Three years after launching Dr Fertility with her best friend Dr Lucy Buckley, Kobi McCardle was at a crossroads.
The Manchester startup had raised £1m in funding; achieved 270% growth; was in the process of transitioning into a digital health business; and was being lauded in the media.
But driving the business forward wasn’t as plain sailing as they expected.
“The media talk about these overnight successes and growth being seen as a linear line but the reality is it very rarely happens that way,” she recalls.
Kobi and Lucy co-founded the business whilst they were both on maternity leave to help people navigate the complexity of fertility with the aim of becoming a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to get pregnant.
After three years of non-stop growth McCardle encountered the challenges of a growing business.
She was looking for inspiration – and then it came in the form of Behance founder Scott Bellsky’s book ‘The Messy Middle’.
“We’re five years old in 2022 and it’s a real turning point for us,” McCardle told TechBlast’s latest Going 4 Growth roundtable.
“When you first start off on the journey, you’re all excited because you have this great business idea and everybody loves it,” she recalls. “We went out and raised money which was brilliant.”
Praetura Group provided 90% of £1m of seed investment through its £15m EIS fund with the remainder coming from angel investors in 2019. They then raised a further £1.6m in 2021 through Praetura and GMCA.
“For the first three years we had constant growth and excitement, followed by two years of what I now call the ‘messy middle’,” explains McCardle.
“I think business is like a game of snakes and ladders. One day you’re like ‘yeah’ and the next day it’s ‘nooooo’. Even high growth creates operational issues. You’ve got to prepare for the growth before you get it.”
McCardle says the combination of reading The Messy Middle and the influence of a mentor helped her realise it was a natural step in the life cycle of a startup.
“Looking back Dr Fertility was transitioning into a digital health business,” she says. “We had to go through our CQC registration and with that comes a huge compliance overhead. To do that we needed to build the team, systems and processes to be able to offer healthcare services.
“We went through this high growth period for three years, followed by two years of highs and lows. You have to be resilient. The messy middle concept is about optimising the highs and enduring the lows but more importantly learning from both as quickly as you can.”
As well as the book The Messy Middle, McCardle praises the role of a mentor.
“For the last eight months we’ve been really lucky to have a really successful businessman as a mentor,” she says. “He’s very humble but as well as his success, he’s experienced failure too. He’s been amazing.
“He talks about being focussed on your vision all the time. Don’t look back, keep testing, keep learning.
“We’ve had to pause and reflect on what we have achieved. All the time you’re looking at the future growth you don’t celebrate the wins enough. Lucy and I have worked really hard to celebrate them because it’s challenging.
“It was only when we talked to our mentor that you appreciate that we’re trying to revolutionise fertility care. To change behaviour on a national level is huge. That was an eye-opener for us.
“We are in a really good position now. We’ve got a very clear plan. It’s clear what we need to do but it’s taken us 18 months to find it.”