Stuart Lewis is an experienced general manager with an extensive track record in the financial services sector. He founded Rest Less with the goal of creating a membership community that helps its audience regain their sense of purpose through fulfilling opportunities to work and volunteer.
Prior to setting up Rest Less, Stuart was at Octopus Investments, leading rapid growth in its Tax Efficient Investments business whilst being a prominent advocate for start-up finance and the Venture Capital Trust industry as a whole.
Before that Stuart held a variety of different leadership roles, including Head of Consumer Cards for American Express in Belgium as well as working on building the online grocery business for Amazon in the UK, in his early career, he held a number of roles in other leading financial service organizations such as Barclays Bank and Capital One.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Stuart says:
Like most founders, I have huge amounts of energy and drive – but I never found the outlet to focus my attention until I entered the workplace after leaving education. I wish I had understood more about entrepreneurialism back then, as I may have started several businesses early on in my career! The whole startup ecosystem didn’t have the same level of awareness and publicity that it does today, which is a shame as I think the whole space can provide an amazing focus and outlet for driven individuals looking to change things that are wrong in the world. It certainly isn’t perfect, but I find it fascinating that the whole startup ecosystem offers an alternative and hugely empowering route for ambitious young founders. If you don’t like the way something works, share your vision, raise some capital and go and build the future.
Read on to know more about Stuart Lewis and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background, and what are you working on currently? (* What motivated you to get started with your company?)
Stuart Lewis: The idea for Rest Less was borne out of the personal experience with family, combined with some external inspiration from a television programme in the UK, which highlighted the benefits of intergenerational mixing by introducing a group of four year olds to the elderly in an older people’s home.
Rest Less was founded at the end of 2018 to create a digital membership community focused on helping people aged between 50 and 70 maintain their sense of purpose, and work through a very significant life transition for many.
Before setting up Rest Less, I was at Octopus Investments; a venture capital firm is a prominent advocate for startup finance and the Venture Capital Trust industry as a whole in the UK.
My co-founder, Sara Stephens, and I have come from a varied career background mixed between various large financial services companies and several entrepreneurial opportunities in between.
What is your current main product, and (If there is any) can you share any product pivot story from founding to the current product?
Stuart Lewis: Rest Less started as a job and volunteering site for the over 50s. Interestingly, we pivoted very early on in our journey. We founded Rest Less initially intending to target those approaching retirement, expecting that our average user would be in their mid-60s.
We quickly realized that our members’ average age was much younger than we initially anticipated and that this significant life transition typically starts much younger for many.
The retirement age in the UK is 66, but the average age of our members was 55. We found ourselves appealing to the rapidly growing audience of people who, upon turning 50, realized they might have another 20 years ahead of them in the workplace and were looking for guidance, inspiration and practical support. We also realized that there was a whole audience of people in their 50s who needed tailored help finding a job for a myriad of reasons – from long-term unemployment to redundancy, with many of them experiencing age discrimination either in work or during the recruitment process.
How much money (funding) have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Stuart Lewis: We initially raised £700k as an Angel round when Rest Less was little more than an idea. Our recent seed funding round, during which we raised £3m, took place at the end of 2019 and was led by QED Investors, a leading boutique venture capital firm based in the US. There was also participation from 1818 Venture Capital alongside several angel investors.
How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start? And Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Stuart Lewis: We have used 3 main channels to grow our member base.
- Digital marketing
- Word of mouth
Contrary to popular ageist stereotypes, our members are highly digital – there are 12 million Facebook profiles over the age of 50 in the UK, for example – which has led to success with using traditional digital marketing efforts.
I am also a firm believer in the value of public relations. As a business with a clear social purpose and conscience, we invest a lot of time in raising awareness of the issues our members face and giving them a platform in the public eye. This has led to significant media coverage and word of mouth spreading in our communities about what we do.
Which is the best marketing tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Stuart Lewis: It’s always hard to identify a single aspect that drives successful growth, but if I were to pick one thing, I would say that it is our single-minded mission and focus on helping our audience. Having a strong and collective sense of organizational purpose is an incredibly powerful thing. This cuts across all the marketing and growth work we do, from employers to the media to digital marketing.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Stuart Lewis: At its core, marketing is about understanding your customer, their needs, and empathizing with them. How is your product or service of relevance to them?
