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Building Scalability into your Startup to Ensure Long-Term Success with Josh Graham, Co-Founder and CMO at Airtime Rewards


Momentum is a fickle mistress. If your business has it, opportunities seem to come your way effortlessly — if you don’t have it, you might feel like you spend every day running into an indomitable brick wall. For many entrepreneurs starting out, building an initial client base for a new business seems like an impossible task.

Josh Graham has spent his career focused on what consumers want and how to build services that scale. We talked to him about his perspective on building momentum, scalability and building a user-focused product.

Josh Graham | Interview

Josh started his career in mobile marketing and commerce technology before starting Samply, a product sampling platform for FMCG brands. In August 2015, he started his second company: Airtime Rewards which partners with major mobile network operators and high street retailers to offer consumers unique mobile-based loyalty/reward programs.

Josh is a self-confessed product nut who’s also incredibly passionate about user experience. His primary goal is always to create a wonderful experience for the customer — in his opinion, this is the first step to being able to successfully scale any business.

Can you tell us more about Airtime Rewards?

Sure, so we’ve basically created a new digital reward currency — retailers can reward consumers on their mobile phones by giving them airtime. We’re the only program to offer this as a reward, and it works on any network across both pre-pay and pay-monthly tariffs. 

My co-founder Adam and I started the company after realizing how smartphone use has skyrocketed in recent years. We already had existing relationships with network operators and we wondered if we could use these to create a new currency of sorts — people are so willing to spend money on their phones that they’d surely appreciate receiving something back, right?

YouTube video

Then there’s the technology itself. Loyalty programs tend to feel clunky and unnecessary. You get this card, you have to remember to carry it around with you everywhere, and you don’t have enough space to fit them all into your wallet. Overall, it is just a poor user experience.

So it became our mission to remove all this friction — not only is it easier for the consumers, but by removing all the point-of-sale integrations, it was also easier for the retailers themselves. It took a while for retailers to warm to the idea but now that they get the concept and see how fluid the process is, they absolutely love it.

What challenges have you faced on your journey?

We found ourselves in a bit of a chicken and egg scenario when we started out. We needed users to get the bigger retailers, but we needed retailers to get users — it was a pretty frustrating situation to be in, especially as we knew we had a great product. A lot of retailers we initially approached turned us down because the user base was too small, and as a result, our platform wasn’t sticky enough to retain our end-users.

We were really stuck between a rock and a hard place: minimal revenue generation for a long time and it was really progressing to the point where we thought something had to give. One of the major turning points was our partnership with O2 — getting them on board was a massive coup for us. 

Everything snowballed from there. The O2 partnership gave us credibility and momentum which we then leveraged to partner with Nero. Once they joined, we also got Waitrose on our books. It was amazing how just one stroke of good fortune led to such rapid success.

Our targeting approach has also helped set us apart — we can fine-tune our targeting strategy according to specific metrics like spending history and propensity to spend. Because of this, we’ve managed to get incredible results for retailers – our numbers are five times better than some of our massive global competitors.

Going forward, our main challenge is making sure that every single pound that a brand spends with us generates as large an ROI as possible. We need to constantly convince retailers that we have a really strong concept, and demonstrate that we’re worth their continued investment. 

Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Stay true to what you’re passionate about, especially when it gets difficult. For me, it’s not even about making money per se — I just know 100% that I’d rather be doing this than anything else in the world. I love the challenge of building something from the ground up and being totally responsible for its success or failure. You need this drive and to view entrepreneurship as an endless series of challenges. With that mindset, everything gets a little easier, and you end up thriving during stressful times.

Secondly, your business model is super important. You need to have a great idea, but if the business model doesn’t scale, it will come back to bite you at some point. The best businesses have a really scalable business model — it has to be easy to get, serve, and delight customers. If it’s hard to get new customers and serve them well then you’ll never be able to scale!

Building momentum

So how can you build momentum in your business before using this to propel long-lasting success? Here are 4 of our top tips…

1. Be prepared to get uncomfortable

If results are drying up then it’s time to make a change. As Einstein put it, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t like cold calling prospects? Doesn’t matter. Don’t like working past 7pm? Too bad. Don’t like networking? Learn to adapt. As an entrepreneur, you have to do everything within your power to get that initial momentum.

2. Set goals

Start off with small goals and work your way up. Every goal (no matter how insignificant) will feel like a win, and you will subconsciously develop an appetite for smashing these goals. 

Consider using a basic framework such as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) to help you define your goals. You should always have incredibly specific objectives in mind — set targets, set a timeline, tell everyone on your team, and go at them together with a vengeance.

3. Use your network

Some people hate networking — especially when it involves asking something from their friends or family. However, if you have a great product, then you should feel you’re the one doing them a favour by telling them about it. Or perhaps you have a family friend who works at a big firm, a firm who you’d love to land as a client. If this is the case then try to set up a meeting with them. 

If you truly want to build momentum, you need to give it everything you’ve got — no matter if it makes you feel “icky”.

4. Be consistent

Big wins are few and far between. However, big wins are only possible due to the daily, consistent effort that you and your team put in. Getting the small things right on a regular basis is the key to great performance — no matter the industry or the line of work. Make sure your site never crashes, that your accounts are always kept in order, that you always have a positive attitude when meeting clients, and that you always implement customer feedback to make your business better.

You’ll only be able to successfully scale if you do all the basics right, time and time again. 

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