is I offer a series of startup marketing and web services. I work with early-stage series A startups to help them navigate the messy journey of building and scaling their products.
Rob: Very polished. I love it. So, would you say you're B2B then or also B2C or B2B2C?
Lucy: I'm predominantly B2B. So, my clients are largely based in the UK and the US. And the clients I work with and the projects that I enjoy working on are B2B SaaS and marketplaces. So, I've worked on everything from a sales tech calendar application, an AI tool, a video recruitment ATS provider, and also a few services.
Rob: Huge range. So, we'll talk about a few of them later. Would you say, or do you have a SaaS product or are you wholly agency based?
Lucy: Oh Blimey is wholly agency based. Previous Oh Blimey I worked in-house working on the SaaS app. But I've also recently become a shareholder and head of growth for a local tech company in Wales, which is a SaaS product. So, I've kind of got experience on both sides.
Rob: Are you invested or bootstrapped?
Rob: Okay. And would you ever look for investment or would you prefer to stay bootstrapped?
Lucy: I think it would depend on context. I think for this particular startup, it would be bootstrapped. Having had experience from an investment perspective, I realised that it's a full-time job. But for this particular project, bootstrapping all the way.
Rob: Okay, great. So, tell me a little bit about why you started Oh Blimey and how you got to Oh Blimey in the first place. So, what were you doing before?
Lucy: So before Oh Blimey I was employee number one within a local SaaS startup here called Career Cake, which I'm sure many of you know. So, I joined about four or five years ago as the first employee who would oversee kind of the marketing. Anybody that's worked in an early-stage startup, you realise that actually that's not the case. You don't have a very clear-cut job description. So, fast forward a couple of years later, we managed to scale Career Cake to the point where we had customers including LinkedIn Learning, Tech Nation, Nationwide. And it was actually acquired last year—
Rob: You just forgot one, because I think you'll remember the first time we met. The first time you contacted me was because you sold my company, Applingua, obviously as important as LinkedIn Learning and Tech Nation. You sold us a licence to Career Cake. So, salesperson of the year, because not many people got through my inbox.
Lucy: Sorry, I was going to reserve that part to my and my career selling a subscription to Rob at Applingua. So, the acquisition process took longer than anybody anticipated, which is the nature of acquisitions. And during this process, I was kind of told, have a think about what you want to do, what you want to pursue next, because I didn't want to join the acquiring company. So, it was in this process that I realised that a lot of the resources available to startups, in my opinion, are very founder centric. They're not for the get stuff done person. They're often written by people that have a load of opinions, which is great, but they don't necessarily have experience at a particular stage of startups development. And they're also written by people that have these massive, massive budgets, or access to investment, which means that the process of bootstrapping, or almost like building the channels to launch your first couple of— Acquire your first couple of customers, sorry, the little steps that are missed.
And so one day, I decided to write a blog on every mistake I've ever made whilst working in startups. So, Career Cake wasn't my first time working in startups in the last 10 years. And I just wrote a blog about all things I wish I'd known going into joining the startup as employee number one. I drank half a bottle of whiskey because I was too scared to publish it. And then one day I published it, and I was so worried what people were going to say. And do you know what happened? Nothing. There weren't all the pitchforks, there weren't people telling me I was wrong. So, I started on a fortnightly basis just putting together a series of templates and articles around all the challenges we faced when we got our first node, when we looked to create our MVP, when we looked to hire a salesperson. And I was really fortunate, and I know this doesn't happen with everyone, but it was picked up by TechCrunch. And within 24 hours, I had enough business to keep Oh Blimey going for its first year. So, that's pretty much where Oh Blimey came from.
Rob: So, it came very much from a few social media posts. Were they on Twitter or LinkedIn? Or where were they?
Lucy: This was all SEO. So, my background used to be SEO, I wouldn't say that I'm a practitioner now. And so, I had a kind of an understanding of the rudiments. And I also understood that it's all around distribution. So, I created a newsletter, I'd use LinkedIn and Twitter as well. LinkedIn was kind of the main source. But thankfully, because it was picked up by TechCrunch, TechCrunch obviously has a very high domain authority. And that's what then started indexing the Oh Blimey website.