Marketing that focuses its message on how you’re helping to solve a greater purpose is always going to be more effective than marketing that tells people why your product is better than somebody else’s. It’s about thinking like a challenger brand, having a clear mission and driving awareness of this mission so that others start to spread the word organically.
I think the other opportunity with marketing today is to create the ability to test, learn, and improve rapidly. We see vastly different levels of engagement from people depending on the types of creative, message and location that we advertise in. For me, marketing has always been part art, part science, and while using intuition to come up with the campaigns and messaging that will have the most appeal is part of the puzzle. In today’s digital environment, marketers have never had a greater opportunity to test – fast. The more tests you run, and the faster you run them, the more chance you will find the best marketing tactics.
One story from the book “Art & Fear” particularly resonated with me. Here a ceramics teacher divided their class into two groups of students. The first group had to create as many posts as possible, and the second had to make only one, ‘perfect’ pot. In the end, the pots were scored based on their quality alone. Interestingly, all the best pots were made by those tasked with making as many pots as possible. By focusing on quantity, they learnt lots from each pot they made. Their experimentation led to rapid iteration and improvement – much as should be the case in today’s digital marketing world.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fundraising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?
Stuart Lewis: Starting early on your fundraising journey is always beneficial, as otherwise, it can become a very one-sided negotiation as you see your bank balance slowly deplete month on month! For us, that was about starting conversations about six months before our runway ran out to give us time to find the right investor and keep all options on the table. It’s essential to speak to a wide range of investors to identify those that share in your vision for the company. Sometimes, you’ll only see the value of having fantastic investors when the going gets tough. Having a shared vision for the company with your investors is crucial to enabling decisions to be made fast—progress to being made in the tough times, as well as the good times.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles in the process of fundraising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently? (Your insight or advice on this would be very helpful for startups)
Stuart Lewis: We’re thankful to have been very fortunate to date and are lucky to have two first-class investors on the cap table. There are plenty of operational decisions that we have got wrong – and have learnt from – but on the fundraising side, we’ve been incredibly fortunate.
My two bits of advice to other founders would probably be:
- Surround yourself with great people
Investors almost always back the team over the idea. As they say, ideas are nothing without the ability to deliver! So even from day one, we focused on bringing in the right mix of team, board and advisors to enable us to be a credible team that people wanted to back.
- Find investors who share the vision
What we found is that there are either investors who share in the vision, and ‘get it’ straight away, or they don’t. It’s hard to change an investor’s mind on the details if they simply don’t share the vision. With lots of liquidity in the venture capital market, keep putting your best foot forward as even if you get knock backs, you can learn from them, and you will eventually find someone who shares in your vision and believes in the team.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Stuart Lewis: As a marketplace, there are always benefits of scale and having proved the product-market fit. We’re focused on scaling as quickly as possible to benefit from and secure the associated network effects.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Stuart Lewis: When we look at the societal trends that prompted us to start Rest Less, many of them are global in theme. Increasing life expectancy, better health in later life, and seeing your 50s and 60s as a huge opportunity rather than something to be feared are broadly applicable across the globe. For us, we have built a platform that we can scale internationally, and due to the rate of testing and experimenting we have done, we have learnt huge amounts that will more than halve our speed to market in new geographies. The question with all things in startup land is one of sequencing, and when is the right time to look to new geographies.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global marketing?
Stuart Lewis: We don’t have experience with Rest Less yet, but in my corporate career, it was something we came across regularly. The key challenge is balancing centralization versus localization. There is no one size fits all approach, but for me, the platforms and capabilities are something well suited to centralization, whereas the emotive side of marketing has to be done locally. That’s where you find the best marketing practices – data-driven processes and capability combined with a brand that pulls on people’s sense of emotion.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
Stuart Lewis: The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted our business in various ways.
From a team perspective – we’ve always had flexible working policies and so moving to full remote working has been relatively straightforward, although you do have to work harder to keep the culture special in a fully remote environment.
