Tom Foster-Carter, the founder of Lollipop, (online shopping assistant ) is on a mission to help solve the health and obesity crisis and reduce the food plastic waste on the planet.
[00:00:00] Maiko: I'm super excited to have TFC on the podcast today. This has been a long time coming, so really excited to have you join us, TFC, welcome to the show.
[00:00:10] Tom: Thank you, really excited to be here. Great to make this happen.
[00:00:13] Maiko: Thank you. So let's start with your entrepreneur journey, you are a true serial entrepreneur. You've founded multiple startups, very successful startups, and I'd love to hear your journey. How did you get to what are you're doing now?
[00:00:28] Tom: Very kind to say that, I feel like lots of things are still work in progress, but yeah, we'll see how it all plays out, but happy to talk about my background. So I started life actually as a composer, I used to write music for a living when I left uni and then really realized I needed to make some money and Sarah got into consulting and got excited about startups a few years in.
And I think what happened is to reached a stage where I needed to figure out if I was gona be a consultant for the rest of my life or do something different. And I really wanted to get my hands dirty i suppose, and things were really interesting in London at this time, so this was about 10 years ago. And there was company Mine Candy that created this product called Washy Monsters.
It was basically just taking over the world. So I think they had 100 or 200 million active users, astonishing numbers. And I saw this picture of Michael Acton Smith, the founder on the front of Wired, and he had been made to look like a rock star. And I just thought, oh my goodness, I didn't realize that there were jobs out there where you don't have to be some amazing, great pianist or guitarist or singer, whatever where you could just have kind of lifestyle like, that.
So I got into it for all the wrong reasons, I just thought, gosh I would love to do something like that. And here was a company in London, that was creating amazing technology that loads of people were using and really was captivated. And I thought, okay, I wanna see if I could be a part of this.
So I took a sabbatical from my major consultancy from Bain, which is super cool, and started to explore this and met a guy with a really interesting idea. He was thinking, could you help children learn how to manage their money more responsibly, by creating a sort of financial app. And so basically a sort of alternative to a children's banking app, and this was called Ospa and I just loved the mission. I really thought, okay, we could do something really exciting here.
And so I joined him as C.O.O, which was hilarious because I was C.O.O of nobody. I had a team of no one but I had this extremely grand title so that, And we started working together, there were four of us in that founding team to see if we could make it happen.
And we did some cool things, we got funded and tried to see if we could really make headway in the market. It was really tough at that time cause it was such an early FinTech and the concept of offering banking services but not being a bank was actually pretty unfamiliar to people, and it took a lot of education there.
And, you think about this nowadays it's not an issue at all. Companies like Revolute, not a bank, but people are completely comfortable with it. Then they worked. So there's a piece around that and the financials of it, kinda getting the commercials working really tricky, but learning a huge amount from the process.
Went from there to co-founder business called Curve which they card aggregate. It stores your debit cards and credit cards or on a single card. And really just love the concept, the idea that you'd be able to leave your wallet at home. Just take this one card out, fascinated by the idea about whether we could build that.
So I got over 3 million customers, did a big series C recently and so on. It's done amazing things actually since I moved on and I jumped into Monzo to be C.O.O, joined the hyper growth scaling phase. So took it from around 100,000 customers to around 4 million. Monzo Bank's, now nearly 7 million customers.
So it's just going from strength to strength. Had an incredibly tough pandemic but has come out of it absolutely flying. And I guess it was while I was there that I had the idea for Lollipop and that was really just doing the shop, the online grocery shop, and I thought this is a lot more painful than it should be, and I wondered if I could build something which might be able to make a difference there.
So I'm sure we'll talk about it more later, but that sort of brings us to today. I guess when I zoom out, think about the lessons, there and I feel like, you can really just picture the thing that you want, then you should go and get it.
And this was looking at this picture of Michael Acton Smith and being like, I want that . And the only limit we actually spoke about this before we started recording. I loved it when you said, look, the only limit is your own ambition, I completely agree with that. That sentiment, it really is that your only limit.
