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The SaaS Podcast

George Richardson - AeroCloud

AeroCloud: A SaaS Journey of Pivot and Persistence – with George Richardson [383]

AeroCloud: A SaaS Journey of Pivot and Persistence

George Richardson is the co-founder and CEO of AeroCloud, an airport management software that helps airports optimize operations and revenue.

In 2017, after retiring as a professional race car driver, George was looking for a new challenge. He randomly met Ian at a coffee shop in England and after they got to know each other, they decided to start a business together.

Ian had previously built and sold an on-prem software product for airports. So given his domain expertise, the duo decided to build an app to help airlines resell last-minute plane tickets, but they struggled for 2 years to gain traction.

Eventually, they had an aha moment. They asked themselves – why not take Ian's proven on-prem airport management software and reinvent it for the cloud?

It seemed like the winning idea they had been searching for.

So they pivoted and started building a new product. But even with Ian's strong track record, they still struggled to sign those critical first customers.

A breakthrough eventually came at a conference when a potential customer said he'd use AeroCloud if the founders could build custom features for his airport.

It wasn't trivial work and risky to use up much of their limited time and money.

But the gamble worked – after making the improvements to the product, their first airport signed up to pay for AeroCloud. This success convinced other airports to sign on too, giving George and Ian much-needed early momentum.

Fast forward to today – AeroCloud now serves 60 enterprise airport customers, has grown to a team of 60 across the US and UK, and hit multiple millions in ARR.

In this episode you'll learn:

  • How George convinced early customers to take a risk on AeroCloud's unproven solution.
  • What crucial mistake the founders made that nearly bankrupted AeroCloud before they recovered.
  • How George turned down a customer asking for discounts by reframing the value their product provides.
  • How the founders maintained conviction AeroCloud would succeed despite constant setbacks threatening their survival.
  • Why George feels life as a SaaS founder brings much harder struggles than his time as a professional race car driver.

I hope you enjoy it!

Transcript

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This is a machine-generated transcript.

[00:00:00] Omer: George, welcome to the show.

[00:00:01] George: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to be on.

[00:00:03] Omer: Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?

[00:00:08] George: Yeah, it's funny. I was, when I was prepping for this, I, I, I think that it changes and I actually have a a pen that I can write on the mirror in my bathroom and the quote changes very, very frequently.

[00:00:20] But at the moment is, if you're gonna do it, do it properly.

[00:00:23] Omer: I love that one. I dunno if, if there's somebody famous who said that or whatever, but. I, I, I like that.

[00:00:29] George: I dunno, I dunno where it came from, but that's what I got at the moment.

[00:00:33] Omer: So tell us about Aero Cloud. What does the business do? Who's it for and what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

[00:00:38] George: So, Aero Cloud, you should think about aero Cloud, like a crystal ball by the medium of AI and machine learning that helps airports specifically airport operations. People predict the future, so it gives them an insight to all of their data, all of their time. All of the time presented 24 7 from any device anywhere in the world.

[00:01:00] And it's aimed at driving operational capacity planning and utilization. So effectively we figured out pretty early on that airports have a specific amount of tarmac. They need to utilize this specific amount of tarmac and they also have a specific amount of passengers and they need to maximize the spend of those passengers.

[00:01:19] And all of this comes together in this crystal ball, which we call the intelligent Airport Management platform. And anybody can have access to it as long as you've got an airport login. And we're a SaaS enterprise company aimed at currently small to medium sized airports across the globe, but specifically within Europe and the us.

[00:01:36] Omer: Great. And can you give us a sense of the size of the business where you. In terms of revenue, customers size of team.

[00:01:44] George: Yeah, absolutely. So we are at 60 customers. We employ 60 people across the UK and America. And we are multiple millions in a RR at this moment in time. And we are approaching a potential funding round where I know this is maybe a subjective figure, but maybe approaching on the traditional series B metrics.

