Tell us a bit about yourself, your career and your company Nola?
With close to a decade of experience in B2B technology marketing, I have had a diverse range of roles spanning from digital marketing to executive management, and events. The idea for Nola was sparked around three years ago when I found myself stuck in a long queue for several hours at a New Year’s Eve festival. This recurring issue led me to realise that there was a severe lack of data and visibility across operations and visitor behaviour in brick-and-mortar environments, be it a retail store, festival, or hospitality venue.
The only available technology was visitor counting, which was insufficient for making crucial decisions such as staff rostering, visual merchandising, understanding effectiveness, return on investment, and identifying revenue leakage. Given my experience in the tech industry, I recognized the potential of computer vision and its capabilities, which led us to develop a solution utilising AI and machine learning.
I questioned why we had advanced tools such as Google Analytics for the digital world but lacked a similar approach for the physical world despite having the technical capabilities. My experience in e-commerce where we tracked everything gave me the impetus to apply the same principles to brick-and-mortar environments at an affordable price point. After spending 2 years conducting extensive research and development, including interviews with companies, testing, and piloting the solution, we raised a pre-seed round, and I became the CEO and founder of Nola on a full-time basis eight months ago.
How do you find clients are approaching this change?
I find that there is a high level of receptiveness from companies towards our solution. There has always been an awareness that analytics play a crucial role in business success, and while people counters have been used in the past, our offering provides more impactful data at a better price point.
In my experience, larger hospitality and enterprise retailers are more advanced in their ability to interpret and utilise data, and therefore more receptive to our solution. On the other hand, smaller businesses may not have reached the stage of digital transformation yet.
In the current economy, where businesses are looking to optimise their operations and improve customer experiences, our solution is becoming increasingly relevant. Our design ensures anonymity, which is increasingly important to consumers, and differentiates us from other technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi which store unique identifiers.
Previous to Nola, you worked predominantly in marketing at SaaS companies, how do you think that working in marketing in the industry helped set you up for success in founding your own SaaS company?
It’s been a massive contributor in validating our product market fit and having that understanding of how to decide on the target audience and articulate a value proposition. It’s so important to understand pain points that your customer has and be able to effectively communicate with them.
They say that as a founder you need to become obsessed with the problem and how to solve it. Marketing definitely gives you that structured approach to create and deliver that value proposition.
How did you go from the idea stage to actually developing the AI solution and then launching the company?
Before making any investment, I invested a lot of time in interviewing around 80 different businesses to identify whether the pain point was genuine and whether they would be willing to pay for a solution to address it. My questions revolved around their willingness to pay for the product and their biggest challenges.
After the research phase, we identified a pilot partner to work with, and only then did we start building the MVP. Our approach was to tailor the solution to the specific needs of the customer and establish a feedback loop to help us prioritise features that would be most valuable to them.
Congratulations on your recent funding in 2022. What would be your advice to other founders on a similar trajectory – looking to raise funding in the near future?
Before you raise, it’s important to validate your product in the market first. In the early stages, you might think you know everything, but it’s crucial to spend time testing and refining your message. This can be done by meeting with potential customers and having discussions to understand their values and priorities. Make sure that customers are willing to pay for your product and that you have a clear understanding of the competitive landscape before going full-time or raising funding.
The current working-from-home environment has provided an opportunity for people to try out new things while still working a full-time job before fully committing to a new venture.
When did you know that it was the right time to make the jump and go full time on Nola?
The first thing I did was adopt the mindset of how can my current full time job benefit my new business, at the time I was working in B2B marketing at a tech company. What can I take from this job? Whether that is learning a new skill or learning about a specific industry. I think there can be a lot of resentment because you may feel like you should be doing something else. Take advantage of where you’re at.
Once you start seeing traction it gives you more energy to work outside of your work hours and put in the additional hours.
What has been your biggest learnings across your journey so far?
As a founder, I had to learn a lot of new skills in a short period, including cost management, sales and fundraising. It’s been really rewarding. One of the key things I’ve learned is that it’s essential to lean on others for support and guidance. When creating my first pitch deck for investors, I reached out to multiple people to provide feedback.
As a founder, it’s also important to acknowledge the mental challenges that come with the role. There is always so much to learn, and the pressure can be overwhelming, especially with financial responsibilities and uncertainty about the future. Talking to others who have experienced similar challenges can help alleviate the feeling of isolation and remind you that it’s all part of the journey.
Have you ever experienced any barriers or setbacks as a female entrepreneur?
As a tech founder, I consider myself fortunate to have faced no barriers or setbacks, and if anything, it has been advantageous in today’s business environment. This certainly has been an outcome of all the progress made in the last decade.
During my early days working in the tech industry in my twenties, I faced some obstacles. One of the biggest was my ability to confidently communicate my thoughts and ideas. In boardroom settings, men often display a level of confidence and assertiveness that I did not naturally possess at that point in my career. As a result, I had to work harder to establish my credibility and prove my worth over time.
Reflecting on my own experiences, I have recently realised how much the tech industry has changed. I now feel a sense of camaraderie among females in tech, and I sense that everyone genuinely wants to see each other succeed. This shift is something that I have noticed over the past two years.
Do you have any recommendations for the community?
Recently, I have found it beneficial to address my knowledge gaps by using online learning platforms like EDX. For example, when I felt that my understanding of UX was lacking, I was able to take courses to build up my foundational knowledge. By doing so, I gained the confidence and certainty needed to apply these concepts to my business. I highly recommend using online learning platforms to supplement your knowledge and skills.