The final of the If We Can You Can challenge is less than two weeks away and we're continuing to profile the finalists in this year's competition. Next we meet Ryan Mottershead of Veritent, who explains how he got started in business.
What did you do before setting up your business?
I’m relatively new to the workplace, I was a marketing student at Newcastle University graduating in July 2018. During my final year, I was heavily involved in the START UP community provided by the University, taking part in numerous events which opened my eyes to the opportunities which Newcastle presents for start up businesses.
My business idea was spawned and incubated by an Applied Entrepreneurship module which allowed me to work on a business idea while gaining academic credit. This put me in a position to continue with the business once I had graduated, and helped me secure a place on the University Founderships – which is where I’m at now!
What inspired you to set up your business?
As part of my university course I completed a year-long placement at a multi-national organisation, which don’t get me wrong was fantastic – but it wasn’t for me. I would see people who had been doing the same job for 20 years and they were totally drained of life, I didn’t want that to be me.
I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, the idea of starting something from scratch and actually creating something meaningful for customers is really appealing to me; being in control of a business, rather than being a really small cog in a really big wheel.
I always see problems and think about how I can solve them. One of my biggest passions is cars, so naturally I follow automotive influencers on Instagram. A problem which all of them shared was people stealing their images without them knowing about it. This left them in a powerless position over their brand, which from a marketing perspective is a terrible position to be in. That was the basic problem which I set out to solve, but has expanded to helping creatives in general protect their images online.
What makes this business different?
Other services in the image protection market find where a user’s images are being used simply provide a list of where they’re being used. That’s no help to anyone. A photographer with a portfolio of 5,000 images doesn’t have the time to go through each of the results for each image, there could be hundreds of uses for each! Even when a user is alerted to a copyright infringement, there is little support to help them do something about it.
That’s where Veritent is different. Using AI we can determine the context in which the image has been used and whether there is a genuine copyright infringement. In such cases, Veritent offers a number of solutions to allow the user to manage their content without the daunting task of approaching lawyers or even the infringing party directly. Request payment or removal of the image, ask for credit on the image, or connect with one of our legal partners to seek full damages compensation.
The best part is, if the user so desires, this can all be automated. Veritent frees up the time of creatives and businesses to get on with creating!
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
I had been made aware of the IWCYC challenge through my network and wasn’t really sure it was for me as I’m still at such an early stage. I knew that it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain some exposure for Veritent and the potential partners I could make would be brilliant, there was just some doubt that what I currently have to offer would hold me back from being taken seriously as a legitimate business.
That all changed when after I attended a few different networking events and spoke with people in different industries, and of course some more of my target audience. The response which I got was overwhelmingly positive, really filling me with the confidence in the concept of the service and that I’m on the right path. In addition I also met a representative of IWCYC who was really enthusiastic about both the competition and the business.
The combination of the two gave me the inspiration to apply, complemented by the whole concept of the competition – if other people can, well then so can I.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
In three years’ time, I see Veritent as a functioning business with a team of developers to continually improve the core product while creating new elements to add to the IP, and a specialised sales and marketing team to maintain existing relationships with the core customer base as well as explore new markets. The business will be operating on a multiple revenue stream model to minimise the risk of any changes in the market.
If possible, I would love more than anything to still be based in the North East as the opportunity to grow here as well as the support on offer is fantastic. I don’t think I’d have been able to get to where I am today without the inclusive nature of the community here in Newcastle.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
The freedom to change direction quickly. When I’ve worked at other companies it’s been incredibly frustrating for me to see problems and have solutions for them, but not be able to do anything about them. Even when I have been listened to, it’s taken months for anything to actually happen, it drove me insane!
As the business is still in its very early stages nothing is set in stone, and I don’t have a team of people or boss I need to please. If I’m working on something, and it doesn’t feel right, I can change it however I see fit without any pushback. Further on in the journey I’ll want a team of people to challenge decisions, but at this early stage it’s been rewarding for me to have the autonomy to mould the business with freedom.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Ironically enough in relation to the last question, working on my own has been a challenge. As I’m starting a technical company as a non-technical founder, and at the time of writing I don’t have a development team, it’s been difficult to know what is technologically possible. While I’m technically minded and can hold a conversation with a developer, the actual writing of back-end code is far beyond my skill set. I’ve had to piece together different conversations to map out the business model and functions so that when I am in a position to pass the spec on to a developer, I’m not asking them to reinvent the wheel.
Everything’s a learning curve, most of the things I’m doing I haven’t done before, but it feels right to be working like this. I’m enjoying this type of work far more than I ever enjoyed sitting at a desk 9-5 working for someone else.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
Newcastle University have been the best possible providers of support and advice I could have asked for. The START UP team have provided me with countless opportunities to grow Veritent from just an idea through to an actual business. From the initial contact with the team through academic channels, business advisors, and my business mentor. Without the support from them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
As part of that support, I am part of the Founderships scheme which is an enhanced grant/support package offered as part of the University’s START UP support programme. This provides me with 6 months of support which includes a business development fund, monthly stipend for living costs, office space, mentoring, and crucially access to a wide network of entrepreneurs and businesses.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
Just do it, there’s no time like the present and you regret the things you don’t do. Even if a business venture fails the lessons learned through the process are transferable and you’ll come out a better person. You’ll also not have to live with the constant thought of “what if” – especially if in a few years-time you see a product/service on the market which you had the original idea for.
In terms of actually starting a business and turning an idea into something tangible, it’s very cliché but it really does matter who you know. This might be a really disheartening thing to hear for someone wanting to enter a market where they have few connections, but the wonderful thing about the business community especially in the North East, is that everyone wants to help. Just by attending a few networking events and making one or two connections car snowball into a large network of contacts. The hardest bit is taking the first step and having some direction, after that it gets (slightly) more straightforward.
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