[00:02:08] Omer: Okay, great. So let's before we start talking about where the idea for this business. Came from. Let's talk about what you were doing before you started Aero Cloud because you have a very unique background and, and I've never met a founder who was a professional race car driver and a, a very successful one for many years.

[00:02:33] So just, just tell us a little bit about that. What were you doing?

[00:02:36] George: Oh, well, I mean that, again, success is kind of subjective in a way. I think if you look at my stats, I had a 6% podium rate, which at my level at professional is, is good in my eyes, but I think it others have had probably better. But yes, I turned professional when I was 16 years old, effectively because I had no other route to any profession nor education.

[00:02:59] I knew quite a lot about driving. I knew quite a lot about raising. Capital for sponsorship and I was blessed with a great network. The. Reason why I stopped was effectively I wasn't getting any better and was not happy with my performance and, and not getting any better, and I needed a new challenge.

[00:03:20] So I very much enjoyed my previous career, but I, I think that the lessons I learned were pivotal to me starting a, a startup and also the network that I acquired. Over those 10 years of being a professional driving for multiple manufacturers and, and gentleman drivers and, and, and initiating sponsorship and, and placing sponsorship checks both for myself and for others.

[00:03:45] Taught me an awful lot that I, that I translated into to building this business. So, so, yeah, it's, it is interesting. I, I think that it's kind of funny because I, I. I don't necessarily think of myself as an ex racing driver. It kind of just feels in a way, like a bit of a blur. You know, you are traveling all of the time.

[00:04:03] You very much struggle to keep any, certainly any romantic relationship afloat, nevermind relationships with your family. And, you know, my home was the airport, which is part of the reason why airports intrigued me and, and started my love for them. So yeah, it, it's, it's, it's funny to think, but nice to think in, in, in a way that, that I'm a completely different person really now.

[00:04:24] Omer: So where did the idea for Aero Cloud come from?

[00:04:27] George: Sure. So it's a funny story that I told multiple times. It's really, really quite simple, is that when I'd retired, I. I turned to my network to try and present a new opportunity to me and multiple meetings with multiple people.

[00:04:40] And one of the meetings was in a Costa Coffee which is a chain coffee shop in the uk where I was coming into. I. One meeting with one individual called Gareth, and my co-founder, or my soon to be co-founder at that time was coming outta a meeting with Gareth. He was a Monga who was over visiting.

[00:05:00] And my co-founder knew him because their daughters went to the same school and I knew him from trying to court him for sponsorship money. And he was a local businessman and very, very well sold his business and moved to Monaco. And when he was visiting, he would sit down and, and meet with. His friends, his colleagues, his past colleagues and potential people that would do business with him.

[00:05:20] And as we were having this exchange, he said, oh, you guys should chat. You're both retired and have nothing to do. And I said, oh, hi I'm George nice to meet you. And Ian said, hi, Ian. He said do you want to grab a coffee tomorrow? Because effectively I aren't, I'm not doing anything. Right. He'd sold his company doing what we do now.

[00:05:37] We had this coffee and we started to talk about problems that we'd both encountered around the airport and airline space. He had sold a business to one of our legacy competitors that we compete against now doing what we do. But on Tin, you know, on on-prem. And he knew the industry backwards.

[00:05:55] He'd never had another job outside of airports or building his business. I'd spent an awful lot of time traveling and we developed an application for airlines to resell first class travel at a discounted price, 40 minutes price departure, and to cut an awful long story, it didn't scale in the way that we wanted it to.

[00:06:12] We were both at a conference. With these airlines trying to sell to airlines. And we turned to each other and said, should we just do what you used to do? But in this new thing that's catching on in this world now called the cloud and, and bring airports up to speed because they traditionally were quite an i archaic outfit.

[00:06:31] And we both said, yeah, a hundred percent. And and that was it. That was the idea that was born. And I've had a passion for airports not necessarily aviation, but airports and how they operate. I. Ever since. And I remained the CEO of this company and I'm very proud and passionate about what we're building.