There's a really useful book out there called Hundred Year Life by Linda Gratton, Andrew Scott, and you know, the concept is we might be, or children born in the near future are gonna be living to be a hundred, what do you do with a hundred year life? You don't need to be limited by your first career choice.
Actually, we'll have multiple careers and your companies aren't particularly loyal to you, you don't need to be loyal to those companies necessarily. Actually, you should be thinking about, okay I'm not gonna do this for life, so what are my dreams? And perhaps you could change into being a doctor 20 years into professional career, and that will become quite common.
And so I really love that as a concept, and I really counsel people to do the same. Just think about, okay, if you're not doing the thing that's really exciting for you right now, then figure out what that might be. And even if there are steps to get there and then start taking those steps, there might be an interim stage to maybe get into tech startups, that's fine.
Then Take it and go on journey and think about this thing as a sort of a hundred year life, I don't know exactly what we'll have, but you might still have another kind of 40 years of working ahead of you, even at age 40. And that really does change your perspective, over how you should be spending your time if you are not doing something that you really really love.
[00:05:50] Maiko: Love it. I'd love to dive deep into your reasoning how you actually got to set up Lollipop AI under that framework. But I love the point on Michael Acton Smith, I think he's just a natural rockstar look anyways, but yeah, would love to see the cover. Have you had a cover like that so far?
[00:06:12] Tom: Not yet, no. I was at Monzo when they had a fantastic piece on Tom Bonfield where again, made him look like a rockstar. So for now, maybe give it a couple years, let's see.
[00:06:26] Maiko: I'm waiting for it. Great, let's dive into Lollipop and with what you just said, how did you actually get to set up Lollipop and what does Lollipop do?
[00:06:37] Tom: Yeah, absolutely. So when I think about Lollipop and where it started initially, It was really as simple as doing an online grocery shop and it took ages and really took a few hours. It was at a point, the busiest point in my career actually, and our baby, my son Freddy, had just arrived and suddenly our lives just thrown into chaos.
And so we, tried online shopping for the first time, and it just took so long. And I really felt, wow, I don't feel like this product that I'm using is working in the way that I'm thinking about it as a customer, I'm thinking about meals and I'm thinking about like goals as a dietry and all the rest of the household essentials needing to happen.
And this thing just feels incredibly functional. It's like a warehouse stock picking tool where you're typing in, okay, vegetable stock? No, not that vegetable stock, this vegetable stock, you get the skew and then that's in your basket and you go through item by item in that way.
I thought, gosh, there has to be a better way. And the only thing that I could think of in terms of what had in mind was a shopping assistant. And so I thought, wow, what we really wanted at that time was to have somebody in the house that sort of said, hey, don't worry, I've got this.
I understand you, I know this family really well, I know what you're trying to get done here, let me think about some yummy meals and actually some new things for you to try out here, and then the rest of the shop, don't worry, I've got that all sorted.
You're not gonna run outta toilet paper, you're not gonna run out of a kind of kitchen or whatever, I've got that done. And then actually when the stuff arrives, springs into life again and it's okay, let's get this stuff cooked up. Wow, you've not cooked this before, no problem at all. This is gonna be as easy as something that you're super familiar with.
And so this is what I had in mind, this kind of shopping assistant. I thought I definitely can't afford one of those hopefully I could build this in software, and if I could then perhaps this would appeal to others as well, so thats what got me into it. What I actually now feel a couple years into the business is that, there's some much more interesting forces at play here. I think that the pursuit of convenience, in particular in grocery and shopping, has led us to a pretty terrible place. I think that because we are trying to save time and sometimes saving money, actually we're making these decisions that are pretty bad for our health and certainly for planet.
And so some examples for that, for me, I think that recipe boxes are amazing at being convenient. And, I've tried them out and I'm like, gosh, this is just so wonderful being able to put together this meal so easily. But then using it for a bit, I was really struck by the amount of plastic that was being used, single use plastic, these little portions of soy source and so on.
And I thought, gosh, I love the benefits I'm getting from this of cooking new, interesting, healthy meals, but I'm really not enjoying the impact of the environment. There's so much packaging, it came in this sort of big box and all this insulation and so on, I thought this seems wrong. I'm pushing too much for what's good for me, and less for what's good for the world.
