Welcome to our founder lessons series. This week we have an exclusive interview with Will Young, CEO and Co-Founder of rais, a software platform that enriches and harnesses the power of your customer data, allowing you to improve customer conversion, retention and acquisition.

Will reveals how he and his wife (Co-founder) founded rais, their biggest success factors so far, challenges they faced and what every aspiring entrepreneur should do to launch a business.

Here is a brief summary about rais

We help small and medium sized companies, predominantly online retailers, convert customers quicker and easier by harnessing their customer data.

We do that through our technology, which automates a lot of the processes around using data to sell more and through our people, who act like a coaches to our clients, helping and empowering them to become more relevant marketers.

We’re called rais, pronounced ‘raise’ – an acronym for: retain, acquire, infuse, sell.

Data can unlock a businesses’ ability to improve their retention and new customer acquisition. When infused with other data the insights become exponentially more valuable.

But that means nothing if insights can’t be acted upon, so there’s a big focus on ‘sell’. Sell more relevantly across marketing campaigns and improve repeat business and new order volumes.

Why and how did you start rais?

My Co-Founder (and wife!) and I have worked in retail data analytics since day one of our careers. We’ve worked with some pretty big names in the business like Tesco and John Lewis, in the UK and Sobeys and Meijer in North America.

After a stint working in the US we came back to the UK in the summer of 2012, got married in the autumn and decided to start our own consulting business at Christmas!

The premise behind it being to help smaller retailers (than the ones they’d been used to working with) harness their data to compete more with their larger peers.

So in early 2013 we started the consultancy, which positioned us as an extension of our clients’ marketing teams. We worked on projects covering loyalty strategy, strategic customer data management, campaign planning, new brand launches and web analytics. Always in retail, always with a focus on using customer data better.

In 2014 one of our clients came to us with a problem, which technology could solve. After researching the market, seeing a gap, validating the idea with other retailers, and assessing the overall business opportunity, we decided to build the technology ourselves, for our client. So a new business model and a new business, rais, was born.

What has been the biggest success factors?

Investment. We’ve not only received private investment but also investment from the Government to innovate the machine-learning capabilities of our platform. This kind of third-party validation gives us and the business a shot in the arm.

The other big success factor has been the feedback we’ve received from our clients so far. We set out to be a partner to them. Someone they trust. Someone they can come to, to ask anything. So when we see words consistently coming through our feedback channels like: helpful, knowledgeable and adaptable, it makes us feel good about what we’re doing.

What are the biggest challenges you faced launching and running the company?

The hardest thing without a doubt is business development. It’s hard to get people to do things differently than they are today.

We see lots of potential clients out there retailing some pretty neat products. But they’re shooting themselves in the foot through substandard marketing activities or missed opportunities. Getting through to these businesses can be hard, as they often don’t know what they don’t know, or don’t perceive there to be a problem.

Yet you often hear them complain about increasing cost of customer acquisition. That’s the problem when you’re paying to re-acquire customers and train them to only ever buy on promotion. So there’s a fair amount of education needed and illustration of how it can work in practice. That’s where our content really helps.

Which do you think is most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?

There has to be a market for what you sell. But new markets can be created. So it has to be about the right team. Without a good team, with complementary skillsets, that pulls together to deliver when times get tough, the startup will struggle.

And the team should extend to the support network around the employees and directors of the business too. Getting the right ‘fairy Godmothers’ in place is key. Advisors who’ve got your back, who can pull you out of the day-to-day operations and help you see things differently.

Final words for those chasing the startup dream

Keep validating your idea. It’s something we learnt when we were on an accelerator programme and I think it’s really important. This doesn’t mean changing strategic direction every 5 mins but it does mean taking on board lots of feedback from potential clients, partners (they’re really important too actually, especially when thinking about routes to market), advisors, investors and friends, and identifying opportunities from that feedback.

Then you can even cross-validate the feedback with people and you end up crowdsourcing your opportunities. Make sure the feedback is honest though and grow a thick skin because you’re bound to get some negativity thrown at you, especially when you’re pitching.

Constant idea validation takes stamina, but it can unearth new revenue opportunities, markets and product ideas. And quite frankly it’s something all good businesses of any size are doing, given that it’s an essential part of market and customer research.