Launching my tech company

Simone Fattouche, a third year QMUL Law student, has been busy developing her business BillHive. We spoke to her about her company, the challenges of starting a new business and the help she has received from QMUL Careers and Enterprise.

You have recently launched your technology company BillHive. Can you explain what services your business provides? And what inspired your idea?

At BillHive we want to replace paper receipts with digital receipts. The idea behind it is quite simple: when you’re at the till to pay for your shopping you’ll pull out your smartphone and launch the BillHive app.  The receipt will automatically be sent to your App and you’ll receive a notification that you have one new receipt. You can then see the receipt on the App and you’ll be able to print it, share it and even access in depth analytics of your shopping and spending habits.

I developed the idea for BillHive after purchasing a jacket from a high street store that I wanted to return only to find that I’d lost the receipt.  I was told that my only option was store credit but as a student I want cash, I certainly don’t want store credit.  I thought there must be a better way and just so happened to be registered for 3 Day Start Up (3DS) at Queen Mary. I decided to use 3DS to test the idea out.

Fun fact: Did you know that the ink on receipts is carcinogenic? One article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) suggested that people that handle receipts often should have an envelope that vendors can simply drop the receipt into, which is obviously not a long term viable solution. Receipts can potentially be damaging to our health and have a negative impact on the environment which is why BillHive is a worthwhile and necessary App #downwithpaper.

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What processes have you completed to get to the launch stage? And what are your next steps?

The next steps are focused on launching the app, including increasing our social media presence and working to develop partnerships.  We’ve begun integrating with Point of Sale Systems, meaning the software found on computers that facilitate a retail transaction, and now we’re looking to gain our first round of funding and continue to develop more partnerships both with retailers and other Point of Sales Systems.

You took part in the QMUL 3 Day Start-up event. What activities took place over the three days? How did this help you develop your business ideas?

At 3DS each individual pitches their business idea, five ideas are then selected and students are grouped and asked to develop one of the chosen ideas.  Over the span of the three days each group undertook with all due diligence the tasks that would be required in any start up business, such as doing market research, working on a prototype and figuring out your minimum viable product.  We had a group of dedicated mentors that worked alongside us. They provided us with feedback and encouraged us to think about our ideas from different perspectives.  On the Sunday evening we pitched our idea to investors at Google Campus. In my group we pitched a live demonstration of what the process may look like to receive a paperless receipt and the judges were very receptive to the pitch.

During the three days I learnt exactly what it takes to execute a business idea effectively. You soon realize the importance of conducting thorough market research and understanding the pain point (real or perceived problem) that your particular product or service tries to recitfy.  You also begin to understand the importance of surrounding yourself with a great team, which is probably the most valuable lesson.  Finally, I would most certainly recommend people to try out 3DS, whether you come to it with an idea you want to execute or not.  You gain so many valuable skills that you can use to execute an idea later on while meeting some very interesting people.

How else has QMUL helped you in your entrepreneurial endeavours?

Queen Mary Enterprise is an amazing resource.  From my very first meeting with Rachel Brown, the Enterprise Programme Coordinator, I’ve been supported through the process of developing my business, whether it was taking classes on digital marketing or seeking immigration advice as a Tier 4 International Student.  Another incredibly helpful group has been QLegal, which provides free legal advice for start-ups.  I’ve been able to throw any legal query I may have their way and have consistently received quality advice.

How has your degree in law helped you create your own business?

My degree in law has been beneficial from the outset.  I think the legal side of a business is one of the areas that a lot of start-ups fail to consider at the beginning of their development.  Due to my skills as a law student I am hypersensitive to anything related to intellectual property, personal information and even the legal personality of companies.  Studying case after case you begin to understand the importance of legal safeguards as preventative measures. In fact the day after the 3DS I went straight to QLegal, and have been using their services ever since.

I also think having a law degree has made me more analytical and taught me to pay much more attention to detail. This has proven to be incredibly useful when wading through various non disclosure agreements, and even in drafting all of our business documentation.

What has been the most challenging part of starting BillHive?

I think the most challenging part is balancing all of the priorities I have at the moment, such as finishing my law degree, trying to maintain a healthy life and continuing to be social.  I’ve always been a big believer of having a healthy ‘work-life balance,’ and I think it’s even more important when you’re juggling many competing priorities.  One of my mentors always says ‘it’s going to be a whirlwind but you just have to keep riding the wave.’  I’m trying to do that but also not lose sight of other important things, like graduating!

What future aspirations do you have for BillHive?

Ultimately I want to eliminate all paper receipts. We owe it to the environment; let’s practise what we preach.

For any students that have entrepreneurial ideas, what advice would you give them?

I would say you really have to go for it and use all the resources you have.  Queen Mary is well known in the technology community for having some of the best resources to help students.  I went into the Queen Mary Careers & Enterprise in September with just an idea and with their support I’ve gone from having what was just an idea to an actual product to launch.

I would also say don’t be afraid of getting into something while you’re still studying. I think being in university is one of the best times to try something entrepreneurial.  The learning curve is huge, and I think it’s incredibly useful for demonstrating key skills to future employers.

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