And so there was a part of that, that was driving my thinking, and I think that actually overall we are doing quite a lot. That's not great for our health, because we are trying to solve for speed. We are doing a lot that's not great for for the planet.
Actually, one third of climate emissions is coming from the food that we eat. And we've seen, this year we had 40 degree temperatures in London, that's completely insane. I think we're all aware now that something crazy is going on with the climate and we need to do our be and food is a huge part of that, we might be able to make choices that can make a difference there.
And yet crazily one six of the food that we buy, we throw away. That's just awful when you think about, the impacts this has. And so I think there's something around the decisions that, we make. Even just moving away from red meats, we're now becoming more cognizant of that and moving more towards kind of plant-based choices that can make a huge difference there.
And then actually this cost of living crisis, that's a real killer, right? So just at the moment where we know that we've got these problems with a health crisis, obesity crisis, climate crisis and now this cost of living is coming along and my basket is literally 20% more expensive over the past few months and has been, and so even affluent families are really spotting the difference in those that are close to the breadline, they're really feeling it.
And so my view here is that this could be an amazing problem for technology to solve, and that's now what Lollipop is gonna be. We're now transitioning, we've made a more convenient shop as in a kind of easier shop. But we actually need to be able to solve much greater problems. This needs to be better for you better for the planet and better for your budget, and we're doing that, we're actually doing that. We're building that and we think that we can fix this almost one meal at a time to take us to this journey, to doing a much, much better job overall as a society.
[00:11:25] Maiko: I love this. I think when hearing about Lollipop for the first time or when I spoke to other people about Lollipop, the sustainability and the health aspect of it isn't maybe as obvious to everyone from the beginning. And if we really think through it, It's just incredible what kind of impact you can have And what kind of impact these other companies in the space have?
By design or by accident, right? Meaning like the recipe kit boxes that you talked about. I've had those, I've tried pretty much all of them, I think by now. I've tried like some meal plan subscriptions as well where I actually cooked a meal and they just deliver to you. And the amount of trash I produced is just insane.
Even if the meals were the best in the world, the healthiest and vegan and everything else, but yeah, let's dive a little bit deeper. What other mechanics that you think as a startup you can actually control that has these long lasting, this long lasting impact on health and the planet?
[00:12:29] Tom: I think, it's a really interesting one and I think it's more of a lesson as well in, terms of when we talked about your limit being your own ambition, the ambition that you can have for business and, it's very easy to start with these quite functional problems and it is the classic entrepreneur sort of inspiration story, isn't it?
Where they're like, ah, I had this problem and it was just too painful. And I thought, gosh, all this friction and I'm gonna smooth that out. And that is a great place to start actually just building a tool that does this thing better because you've got this unique play on it is a great starting point.
I think now there is a generation coming through, this is the sort of millennials, but now really the Gen Z and even now Gen A and they're expecting much bigger, better things, out of the products that they use and the businesses that they support. And you can see I think, Patagonia is an amazing example of this.
Yeah, it's actually just really stylish clothes, but good grief, the mission behind it. I think so many people were actually joining and supporting it because they, supported the mission. And it turns out, Patagonia really was the real deal, right? He's ended up selling the business effectively to charity and that is astonishing billions that is what it's all about. I think about Monzo yeah, we had built a banking tool helped you manage your money, that was a part of it, but there was a bigger piece at play here, which was more that, the banks had not been doing a good job of treating their customers fairly in terms of giving them the information that they needed, to avoid banking charges.
For example when you travel abroad, actually they were really taking advantage, exploiting people in this captive situation. We had no choice but to use your bank card and take on these crazy fees alongside really bad exchange rates and so on. And so there was a piece of Monzo that was actually much more mission led that was about bringing transparency to an area of our lives that Lithia was famously opaque and the banks loved it that way.
They wanted there to be this sort of murkiness about this sort of information about what the exchange rate should be and so on. And I think that we got a hell of a lot of people signing up because they loved what we're about, and type of people that we were, as much as they love the product.