Rob: Yeah, you said that, you know, there's a lot of advice out there for founders, and it's quite high level. Do you mean things like I often see on LinkedIn, which are “five things you must be to be successful” and then one of them said something like, “know your customer”. Okay, that's great. But how do you actually know your customer? Like, what steps do I actually need to do? Because that's very much something like me previously as a founder would be like, you know, “go find out what our customers want”, and then the reply would be, “how do I go find out what our customers want?” Is that kind of the thing that you're trying to target?
Lucy: Yeah, no, I think there's a lot of general advice out there. And I think there's a lot of general advice, because people actually haven't got their hands dirty, done this work themselves. And I cringe when I see people say that. But equally, what I do, and one of the services I offer, I say, “talk to your customers”. And the difference being is that landing your first customer is different to landing your 200th customer. But 200 is just starting skills. You've kind of almost got that repeatable processing. But when I say to people, “talk to your customer”, what I'm actually talking about is a few fundamentals. So, ditch buyer personas, you can't necessarily do anything with a buyer by persona at this point, because ultimately, if you rely on things like job title, size of organization, location, they miss the most important part, and that's why somebody would switch from one product to yours.
So, when I talk about, or when I write about talking to your customers, what I'm saying is, okay, well, you've got an understanding of who your ideal audience might be. But actually, you've got to dig under, go dig into why they're switching from one product to another, what context or what ecosystem they're using your particular software product, they're not just using your product in isolation, it's likely that it's one part of a kind of bigger workflow, you've got to understand where it fits in. Also, when you conduct interviews in a certain way, you can learn the kind of anxieties people have, the pushes and the pulls. And this is all good stuff that you can actually then translate into your onboarding and your retention as well.
And I was certainly at the kind of early stage, I'm a big fan of validating startups through message market there. So, this is a few steps before market fit. And the idea is that you're understanding the language that you need to start using to pitch and sending prospects, because ultimately, when you get a feel for this, you start knowing what to put in your advertising campaigns, you start learning the language you should be using, the features you should be including as well. And so it can be kind of a complex piece, and there are frameworks out there as well. And the particular framework for the jobs to framework that I use, I'm very fortunate that one of my clients is the co-creator of the framework itself.
Lucy: Yeah, he's really cool.
Rob: Is it the guy on the YouTube video that I've watched for jobs to be done?
Lucy: So that's Clayton Christensen, which many people will know, he was passed away now, he's the author of the innovator’s dilemma. But it was Clayton Christensen and a guy called Bob Moesta, who is the guy I work with, they came up with this concept of when talking to customers, you ask them what a customer is hiring that product for. And yeah, if you kind of search on Google search for the milkshake man, that's a case study that kind of changed everything.
Rob: Yeah, that video is fantastic. So, I watched it as part of a workshop that Neil ran in Cardiff on product market fit. And we'll go into that in a minute. But it really changed the way I see everything, to be honest, it sounds quite fundamental. But it was— For people who don't know what that that video is, I recommend go watching it. But essentially, the question was, why did someone buy a milkshake? And they went through a million different options. And in the end, people buy a milkshake to keep them entertained, while driving a long journey. And so, in order to sell more, they thickened the milkshake in order to make it last longer during that journey, and therefore fit the reason that they were buying the milkshake in the first place better. And I thought that was fascinating. So, now I look at everything in the world differently through that lens, you know, like, why do I do this? And I think it's really powerful video to watch.
Lucy: Yeah. And I think just on that, it's all rooted in this concept that people don't buy products at random. There's always kind of like that underlying push and pull. And we hire and we buy products to make progress in life. And I realize that it sounds quite fluffy and theoretical. But actually, like you say, when you look at it through that lens, you realize that the reason you got into that job wasn't at random. The reason why you went out on a Friday night isn't random. It's all actually connected to things. And as startup founders and marketers, when conducting something like a job to be done interviewed in this way, you realize that actually, when it comes down to your product, there's a functional use, but there's also an emotional and a social use. And that's all the good stuff that you can then put into your marketing.
