Large companies have often tried to use their workforce for feedback and new ideas – just think of suggestion boxes. To improve this process, over the last decade hundreds of companies have popped up specialising in ‘idea management’ and ‘innovation management’. Typically employees have to download an app, or register and log in to a new platform. This leads to pretty terrible engagement rates – sometimes as low as 0.1-0.5%. Something’s wrong. We spoke to Will Read from Sideways 6 to see how they are addressing this problem.
Let’s start by describing in your words what your company is and what it does?
Created in April 2015, ‘Sideways 6’ is an innovation management company developed to fit in seamlessly with existing platforms and workspaces. Put simply, we make it easier than ever for employees to communicate their ideas and thoughts to senior management, creating better companies, happier employees and improving services for customers.
What do you think makes it distinct to any other companies – what’s its USP?
Sideways 6 is unique because instead of asking our clients’ employees to download and get to grips with a new app in order to contribute, we enable employees to have their voice heard via the tools they’re already using, such as Microsoft Yammer, Facebook Workplace, Slack or even work e-mail.
In a nutshell, we enable employees to use the technology they are familiar with to put forward ideas; provide feedback and insight on a range of topics. Sideways 6 adds all the features needed to find the best ideas, analyse trends in the data and keep employees in the loop as things go from insight to action to results.
What is your personal background?
I studied Economics at Sheffield University, before graduating from the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, where I learned a great deal that I now apply to how I run Sideways 6. My greatest inspiration is my dad. He’s a policeman and has dedicated his whole life to being really, really good at it, progressing from a bobby on the beat to head of a police force. It’s his determination, thoughtfulness and honesty I admire and try to emulate on a daily basis.
What inspired you to start the company?
It was actually through working in a traditional 9-5 that my big business idea came to me. After university I landed a graduate placement with Sky, but quickly realised the constraints of my role. I had ideas and could see opportunities for improvement in the company, but I didn’t feel empowered to put these ideas forward, so they never made it to the key people or decision-makers.
I soon left Sky, with this frustrating experience becoming the premise for creating Sideways 6; to help large organisations listen to feedback from their employees. I want to enable these big firms to improve their business processes using the invaluable insight employees can often provide, whether that is thanks to years of experience within in the company or a fresh pair of eyes of a new recruit.
What is the story of the company from launch until now?
Since our creation in 2015, we have enjoyed a huge amount of success, reaching profitability before our first year of trading was complete. In 2016 our turnover grew 700%, with our team increasing from four to sixteen and employees operating in London, Minsk and Leeds. By mid-2017 this has increased by 200%, with British Airways, BP, Virgin Trains and British Gas among our roster of clients.
In 2017 we entered a second funding round, successfully raising £500,000 investment from among others, Brett Hoberman and members of the 24 Haymarket group. The funding is being used predominantly to recruit in key senior roles such as Marketing, Product and Operations, all with the aim of building an incredible offering and increasing our potential customer reach.
This year we were also named in Startups Top 100 of 2017 a real accolade for me and my team and a reflection of everyone’s hard work.
How big is the company now?
Our turnover is currently c £1m, but our goal is to reach a turnover of £7.5m by 2019.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?
As with many entrepreneurs, getting started was by far the biggest challenge I have faced. I began as a solo founder with no funding in the enterprise tech space, so to achieve what we have is something I’m really proud of.
What’s your biggest milestone/ which are you most proud of?
We’re still very young as a company, but to be profitable within our first year and reaching a turnover of £1m was a real landmark for myself and all my amazing team.
What is your business model?
To put it as succinctly as possible, our business model is b2b software as a service.
How have you monetised your product?
We charge a subscription fee for our services.
What’s the next step for growth – is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?
I have no intention of walking away any time soon. We want to grow the business to maximum impact – maximum employees reached and beneficial ideas implemented. We’ve had amazing success so far, but we feel we’re just getting started!
Will you be looking for more funding?
It might be appropriate to bring on more funding partners at a later date, but with a recent funding round of £500,000, we can go a long way with what we’ve got already.