And when you think about that, and I know this is an incredibly famous cynic going to talk about this, you know, people who buy like who you are and the why rather than exactly what it is you're doing, and it is just so true. And as long as it's crazy to me that so many companies still haven't caught onto that and they still talk about just quite functional things, we are cheaper, therefore you should use us. And it's like no, people expect a lot more than that.
And I'm loving this next generation, I think of entrepreneurs who spotting that and saying, okay, we can do better here. Yeah, you're gonna have some fun, it's a great piece of tech, it's a nice app, but by the way, we're gonna save the world at the same time, are you up for that? And people are like, yes, we are.
[00:15:34] Maiko: Love it, absolutely. I would love to dive a bit deeper into your journey and some big mistakes and lessons learned, across those many companies. And there's probably a long list with any entrepreneur, most entrepreneurs are also so focused on the future that they tend to not even think of it as mistakes, but as kinda learning opportunities.
But what have been some of the most painful experiences in your career as a founder, and what do you wish you knew when you started out?
[00:16:01] Tom: Sure. Yeah, great question. I absolutely love it whenever a founder says there was a lot of learning, what they mean was, oh my goodness, made the biggest mistake, and then I'll never, ever do that again, so that, that's my favorite, that's my go-to as well, oh, we learned so much from that.
There's an easy one that stands out for me, and it's about rapid validation. So I think about this business that I wanted to build this smart shopping assistant that basically, one day hopefully did your shopping for you, that's what we're trying to build. And the way that I went about this was I spoke to a lot of customers, which was great, big tick, busy families in particular, and I felt, okay there's real kind of validation here around the customer need.
But then my next step was to raise quite a bit of money. So I did a million pound, pre-seat, which is crazy thinking about it. It was a lot of money to raise off the bat, and it wasn't easy to raise, that took a long time to build up people's confidence that this is gonna be a good investment. And then I managed to get the number two in the market, Saintsbury, to come on board, which is kinda amazing, and they've been super supportive.
And then we started to build this product alongside doing the integration, and then we started to bring customers on board and test this out. We've had lots of different kind of iterations and runs at this until we've arrived at something now that's working really nicely.
Now that's been a full on two year journey, and when I think about this I had this amazing lesson actually, so I interviewed a guy for a products role with us, and he said I had the same idea as you, and I was like, okay this sounds great. And he said, so yeah, and I thought I wanted to build something, which did the shopping for you, and picked meals and then did the shop. So created this Excel or Google Sheets and stuck a bunch of meals in, and then the ingredients underneath this product, and then just had a random generator where it would pick some meals each week, so press the button and then that had done the meal plan.
And then because it was in Excel, then I had the ingredients ready to go, and then I had a email through to a TaskRabbit and somebody there put those items into an online shop and before I knew it, this shop had arrived, that I'd had nothing to do with. And then we did this for kind of a couple of weeks, and then I interviewed my wife and was just like, hey, how'd you find this?
Having stuff going and we'd then go and check the spreadsheet to see what it was that were meant to be cooking. I was just blown away, and I also felt like such an idiot, cause I was like, wow, that is rapid validation. That is absolutely brilliant, then he started getting a few friends on and so on, and then it's only cause his work got really busy that he let the project just slip away, cause he was doing this side of desk and I just thought, okay, that is smart.
And it really tied into some reading that I've been doing. I went back to basics on this stuff and I was reading Lean Startup by Eric Greece and actually the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which is the Steve Blank which the Lean Startup was based on.
So these principles around when you're in customer discovery, and you must do everything you can, you've gotta absolutely break your back to get a quick validation cycle. So problem with lean Startup for me is that it talks about this MVP, Minimum Viable Product. And product itself is very leading.
It implies that you've gotta do code in order to test. And of course, like this example with this products manager who had built this self shopping sort service, there was no product involved. It was actually Excel and TaskRabbit. You can validate just by speaking to customers, you can validate through designs, you can validate through sort of simple prototypes without an integration and you can do this Wizard of Oz style and so on and remembering that those principles absolutely golden for me.