Rob: Yeah. So, there was a startup also here in Cardiff as part of the FinTech Wales Accelerator. And the woman who was running it was interested in the reasons why we buy things when we buy things. It's kind of like, can the purchases we make show us the mental health state of a person? So, for example, the data that she showed me showed that a lot of women after a night out, so if they had transactions on their bank account, had transactions in a bar or a club, when they got home would often do a lot of online shopping. Obviously, it's like, that's wild to me. It didn't even occur to me, right? But through this data, you could see why people buy certain things in the state that they are. There's so much like psychology built into it. And without seeing that data, without asking your customers or observing your customers, perhaps potential customers, you just wouldn't know that. I wouldn't know that at all. That wouldn't occur to me. So, yeah, so that kind of observation and data is super useful in this whole exercise.
Lucy: Yeah. And this kind of process is qualitative, and you overlay this with quantitative as well. And I know the startup you're talking about, it's actually a really, really cool concept. And I saw that they made a speech recently at an event in Tramshed. And yeah, it's fascinating to using examples. And I was there thinking, “yep, that's why I bought that particular kitchen utensil at two o'clock in the morning”.
Rob: But it really goes to show, especially with this product market fit, and perhaps you can explain product market fit in a nice way in a minute. But it really goes to show that often startup founders don't really know what's going on. That data that she presented wouldn't have occurred to me at all. But I might make a clothing brand or an e-commerce brand targeting women in their 20s and 30s, and just run with it and spend millions on making a product that doesn't fit the behaviour of the target customers, because I just don't know the target customers. So, what's this idea of product market fit in a nice, easy, simple way?
Lucy: Or does it even exist? I don't know. I don't know. There are a number of definitions out there. And you can— I think Marc Andreessen has one. And ultimately, it's satisfying the market to a point where you are able to exponentially grow. And if we take that apart, then a startup that doesn't quite have product market fit, and in its most basic sense is, is there a market? Is it actually possible to acquire customers? I mean, there's a number of different elements. I think there's about five or six. But I think what is important from my perspective working with startups is they chase product market fit. But actually, there are a few steps before. And I think this is where the rhetoric comes around, “Oh, we need leads, we need sales”. If you can get a product market fit, you need to make sure that you've got your retention in place. And you've got your attention in place, okay, well, you've got to make sure that actually your one or two channels that you're using are working, and they're generating the results that you want.
And it's almost like product market fit is made up of a series of sub segments, but people, and I am overgeneralizing here, but I think there's a lexicon around startups. There's a language of product “market fit, scale, hustle”. And it's just, yeah, I mean, have you got a product that satisfies the market in a way that you can grow a profitable business? That's my interpretation, anyway.
Rob: Yeah, okay. So, it's really interesting, because I come from the language and translation localization industry, right? And there are a lot of people in language who love jargon. They believe it adds richness to certain communities or certain groups of people. I always feel like it creates a barrier of entry for people. So, that kind of like cheat sheet that you just said all these different terms, product market fit, and I don't know, even terms like VC and bootstrapped. I mean, I used it earlier, right? What the hell does that mean, right? If you're not in this industry, what does bootstrap mean? I mean, you can kind of get it from it, but it just means you're paying, using your own money, basically, to build your business. And why can't we just say that? Why do we have to use all these terms? And it almost then becomes a checklist, right? People will say to you, “what's your CAC?” And I'm like, “Oh, God, CAC in all the languages I know means shit”. Like, “what are you talking about?”
So yeah, that is— And I can see myself, and I see other people in the community as well, go down that path where they have an idea, and then they go, “Okay, well, now we need to find leads, and now we need to market it in this way, and now we need to work out our cost of acquisition”, and all these different things. Meanwhile, they don't actually know who their customer is, and if anyone will buy it. And sometimes they get funding really early on in that journey, because they're very personable, or they've got great presentation skills, or family members who give them money, and they're running with an idea and spending one, two, three hundred thousand pounds on something they don't even know will ever work. So, if one of those people came to you, what would your process be from the very start? Like, they've come to you, they've got a persona for who they think their client is, and they've got someone looking for leads online for who they think their client is. What would you say to them?
