Our ongoing series of interviews with Yorkshire business leaders and entrepreneurs is designed to inspire. For those just starting out in business, insights and advice from already established and successful businesses can prove invaluable. For this Q&A session, we spoke to someone who we believe is, or at least should be, a big inspiration to young business minds and budding entrepreneurs.
Your Baby Club boasts 4.5 million subscribers worldwide and a monthly social media reach of 14 million. We were keen to learn more about the man behind this innovative platform and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Here’s our Q&A session with Alec Dobbie…
Hi Alec, could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Alec Dobbie, CEO and co-founder of FanFinders. Shortly after becoming a dad and realising my partner’s data and that of other parents was being misused, I joined up with some smart people to launch our performance marketing and consumer intelligence company back in 2013.
We now have over 4.5 million parents signed up on Your Baby Club, our self-coded platform, employ 28 people and operate in two continents.
Working out of my conservatory in Yorkshire, I pitch in by using my 20 years’ experience as a software developer and oversee our growth strategy. We’re busy mapping out new versions of our technology and international expansion, but I still find the time to buy daft hats for members of our team if they turn up late to our virtual ‘all hands’ meeting.
Could you tell us a little about what you were doing prior to launching FanFinders?
I’d created various businesses in the past, but none of them really took off. They all felt as though they would remain a ‘side hustle’, as they now call it. At the time I was working as a developer and actively enjoyed it as a job. Being born with two left hands, it’s about as artisan as I’m going to get. I’m not going to pick up the woodwork tools and build some furniture, but I can create something with code. That approach led us to FanFinders. It was playing around with stuff and seeing what we could make work online, then even more tweaking and experimenting.
What inspired you to launch your business and does your initial vision for FanFinders differ much to how the business operates today?
We were looking at ways of taking the traditional in-person baby club sign-up online, with the aims to arbitrage the cost of finding a member, reduce data list-selling and the subsequent spamming. Having experienced the impact of more traditional marketing methods after starting our own families, we wanted to put the power of controlling where their data goes back in the hands of parents. Our technology has evolved but I’d say the objective is the same: permission-based marketing to parents through 1st party consent and consumer choice – with zero spam.
Your Baby Club has been a huge success so far and you have a monthly social media reach of over 14 million people. What were your main challenges when launching Your Baby Club and how did you overcome them?
The most important lesson I took from my previous ventures was knowing that it’s vital to get other people around the table to help you. For us, the main challenges weren’t putting in place the tech, but how to then drive users and brands to join our network. Different opinions and voices can have a huge impact on the direction and the more you can get involved quickly, the better for the company. No matter how multi-skilled you are, there will be things you don’t know and that’s why bringing people into the mix with similar values but different points of expertise (like sales or marketing) was so important.
There are a vast number of blogs and online communities out there for parents. What do you think made Your Baby Club so successful?
I think it was bringing something different to the marketplace. Because we’ve always been tech-first as a business, that gave us an advantage. We designed Your Baby Club from day one to be personalised, globally scalable and innovative. Transparency has also been at the heart of everything. Being clear with users about what will and will not happen with their data lets us focus on creating the best value exchange between them and brands instead. I’d say in recent times, being authentic, having experts aboard and offering a real ‘voice of modern parents’ in our content has also contributed.
If you could go back to the day you made the decision to launch FanFinders, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?
Try not to be close-minded about what you think is correct. When it comes to making decisions, you, of course, have to listen to your own instincts but it’s just as important to be able to take on board the opinions and voices of others.
How do you personally define success?
Getting to walk my kids to school. That was a genuine target for me – something you would put up on a board with a tick-box next to it. I was able to walk my kids to school until they didn’t need me to anymore.
What does the future hold for FanFinders?
More people, working in a smarter way, in more places around the world – working in different languages with what I hope is the same fab culture. We’re currently building the best version of our software yet and everything we do will be based on the same vision: creating a better experience for our members and more opportunities for our partners.
Finally, if you could change three things in the world right now, what would they be?
I’d make sure all children had enough to eat; ensure female sanitary products aren’t seen as a luxury, but instead a basic human right everywhere; and perhaps stating the obvious, but let’s get rid of COVID-19 too.