I'd done these long and in effectively like one very big experiment, that was very high risk and it was taking was a long time before we were getting customer data to be able to know that we were onto something. And actually that was a big misstep and if I could go back, I would absolutely just gonna tell myself, okay, there's a very different way to be able to move faster here.
We are now much more into the habit of this, we're validating on this kind of week or what likely cycles, and it feels great. We're coming up with problems that we wanna solve, coming up with a, wide range of solutions and then just really quickly testing them out, and it doesn't have to always be with code going into production.
And I really, now if I spot this happening with anybody with an entrepreneur who's earlier stage this is one of the first things I'll look at and be like, how quickly are you validating them? What's the most crazy way that you could think of Most creative way that you could think of to be able to get fast validation on this, so you actually know that you're onto something and real customers are telling you, yeah, this is a problem to be solved.
[00:20:57] Maiko: What do you think stops founders from this? Because very often I find it's not the theoretical knowledge, like a lot of people have actually read the Lean Startup or know that, oh yeah, of course we validate fast, but in reality, still a lot of first time founders I meet just avoided. And I've done that the first time and I've failed my first company largely because of that, because I went to uco, I did an entrepreneurship masters, they got me to read, Lead Startup and all that thing. And I thought I was the best expert on Lead startup and then I basically don't apply it. So did you find that as well or what is it that stops us from applying it?
[00:21:36] Tom: It's crazy, isn't it? I think that it comes down to, there was phrase question, a book read recently by Ashmore which means canvas, and he nicked it from somewhere and he said basically fall in love with the problem, not the solution. And so I think it's so easy, even when I was in the earliest days of Lollipop, I'd had fallen in love with a particular solution.
Actually, I can't imagine this as shopping assistant. Now of course, there are many different ways to solve the problem. And so I need to, I've gotta think back to what is the actual problem that we're solving here? The problem is that the shop is stressful, it's taking a lot of time, people aren't eating well as part of it, they're compromising and making these bad choices and we feel like we can do a lot better there, and there's lots of different ways that you can solve that.
And so I think if you remember it's about the problem, then you can cycle through solutions really quickly. And Ash also had this point about the ideas themselves are pretty cheap. And you've got good ideas and bad ideas, and actually it's super hard sometimes as an entrepreneur know which, and which, especially because you have this power often as an entrepreneur, that you can get people really excited about ideas no matter what, even if they're bad ones, you can actually, you have just got a convincing way and you're using your reality distortion field and so on, and you can convince people to follow you even on these pretty bad ideas.
So his view is what you need is machine that filters through really all ideas, so that you can then quickly get through your bad ideas get to good ones And so I think it's this desire to say, ah, it's this one solution, and you begin to picture it and visualize it and get excited about people using that. And instead, you've just gotta remember, no, you're in business of solving problems and building business models that work.
And you need to just whip through those as quickly as possible until you're onto something that has the seed, the beginning, just something that can sniff, and then you can always give that more time and double down on it when you've got something that's beginning to work.
[00:23:43] Maiko: Amazing. Yeah, that's really good advice. Let's dive into your process, of setting up Lollipop and especially around the topic of being intentional about the type of company that you want to build when you are setting out as a founder. And you already had the experience building a bunch of companies, but what does it mean to you to be intentional about the type of company you wanna build, and how did you think through that when you set up Lollipop?
[00:24:10] Tom: Yeah, I love that. So I feel very lucky, I was in the incredibly privileged position to be in the passenger seat as C.O.O three times over and are working with very different each in their own way. Very talented CEOs. They had these enormous spikes in certain respects, and really the companies that we built were the cultures that they believed.
And I played my part in helping to shape them but it was very much, it's driven feel by a CEO founder. So by the time that I got to doing this myself it was my fourth startup, and I'd definitely seen some things that I really liked and that really worked, and I had also seen some things that I felt didn't work and in whatever ways sometimes we came unstuck because of those things.
And so this was really useful for me because I found myself knowing and being clearer, on the type of company that I wanted to build and the way that it operates more, even more so than the actual thing we were gonna build necessarily. So at the start of the pandemic when I was starting out in this business I very intentional about the culture, and I thought, you know what I, I'm just gonna define right now when I think are the winning operating principles.
