Stuart Logan is experienced at starting and scaling businesses. His current venture, Twine, is something completely different, aimed at empowering creatives.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Twine is an online platform that helps companies hire quality creative professionals and freelancers to help grow their business.
It’s a constant challenge for companies to hire quality creative talent. Every day, companies hire creative freelancers in order to scale quickly to will grow their business. This is especially true if you’re a startup, marketer or digital agency.
The main problem they face is they can't find enough top quality creative freelancers, which always leads to slower growth. Today, their best options are freelance marketplaces but their focus has been to differentiate on price, with their main message being that you can get content made quickly and cheaply. This has meant that quality has declined and the problem is only getting worse.
Twine solves this by connecting companies to a network of over 200,000 creatives in graphic design, music, illustration, web development, film and animation. We handpick the best quality freelancers for each project which saves time and money, whilst ensuring a quality result.
What did you do before you started this business?
I studied computer science at the University of Manchester where I met Twine’s co-founder, Damien Shiells. During my studies, I partly funded my studies (and beer) by freelancing with some design and development projects.
After graduating, I fused my early love of music and tech by helping to create YouTorrent, a BitTorrent metasearch engine aggregating indie music and film sources. It peaked at over 100,000 daily visitors. Ultimately, we couldn’t turn that into a viable business as there was such a stigma around the BitTorrent technology due to piracy torrent sites like The Piracy Bay. High-street banks wouldn’t even let us create accounts!
The YouTorrent experience was frustrating, but I learned a lot. The contacts made in that business led to me founding Amnis Technology in 2011. I persuaded Damien to quit his job and join me. It was an advertising technology company that we grew into a business earning £1.4m annual revenue in 2012.
What inspired you to start up?
The experience in marketing and scaling Amnis, along with some capital, enabled us to try something completely different.
The experience with YouTorrent, along with my love of artistic collaboration, ultimately inspired the idea behind Twine.
I got frustrated seeing that key gatekeeper in the creative industry decided who would succeed. Record labels chose the successful musicians, film studios controlled the movie industry and the media agencies controlled the design and advertising industry.
But despite this, there was talent all over the world. We wanted to empower those creatives.
We believed the inability of creatives to easily connect with other creative freelancers as a key issue in the creative industries worldwide. In response to this, Clowdy was born in 2013.
At the end of 2015, the feedback we had from our creatives on the network,
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
We help companies find those creative folks who create websites, videos, photos, and illustrations.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We have a good group of advisors and investors. We were lucky to be part of the Seedcamp accelerator in 2015 which really helped increase our advisory network. It’s important to have different advisors that help in specific areas of business, whether its introductions, raising investment, technology, operating or staffing.
Beyond our formal advisors, I host a bi-monthly dinner in Manchester called 9others. It helps entrepreneurs discuss “what’s keeping them up at night” in a private setting. There’s nothing better than getting 10 smart people in a room to hash out a solution to a problem.
Beyond that, Manchester has a thriving start-up community, where people have given me great advice over the last few years.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
The first 2 businesses I was involved with were bootstrapped. The financial success of
However, I do think that initial cash injection from Amnis meant we had a lack of focus in those early days. Bootstrapping means you have to take
After launching an initial product, we were able to raise finance in Manchester. It wasn’t easy. The issue with a network business, you need really large numbers for it to be attractive to major funders. We had over 100,000 registered users when we raised.
Then, even after we launched the marketplace functionality, institutional investors wanted to see transactions (and ultimately revenue) to prove it’s working.
We’ve raised just under £1m to date, and I would say that unless you are in a “hot” like
In the UK, there aren’t enough funds large enough that take risks on funding £2m+ to start-ups without traction.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
That’s a hard one to pick. I’m immensely proud of what the team have achieved to date.
I think hitting 100,000 registered users was a big one. That’s a lot of people who have taken their time and given Twine a chance. We’re now at 235,000!
In 2016, we ran a fantastic campaign with the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where they posted a brief needing a VR team. It was to transport their Chelsea Pensioner, Frank, back to Armentieres in France which was a town he helped liberate during World War II. This was created by using the power of 360 videos and a VR headset, so he could be somewhere virtually where he couldn’t be
The result was fantastic and got coverage on the BBC, Fox News, ITV and pretty much everywhere else.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
One word: quality.
Once you’ve posted a brief on Twine, creatives will pitch in on your project. We manually vet all pitches to ensure they hit our quality threshold. This saves you time and helps you get a better result. On other platforms, you can get bombarded with useless pitches that just waste your time.
We also only focus on the creative industry. We believe we can serve this market better by providing beautiful portfolios for our creatives that help you make a decision.
Beyond that, we really give a shit about creativity and we have a ton of features that support the creative ecosystem.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s hard to answer that, as I pretty much always have been my own boss. Before founding my first company, I was freelancing.
I guess we could mention my time at Homebase when I was 16. I don’t have to wear green uniforms anymore so that’s definitely a plus.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
There are two great market trends that
Number 1: Freelancing is an upward megatrend. There are a number of factors in this, from changing work attitudes to equipment improvements with portable and mobile devices. There are 55 million people are freelancing in the with huge growth over the last decade and millennials being the biggest driver for growth. In the UK, we've seen over 100% growth in creative industry freelancing between 2009-2014.
Number 2: As SME marketing has got more competitive and as consumers are driven to social media more frequently, SMEs need more content. They need more images, graphics, videos and animations to keep their customers engaged. In fact, there are 52 million SMEs in Europe and US, they spend on average £24k per year on marketing and 32% of that spend is now on content marketing. That's a £400bn industry.
In 5 years time, we want to be the go-to resource for SMEs when they need freelancers to scale up.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never give up.
I don’t mean keep doing the same thing over and over expecting the results to change. You need to keep learning, iterating, and improving your business offering. Sometimes it’s only the slightest of changes to your business proposition that has dramatic results.
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