Home » Culture » Scaling up & Cloud Computing, We Chat with Startup RunAClub
Scaling up & Cloud Computing, We Chat with Startup RunAClub
by Startacus Admin
With the rapid growth of digital technologies and particularly cloud computing, comes no-end of potential innovations for the adventurous and ambitious entrepreneur.
Sally Higham, is one such entrepreneurial self-starter, whose fresh and inventive, cloud-based administration system for community clubs and groups ‘RunAClub’ is a fantastic example of how digital innovations can have profound and highly advantageous effects in ‘the real world’.
She and her team have just secured investment from a pair of angels, so we thought there would be no better time for them to share their wealth of startup experience with our community.
On we go...
So Sally, first of all, can you describe the situation which led to the creation of RunAClub, and tell us about the specific challenges it helps club organisers to overcome?
I set up and ran a youth club in my local area in response to a growing anti social behaviour problem. It was a massive challenge working from scratch and writing 23 policies, building rotas, organising 20 sets of keys for volunteer helpers, getting funding and generally overcoming masses of red tape and time-consuming stuff - let alone all the legislative worries and so on and took up 16 hours a week of my voluntary time.
I kept all the records of every detail of what I did over those 3 years thinking they might be useful. I started getting a lot of queries from other clubs to help them and I thought wouldn’t it be great to support 10,000 clubs rather than just 1 or 2. There was no generic digital system to support club leaders of any type of group on the market.
We live in an increasingly complex social, financial, and legal world and we want to help club leaders negotiate those complexities to enable them to get on with the running of the club.
RunAClub provides a sustainable infrastructure where tasks can be shared more easily and it suits the modern day volunteer who can work from wherever they are - creating a force of laptop volunteers carrying on the work of the club at a time that suits them.
Can you give us a sense of where RunAClub is at the moment, what significant milestones you have achieved, and the direction in which you are moving?
We are now scaling up. We launched two years ago last month. We have 1500 clubs signed up via umbrella organisations (who are our target market as they have responsibility for 100s or 1000s of clubs). This equates to 5000 members on the system and 750 staff/ volunteers with this number growing week-on-week as it usually takes time before the umbrella organisation hands the license for RunAClub on to them, once they have purchased.
Half of our clubs are youth clubs and the other half are made up of sport, health, arts and other independent groups. We are about to bring on a very large organisation who are responsible for several thousand clubs over the next few years and this is fantastic for us - we have always thought ‘big’ and the bespoke system is adaptable to so many different types of club. Aside from this large ‘super organisation’ we are beginning to work with, we have thousands of others in the pipeline.
What have been the biggest challenges in bringing RunAClub to this point, and what major challenges are you envisaging in the near future?
This last year the biggest challenge was bringing in social investment. I found this very painful - I spent so much time going over and over due diligence, and I suppose it meant I became very focused and slick in the pitch - but it was stressful and time-consuming to go through. In the end we turned some investors down and found some very good ones; it was clear to us they needed to add value and really believed in our capability and social cause. Pure investment was not what we wanted; they need to be as socially motivated as we all are. Also we had a lot of problems with slow payers last year - we have got on top of this recently and are more careful now about who we work with.
Going forward - the major challenges relate to decision making in our strategic direction as the opportunities for us are huge.
You seem to have built a really strong team of people around you; how would you characterise some of the traits necessary to achieve the growth you have seen?
We have an exceptionally strong and consistent team. I think it's all about the leadership. The team know that I have never asked them to do something I am not doing myself. I am totally focused and committed to what I do - and passionate about it - and that brings the team with me. I don’t think it's easy to find that kind of focus and commitment, but if the leader doesn’t consistently work at the highest level they can manage, they can’t expect the team to as well.
I also strongly believe in empowerment and trust. I totally trust my team and I’m rarely let down. We all make mistakes - me included - and a leader must expect that to happen and shrug it off, solve the problem and move on. I like to put high expectations on my team and it's simply amazing how they step up to the plate and do stuff they never thought they were capable of.
Most of the team have a lot of experience of working in the youth, education, sport, community sectors as well, which really helps. We are definitely a ‘can do’ team without exception and this is noted by our customers.
We were very pleased to hear that you have recently secured an angel investor in the form of the very experienced entrepreneur Mary McKenna. What does a step like this mean to you and the team?
It's not just the money as I mentioned above. Mary and Tim both bring another set of skills and connections that are helping us develop the RunAClub product, and we hope will also bring a new set of customers to us too, possibly via distributor type models in other sectors. I’m so glad we didn’t take on all the funding and other investors we were in detailed talks with - they were great, but just not right for us. Mary and Tim know we are very well run and totally trust our processes and leadership - this is important for us.
Has the team been particularly inspired by any other cloud-based administration systems used within another industry or was it a case of breaking the mould?
Definitely breaking the mould. We do occasionally see some products available in the sports world that we would like to see integrated into our product.
‘Cloud computing’ is a term that we are hearing increasingly frequently, particularly over the past couple of years, but to some it’s still a rather alien sounding concept. Can you highlight some of the opportunities that this burgeoning technology has created for systems like RunAClub?
People are starting to ‘get’ what cloud means for them as it becomes more and more available to everyone. RunAClub is in the cloud - it enables us to work with any area - sport, youth, arts, even business, to provide a flexible bespoke system that anyone can access. When we started building RunAClub 3 years ago people were still cynical, nervous etc and now the interest is definitely growing significantly. I’m glad we started when we did - I had worried we were too late/too early but in fact I think we were spot on!
Thanks for the fantastic chat Sally, and best of luck as you and the team continue to grow and develop the RunAClub brand!
If you have been inspired by what Sally has said, you can check out more about what they do over on Facebook, or follow Sally on Twitter.
Mi-IDEA Manchester Networking Event
27th Sep 2016
The teams from CISCO and Manchester Science Partnerships have teamed up to create Mi-IDEA, a post-accelerator designed to foster and nurture digital innovation in the North West of England.