For me, it came down to these three themes. Being bold, so thinking big and this sort of frighteningly ambitious ideas that Paul Graham very famous kind of Paul Graham blog post, you not seen it, I definitely recommend it. And then move fast, which had been very inspired actually by a first round article I read called Speed As A Habit. And this was really good grief, monzo was good at this you just got it done, no matter what, you just got it done. It wasn't about working crazy hours necessarily, but the intensity of moving fast, just such a critical differentiator when there are, so many less assets than your other competitors, better funded at competitors perhaps.
But speed, speed is the one, the agility, that's the way that you can really win. And then do good, and in particular what we mean by this was leaving it better. So I respect companies that sort of say, hey we're gonna try and be sustainable.
But actually I think that's a cop out. You can do so much more than that. I think that you can actually, if you're gonna get involved in something, then you should leave it better than you found it. If we're all doing that, then, we're on this amazing journey to making things better, more generally, and you can get to, to really incredible outcomes.
And so that was really useful for me, and then, underneath each of those, then there are these three operating underneath the principles, there are these behaviors, these elements to help bring it to life.
So one of them that we've got is Kipchoge not Bolt. And the idea there is Kipchoge was the amazing guy who ran the sub two hour marathon. And it's completely mind blowing when you think about that and various people on record who'd said that it's literally it will be impossible humans will never be able to do that.
And he did this incredible thing, and the way that he did this was he found a pace, that he could repeat mile after mile and yeah, it was a quick pace, right? Every mile is under four minutes, 30 seconds, which if you think about what a big deal it was to run a four minute mile, like four minute 30 miles over and over, it is incredible. It's obviously he is incredible, but he could do this mile after mile.
This is a sustainable pace and that's all I'm trying to find as a company, like I'm really challenged the team, what's our kipchoge pace? It's the pace we have to win the race, right? So this isn't gonna be easy, we've gotta put some effort into this, but it's the pace that allows us where we can do this month after month because this thing is a marathon and not a sprint.
And so we can't do a bolt on this. You can't like, the sort of hero mentality, you just absolutely bust a gut and get this thing out, and then you're completely spent, it's just a route to burnout and I've seen really good people on that path too many times.
So this was really useful, it's a lovely counter, it's this balance for speed as a habit that we try to get this pace, the sustainable pace and it brings it to life and allows you to make better decisions as a result. So I really love this, I love the kind of intentionality of it. This has been something now that the team have really embraced.
We hire on this, we celebrate behaviors based on people demonstrating those aspects. And it's been super, super useful just for the kind of employer brand I suppose, that we want to get out there. And I really encourage other entrepreneurs earlier on in the journey actually get your operating principles nailed at the start.
It might feel like something that you can lead to later, but you will find that your culture then dilutes in all sorts of different directions, strong personalities will pull you into different places unless you do a great job of being really explicit and actually having this stuff written down.
[00:28:53] Maiko: And you wrote this down before you even hired anyone, is that right?
[00:28:58] Tom: Yeah. I wrote down I guess a manifesto. And so it was just, look, these the articles I've been reading or the people that I've seen that have inspired me, that kind of helped to bring this to life. And that was super, super useful, and every high that I made, I talked about it.
And obviously we've then refined as we, we built the core team, the founding team has really brought this to life. But yeah, I guess I was really specific about this because I wanted people to be clear on what I thought were the success factors for this industry.
[00:29:30] Maiko: I love that you bring this up. I think this is a massive issue amongst founders, but even bigger for impact focused founders that, they set out and they focus on the social or environmental mission and on maybe some revenue and commercial objectives, but they forget about the type of company, the type of culture they want to build.
And that You mentioned a burnout, right? You mentioned these cases. That happens if you end up building a company, you're kind of in the worst case, despise or at least, create something that isn't quite aligned with who you are. And I'm, I just remembered actually a quote, I listened to a podcast with Chamath Palihapitiya on Lex Friedman, I think was released last week or so.
