StartUp of the Week: A drink with… Arlians
At Virgin StartUp, we don’t like traditional meetings or grilling you – we’d rather sit down with a cuppa and get to know you in a more informal way.
This week we're sitting down with Simon Launay, the founder of Arlians - a social network designed to help businesses make the connections they want to with ease. Their disruptive platform is already getting noticed, with an invitation to showcase at the 2015 Web Summit in Dublin. Let's find out more!
Business name: Arlians – the Social Network for Business
Founder(s) name: Simon Launay
Co-Founders: Lorenzo Rampin, Ben Phillips, Sahaj Kothari and Simon Blackburn
Loan funds received: £25,000
Based in: London
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil
“Facebook connects friends. LinkedIn connects professionals. Arlians connects businesses.”
Arlians is the next major global social network, set to take its place alongside Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Designed specifically for B2B interaction, it caters to businesses of all shapes and sizes in every industry from every corner of the globe. Arlians provides a FREE platform for them to find each other, connect, communicate and work together. Think Facebook but for businesses, including entrepreneurs and freelancers.
Arlians helps businesses make the right connections with customers, suppliers, investors, partners and more. Like a dating site, Arlians assesses what a business does, who they do it for, where they do it (locally or globally), and what they’re looking for, in order to suggest the perfect opportunities.
2. Where are you based, and why is it a good location for your business?
We are headquartered in the heart of London at the Clerkenwell Workshops between Farringdon and Angel, but there is a potential move on the cards.
London is the perfect place to grow for Arlians because it is one of the largest hubs for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and small businesses in the world. These are those who stand to gain the most by using Arlians.
London is also a place where a significant number of businesses work across international borders; the virality of Arlians should allow us to take advantage of these international networks and spread the word across the globe like wildfire.
Lastly, by having embedded ourselves in the Clerkenwell workshops, a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity, we are not only working in an incredibly dynamic environment but we have immediate access to our target market when we wish to validate one of Simon’s crazy ideas, test the waters with a cool new marketing strategy, or get some live user feedback on the site.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
I had the original idea around seven years ago; my vision was to create a marketplace where businesses in the professional services industry could join forces and bid for tender projects that clients would advertise. My vision was to enable small organizations to rapidly find partners with whom to scale up and compete fairly against larger businesses that often dominate these sectors.
Over the last four years we've experienced life as entrepreneurs launching a boutique strategy consulting business in London, and this gave me first-hand experience of the challenges of finding business partners, suppliers and customers. Too often an opportunity came about for us to take on a new client, but was taken out of our reach due to our size constraints. We struggled with capacity and with geographic reach, and it felt like there ought to be dozens of companies around the world with exactly the same pains and challenges.
It became very clear that something had to change and so we started a social project on a global scale: to connect 200 million business globally and help them grow. This is how Arlians was born.
4. What’s the business model?
Arlians adopts a Freemium model. By offering the core proposition free, we aim to attract and acquire as many of the 150 - 200 million businesses we have estimated to exist around the world as possible; our mission is to create a free, unrestricted conduit to business growth globally.
Whilst we want to provide as much scope for businesses to perform the basics of connecting, communicating and collaborating for free, we have a clearly defined plan to monetise the site. The Arlians revenue model contains multiple opportunities for expansion and diversification, however the initial setup will rest on three key pillars: tiered subscription-based memberships, advertising and pay-as-you-go content.
As far as the channels to reach our customers are concerned and the type of relationship that we want to establish with them, Arlians is a web-based platform. In the same way as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it will initially be accessible as a mobile-optimised website on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile, with plans to quickly develop a supporting mobile application.
5. Who are your competitors?
Whilst other organisations that we have analysed are not competitors, either because they serve different markets or have a different value proposition, we have identified them as potential threats given the relative ease with which they could enter the market given existing user bases and access to resources. These includes businesses such as Clarity, Linkedin and Alibaba.
6. What’s unique about your business?
Here at Arlians we believe in the power of connections and in the future of connected entrepreneurship.
We are also very proud of the Arlians’ proprietary matching algorithm that we have developed. In just three simple steps it cuts through its entire user base of businesses and self-employed professionals to identify the right ones for you to connect with based on what you’ve told us about yourself and what you want.
We strongly believe that Arlians’ automatic and customised suggestions combined with the powerful capabilities of a social network will transform the way small businesses and entrepreneurs will network and collaborate in the future, as well as open unimaginable growth opportunities around the world for SMEs.
If you combine all of the above with the scalability and the early-mover advantage that Arlians has in a largely untapped market of almost 200 million potential users, you can probably understand why we are all so excited about the journey and opportunities ahead of us.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I contacted Virgin StartUp once I felt we had a concrete plan and viable value proposition for the market.
I initially boot-strapped the funding to get us to a product development and an initial launch. I started talking to Virgin when the product development was around half way through to completion and about three months ahead of launch. The key thing was to secure funding to invest in the launch and further product development post-launch.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
The Virgin Start Up loan has provided us with a vital early stage injection of cash, which we have spent in two ways.
The first (and most important) is in product development. At the core of our product lies an algorithm that performs the business matching, so members of our site can form strong business connections without having to do any work. However we’ve also been working hard on providing a raft of additional features that will help them showcase their business to the world. We’ve been working closely with our partners, Code Media, to package all of this up into a beautiful and effective website that we are sure businesses will want to use time and time again.
The second way we’ve used our loan is through actually getting these businesses to hear about Arlians in the first place. We have been trialling and refining our message to the market through several channels such as social media, affiliate marketing, and making direct contact with businesses. The loan has helped us to put resource into tapping these channels for growth at a very early stage.
9. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
I approached Virgin StartUp directly so the process was very smooth. VSU got in touch, we went through the business model and idea, and in no time I was assigned a Business Advisor who helped me through the business case and to prepare for the application process.
10. Biggest achievement so far?
Having been through the ups and downs of starting a business over the past year I think it’s safe to say every week we’ve achieved something special! However we’re particularly proud of being selected as one of the most exciting disruptive startups to exhibit at Web Summit 2015 in Dublin. We are one of just 400 selected from thousands, and the event is a huge opportunity for us to secure our next round of funding, with the likes of Uber and HelloFresh having previously found success there.
11. What’s next for your business?
We have a grand vision for Arlians to be used as a strategic tool for growth by every business owner, entrepreneur, and investor around the world. In order to get there we have a lot of hard work ahead of us!
Our next step is to secure funding that will enable us to really turn the marketing taps on, so we can send our message out to the world. We also have a strong development pipeline which will see us add plenty more exciting features to Arlians in the near future.