You probably don’t know this guy. His name is Richard Hannaford and he just closed $400K-worth of funding for his first startup, at the age of 41.
Here’s the story.
I met Rich through a mutual friend, Dan (who has a pretty cool off-road EV startup of his own actually). Anyway, Dan vouched for Rich as a great guy, who’d hacked together a tool to make his own job easier in the automotive space. He’d worked in the motor trade pretty much since leaving the army in 2008, but he believed he had the potential to do more.
Rich believed he had a great concept, but he wasn’t sure where to start.
Senior professional? Check.
Solving a problem he knows intimately? Check.
Good human? Check.
"Sounds promising", I thought.
When we first spoke, I liked Rich immediately. He provided some background then told me he’d been speaking with developers. He had received quotes that varied from low 5 digits to more than $70,000 for his "MVP".
Rich had never built any software before, and he wanted an impartial opinion on whether these were the right kind of numbers. He had savings, but this would pretty much wipe them out.
Fortunately for us, Rich decided to postpone development and instead work with us to do more validation.
And that’s exactly what he did. He spent more time with customers, drilled down more carefully into the product vision to understand what was core and what was "nice-to-have", and drew out a plan of how exactly this would play out, with whom, and when.
Unexpectedly at this point, money became a much bigger deal. With a newborn baby and his partner, Tiffany, at home on maternity leave, Rich received notice of redundancy.
Not one to be downhearted for long, he doubled down on his idea.
Alongside the new MVP (which he was working on with our amazing friends at Blue Mongoose) he developed a much more compelling business plan, made a deck he could present to investors, and secured approval for SEIS (which offers significant advantages to investors who pay taxes in the UK).
After a few practice-pitches and some early success with potential customers, Rich was ready.
He combined his UK investor contacts with ours, and we worked together to create a list of people none of us knew, but who looked like a potential fit for the business.
In the space of about 4 months, Rich closed investments worth GBP 324,000 (approximately USD 400,000).
With money in the bank, a healthy baby at home, and his first customers secured, Rich is now on cloud nine.
So what made Rich special, and what can other founders learn from what he achieved?
What makes Rich a great founder?
- He’s honourable. Rich is a joy to work with - polite, kind, sincere, self-deprecating. He believes his days in the army helped make him the man he is today, and I believe anyone would be proud to call him a colleague or friend.
- He’s straightforward. I’ve met many founders who hide their weaknesses, present only the best possible version of events, and believe they can win on pure belief and determination alone. Rich knows how to sell (he was a car salesman, after all!), but he’s guided by an inner integrity that shines through whenever you meet him. He instantly earns trust.
- He knows his craft. Rich is the first to admit he’s not a techie, but he knows how to look after customers and he knows his industry. There’s very little about the car sales process that he can’t talk about in minute detail. This is a problem he understands deeply.
- He’s extremely coachable. Rich is a great listener. He has conviction but he’s quick to ask for feedback and takes it well when it doesn’t align with his own beliefs. “Strong beliefs loosely held.”
- He’s very good at asking for help. Rich knows what he doesn’t know. He actively seeks advice and external opinions. The fact that he worked with DQ is evidence of that, and I’m very happy to see it paying dividends.
- He’s driven. This might be the most powerful of all Richard’s superpowers. Give him a task and he gets it done immediately and with no fuss. Nothing has phased him to date, from sales to fundraising to learning completely new skills. This is a crucial attribute for a founder. Obstacles will always come your way and you’re constantly outside your comfort zone. This is somewhere Rich is happy to operate.
- He has an innate tendency to focus on what matters. A lot of founders get preoccupied with adding new product features, or trying to get featured in the startup press, and waste a lot of time in the process. Richard seems to have a sixth sense for what’s most important, and talks with customers and prospects almost as a default. (I wish more founders in my personal investment portfolio did this!)
Congrats on the funding, Rich, and on all the progress to date.
We wish you and yours all the success with what comes next.
– Featured image by Richard Hannaford