From a business perspective, the one thing that we have certainty of is that uncertainty is here to stay. Every founder and business will have a different take on this, but our route is clear. Our users and members will be disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and will have more need for us and our services than ever.
As a mission-driven business, we are looking through this short term volatility and leaning into our users and member base. We are rapidly finding ways to enhance our products and services to meet their needs in these uncertain times. As such, we are focused heavily on developing our tech platform, building our content and testing new marketing strategies.
We have had to readjust some aspects and priorities in our growth strategy, our revenue mix, for example, has completely changed. Still, it has certainly been helpful to have this guiding sense of purpose that enables us to look through the short term bumps and difficulties to keep us focused on serving our member base. If we get this right, we will be very well placed when the world emerges on the other side, whatever that new normal may look like. Crucially, it also enables the team to remain focused on a growth mindset, rather than one of retrenchment and to hunker down.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company? (or What should all first-time startup founders know before they start their business?)
Stuart Lewis: Over investing in technology at the start. We all know that technology is key to unlocking huge business value-creating highly efficient scalable platforms. Startups focussed on building a solution that is focused on pioneering technological advancement aside. I’ve seen more startups fail due to over-investing in tech early on than anything else. They are then left with a fantastic platform that no one wants when they could have tested user demand and iterated functionality for next to nothing using off the shelf components. For every company, there comes an essential point to invest in technology to enable your business to scale – but in those first few months and years, the most important thing is to test fast to find and iterate product-market fit. It rarely requires huge technological investment to prove a concept. I’d challenge teams to ask themselves how they can prove demand for a service or feature within one week, and with minimal spend – before investing significant time and energy in the full-scale tech build out. The time to build is when you are confident that you have product market fit.
In terms of what founders should know before starting their business, I think it’s also important to understand the commitment that is growing a startup requires. It does come with a HUGE sense of satisfaction, but often the tales of hard work and overcoming challenges can be glorified in retrospect. The reality is that success almost always comes from hard work and sacrifices, day in day out and potentially for years on end as you set about building something from nothing. This means it’s crucial to build a strong support network around you, have honest conversations with those close to you about what it might mean for relationships, etc. and how you can make it work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Stuart Lewis: I think the best leadership advice came when I was at American Express from the then CEO Ken Chenault – he said it’s a leader’s job to ‘define reality, and provide hope.’
The first half – defining reality is about being honest with both your team and investors about how things are: don’t sugar coat – this is crucial to create both trust and authenticity. The second half is about how you engender a sense of hope and inspiration for the future in a shared vision. I find it so powerful in both its simplicity and its effectiveness – as it cuts to the heart of what leadership is ultimately about.
In terms of advice for others considering a startup, I think the biggest realization for me was that there was never a single moment where I thought – this is it. For me, a number of smaller moments along the journey ultimately made it a straightforward decision for me to quit my corporate role and make the leap finally. For example, the first step was the idea, and then it was refining the idea and building a business model. It was socializing it with trusted colleagues and angels to see if they thought it might work. It was having initial conversations with investors and speaking with my family and support network to find a way we could make it work. At any point on that journey, I could have stepped back and thought – this won’t work, but by the time I had gone through that series of steps – there was no ‘big moment of truth’ before committing – it was simply the next small step on the journey.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently to improve your life (or what kind of personal habits would you improve?) if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Stuart Lewis: I think on reflection. I wasted much of my teenage years. Like most founders, I have huge amounts of energy and drive – but I never found the outlet to focus my attention until I entered the workplace after leaving education. I wish I had understood more about entrepreneurialism back then, as I may have started several businesses early on in my career! The whole startup ecosystem didn’t have the same level of awareness and publicity that it does today, which is a shame as I think the whole space can provide an amazing focus and outlet for driven individuals looking to change things that are wrong in the world. It certainly isn’t perfect, but I find it fascinating that the whole startup ecosystem offers an alternative and hugely empowering route for ambitious young founders. If you don’t like the way something works, share your vision, raise some capital and go and build the future.
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