[00:06:49] Omer: So the two of you decided you were gonna build a different product and you did build a different product help airlines resell last minute seats, and you, you, you were struggling to sell that. To these airlines, and then eventually you guys at some point came up with this idea. How long, how long was that process in terms of that building that first product and getting to the point where you decided, no, we're gonna do this, this thing that Ian was doing before, but in the cloud?

[00:07:20] George: Well, that's a long, arduous story really, because you've got zero traction, zero customers, you've got zero contacts. Like neither of us knew anything about airlines. Ian knew an awful lot about airports, but believe it or not, the two are not linked at all. So we were starting completely from fresh.

[00:07:39] Building a product completely from fresh in a new tech stack that, you know, Ian had self-taught himself at that time, me being totally useless because I'm not technical at all and, and couldn't help other than with user flows and branding and naming and, and, and functionality ideas. So effectively I was contributing to product, but not from a technical perspective.

[00:08:00] And it took us two years of zero pay and arduous long meetings with highly commercial enterprises that are airlines working on thin margins that beat you up very, very hard and they want to finish product when, you know, we weren't able to give anything more than an MVP. And it was tough and really, really tough.

[00:08:20] And, and we finally made the decision to move back to what we knew, if you like, after a series of meetings with some of the largest airlines that we managed to get, but we, we just didn't see. A category defining company in that technology. We didn't see contribution to local GDP like we see now, and how important ports are to local infrastructure, whether that be to education, religion, capital, expenditure politics connectivity, democracy like we see here.

[00:08:52] And I think that it's kind of interesting now that we come full circle and I have some airline clients, is that airlines are, you know, focused on revenue and airports are focused on passenger experience and then revenue. And obviously that changes market to market. But it's, it's really interesting what airports do that people don't realize.

[00:09:15] Omer: So Ian had the, the domain expertise, having previously built a company, doing something similar and, and probably on the product side you know, I know today you, you kind of leading sales has been one, one of the things that you've, you've been doing. Is that something you had experience with? Because it seems to me like you've come from a completely different world of professional race car driving, and then now you're in this place where it's like software cloud selling founder, right?

[00:09:44] All of these new things. And like how, how much did you come into, you know, how much experience did you come in with?

[00:09:49] George: Well, nothing really. And I think that that's, you know, for anybody listening, you know, if, if you determine what we've achieved at AeroCloud to be in any, what successful, I mean, you, you don't need a prelim education for doing anything, in my opinion, unless you're a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, or some of those sorts of professions, right?

[00:10:10] So my job at a cloud still is to ask. The difficult questions. And usually that question is one word. It's why, and what was great about me and Ian is that Ian understood the problem deeply and I didn't. And that was what was great because I used to say, well, why do they do it that way? And he'd say, well, that's the way they've always done it.

[00:10:30] And I say, well, why can we, can we change the way that they think about this? Can we change the billing model? Can we actually make enterprise grade SaaS in a market that doesn't encourage that or, or hasn't encouraged that or promoted that from within before. And you know, if you find that you are targeting an industry and the answer to why is that that's the way that they've always done it, there's probably a high chance that there's something there.

[00:10:57] And then it's having that tenacity and you know, what I call cockroach ness to get consistently trodden on, but continually pursuit of what you deem to be the answer or what you deem to have information on, or what you deem to be of value. And you combine all of those elements together, which are fairly simple, as long as you've got self-confidence, you can get there.

[00:11:21] And I, and I, and I really think that I, I don't think it's that complex. The complex thing comes with raising capital, with building financial models, with hiring the right people, with managing people, with scaling a business, with being bang on with your numbers. That's way more complex and you have to take some training and you have to take some advice for that.

[00:11:41] But if you're open-minded and self-aware, you can do that as well. But I think the first stage is just having the ability to be comfortable with being naive and comfortable with being the stupidest person in the room. And, and actually welcoming that. I still thrive on that now and I, I sort of get a bit of a kick really from that.

