Hamish Blythe went to university thinking he would go into oil, and that led him to the U.K.’s furthest north university — Aberdeen. His oil career did not work out, but his tech career did.
The petroleum industry, of course, is closely tied to technology. On top of that, Blythe has always loved tech and has been an avid gamer. The oil crash was all it took to push him into a new career path: Mobile networks.
“I spent two years trying to figure out what on Earth mobile networks were and having a world of fun,” he told me during an interview for my podcast, Back Yourself. “It is an amazing space.”
Inspired by the movie Kingsman, Blythe walked around Aberdeen talking to mobile shop employees about creating new mobile networks, and soon had a meeting with a head of wholesale at EE. He spent 18 months in the development process of a plan where someone with spare mobile data could sell it to someone else. A month before launch, EE reneged on the plan and unveiled their own version.
“It was a hell of a lot of learning,” he said of the venture, which he had called Twigd. “It was painful. But I think frankly the fintech space where we are now is so fun and there is so much more that you can do.”
Hooked on Startups: The Ability to Change People
Blythe’s first venture into entrepreneurship failed, but he still got bitten by the startup bug. What was it?
“For me, I loved the idea that you can truly do something that changes people,” he said. “You have that ability to build something that is so cool.”
Blythe also liked working with tech and bringing in bright people who could help him reach his goals.
After Twigd, Blythe had a relatively short downtime. A few months later he was back at work, this time serving as head of operations and data analytics at myCrew. myCrew is a free social fitness app platform that connects active people to local workouts and each other. He was in L.A. having a fantastic time and getting in good shape.
Despite the good times, he was still thinking about Twigd and payments. He talked nightly to a friend who was at work on a project, which eventually became Trilo.
What Is the Right Time to Approach Investors?
Approaching investors is a tricky thing to time. Do it too early and the company may be valued too low and you would be giving too much of the company away. Wait too long and you might have run out of money already and be forced to abandon your project.
“I have always gone way too early,” Blythe said. “If there is a lesson I have learned, it would be holding your time for a bit, wait until you actually have something properly there, and then go for it.”
When startups are in their early stage, Blythe says it is critical that founders focus on getting the right people on board.
“At this stage, it is very much about the team,” he said. “It is about whether you have the drive and gumption to do this for the next five to ten years.”
That also helps founders ward off investors who are strictly looking at exit strategies and are not focused on partnerships and longer-term accomplishments.
Another critical feature of timing? Not underestimating the amount of time it takes to build a product.
Trilo: A Long Road to Fundraising
When it came to raising money for Trilo, Blythe was engaged in constantly meeting people. He started meeting investors in January 2019 and got his first commitment in November.
“It took all that time to get to know them,” he said. “You want the investors who give you the money and then are part of that journey.”
Many investors were dissuaded by the startup not having government approval, but the ones who stuck around were interested in a long-term partnership.
Trilo now has four people on its team and another contractor. What is Trilo? (Don’t confuse it with the other Trilo — a Netherlands-based manufacturer of mowers, vacuum sweepers, leaf blowers, and verticutting units.) Trilo is “the simplest way to pay” — an app that lets you leave your wallet at home and earn rewards as you shop. The app does away with CVVs, card numbers, passwords, billing addresses, and more. Instead, you pay for things directly from your bank account through the scanning of a QR code.
Blythe’s One Piece of Advice: Skip School and Go to Work
If Blythe has one important piece of advice to pass along, it is that entrepreneurs should consider skipping university and going straight to an internship at a startup so they can learn from the inside.
Being in a startup, learning about investors, making connections, and learning on the go are skills you can’t learn in school. Those connections may be the ones who you later jump ship with to start your own company.
Blythe had plenty of bumps along the road to startup success, though those adverse experiences helped him grow. Now, Trilo seems poised for success.