So you want to become an entrepreneur? We talk to Alex Depledge, whose startup, Hassle.com, sold for £27.5M. She shares her story and tips for making it to the top. But “it’s not all amazing”, she tells us. “I still have the odd sleepless night and get stressed about things”…
How did you come up with the idea for Hassle.com?
Both of my businesses – Hassle.com and now Resi.co.uk – have grown out of personal experience. It’s a good way to start a company. The seed of Hassle.com was sown when my co-founder, Jules Coleman, complained how hard it was to find a good piano teacher online. We were both working at the management consultancy Accenture at the time, but were toying with the idea of leaving and launching a start-up. We immediately saw that this was our opportunity. We realised that local service people – babysitters, music teachers, driving instructors – found it hard to get to the market because they weren’t tech-savvy and were using leaflets in coffee shops. So, with developer Tom Nimmo, we started Teddle, a platform connecting customers with 27 types of service providers in their area. We quickly realised that a specialist service would work better, so, in 2013, we relaunched as Hassle,com, an online marketplace with introduced customers directly to referenced, vetted cleaners.
Resi was also born out of personal frustration. Both Jules and I had experienced problems with building projects. I just couldn’t believe that the process of trying to get plans could be so slow, expensive and confusing. We realised that there was a real need for something that simplified things for homeowners.
Did you university studies pave the way for your career success?
I graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in American Studies and History (with International Study) in 2003. My choice of subject was pivotal. I credit the year I spent abroad in North America, as part of the course, as possibly one of my most defining in terms of personal growth. I was away from home, adapting to a new culture (they may speak English but that’s about it) and was there while 9/11 happened. The professional growth was also huge. I had to navigate a whole new set of academic norms and different intellectual expectations, but in the US I found my spiritual home. I learnt that it was OK to have an opinion and speak out. Competitiveness was encouraged, instead of being seen as arrogance or aggression, and telling people when you were good at something was positively encouraged. They might seem like small things, but for me they were enormous. They also happen to be the bedrock of soft skills needed in business, especially for a woman. I finally felt like I belonged and grew in confidence.
After graduating from Nottingham, I went back to study for a masters at the University of Chicago and ended up working on the political campaign of a well-known politician.
You sold for £27.5M. How did it feel giving away the company you had built?
In some respects, it wasn’t easy. It was giving away control over something that we had built and nurtured. Before I had a baby, Hassle was my baby. But it was the right thing to do. We had achieved so much, but I knew that I had more ideas in me and the passion to achieve other things. That is being borne out now with Resi.co.uk, which has the capacity to improve the lives of so many people.
How did your life change after making such a large sum of money?
Life goes on. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: money doesn’t change what really matters. The most important things in life are still my family, my husband and my children. Of course it’s satisfying that my first business was successful, but I’m still driven to achieve more professionally, too. I love being an entrepreneur.
I’ve been open about my experience of burn-out and mental health issues. I think that, as someone who’s had a degree of success, you have a certain duty to tell people that it’s not all amazing. Otherwise, they compare themselves to an idealised version of life that is unobtainable. I still have the odd sleepless night and get stressed about things.
I also struggled with feeling like I didn’t deserve this windfall, and what had I actually done to get to this level? In some ways, it was a really humbling experience for me.
What did you then go on to do?
I’ve set up Resi.co.uk which is looking to permanently change how people use architects. For so long, the architectural industry has been confusing, expensive and outdated, as my own experience proved. We are revolutionising this, by offering affordable, fast, high-quality architectural services to every UK household, no matter the size of their project, or their budget. Our online platform allows homeowners to manage their entire project from one online dashboard, connecting them to our team of architects with our messaging and screenshare features. Upfront we provide a clear price plan, and even assist the client with their budget. We aim to be every home’s first stop in their remodelling journey, as we take them from nothing, all the way to getting them ready to build. This means we also assist with planning applications and building regulations, as well as connecting homeowners with vetted builders to complete their projects. We offer a full cradle-to-grave service.
Since Resi’s inception in 2016, it has grown rapidly. It now has an annual seven figure revenue run rate and has completed more than 1,000 residential architecture projects all across the UK. It’s estimated that our quality designs have helped add over £79,000,000 to the value of UK homes. We are one of the largest, if not the largest, residential architectural practices in the UK. The number of people signing up to our services is rising exponentially each month and the future is incredibly exciting.
What are 3 things you wish you could tell your younger self?
Firstly, don’t worry about not fitting in – it will be your biggest asset and professional brand when you start working. It’s ironic that we all want to be cookie-cutter in our teens and twenties and then, in a rapid flip, spend our professional lives trying to stand out.
Secondly, try not to be so self-critical of your appearance. When I look at photographs of my younger self, I wish I could tell that girl that she looks better than she will do in ten years. Nobody is perfect – certainly not me. But I’m alright. I’m good enough.
Thirdly, you can have a career and a family – if you work for yourself. When I was younger I either saw women having a family, seeing that family, and their career stalling; or having a family, never seeing them, and their career advancing. Neither of those options were okay for me. There’s a reason that so many women become entrepreneurs after motherhood – it offers you the flexibility to set your own hours.
What are qualities you look for in a business partner?
I have the best business partner I could possibly hope for in Jules Coleman. She is like the ying to my yang. I’m highly emotional, loud and crazy, with lots of ideas. In contrast, Jules is very calm, creative and detail-orientated. She puts our ideas into practice. We work really well as a team.
How do you de-stress after a long day?
At home, I love a bath, but equally I find catching up regularly with fellow CEOs really helpful. Sometimes it’s invaluable to be with people who understand the unique pressures of what you do.
How much do you spend on wellness
I don’t really spend on wellness as such, but there are only two things that totally consume my thoughts when I do them – boxing and horse riding. I think that is the closest I ever come to relaxing.
Do you have any tips for young entrepreneurs starting out a new business?
Firstly, talk to your customers, then talk to them again and then don’t stop talking to them. You really can’t start a business without listening hard to what they want.
Secondly, the people that work for you are everything.
Thirdly, I don’t believe there is a division between work and home lives. That’s one of my big things. It’s all just life, at the end of the day.