Lucy: I guess there's a number of different ways that you can spin this, or kind of unpack it, and I think ultimately what you're asking is, if a founder came to me and asked for help to validate their product, I think, in terms of the steps that I would go through, and these are kind of . I'm approaching this from a growth and a marketing perspective, but what I want to reinforce is, when you— There's a book by Steve Blank, and it's the four stages of developing a startup, and ultimately what we're doing here is we're looking at that customer discovery and customer development stages. So, we've got an idea of who our audience is. First of all, we've got to work out actually, is there enough there to sustain a business? So, this is where you would typically have a marketing bro. I didn't come up with that term, but I think we all know who they are. And they'll start saying to you, “you've got to work out your talent, your sound, your song”.
I hate myself for even saying stuff like this. But ultimately, you just have to have a feel for the size of the market that you're going after and understand whether you're able to service it based on opportunity, but also the resources as well. So, this is where you would use things like your demographics. But what you want to do is speak to a handful of people to just understand if there's a problem worth solving, and whether they want to pay for it. So, I think there's a few categories that I use, I look at the level of urgency, the level of agency, and the level of pay, something like that. And typically, what I advise here is to speak to about 10, 15, 20, 20 people to understand what they're currently using to solve the problem you think that your product does, and how they go about researching and paying for this type of product. All of a sudden, this will open up a number of competitive sets. Competitors come in various guises, you've got direct, indirect, and replacement. And more often than not, startups have a tendency to compare their product to a like for like. So, if I was Amazon, I'd be thinking that Netflix was my competitor. And actually, that's not the case. So, at this point, you're pretty much going through a series of customer interviews or audience interviews, because they're not your customers, to understand what they're switching, how painful the problem is, how they're looking in buying a certain type of product, and also the level of competition.
And that will give you kind of an idea of where you can start to go from there. But there are a number of things you also need to look at. At this point, you are not building a product, like the amount of startups that I have seen that have been given investment to build a product when they didn't even explore an MVP is absolutely mad.
Rob: Yeah, but MVP to a lot of people means a fully working product, right? I mean, you can hope people have read Lean Startup, but I've met a million people who have read Lean Startup and still think an MVP is like full bells, whistles, online, beautiful user interface kind of software. How do you stop people from touching a line of code before they've done all this user interaction or audience interaction?
Lucy: So, I think something to say that there's like 15, 20 different versions of an MVP, when we talk about MVP, minimal viable product. And what I don't understand is people that build products without commitment from prospects. It's like if you've got the money to waste, absolutely brilliant. But actually, if there is a way that you can demonstrate intent and commitment through an MVP, that might be a landing page, or a tool that you've built or a series of Bloom videos that you've put together, then you're just freeing up more money later on to put to marketing, to pay for a developer, to pay to host your website, to maybe one day pay you a salary as well. I mean, it's easy for me to kind of say, “Oh, don't do that”. I've worked in a business that has chucked 34k to 50k out of product to realise that actually we needed to change it fundamentally. I think the way you get around it is you talk to investors or you talk to members of the bootstrapping community or successful founders, and you learn from their mistakes. That would be my go.
Rob: And you want to have to listen, right? So that I think that's like always a piece of advice that I try and impart, if that's the word. And I'm guilty of it myself, of course, we all are. And I suppose being guilty of it means I've felt the pain of it. And that is don't touch that code editor until you have a problem that needs solving that someone wants to pay for, basically.
Lucy: Oh, and I was just going to say, and also the number of low-code and no-code tools available. So, you've got Squarespace, you've got Wix, you've got Webflow. I mean, I managed to put my website together in four or five days. I mean, the bit that took ages was the planning and the content and whatnot, but it's relatively straightforward. If you are working in tech or you aspire to work in tech and you're not a techie person, these are kind of basics I would expect you to kind of pick up and be comfortable with as well.
