Young businesses often go hand-in-hand with young people, such as RefME and 24-year-old co-founder and chief executive Tom Hatton.
Set up by Hatton and fellow founders Ian Forshew, chief operation officer, and Tom Gardiner, chief technology officer, in March 2014, RefME provides a web and app-based referencing tool for people in academia.
With a workforce of 34, the startup is off the ground and focusing on developing business and attracting technology talent from former employees of Google, Apple, Amazon and even NASA.
V3 put Hatton under our Startup Spotlight to hear more about RefME.
If you want to take part in the V3 Startup Spotlight contact Roland Moore-Colyer.
Previous startups under the spotlight have ranged from cloud computing services firm Fedr8, to public sector website developer DXW, customer feedback system provider truRating, and social network data library digi.me.
Tell us more about RefME
RefME is a free, multi-platform referencing tool aimed at students from Key Stage 12 to PhD rocket scientists.
We have a website and app which fully automate citations, reference lists and bibliographies, accurately. Users simply scan book and journal barcodes using their smartphone or use the online search feature to reference anything in a click.
RefME also enables users to annotate and save their research as they go along. By saving and syncing the reference in the cloud, users can create, edit and manage their work across multiple devices. With over 7,000 academic formats, people all over the world can use it.
The business is in the data. It tells us exactly to a pinpoint level of detail what is useful and we want to use that.
Why did you develop this service?
The best businesses solve problems for lots of people. Everyone dislikes referencing and there are over 200 million students who have to do it, so we have set out to automate the process.
I came up with the idea for RefME.com while studying at Oxford Brookes University. I found the whole referencing process tedious but vital, and the only tools provided to help with the process were a million miles away from where technology was.
There were tools that could help in creating references but the quality was poor, incorrect, or there was a big learning curve to use them which meant less drinking time! Even the new citation tools felt like they were made in the Stone Age.
So we built a web tool and an app that scans book and journal barcodes. We want to be the de facto tool for students around the world, and to continue to develop the product and build off the data it generates.
Tell us how you got RefME off the ground
Along with hustling lots and lots of people, I previously ran a small digital agency on the side, building apps and online campaigns for some big brands, which helped to fund RefME initially.
What technology do you use?
We are a cloud-based tool with a web platform and native mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Are you based in an incubator or startup centre?
From pretty much the second I graduated, I worked in Google Campus trying to figure out exactly where I wanted RefME to go. I met some great people working there and am a big fan of that place.
We are now based in a lovely old warehouse (of course) complete with beer fridge and a pool table, in Angel, London, where we share our office building with Dynamo the magician!
What level of funding have you received so far?
In April 2015, we announced our seed round of $5m. The money will go towards hiring new staff, particularly engineers and data experts, in addition to helping RefME expand into new markets.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
Scaling the business quick enough has been an issue, for sure. We've also struggled with having users all around the world and not always being able to be there for them at 4am in the morning.
This will change, though, as we are currently looking to set up an office in a different time zone. Being 24 years old and the chief executive of a company with 34 full-time employees has been a challenge but also massively rewarding.
I've found the best way to overcome challenges is to learn from your mistakes and use those learnings to make better decisions going forward.
What's been the biggest highlight of your business to date?
The team we've built up at RefME kicks ass. The prospect of the future also excites me!
I think the product is going to be big. It is so simple, and yet what we've seen we can do with the data is a game changer. There are so many exciting features we are working on and I look forward to sharing them with our users.
What does your company do to relax or have fun after a busy day?
We have office speed dating once a month, where everyone spends one minute with each other to share what they are doing in their role and what they are most looking forward to.
We also spend every Friday evening presenting to everyone within the business what we've done over the last week. I really look forward to that.
It helps with collaboration and means that everyone in the business is up to date with what is going on. It also nearly always ends up in a pub till the early hours of a Saturday morning!
What did you do before starting up RefME?
Prior to starting RefME I very nearly made it in the music business. The fact I got so close has meant that I am more determined than ever to make whatever I do not fail.
I am motivated by success so, although I won't be headlining Wembley anytime soon, we are building an amazing product that clearly has a very bright future, and that motivates me more than anything.
What are your favourite and worst things about running your own startup?
I believe that new businesses should be called 'startups and downs' as basically it is one big roller coaster. It's a way of life.
I eat, drink and sleep RefME and there is very little in the way of social life outside the business. Fortunately, I have incredibly supportive friends and family who frequently check that I am not dead and who don't mind last-minute cancellations.
I think the stress that starting and running your own business brings can also be fairly tough at times. There were moments when I feared I might have to tell everyone that they didn't have a job. Thankfully, that never happened.
On the flip side, I am working on what I love and I am excited about what we are doing and the future for RefME. I think this time next year RefME really could be a brilliant British success story.
If you could emulate the success of another startup, which would it be?
In terms of company culture and growth, we aim to emulate Google as best we can. Focusing primarily on the end user and providing the most premium offer on the market to meet consumer needs is what has propelled Google to dominate the search engine market.
One of Google's success secrets lies in hiring people who are smart and determined but, importantly, who share similar goals and vision for the future. This is what we also strive to achieve at RefME.
Smart or casual?
Definitely casual. Probably too casual!
Coffee shop of choice?
I'd much rather have a cup of tea.
Beverage of choice?
Sports Bar, Shoreditch.
Do you benefit from startup communities and related networking?
Sort of. I know our team really like these events for the tech communities. I have always tried to steer clear of them, as the London tech scene can be full of people giving advice who don't have any. That's my concern, anyway, after being asked to speak myself at several.
Could the government and/or technology industry do more to support UK startups?
I think the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and the research and development stuff is awesome. That is really all we need. Anything else and they may as well just hand you an IPO.
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