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Expert Insights: Toby Mather on bringing Live Puppy Love to London Startups

August 20th, 2014 by

When you picture an entrepreneur in your head, what do you see?

Mid 30s? Climbed the corporate ladder before branching out alone? Balding with stress?

toby_1 - croppedToby Mather is none of those things. Rather, he is the 21 year-old who has created the startup which has Shoreditch’s startups buzzing. Not to mention a healthy part of their social media.

TreatMyTeam is a new service which connects London businesses with the perks which employees long for. Whether it’s a plate of brownies on a Friday afternoon, or a basket of puppies to raise your team’s morale through the roof, TreatMyTeam connects you to them with a click.

The initial idea was borne from Toby’s time at another startup, where booking musical entertainment for a launch party was found to be unnecessarily difficult.

“The idea morphed in my head into a platform where you can book anything which is non-work,” he explains. “And non-work is what I go for when I add providers to the site. The ‘perks’ are a big part of startup culture, particularly in the States. It’s not so talked about over here, so we’re providing a platform where people can easily, cheaply and quickly book stuff which improves office culture and makes the team happy. But alongside that there’s the more meaty stuff like a venue for your event or a really nice brewery which can provide beer for your team on a Friday.

“So bringing that all together we came up with this idea for offices to find stuff – the only thing you can’t buy is staples. It’s all non-work.”

The business was co-founded with a friend from his last job, who works part-time as a designer. But the bulk of the responsibility clearly sits upon Toby’s shoulders. For a particularly young entrepreneur, how difficult was it to launch a business?

“I started it lean. When we launched the website there were no suppliers for the treats that we offered. And we thought, if we get bookings, then we’ll find suppliers. We had some initial bookings, and the great thing is, since then, a lot of our best suppliers have approached us through the marketing we’ve done. Things like the puppy delivery have generated a lot of buzz on Twitter, so we’ve had an unexpected surge. Then there’s more unusual things like a team-building experience where you have to build a fire, roll your spices and create a curry. The challenge is to not burn it. Or set fire to your tent. There’s also corporate surfing lessons and lots of other cool things which have emerged through the process of doing it.”

treats1Whereas many ‘entrepreneurs’ nowadays begin a business either with crippling debt or pecuniary parentals, Tony has embraced the modern tech offerings with a thoroughly old school work ethic. This has included hand delivering baked goods from Camden to Shoreditch, then attending to email admin until the small hours – although now he is looking to outsource both these things.

Another impressive feat is the fact that TreatMyTeam are yet to use any kind of paid-for marketing – all outreach so far has been thoroughly organic through the magic of Twitter.

“The first idea when we were deciding on categories was that we should put in puppies and kittens. We weren’t sure how possible it would be, although we knew there were agencies. But we put them up for fun and it really kicked off on Twitter. People would tweet about it, tweet it to their friends, who would then come to the website and order Pretzels from us. They would tell other businesses about us and through that we’ve had some bookings.

“People often ask me for our Facebook or Instagram handles, but since it’s just me right now running this on my own we’re currently only using Twitter. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, but part of the plan for the future is expand. But it makes it very easy at the moment when people ask how to reach us. You just tell them @treatmyteam.”

Although 2013 was the year that business really began taking social media seriously, it has a special place in the heart of start ups. It hands the power of outreach away from the agencies and back into the hands of the entrepreneurs. Has it been a big influencer for TreatMyTeam?

“I’ve never run a company before, so I realised the importance of social media as I’ve gone along.” admits Toby. “It’s become more and more central to the strategy. Especially being a startup – and we’re a B2B fun company, so people like talking about that.”

Not that it’s been smooth sailing for Toby so far, and despite the curtain still being barely raised on his company, he has already learned some harsh business lessons.

kittens“The Evening Standard were going to run a feature on us, but we couldn’t provide kittens at short enough notice. It’s quite hard to get a puppy or kitten on the day that people ask for them. But we’re doing one for a start up next week. Currently we’re trying to change the puppy model so it’s easier to deliver the puppies, by talking with a different provider. Currently they have to be given lots of advance notice.”

Mariah Carey famously demands puppies in her dressing room, but it sounds like the creatures themselves are a far bigger basket of divas. Getting them from one end of London, while keeping costs down, has been one of Toby’s biggest logistical challenges in bringing boxes of puppy love to London.

“We had a puppy booking which was cancelled, the reason being we couldn’t deliver on the day that they wanted. You realise that you can’t overpromise. That was a mistake I made early on, and when you lose money it hurts more. But it’s a more useful lesson: give people realistic expectations.”puppies

And although he is now in a position of being approached by suppliers, Toby is quick to turn away those who he does not feel make the TreatMyTeam cut. Cringe-worthy costume-based team-building days are out.

But despite the hard lessons of self-employment, Toby is still thrilled to be operating his own business.

“I’ve always wanted to do so. And I worked for a startup before, which gave me the flexibility of working whenever I wanted to. But with working for yourself, I suppose, it’s the only time when you feel total strategic control. You can react immediately when someone tells you you’re doing something right, and when they tell you you’re doing something wrong. If someone puts in a booking after you’ve taken their advice and made a small change it’s a massive lift. But also being able to control my diary, set up meetings when I want to, and not being called on by other people. I quite like that.”

As to the future? Having spent just over £200 getting started Toby is looking for bigger sales, website improvements and possible investment to get marketing going – with the aim of getting tube advertising in the not-too-distant future.

And although for this blog series I’ve interviewed people with names on billboards, PR princesses and international-reaching entrepreneurs, I can’t help but feel that 21 year-old Toby’s one-man operation is quite possibly the most inspiring insight yet.

“I wish I’d started it as a two-man operation” he reminisces as we wrap up. “I mean, four hands right?”

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