Helen Cammack: why focus on real problems when starting up

If you’re thinking of starting your own business, it’s essential you connect with those who've been there and done it -  while gathering as many tips from them as you can. That’s why I caught up with Helen Cammack, founder of Buyometric and most recently the discussion app Interests.

In the mid 2000s Helen launched, Niggle, a consumer feedback company where users could submit opinions on restaurants via SMS. Soon after, the 2008 financial crisis hit and like many others, Helen learned a very important lesson. In times of hardship, “nice-to-have” services suffer first. Restaurants became focused on working with companies that focused on getting customers through the door rather than companies such as, Niggle.

From this venture, her next startup Buyometric was opportunistically born. She brought along a suitcase of all her greatest learnings, and began a personalised, curated email service for deals from services like Groupon and Living Social. It’s still running today, but Helen couldn’t help but add another startup to her plate.

In an effort to continue addressing real life problems, Helen and co-founder Paul Fisher earned some seed funding earlier this year and began working on Interests (interests.me), a mobile app that allows people to discuss confidentially topics in private groups from starting up a business alone to considering adoption to female tech founders fundraising. (Keep an eye out for the app launching on iOS and Android in the next few weeks!).

Needless to say, Helen has a fair share of knowledge in her back pocket about what it’s like to mess up in business, dust yourself down and then go again. Here are her most valuable startup tips.

  1. Getting stuck into something like starting your own company will allow you to vary your skills much more than sticking to a corporate job, even if it will make you feel more out of your depth at times.
  2. She openly professes her love for starting things. Try not to think it over too long, just go for it and get started! That’s often the biggest hurdle.
  3. Employees are expensive, so don’t over hire. Only use the amount of staff you need at a given time, even if that means creatively utilising contractors.
  4. Without the flexibility Virgin Media offered while she worked on side projects, none of her recent companies ever would’ve been made possible. More companies need to be supportive of this, so speak up about it! If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
  5. Work on as big a problem as you can find at first, rather than finding out that the market is too small. You can always narrow down into a niche later.
  6. Don't forget to be opportunistic enough to change direction if the market changes direction. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
  7. As previously mentioned, and probably most important of all: focus on a real problem, not a “nice to have” solution.

About the author:

Lora Schellenberg is the Co-Managing Director of Girls in Tech London, who’ve teamed up with us for Virgin StartUp Ignition: business tricks and insights for amazing women. Catch Girls in Tech London at the event to find out more about their efforts to give more of a spotlight to inspirational women in tech