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Fresh from a ‘brutal’ but (*spoiler*) successful appearance on BBC’s Dragons’ Den, Newcastle-based founder and parking tech pioneer Chris Reed explores the lessons learned in his entrepreneurial journey to date.
North East businessman Chris has been on a mission to boost fading UK high streets for a number of years now. A previous winner of Tech North’s Northern Stars startup competition, now Tech Nation’s Rising Stars, Chris is the founder of Proxismart, a tech startup developing IoT solutions to improve town centres.
One such solution is Parking Perx, a loyalty app designed to reward high street shoppers with money off parking fees. Following a successful trial in Sunderland, ParkingPerx will hit several pilot town centres over the coming months.
“The general experience [in the Den] was brutal!” reveals Chris, who landed an £80,000 offer from YourCash founder Jenny Campbell.
“Your time in there is actually much longer than what’s shown on tv, meaning I spent a lot of time in there! I really got to see just how good these guys are.”
One thing that was invaluable from Chris’ time in the Den was the opportunity to gain feedback from some of Britain’s best-known investors and entrepreneurs.
“I was trying to take feedback from each of their comments,” explains Chris.
“Quite often investors give you advice. It’s important to listen to feedback, take it away and adapt your offering. Peter Jones in particular came up with a couple of things in regards to competitors and suggested I partner with other players in the market.”
“Jenny really understood what I was trying to achieve and following the Den she has proven to be a hugely valuable resource, helping me complete important milestones and shape my plans for growth. Jenny also introduced me to parking technology leader RingGo.”
Following the Den Chris’ company, ProxiSmart Ltd, has successfully secured additional offers of investment and is now working exclusively in partnership with RingGo, the UK’s largest cashless parking solutions provider, which is established in over 400 locations across the UK. He says that partnerships like this will allow his business to reach its full potential.
Any entrepreneur worth their salt will tell you the importance of having a good network. While Chris says he knew this before his time on the Den, being able to take advantage of Jenny Campbell’s ‘phenomenal black book’ has reinforced his belief of how crucial networks can be in supporting founders.
“I’ve always believed in having a good network, which is why I love Tech Nation’s Founders’ Network programme.
“With Jenny the relationship is more than just her money and knowledge, there’s huge value in her contacts too. The intros to key players are exactly what the business needs at this point to grow.”
Chris believes that his time in the Den stands as the latest example in a series of events which have helped to ‘really toughen him up’.
“You really need to be resilient as an entrepreneur,” comments Chris, “it’s not all plain-sailing, especially when you’re a solo founder and don’t have a sounding-board.
“I sold my previous business, which I grew organically. Startup life is different. This has been more effort and a lot harder.
“This business has been a series of extremes. I’ve had fantastic ups in winning Northern Stars but I’ve also had lows in struggling to raise investment.”
Chris says that it’s in the knockbacks which have made him a better businessman, triggering him to consider going into meetings with ‘more of a balance and well-judged way’ to take things forward.
Chris says that he’s considerably improved and refined his pitching style over the years.
“It’s definitely a skill that I’ve had to develop and would absolutely encourage every other founder to hone,” he reveals.
“Learn about how to be able to get your core messages across simply, otherwise while you might think you’re making sense – other people might not!
“I was as confident as I could be going into that pitch in the Den and I was going in there able to focus on getting feedback. Get your pitch right and you’ll be able to focus less on worrying and more about listening to the comments you’re getting.”
Finally, Chris believes that being empathetic is a great skill for any founder to have.
“Whether you’re pitching or developing your product, you really need to be thinking about who your audience is and what they’re looking for. What is it that you can learn from them to make what you’re doing more compelling?”
He adds: “Each time I pitch or meet investors I’m thinking about gauging reaction and teasing out what it is that isn’t quite right or what they feel I can work on. I’m a bugger for being very self critical!”
Chris is now urging anyone who is interested in helping their local High Street to get in touch with him via the Parking Perx website.
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