First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
James Russell: We are fine, thank you! We have two young boys, so while they can still go to school, they are happy, and we have some normality!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Brisk.
James Russell: My background is insurance – I spent 18 years at the insurance company, Aviva. I founded Brisk with our CTO, Greg Duffield, to give small businesses an advantage when it comes to running their business and keeping it trading. Big companies are harnessing the power of data and ‘AI’ to make them stronger, so we are doing the same for small businesses. Now more than ever, small businesses need a boost. We deliver this via a ‘digital assistant’ called Brisk. We are helping small businesses monitor risks and opportunities, like late-paying customers, savings opportunities, employee wellbeing, online reputation, the stability of companies they work with, cybersecurity, and more. Businesses love having their key information in one place and useful insights and alerts that they can act on before it’s too late. Moving from corporate life to building a new platform that is designed to help small businesses and their employees to be more resilient and stronger is a truly fulfilling thing to be doing right now.
Our business is safe and resilient. We founded Brisk in 2018 as part of the Founders Factory incubator program and launched in 2019.
How does Brisk innovate?
James Russell: By talking to customers! This is where it all starts: Listening to their frustrations and wishes. We then interpret these into hypotheses we test and validate through a series of concepts, prototypes, and eventually MVP features. All the time testing with customers to get feedback and validate that innovations solve a real problem or open up new possibilities they hadn’t yet considered.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
James Russell: We had some projects that were put on hold with larger companies, but an Advisory firm who was an existing client, approached us during the first lockdown, asking if we could help them extend content, articles, tools, and templates to their clients during lockdown. We collaborated to build a resource-hub for them. This is now live and being adopted by other advisory firms, business networks, and charities as a white-labeled platform where they can rapidly deploy a no-code solution to offer support to their clients and members.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
James Russell: We had to make choices about the work we continued with, what we stopped, and how we could save money ourselves while still supporting our customers and moving our business forward. As a startup, this is what you do all the time, but the pandemic magnified these challenges and the decisions we needed to take.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
James Russell: Fortunately, I have an amazing wife and family who support me, but they also show ‘tough-love’: They don’t let me get down or stay negative for too long! Being at home reminds me that there is life outside work and other people need me too. It’s all about balance. Happiness and health are the things I focus on, though. I worry about my team and my business and my customers, though: I can’t do everything I would wish I could do to support and help them, so I try and keep talking to them and support each other the best we can. Everyone has to make compromises and sacrifices at the moment – it’s hard for us all, in different ways.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
James Russell: We don’t really see anyone as true competitors. We are doing some similar things to the likes of Digital Fine Print, Futrli, Bewica, and Dyna Risk, to name a few. Still, we are actually working with some of them already as we recognize their strengths and how their solutions can complement ours. Our company name is ‘Collabrotech’ – because we believe in collaboration. Separate silos and standalone apps don’t help busy small businesses. We prefer to think about connecting and joining the ‘protection eco-system’ that is growing. Customers don’t care about ‘competitors’ – they want solutions that work and, if necessary, co-operate in service of them. Not compete and create dis-jointed experiences.
Your final thoughts?
James Russell: It’s tough running a startup right now, but like everyone else, we need to adapt look for the opportunities and ways we can be even more relevant to people. It’s all about moving forward – bit by bit, but moving forward all the time.