Here at Work In Startups, we’re on a mission to champion the best and most exciting startups in the UK. To support this, we’re starting a new blog series highlighting some of the most innovative and fast-growing startups around. Follow us as we interview startup founders and employees across the country and find out more about their goals and ambitions, what the future holds and (for all you startup jobseekers out there looking for the inside scoop) what they look for in a prospective employee.
This week, we’re interviewing Kai Feller, Co-Founder of Bark.com – the UK’s biggest online local services marketplace. Bark.com is expanding fast across the globe, hiring equally as fast and fundamentally changing the way we source local services. It has also repeatedly shunned venture capital opportunities, preferring instead to be self-funded.
Hi Kai! What would you say Bark.com’s mission is?
Bark’s mission is to ultimately be the Amazon of services. We want to bring services online and into the 21st century as we feel that this side of things has been left behind. It’s easy to buy and sell products online, but it’s not easy to buy and sell services online and we’re at the forefront of companies changing this. We’ve only just got rid of the yellow pages! The marketplace for services is still very old-fashioned.
On the consumer side, we want individuals to come on Bark.com and be able to find a professional for any service they are looking for and a solution that fits their needs. For example, if they are looking for a dog walker, we want to give them the option of buying that service there and then, or just browsing options for purchase at a later date. Alternatively, they could be looking for a web designer – we want to provide the experience that they want and need.
On the professional side, we want to help service providers grow their businesses by getting online and connecting with customers. They are not usually online marketing professionals, so we want to take that burden away from them and allow them to focus on what they are good at – providing their services; be they carpentry, nails or hair, for example. We want to help these professionals across the globe.
Can you tell us about your growth over the past few years? What’s next for Bark.com in the UK and globally?
We launched in January 2015 and started off in a typical startup style: in a flat, bootstrapping something together. We spent the first couple of years throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. We tried three different business models and finally found one that worked for us a couple of years ago, which I would say transformed us into a ‘proper company’.
Now we’re a team of 50 all working out of our Paddington office. Bark.com is live in the US, South Africa and Canada as well as the UK, but we don’t currently have any workers outside of the UK. We run all of our global operations from our London office. On a separate note, we’re also cash generative and profitable – quite significantly. We’re already turning over well over £20m. We urgently need to reinvest in the hiring side to accelerate growth even more, so expect to see us hiring like crazy in 2020!
I would still say though that Bark is in beta. We have a product up and running, but we recognise it’s still imperfect and a lot of 2020 will be focused on really making it a better experience for the end user. We want to build something properly powerful and valuable. On the consumer side, we want to create tailored experiences for everyone coming on the site. On the professional side, we want to provide a suite of tools to facilitate that and turn Bark into an absolute must for any small business, instead of a value-adding thing. To do something like that, we need an amazing team, which is why recruitment is a massive priority for us in 2020. We need the best people.
We’ll also continue expanding internationally in 2020. We’re looking at launching in 5-10 new countries next year, all from the UK, so keep your eyes peeled!
What do you look for in an employee?
We look for people that are confident and exceptional. They must have great written and verbal communication skills (this is crucial), and must be very personable and a team player. Everyone in the Bark team is like that and if they’re not, they aren’t going to fit. Like any start up we face complex problems on a daily basis and we move very fast, so communication is incredibly important.
If you’re results-driven, innovative and a team player – you’ll fit right in at Bark.com. We want people that thrive on autonomy and make jumps, not steps. This is a pretty big deal to us, because we’re still at the stage where you can make a jump and add 20% to the business.
Ambitious and driven people also do well here. We love people that are passionate and like being challenged. This is especially important because we’re growing rapidly and looking to expand our team from 50 to 100 next year. This will naturally mean shifting more responsibility onto the team, so we need people that are adaptable, switched on, smart and ambitious.
We also want people who contribute to our company culture. You need to enjoy who you are working with as this is what keeps people motivated and thriving.
Do you offer any company perks?
A whole suite of them. We offer share options, private healthcare, a fully stocked kitchen, team lunches every friday and regular socials once a month, among other things. When we have our socials, they’re pretty huge and we definitely don’t hold back!
We also (and most importantly!) offer an unsolved problem and a challenging puzzle for employees to wrap their heads around. How do we transform Bark.com into the Amazon of services?
What’s your professional background? Do you have any advice for young people just starting their careers?
When I left university, I had a few options on the table. I had an offer from Cambridge to do a masters and an offer from JP Morgan in the investment banking division. Instead, I started a business called Socialite – which launched my career in the startup space and really led me to where I am today.
In terms of advice I would give young people just starting their careers, I would say do something that you’re passionate about, find interesting and think you could be involved in for the rest of your life. Once you get started in a career, it can be quite difficult to change path. Also, be ambitious and aim high. It’s better to aim high and only achieve half of your goals (or fail!) than to not to have difficult and ambitious goals in the first place. Lastly, network like crazy! I cannot stress enough how important this is. Not only will networking open up a load of opportunities, but it will also help you launch your own startup (if this is what you want!)
Do you have any advice for those thinking about founding their own startup but currently unsure?
If you have a startup idea, don’t think it’s “all in or all out”. Bootstrap something and play around with how it would work. If you are passionate about it, spend your free time on it: evenings, weekends and holidays. Also, speak to as many people as possible about your idea and get involved in the UK startup scene – which really is incredible and very nurturing. There are a tonne of people willing to give you advice and help you out.
If you do end up doing it full-time, be prepared for the hard work! Everyone faces hurdles and challenges (this is practically part of the job description!) and the people who are successful are the people who persevere.