He's a Silicon Valley based investor, and he spoke about if you aim to change the world, if that's your main motivation, you're probably gonna be very depressed and miserable person. I don't know if that's something we agree with, but do you think that's sometimes a problem with mission driven founders, that they sacrifice everything else and then end up in really bad places, or how do you think about that?
[00:30:40] Tom: I heard a couple of things going on there. So, one that quotes are you gonna be depressed if you going to change the world, I actually, I disagree with that. Fundamentally that I think will lead to people being unambitious, like not being bold. And I think we have got a responsibility.
We have an obligation now as founders in this day and age we should be enlightened enough to say our businesses are gonna be as purposeful as they are profitable. And there are companies out there that have just done everything for profit, and you know the ones right, I don't wanna get myself into lawsuits by saying that, but companies that I've just lost respect for, because all they care about is the numbers, and they are really doing bad things for society and for the planet.
So one thing for sure, actually, I think that has to be part of your purpose has to be part of your overall reason for doing the company, and I actually would really counsel people to be ambitious. Then thinking about second part of that, do people sacrifice too much, is that the question? Yeah. And I found is giving too much to the businesses, yeah, often yes, this is unbelievably tricky to get right. I have been in the position where when I had my first child arrived Freddy, and I was launching one of my businesses to the public at the exact same week.
And I saw these two kind of milestones colliding and I thought, this is gonna be bad, and it absolutely was bad. And I made the mistake of thinking you only launch your company to the public like once, your first startup as a co-founder once. And so I was putting all my energy and effort there and I just, I can't believe that I did that, now looking back on it, because obviously you also, you only have your first child once, right? And in terms of your priorities, it's gotta be family first, and I'm very lucky, my wife turned around to me and told me that I had my priorities wrong and I needed to fix it, and man, did I get on the case, I'll never ever make that mistake again.
So I think that, this can't be your all. the startup, I've seen it. I've seen founders where their startup is everything. Their startup is their baby, and that is a big mistake. They do some really bad things when that's the case. They don't let people make changes without going through them, so they bottom, neck, everything, they're guarding their baby so closely, everybody knows it and everyone's oh my goodness, I don't want it to to be the one that sort of kills the baby and so on.
It's just such a negative place to be, and ultimately, they don't wanna be bold. they're not getting holidays. They're not looking after themselves. We've seen people who didn't wanna have partners, so their love life was on hold because they wanted to focus all the engine in the business, and they were just not fun people to be around.
So I think it's super useful, again, going back to the hundred year life, and there's a concept there around these tangible versus intangible assets. You can build up your tangible assets like the money and so on. These, the more sort of common factors around success, but the more interesting ones, these intangibles around productivity and like your vitality, your physical and emotional vitality.
You've gotta build those as well. You need to be robust, but you're robust because you're looking after your health, you're looking after your diet, you're eating well, you're sleeping well, you're getting exercise you're looking after your mental health and that allows you to make great decisions, be a great leader, and actually be inspirational for your team rather than them look at you and think, mate, you're a mess. You're not getting enough sleep, and you're not aspirational. It's depressing to think that's what this looks like when you're running the show.
So I've learned this the hard way. I really now look for balance, but know that the job, like getting it done it's gonna be intense, right? It's still Kipchoge pace and there is no hiding from that. And if it feels comfortable and you're in the sort of peace time mode and the Ben Horowitz, like war time versus peace time, it's feeling peace time, when you're an early say startup, then something has gone really wrong. It's gonna be intense, but you've gotta look out for yourself as well and make sure that intense in how you look after your health.
[00:35:02] Maiko: Love it. One more piece of advice before we wrap up, and that's for founders that are just starting out. We have so many of those founders in the impact hustlers community that are the early days, and that trying to bridge the gap from basically idea early kind of no code prototype, to actually getting the resources behind them to get started and launched.
And you already emphasized the point on validation. But so many feel like they have this gap between idea and actually being able to get investment behind them. Do you have any advice for founders that think, I need investors, I need to be able to start this now, but I don't have quite enough to show for it yet, or how would you approach that in those days?