Rob: Yeah, and if you are someone who feels who needs to, because some of us are, need to see something to understand something. I think like Figma is a great tool. You can even do user flow in Figma. So, it looks and feels a bit like an app without much intelligence, but looks like it. And it's a really good way of just, you know, maybe taking that to people if you want and showing them. What would your ideal customer be then? Is it before funding, post funding? Doesn't matter? Who would your ideal customer be?
Lucy: It doesn't necessarily matter about the funding aspect. I think in terms of ideal customer, they've got to be motivated to solve the problem. I've worked with some founders that don't necessarily care about what they're looking to solve. And that can be difficult because if you have a team or you're that early employee, that's a lot of pressure that goes on to your shoulders. I think in terms of people say the second time founders are “easier to work with” because they've learned from their mistakes, they know how to delegate. Which in my experience is true, but there's something about the enthusiasm of the first time founder that I really love because it's an emotional place, right? It's likely that you would have had a career, you've got a good idea, you've got friends, family wondering why on earth you're obsessed with solving this particular problem or developing this piece of tech. All of a sudden, you're having to learn how to potentially fundraise, talk and brief developers, pick up the sales process on your own, understand that there are things you don't know, and there's a lot of plates that you're spinning.
[26:22] So, if anything, I'm in awe of that founder because it's not one new skill set you're having to learn, it's like 15. And I think in terms of, back to your original question, the people that I want to work with, yes, I can say I like working with tech founders or SaaS founders and what not. But I think you need that extra level. You need that kind of behavioural element to really make it work.
Rob: Let's get into a little bit about Wales. This is the Wales in Tech podcast. You're running a successful business here in Cardiff. I've been to your offices. Very lovely. Why are you in Wales? Because I believe you don't originally come from Wales. Is that right?
Lucy: That's correct. So, I am the daughter of a Royal Marine. I think I moved 10 times before the age of 14. So, all over the place. But I'm actually, I grew up in Devon Home. And the reason why I came to Cardiff was I was working for a recruitment tech company. And Amy, the then CEO of Career Cake approached me to work. And I moved to Cardiff to join the startup.
Rob: But you've stayed in Cardiff. So, that's a whole other story, right? So, did you stay in Cardiff because— Tell me why, was it the environment? Is it a good place to run a business? Did you just make enough friends here that you didn't want to leave? What is it basically?
Lucy: A combination of, so I can get help from . Yeah, I call her the Welsh tourist board because anything , she's able to bring it back to Wales, which I think is brilliant. I've never really found anywhere that I call home. And I would say that Wales is definitely the closest at the moment. So, I think in terms of kind of growing a business, I mean, I work in startups and I live in Cardiff. And look at the number of startup accelerators we've got here. I mean, it's not just one or two. We're looking at four or five, six different versions. And what's great is that you've got such a range of speakers and providers. There's a lot of support for businesses. There's a lot of events for women and businesses, although there should be a lot more.
[28:41] And I think in terms of what it's like to work here. So, geography. I mean, I regularly go to Dublin and I was in Edinburgh recently fest. And that's great because I feel like I'm connected to a number of tech hubs. But I also think that what's great about running a business here is there's an appetite to learn. There's an appetite to bring in skills and develop the profiles of Welsh businesses as well. And I think there's always more to learn from startups in London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, and also the US and Canada as well. But what I like about it is there is a tendency to want businesses to do well and a tendency to want Welsh businesses to do well.
Rob: Is that coming from like public sector? Is that coming from government or council or where? How are you feeling that? Where are you feeling that from?
Lucy: I found it from a startup perspective and I first realised this when working at Career Cake and Amy was very adamant on wanting to make a success story here in Wales. So, yes, there's an opportunity to seek investment and go to the US or London, but there's this nature of heritage and the idea that—
Lucy: Well, yeah, exactly. So, I think I like that. And I don't like the fact that— I don't like it when people say, “Oh, well, if you want to scale your business, you have to go to London. You have to go to major cities”. Yes, there's a lot more opportunity there at the moment, but I do think things are changing in Wales, not at the speed I'd want, but I'm impatient.
