Ben Prouty (MSc Management 2006) is the proud co-founder of Shepper, a start-up which carries out on-demand inspections on assets. The business has just raised $5.4m in funding, with support from angel investors as well as Aviva Ventures and Norway’s Idekapital Fund 1. Ben is a serial entrepreneur, with experience at some exciting and disruptive start-ups including Streetcar (which was sold to Zipcar in 2010) and LOVESPACE. He is no stranger to hard work, determination and success. Here he talks to us about his international expansion plans for Shepper and his funding success.
How did you come up with the idea for the business?
The idea came to my co-founder, Carl August Ameln, when he was struggling to find someone to check on his property abroad following some severe weather. He felt helpless thousands of miles away, unsure if the roof had blown off of his house. As it was a holiday destination, none of his neighbours were there off-season and traditional security companies were not prepared to conduct a one-off visit. All he wanted was a few pictures to give him that peace of mind.
Shepper performs on-demand tailored data collection and operational activities for businesses all over the world via a network of trusted local people. The types of businesses that use the service include those who operate in the shared economy space, residential and commercial real estate, insurance companies and commercial services where we can provide in-store retail checks and competitor analysis.
What have been the main challenges you faced in setting it up the business?
Nothing that we haven’t been able to overcome! Having been a part of two start-ups in the past, most of the challenges we’ve faced so far have been expected.
"The main challenge with an idea like this is educating your customer that this alternative way of doing things exists, which can take time."
Shepper operates across the globe, how difficult has it been setting up the business in other countries?
There are the usual hoops you need to jump through in terms of the legalities of setting up abroad, but we’re fortunate that we don’t need to have a physical presence in every country in which we operate. Furthermore, there are no big capital expenditure requirements to launch in a new territory. All we need is someone who’s downloaded our app and been through our on-boarding process.
How did you go about seeking funding and what is your advice to other entrepreneurs?
I think it certainly helped that we had a track record of success with other start-ups and we have incredibly supportive and patient angel investors. It’s never an easy process though and my advice would be to start much earlier than you think as it always takes longer to complete than anticipated. Have as many conversations as possible with angels, VCs and corporates, therefore giving yourself options. Even though that VC may not be ready to invest in your business until you reach a certain milestone, getting to know them and building a relationship early on could pay dividends later.
What is next for the business in terms of international expansion?
Next up for us is the US. We’ve dipped our toe in the water, testing interest and have confirmed that similar demand conditions exist there. The US is somewhere that we will be formally setting up an office very soon. We believe that to crack the US market you need to take it seriously and you need to actually be there. Beyond the US, we’ll continue running Europe from London and will grow our operation in South Africa.
How did you time at the Business School help you in setting up Shepper?
My MSc Management programme at Imperial College Business School has certainly helped to get me where I am today. I joined Streetcar (later sold to Zipcar) immediately following my degree. My time at Imperial gave me a very well-rounded introduction to all facets of a business, something that is vital when joining an early stage business where you’re interacting with all functions on a daily basis.
And finally, where does the name Shepper come from?
The name ‘Shepper’ is derived from the word ‘Shepherd’. We believe that Shepper is a modern take on the work shepherds have been doing for centuries, walking around their communities and looking after their most valued possessions.