How Virgin helped boost my business

Since 2011, Virgin has run an annual competition to help entrepreneurs boost their business and give them  the chance to pitch their ideas to Richard Branson.

Paul Bojarski is founder of Sceenic, a start-up that is working on technology to enable people to watch television together, despite being in different locations. Last year, he entered the VOOM competition. We caught up with him to find out more about how that impacted his business…

Why did you enter VOOM last year?

I think the objective was really clear to us actually, it was to get on the radar of Virgin Media as a TV company. I thought that as the exposure with them grew, the more attention I would get and if I got into the top 20 of the competition then there would be more chance of getting an introduction to the right person at Virgin Media.

My master plan was always to get more exposure and to be able to get that introduction - that's really the reason that I entered.

How long had you been running your business when you entered the competition?

That's a complicated question because right before VOOM, we did a pivot - a change in the direction of the business. Before that we were a company called Say Yeah for about two years and during those two years, it was all about trying and failing, seeing what users like, trying and failing, repeat until we reached a final product that we reached a final product that we presented at VOOM.

What were you doing pre-pivot?

We were always concentrating on the innovation of how people watch television together, across different locations. Before, we were looking at it as a B2C model, going directly to consumers under a different name. Then we decided it was really hard to get content on to our platform for people to watch together so we had to solve two problems: get content, and the innovation of watching together.

Just before VOOM and even during the competition we were still working all of this out and during my pitch I said about us being B2C and B2B and Peter Kelly (managing director of Virgin Media Business) asled, "Which one is it?" And I think what VOOM really gave me was the right questions for us to then realise that we were not a B2C model business. That's definitely something we got out of the competition, the judges gave us some good questions and really made me realise that it was time for us to go down the B2B route. It really helped me to refine and focus my product.

If you're an entrepreneur and people are asking questions of your product or your business model, don't think that they're at fault - no, you're at fault so improve it. I used the suggestions from Peter Kelly, and other people at Virgin Media Business, to see that we wouldn't work as a B2C business, so we've pursued B2B instead. It's definitely important to come with an open mind and take the questions on board as learnings, not an attack one you or your business model.

You made it to the top 20, but didn't make it to the final, how has that experience impacted your business?

The main thing is introductions that we gained from the VOOM competition. Since getting into VOOM that has been the biggest result for us, and it has resulted in a pilot test of our technology on Virgin Media that we're currently running.

The second thing that's been really important for us is the networking and community element of it. I keep in touch with a number of the other entrepreneurs like Toby MacCartney from MacRebur, Olly Bolton from What A Melon, it's a community. You can learn from each other - we share war stories and advice. Sometimes you give and sometimes you get back.

And also the PR support has really helped, that gives us visibility. I was going into meetings at the BBC and the buyers there were saying, 'I know you from somewhere, I've seen you somewhere - television or social media.' And then they're realise it was from the VOOM competition. That was really nice to get that recognition.

I've also had an experience where I was on the tube going to a Virgin Media demo day that was just after the final and there were three girls on the train who recognised me from the Pitchathon. So we took a picture with the Say Yeah (as we were called back then) glasses. 

You're working on the pilot with Virgin Media at the moment - what's next for Sceenic?

Hopefully the pilot results will be good and the beta testers will like the experience of watching together through their TiVo boxes. If that goes well that hopefully we'll get a commercial role out with Virgin Media and then go on to innovate and revolutionise how we watch content. I come from eight years at a really big media company and I did this because I would love for our industry to move forward. How many times have you been in another place, talking to your mum or your grandparents and you're watching the Olympics but you're separated by distance? I hope the next step will be that we can really innovate and push forward the industry that we love so much. And hopefully that will mean a commercial deal.

For anyone thinking about getting involved with the VOOM Tour this year what would your advice be?

Come with a lot of optimism and be prepared to learn - that's how you'll get the most out of VOOM. Coming in thinking that you know it all or that you're already a great business, come and network, share with people, help other people and people will be willing to help you. But come ready to learn, with two or three problems that you're facing in your business that you want to solve and VOOM will be able to encourage you and help you with those.

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