[00:35:45] Tom: Yeah, for sure. The classic actually making the idea happen. I will come at this from having made a big mistake here and being able to then know good looks like. I just had it in my head that I had to raise a bunch of cash to get going, and I had been involved in VC backed businesses and so I knew venture capital and thought, okay, this is gonna be the root.
And if I could go back the one thing I would do differently there is I would raise, and this is the advice I'd give as well, I raise the tiniest amount of money that you possibly can, that accelerates significantly your ability to validate the problem you're trying to solve.
And so there's a lot of different aspects to unpick there, right? This is about only raising money for acceleration of validating ideas, that's it. You don't need to raise money to actually build the thing. That's not the purpose of this, you only need to validate. And it's possible you don't need to raise any money at all. My thinking there is you still need to be spending some money.
So it all depends on whether you've managed to build a little bit of capital. You really want to be able to get a designer who can pull together some quick visualizations of some of the things that you've got in mind or early prototypes, or you want to be able to perhaps get some user research companies just help find you particular people in your target segment.
Or you just need to get a little bit of money for a freelance engineer to just code together a quick hacky prototype. Those types of things, they require spend and if you try to just do it bootstrapped or sorry, bootstrap's, okay, but if you're trying to just do it yourself, it will take you ages and ultimately, somebody else may well get there first.
So you wanna be moving quickly on this. And that's where I think just raising a little bit, and it doesn't matter if you give away 5% of the business. After that's diluted over, several rounds, you just you just won't even notice that. So just don't worry about the valuation, just get a little bit of cash in the bank to be able to crack into validation and then read Four Steps of Epiphany, it's actually a terrible book, but I think, it's a really difficult book to digest knowingly, but it is a, it's full of great insights. There's a lot of great summaries out there. So read Ashmore or Lean Canvas and read Lean Startup. Just learn lean, read the mom test, so you know about the right questions to ask, to validate and then validate the hell out of the idea. Rapid, quick validation.
And then if you're onto something, take that to investors and you will guarantee, the round will look after itself. You'll be able to raise no problem at all if you come and say, this thing is validated. Here's the problem we're solving and this is the way we're gonna do it. And people want this. You are easily gonna raise the money and at a better valuation, than if you go at it too early and your in business.
[00:38:52] Maiko: Wow, Amen. Last question to you, if you imagine the world in 10 years from now and Lollipop succeeds, how does the world look like?
[00:39:02] Tom: Oh, that's such a good question. Okay, so we are doing our little bit to solve the health and obesity crisis. So people are when they're picking their meals and they're shopping they are doing so in a way that is great for their health. We have done our bit or, we are doing our bit for the planet, so people are throwing away less, they're making better choices that have much less kind of carbon footprint decisions, so that's all happening. They're doing this without spending more time or money, for sure. So we're doing our piece here to really just help the vast majority of the market, even those who are close to the breadline.
I don't wanna build technology that just helps like middle class families, right? That's not winning. But there's a final piece to it actually, when I spoke to, this still in this day and age, I'm really sad to say it was mums like, it's still mums that are mostly lumped with the shopping and the cooking for the household, 80% mums. They talked about what a stressful process it was, but also what a lonely experience it was, that realization on a Sunday night of, oh my goodness, I haven't done the shop, and the thing is booked to come the next day. And so they have to sit down get the laptop out and try and figure this out, get their phones out in bed doing the shop
And they try and get their partner involved, hey, what do you wanna eat next week? And the partner's oh, whatever love, and it's back on them again. And so that loneliness I really wanna solve that. This is crazy because millions of people are doing this every single week, every single day. And now your friends are doing this, right?
So why can't we connect them up and make this social. So if Lollipop really succeeds, I think we turn this into a beautifully social experience, that's actually fun, right? This thing that you switch toward, it's actually fun. That is success.
[00:40:55] Maiko: Got it, amazing. Thanks TFC for joining today. I really appreciated all those lessons, I've learned a lot today. So thank you for making the time and hope to be back in the future. Thanks.
[00:41:05] Tom: No worries, really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for having me.
[00:41:08] Maiko: Thank you.