Welcome to our founder lessons series. Today, Oliver Tuffney reveals how he and his brother Kevin Tuffney co-founded Rated Driving Instructors, an online marketplace that connects learner drivers with driving instructors.
Tell us about Rated Driving Instructors
Rated Driving Instructors is an online marketplace connecting learner drivers with driving instructors. Learners come on to the platform, enter their location and sort, compare and book their preferred local driving instructor based on prices, reviews, their profile and credentials.
The driving instructors get the benefit of receiving a consistent flow of leads without having to worry about becoming a digital marketeer and learner drivers get the benefit of making an informed decision on their driving instructor with minimal effort.
As a business, we money by taking a nominal fee from the driving instructor when they receive a qualified lead through the platform.
Why and how did you start the company
The business was started because when Kevin Tuffney (one of the co-founders) was training to become a driving instructor, he passed his tests, worked hard and advertised, only to find there were no students to be found on the other side! It’s a common challenge for new driving instructors and the reason for it is it’s a referral based industry.
Here the first idea seed was sewn for a driving instructor marketplace.
The seed was nurtured when we considered the implications of the driving instructor industry being a referral based business. Think about this, the average learner driver spends over £1,000 on driving lessons. Imagine going on to Amazon and spending £1,000 on a product, where you can’t read about it, you can’t easily compare similar products and there are no reviews. It sounds like a daunting prospect but that is what happens when people are selecting a driving instructor and that is where we are aiming to bring transparency to the market.
In order to turn an idea into a business Kevin partnered with his brother, Oliver Tuffney and together they raised a small amount of seed capital to pay for the build of the website and from there the ride began!
What has been your biggest success factors
Our biggest success factor has been persistence. As first time entrepreneurs we made many textbook mistakes including the usual culprits of financing, team building, invalid market assumptions and overly optimistic forecasting. Bumping into so many walls can be quite disheartening and therefore sheer persistence and unwillingness to give up would be the biggest success factor in building the business.
Each knock back can either be a “justifiable reason” to throw in the towel, or added infantry to the war chest of skills and experiences which are required to build a business. Framing challenges and obstacles as the latter has been key for us moving through the troughs and into the peaks.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced launching and running the company
The biggest challenge we’ve faced is having the right skillsets on the team relative to the business we were trying to build. We’re a tech company and for a long time we didn’t have a tech co-founder which is a recipe for confusion and expensive agency costs!
When starting a company for a first time, the priority is often weighted towards the quality of the idea or product, however we soon found out ideas aren’t anything without great execution.
The first step to overcoming the challenge was the recognition that there was a deficiency in the team that realistically we weren’t going to be able to paper over. With training and application we could potentially become competent but we all know successful businesses are built on skills of excellence and not competence, so we actively sought out a CTO.
After a number of meetings we were introduced to Hatim from Siya Tech Ventures, who eventually became our CTO. Finally having the tech leg to the tripod was game changing in the growth and development of the business.
Which do you think is the most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?
A team is dynamic whereas a product is static and a market is outside the sphere of influence.
Markets shift or become disrupted and products are copied or become outdated. The right team on the other hand, will ensure the business adapts to the changing market and the products are developed to keep at the cutting edge of innovation or quickly pivots when the great idea didn’t work out.
Of course all three are of critical importance to the success of an organisation but I think you are more likely to produce a successful company with a high performing team and a product that needs work and a challenging market than you are with a different combination of the three factors.
Final words for those chasing the startup dream
Two pieces of advice which will sound cliché but have been very true for us:
1. Hang in there. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows like it was when you were doing the first brainstorm and everything was possible, but rest assured if you keep banging on the door of start-up success eventually someone has to answer!
2. Don’t think you can do everything and definitely don’t think you can do everything better than others. Leverage the talents of others and farm out as much work as you can which isn’t within your core skillset. You might pay a little bit more upfront but it reduces the friction on your time and emotions so you can keep focused on what you do best and build the company.