Saving the high street and saving money
Maddy Alexander-Grout set up My VIP Card nearly 4 years ago and since then the app has gone from strength to strength! The goal? To help people out with discounts, while also supporting local business.
Maddy kindly took some time to discuss the struggles she encountered, what continues to motivate her, and what the future holds!
What is your company’s purpose and mission, and what inspired you do this?
“I started VIP Card in 2017 and I started it was because I suffered with a really nasty mental health condition called post-natal psychosis after my son was born. I realised that being a parent was really, really lonely and I don’t think I was particularly ready to become one. Also, none of my friends had children at the time, and I found the whole thing quite isolating and I really struggled.
The way I got out of that was going out and meeting some mummy friends. As a result of meeting these friends, I set up something called the Southampton Parenting Forum. This was basically a place where parents could connect, help each other, and engage with a wider community!
Soon after, I started to get contacted by people who wanted to advertise with me. I have always been a really big fan of supporting small business, and it didn’t seem right to charge the businesses to advertise, and ultimately profit out of a nice group I had created on Facebook!
I thought maybe I’ll ask the businesses, rather than paying me, if they could offer a discount for the mums in the group. It all started there. I had offers coming in left and right and soon I had about 25 businesses offering discounts. At which point I thought, hang on a minute, I could do something with this!
There didn’t seem to be anything out there that helped mums to have discounts on things, and having children is really expensive! I realised that mums were my target audience, and really, they still are.
Anybody can buy My VIP Card, but mums were the people who really resonated with what we did. It made sense, they are the people who if they are off on maternity leave, they are not going to work during the day, they are available to go and support small businesses. So, we put it all together and came up with My VIP card and that was nearly 4 years ago now!
My background is in employee benefits so I decided, that after I created it as a product that it would be good for employers as well. And it was. It was literally a 4am sleepless night with the child. Here’s me with a screaming baby thinking, “Urg, my god, I really can’t be bothered to go back to my corporate job tomorrow…what am I going to do?”
So, what did you do before starting all of this?
“I was a Change Management Executive, which sounds very grand, but essentially, I worked for a company called Manpower on one of their largest accounts. Basically, I oversaw the roll out of changes within a client’s business, and I had to implement those changes; I had to do the training behind those changes, the communication, I also had to design the marketing materials! It was kind of like a cross between a marketing job and an HR job. Within that position, I also looked after employee benefits so that’s where I picked up those skills in that arena.”
What was your biggest challenge stepping away from that and being an entrepreneur?
“It has always been cash. Until now, we have bootstrapped from day one. Anything I have made I have just ploughed straight back into the business. I’ve now just started paying myself which is really nice!
We’ve just raised £82k on an equity crowdfunding campaign. We are hoping that is the opening of the flood gates and we are going to continue getting investment; it is really hard trying to grow a household name, which is what we are aspiring to be, when you have no cash.
We have had a few struggles with competitors popping up all over the place, but no one is really doing the same thing as us. We are doing it very uniquely and helping as many small businesses as we can in the process!”
You say cash has been your main obstacle, but what would be your main pieces of advice for someone who is looking to do something like this?
“Have a plan, as in, have a business plan! I wish I had had a business plan from day one. I didn’t. I think I was about 2 or 3 years into the business before I had a plan…
Outsource the things that you don’t like; I quite rapidly outsourced admin and finance because I don’t like either of those things.
Surround yourself with people who know more than you. I feel this is something I have really benefitted from, because if you surround yourself with people who know more than you, or are further along in their journey, you naturally learn from them and you can scale, and follow in their footsteps.”
On that note, do you have any recommendations for books, podcasts, or blogs?
“I was listening to a really great podcast last week called The Secret Leaders Podcast, by a chap called Dan Murray-Serter.
I find I don’t have a lot of time these days to read unfortunately, but when I do the books I tend to read business focussed books. Though, to be honest, I go from one extreme to other. I read books about business, but also about parents getting drunk, because that’s what parents do! Why Mummy Drinks is a very good book along with Why Mummy Swears!
Another good read is Turning on the Profit Tap by Steve Jones.
Also, Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss. It’s basically about how to successfully negotiate in any situation, and you end up being the person who is on top. If you have a sales strategy or are in sales generally, it is one you really need to read!”
What are you doing outside of all this?
“I really, really try to spend weekends where it’s just family time, so I spend a lot of time with my kids. I am a big box set fan; I’m currently being really boring and watching The Crown! Big fan of Grey’s Anatomy, and excited about the new series of Dexter (Edit: I chimed in here saying that I too was disappointed with how season 7 ended!)
Big live music fan, I love going to festivals and gigs, anything that involves loud music and guitars, I have a few booked over the summer, so I can’t wait! We’re doing Cornwall cider festival, Wycombe festival and hopefully, fingers crossed Slam Dunk!
I find I work until 9pm most nights, because I have a very odd work schedule, what with having the kids at home! It’s hard being a mum with a business. I have two kids under 5 and who are very time demanding, and I ultimately want to watch them grow up, I don’t want to be an absent mum. I try and work my way around them as much as possible. Ultimately, I think my husband would rather I not work late into the night, it’s eating into valuable box set time!”
I love the branding of My VIP Card, but how did you get to the logo that you have now?
“There was an exceedingly long journey behind it. We are now on our fourth logo redesign, so I’m hoping that we are at the stage now I think where we can be a household name. There is absolutely no way in hell, that with our first logo we were ever going to be a household name, not a chance!
The first logo was hilarious…terrible even. We went from having a picture of a family, to My VIP Card in a circle logo, then My VIP Card on its own with no boxes or borders or anything, and now, our logo is fairly standardised. It’s clean, simple. Our tag line is “discounts you will love” so it’s a tag, with a percentage and a heart, so I think that pulls it all together!”
What would say you have learned about brand design, and what is your favourite brand?
“I think it was learning about yourself as a business and realising that I did not know everything. Creating a brand, is not just a logo, so I am really lucky that I work with an excellent branding agency called Shadow Cat Creative, who have done my last 3 rebrands.
They have helped me go on a journey with it. It’s not just been a logo, it’s our brand values, the colours that go with it, the type of imagery that we use, and the type of content that we put out there. There are a lot of different dimensions to it. When you are designing a logo in the beginning you need to think about all of the things, for example, are your target audience going to identify with it? I think my target audience identified with my picture of a family but, when we expanded, it just wasn’t going to work anymore. So now I think we are at the stage that we need to be with it.
I absolutely love the Deliveroo brand! I’m really inspired by Will Shoe, the founder. He just came over to the UK, saw a gap, filled it, and now it’s massive.”
What does the future hold for you and the business?
“We have just started doing our second fund raise; we raised 82k on crowdfunding. Which was great. We are now growing, we have an exciting marketing strategy, we’ve got some amazing partnerships in the pipeline, which I can’t say too much about right now. But when they come, it’s going to be really great.
We are just focussing on getting our name out there, getting as many people using the product as possible, but also signing up as many small businesses as possible, because we really can help them get more customers. The more people who know about My VIP Card, the more likely it is that they will shop local and support these small businesses. Basically, UK domination! We will be a household name. And you will be able to say you interviewed me!”
Have you been inspired by Maddy? Do you have an app idea that’s been rolling around your head for years? Get in touch with Riselabs, we will help move your concept from your head, to the drawing board, to the app store!
Riselabs helps your business to innovate and scale with technology! We love working with startups, both small and corporate-level, and our motivation is to turn ideas into reality!