Rob: Yeah, me too. Ok, that's great. So, how do you feel about the investment scene in Wales, Cardiff in particular, or the country in general?
Lucy: [30:47] I think that the investment scene is thriving. There are a number of new groups and syndicates that are opening. And when I say that, I'm thinking instantly of a lady called Cameron Hall. I believe that there's a female group that she has been instrumental in setting up. So, from that perspective, I like seeing that because I like to see a breadth and a diversity coming through in investors as well. It doesn't always have to follow the male, pale, stale kind of suit, suited approach. And I don't mean anything like rudeness by that, but I do think that it is relevant. But that said, I think having worked for bootstrap startups and startups that have gone through investment, I don't think that bootstrappers are celebrated enough.
[31:43] I think that it's— I mean, I've been involved in startups that have secured investment. And don't get me wrong, I was probably involved in 10% of the work that was required. And investment is great for certain startups. But you never hear about the bootstrap startups that are going on to do well in the press or being asked to speak at events or headline events as well. And I think if there was an opportunity to kind of refocus on what they're doing.
Rob: [32:16] There's almost like a legitimacy behind those that have got investment. And I think we both know that it isn't always given to companies that are capable. So, it definitely makes them seem credible, but it's not always given to people who seem capable. And I think bootstrapping, if you've got to a certain part, if you funded it yourself and got to a certain part on your path, that probably makes you more capable, but not necessarily credible because you haven't received the external validation, let's say, of investment.
Lucy: [32:49] Yeah, I agree. And I also think that, again, in some circumstances, investment always can provide a sticky plaster. And it kind of covers that fundamental step where you needed to learn how to land your first couple of customers, how to sell— The hardware, the bit that everyone hates, but they realise that they have to do. And I think if you have an injection in cash, yes, you can scale certain parts more quickly. But I think that there are a couple of foundations that it's likely you would have missed. And perhaps that's where the bootstrappers or not even bootstrappers, the companies that ask for loans or grants as well, they're the ones that maybe have invested in that element, and that might be a bit more successful down the line.
Rob: [33:37] Yeah, maybe there is a podcast by a guy called Nathan Laftka who loves bootstrap startups. I am a little bit of a fan. They're only 15 minutes, unlike this one. I just think that a 15 minute podcast is the sweet spot for me. But yeah, they profile a lot, or he profiles a lot of bootstrap startups. And it seems to be focused on that. But you are right. It's not often you see— Again, it's part of that cheat sheet we talked about earlier. It's almost like, have you got funding? Yes, no. And funding is part of that startup journey, which is ridiculous, right? There are hundreds of thousands of companies in the UK that didn't receive funding and did very well.
[34:27] Ok, so last question, Lucy, are there any startups— Because you obviously work with quite a few, startups to watch in Wales at the moment?
Lucy: [34:35] Startups to watch in Wales. There are a few that spring to mind. I think the first one is a startup called Stella, StellaTech.co.uk. That is a— Well, Harri-Helvon Hardy is the founder and CEO of Stella. You also know her from Fabric, based in Swansea. And they're doing some amazing things on developing a system to help kids in care, from the viewpoint of a support worker. So, actually making tech a lot more accessible and easier to use as well. That's really interesting. Also, Gem Hallett. People know her from MiFuture. And I want to shout out Jen because she's working on a product at the moment. And what's really interesting and refreshing is she's come back to the drawing board from a validation perspective. She's not just gone out and built an app, she's actually going through—
Rob: She's practicing what you preach.
Lucy: Yeah. Is there a problem worth solving? Are people willing to pay and are they willing to switch as well? And it's great because it all of a sudden doesn't prescribe features that should be included. It actually is connected to a much bigger thing. But I think that's indicative of being a second time founder.
Rob: Thank you very, very much, Lucy, for taking part in the Wales in Tech podcast. We hope you come back when you've got more news to share. I hope you've enjoyed this experience.
Lucy: I really have. Thank you for inviting me on. You.