Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein’s new adventure
Today I am announcing that I am joining early stage tech venture Ably as its Chairman, as well as an investor and shareholder.
While half my time will be focused on growing Ably, I’ll also continue my role at Econsultancy.
Following some brief thoughts on why I’m backing Ably.
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1. Team, team, team
It’s all about the talent
It is no secret that it makes sense to back a great team. Ideas are easy but outstanding execution is hard. For that you need the right team. And we all know how hard it is to find the best talent in the world of tech and digital.
The right start-up team should have ambition, tenacity, curiosity, bravery, self-belief bordering on the delusional, anxiety (nothing is ever good enough), product and customer obsession.
So I’m betting on the team at Ably. Most obviously that team includes Matthew O’Riordan, CEO and co-founder of Ably, who was my co-founder at Econsultancy. It makes a big difference to invest in someone you respect and trust. And it is fun to be working together again on something early stage.
But I also know and respect others in the engineering team. More than half the current tech team are Cambridge University maths graduates so no shortage of raw intelligence.
2. The market
Betting on a growth area
Ably is a tech platform that makes it easy for developers to add realtime messaging and streaming data to their applications.
You can see some realtime data examples on the Ably site.
Backing a great team makes sense. Backing a growing market and need also makes sense. And I cannot think that the need to manage data in realtime is not going to grow?
Whether that is data streaming from sensors in internet of things applications, or messaging apps, or live customer service, or live updates like scores, the weather, financial or traffic data, or realtime marketing experiences… surely our expectations as businesses and customers are inevitably tending towards the instantaneous?
Data will no longer be inert, but alive; no longer asynchronous and one way but synchronous and bi-directional.
I believe marketing, and indeed commerce, will become more conversational: more personal and relevant but also an experience which is happening two ways between brands and customers and in realtime.
This is a future that I believe in and am prepared to invest in. Ably may not be a sexy B2C idea, but it is a vital part of the infrastructure to make this future possible. It is no bad thing to be selling shovels in a gold rush.
3. The business model and product
I’ve sold time before. I’d rather sell a product.
Ably is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business. Actually it is probably more PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service). But the business model is the same. A recurring monthly subscription with a free entry level offering.
My experience at Econsultancy, a B2B media business, exposes me to the challenges that the media sector are facing. Too many to detail here. But thankfully Econsultancy’s core business was always a subscription/membership. We sell content rather than software but the model is essentially a SaaS one. And it works well.
I have also worked agency side which is essentially selling time. Not so scalable and relies on the messy business of people.
So having seen various business models, and revenue streams, I think the SaaS one is best. IF you can get it firing well. For that you need the team, the market, but you also need a great product which customers truly value and you need great sales and marketing to get scale.
In the end success is not down to sales but renewal rates and price/yield. Which means no amount of marketing or sales spin will cut it in the end; the product has to deliver value and keep improving. And your customer service has to be fantastic.
When I look at Ably I see a product with more than three years of work of a dedicated team of very smart people solving really hard technical problems. I see huge amounts of work and thought that has gone into technical documentation, customer support systems, status and monitoring services, slick payment handling etc. These are not sexy things, they are easy things to say but hard to do. And they are things that real customers value.
So I like the business model and I believe the product is ready to scale and has defendable advantages in the market place.
4. Getting my hands dirty
Time to walk the talk with martech, automation, agile etc
I still love my job at Econsultancy and quite a lot of what I do there is about trends and developments in digital marketing and ecommerce. I write and speak about these a lot.
My recent article on 10 digital marketing & ecommerce trends for 2016 points to many areas where start-ups, particularly tech start-ups, are ahead of corporates in what they are doing digitally: sometimes this is about culture, sometimes about process (e.g. Agile), sometimes about the digital marketing tools and techniques they use (e.g. growth hacking and marketing automation).
The great thing with Ably is that I get to practice what I preach. If nothing else I will learn a lot from being the top marketer at a fast-growth tech business.
I am not just talking about agile, or Slack, or Trello, or Medium, or Zapier, or programmatic marketing, or innovation. I am living it. I even have a GitHub account.
I have one foot in the corporate world and one in the start-up world. And I feel very lucky to be in that position and hope to bring learnings from one to the other.
I get to experiment, make mistakes, and learn. That feeling of doing something pioneering was always what excited me about digital and still does.
5. Stay in touch
Follow our journey by signing up to our mailing list
If you want to keep up to date with Ably’s journey then sign up to our mailing list.
Of course you can follow me, or Ably, here on Medium where we shall be blogging about tech marketing as well as Ably.
Let your developers know about Ably
Do let your development team know about Ably — it is free to sign up and use — and think of us if you’re planning anything in the realtime messaging and streaming data space.
Contact us with any questions.