Welcome to our brand-new, entrepreneur Q&A series. Each month we aim to illustrate a different perspective and story, giving you an insightful and inspiring view into the journey of an entrepreneur.
Julie Grieve is the Founder and CEO of Criton, a successful app builder that allows hotels, serviced apartment operators, Airbnb hosts and holiday homeowners to convert their guest information into a downloadable white labelled app for smartphones (iOS, Android, progressive web app). Grieve has embraced technological advances to create a solution to help guests have the information they need at their fingertips.
We had the opportunity to catch up with the multi-talented entrepreneur to discover what it is was like to start with the big idea and grow it into a successful business.
In three words, how would you describe the journey you took when creating Criton?
JG – Exhilarating, terrifying, life affirming….oops is that 4?
Is there anything you’ve learnt, that you wish you’d have known when you first started developing the Criton app?
If I had my time again I would run the beta test differently. I basically asked some friends and friends of friends to trial Criton and got very little feedback, except, “oh it’s great, well done!” If I had my time again I would work more closely with less operators and really get better feedback.
What was the most enjoyable part of creating the company?
It’s the people, both the customers and helping to solve their problems, and the team, watching them come together and really get behind the product, it’s just so exciting.
Was there anything not so enjoyable?
I had always expected to raise cash and so the roadmap was prepared but we didn’t have the staff to really kick off until the deal was done, the period of waiting was frustrating to say the least! I had to become a sponsoring organisation to give a student who had interned with me and was doing an amazing job, a visa so he could remain in the UK and work for us, the process is hugely frustrating due to the level of red tape. Considering the shortage of developers in the UK right now, it seemed ludicrous to me that a small company had to jump through such hoops.
There is nothing quite like the Criton app on the market, how did you come up with the idea?
After exiting the serviced office sector where I sold Abbey Business Centres to Regus, I moved to work with the Chris Stewart Group to set up their operating company, Lateral City and as part of that I opened the glorious Old Town Chambers, 50 five star serviced apartments on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Having spent a fortune on the guest welcome pack folder and lots of time pulling the information together I realised within the first couple of weeks it was out of date because a restaurant I had recommended closed. It was just non-technical and hard to update. I got a quote for an app which was £8.5K, too much for a startup plus I wanted to control the content and so I looked for WordPress for apps, it didn’t exist and the rest is history!
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who believe they’ve got that next big idea?
It has really helped me to have come from the industry and so I would say you really need to know your industry. Oh, and it will take longer and cost much more than you think!
Do you enjoy being your own boss?
Yes! It can be lonely however and I am really enjoying building up the management team so that it’s not all down to me, which is much better for the business.
When new companies first start out how would you advise they deal with their finances?
Write a budget and stick to it, be very very tight with cash, and keep forecasting your cash, keeping a close eye on the bank account. Consider your runway (how long your cash will last) and understand that if part of your plan is raising investment it will take time and your cash needs to last through the process.
Is there anything entrepreneurs may forget to focus on when they start out?
Undoubtedly, there is so much to focus on. From my experience, it’s probably mostly been my sleep and fitness!
Are you able to tell us what you have in store for Criton over the next 18 months?
We are just launching our progressive web app which makes having an app much more affordable for smaller businesses who might not want to meet Apple’s stringent criteria and we are developing new features so that hotel groups can use Criton and we have started our integration programme which will take us towards our ultimate goal of being the world’s leading portal for guest facing technology. We believe the future of guest facing technology is own device and we want to help independents and groups have the same (I would argue better!) technology than the big chains. We will also enter the events and visitor attraction sectors. And finally, we are very close to deciding which will be our first and second overseas markets. It’s going to be a very busy couple of years, I can’t wait!
Want to find out more about Criton and Julie Grieve?