Several of the most resilient startup entrepreneurs I have met have a traditional career behind them.
Years of professional experience can breed knowledge, confidence and key personal skills that allow them to manage their ‘project’ effectively as they launch into this new world.
Dr Ruby Pillai had a 15-year legal career behind her, latterly as senior solicitor at DLA Piper, before striking out in 2020 as founder of iWarranty.
“My journey as a founder has been a rollercoaster ride so far. Leaving an established career as a lawyer to pursue a career as an entrepreneur was a true adventure – especially when the world around me drastically changed during the global pandemic,” she tells TechBlast.
“However, what is proven in this long, tedious and uncertain journey is perseverance, agility and ability to adapt, which has and will keep us moving forward.”
Dr Pillai points to the ‘social capital’ she has built over her career.
“Social capital is the goodwill that is engendered by the fabric of social relationships we create over a long period of time,” she explains. “This can act as a valuable source of ‘capital’ when we embark on our journey as an entrepreneur.
“Social capital helps entrepreneurs overcome resource constraints. Building a wider network of supporters will help you as an entrepreneur. My social network helped me throughout my journey and they are incredible people.”
The world is transitioning to a circular economy, which is where iWarranty comes in: the EnviroTech’s goal is to help manufacturers, retailers and consumers to transition into a green future where products are given longer lifetimes.
It does this by combining automation, artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning to streamline warranty management processes, reduce cost and increase efficiency.
“Consumer-produced electronic waste remains a significant challenge, as it is one of the fastest-growing waste streams worldwide,” explains Dr Pillai. “Addressing it is crucial to achieving the goals of the circular economy and a sustainable future.
“iWarranty originated from my personal frustration of missing out on a warranty claim for a product which I ended up replacing. Researching this further, I began to grasp the wider societal, economic and environmental impact when consumers don’t make the most of their warranties. As a society, we all too often replace items unnecessarily because of opaque warranty claims processes and expensive repair services.
“The result of this is that UK consumers spend an estimated £423 million per year replacing items without even checking if they were still covered by warranty.”
Her background in commercial law helped her realise that warranty management had long been neglected. “We shouldn’t be relying on time-consuming manual solutions in this digital age. I saw a clear opportunity to address this in a systematic way… I felt a great sense of urgency to do something about this.”
iWarranty brings direct connectivity with end-user consumers and gathers real-time data about product performance throughout the entire product lifecycle. More accurate data on product performance leads to a decrease in warranty claims in the long term, creating efficiency and cost savings for manufacturers.
It recently went live with its first large manufacturer customer – “which has put us in revenue”, says Dr Pillai – has signed four additional manufacturers and has kick-started system integration with a major retailer.
Prior to the investment market downturn last year, it secured £1 million in early-stage funding from a leading VC investor and angels.
“Our plans for the future are to focus on growing more customers and solve their pain points,” says Dr Pillai. “If we don’t acquire and retain customers, we won’t survive.
“In order to grow and scale our business, we need to attract investors. We are hoping to raise the next round of funding in the immediate future.”
Asked for further tips for fellow startup founders, she advises: “Don’t be afraid to get started: one of the biggest lessons I learned is that there is no perfect time to start a business. Fear of failure, the lack of income stability, and various other worries often prevent us from pursuing something we are passionate about. But don’t let those fears stop you from pursuing your passion.
“Don’t build anything until you have verified it with users: customers are fundamental for any business to be successful. I have seen technology founders who built super cool products but couldn’t find product-market fit. As a startup, we can’t build something we love: you need to speak with potential customers and users, stand in their shoes.
“Map out commonalities of pain points, prepare paper prototypes and get feedback – or you will be wasting time and money.”
A former member of Accelerate Cambridge, she also advises that they join accelerators or other entrepreneur networks “to refine thinking on problems and solutions” as well as bootstrapping where possible.