Neil Harris of Intently tells us about a platform that connects consumers to service providers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Neil Harris: We are very pleased that the vaccination program is moving quickly in the UK. Both my wife and I have already had the virus (a year ago), and things got quite serious, plus we’ve seen a number of people around us impacted by it. Our thoughts are with everybody who has been affected.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Intently.
Neil Harris: I’ve been a computer geek ever since I got my first computer back in 1981, a ZX81 no less, and have been programming all my life for my job and in some of my spare time. The idea for Intently came about when my family moved to a new area, and we needed to get hold of service providers – plumbers, carpet fitters, you name it. One evening, when I needed an eye appointment, I was driving down the high street past several closed opticians, and I shouted out of the window, “hey, can an optician see me in the morning?” knowing full well that no one was listening. And then it struck me – imagine if you could do that? Just announce something that you need, and have people come to you who can do it. It would save so much time for consumers. I decided that I had to build it! This was 10 years ago, and Intently is growing year on year.
How does Intently innovate?
Neil Harris: We value every communication we have with our customers and try to learn from them – this is primarily how we decide on how to improve our product. Communication comes in several forms. Some customers call and email us to ask questions or ask for new features – this is useful for direct communication. Secondly, we observe how our customers use our product and learn from this – what do they do most often, where do they spend their time, what don’t they care about? All of this, plus ideas of our own, help us to drive our product forward.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Neil Harris: Our website deals with a very wide range of consumer services, so we’ve seen a shift in terms of the services requested as the situation has changed around the world. Put it this way, we do not see a lot of limo hire requests at the moment! But we are seeing a lot of home improvements being requested, along with health services and delivery services. In terms of effects on our team, to be honest, these have not been particularly significant, mainly because we can work from anywhere and we’ve never really used an office – we just do everything online.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Neil Harris: Sorry for the lack of drama, but no, we have not had to make difficult choices. However, we are seeing that our customers are sometimes having to make difficult choices regarding their subscriptions with us, and as such, our revenue growth for the last 12 months has not been as steep as in previous years. I think a lot of companies have faith in the pandemic being temporary and that they will recover.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Neil Harris: We have a number of competitors. Over the years, it’s been really interesting to be part of this space. When we founded our business back in 2011, there was a lot of buzz around companies like Intently (companies in the Intention Economy or intentcasting). There was a feeling that at any moment, a massive company would step in and completely dominate the market, and many of my friends told me that I couldn’t compete. This hasn’t happened (yet!). We’ve seen a lot of startups in the space disappear or pivot, but quite a few have stayed the course too. I feel like Intently is a good product and that we understand our market, so I feel like we can continue to succeed – 10 consecutive years of growth can’t be bad.
Your final thoughts?
Neil Harris: I just wanted to say that startups aren’t for the faint-hearted or the hesitant. You have to completely believe in your idea if you’re going to put in the obsessive work ethic that you will need to get these things off the ground, but you also need to be a realist – it’s a hard balance to achieve but so rewarding if you can find it.
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