[00:11:59] You could call it inverted snobbery. 'cause I'm in my position as a CEO of, you know, a series a company and a lot of people look at me in a, in a way, like, wow, you know, he, he must be really quite bright and I'll ask a really stupid question, just see people's reactions change, but actually what I get from somebody who is far more advanced or is far more knowledge based than I am, or far cleverer than I am, what I get out of them in a response to a stupid question usually is of of great value that I can either use or the business can use, or collectively we can use together for, for something better.

[00:12:32] And I, and I think that, you know, as long as you've got that self-confidence, I think it's good.

[00:12:37] Omer: So you mentioned that it took the two of you about two years to build. The, the first version of, of Aero Cloud, and I know you managed to get to the first 200 k or so in a RR without raising any money. What was the process that you went through to.

[00:12:59] Find those initial customers. I mean obviously Ian's got the track record and, and, and, you know, some credibility there, which potentially helps open doors have conversations with, with airports. But you'd also told me earlier this is mission critical software, and so being like, who wants to be the first one to sign up for?

[00:13:22] For something new and no one, right? Yeah. So what, you know, how easy or hard was it to get those, those initial customers?

[00:13:31] George: So it, it, it doesn't necessarily take two years for us to build, so it's a slight correction there, but I think that, that, the key thing is, is that we were able to scale to about 200 K of ARR USD without the need for exterior capital.

[00:13:44] Just by me and Ian, and I'll tell you how we did that step by step and, and I think that if I was doing this again. This is exactly how I would do it. I think that this yielded the best possible results at at the time, which is that a single founder businesses are much more difficult than founding a business with somebody with a complimentary skillset to you.

[00:14:06] So if you are thinking about starting a business. Think about what you're really bad at and, and go and find what someone else is really good at to compliment you are really bad at. And what we did was pretty simple is we went to the conference in the us This one happened to be in Florida, it's called the Florida Airports Council.

[00:14:24] And we just floor walked and spoke to as many people as possible. And ideated, I think there's another common misconception that people have these ideas, ideas. I heard recently from Elon Musk in an interview. His ideas he reckons are worth a million dollars of, of enterprise value, right? But that's because he's got a significant vehicle behind him.

[00:14:45] And I think that his ideas should be kept in a close SLT and should be kept in a, in a confined area. But ideas at a startup are effectively worth absolutely nothing without action. So execution is number one. So what we found is that we wanted to speak with people about our idea and we chucked as much mud at the wall and hoped stuff would stick.

[00:15:12] And that means that you have to do the hard yards. So obviously we got attendance lists of the conference. We emailed every single person before we flew with a request for a coffee or a beer or whatever it may be. No one responded. So then we had to go round saying, Hey, are you, are you Omer from this airport?

[00:15:30] I emailed you. You never emailed me back. Would you have five minutes out? Take a coffee. Very little people tell you where to get off when you track 'em down like that. I think that tenacious nurse is something that you need to show and you need to show that passion and willing to understand somebody's problem.

[00:15:46] Anyway, we, we did this time and time again over the three days. Really beat up about 4:00 PM on the last day. I get a text on my phone from a guy called Parker, which happened to become our first customer. He said, sure, I'll take a meeting with you. I'm at the bar. You can buy me a beer. We ended up leaving that bar at, I think 11 o'clock.

[00:16:07] I. I think that we'd had far too many what he was drinking. Moscow Mules at that time. He's still a customer of ours. He's just renewed for a, a, a longer, long period of time. And what he said was pretty simple is that I've got this problem. You've identified that you could potentially solve this problem.

[00:16:27] If you build. This, I will pay you that. And it was one of those like aha moments that you have in your career where you go, wow, this guy will, we're trusting this guy to follow through for one, and this is really, really quite risky because we're already two years into our other ventures. Effectively at this point, within three months, Ian had built the product and he'd slaved away nonstop.

[00:16:52] And we launched the product effectively with this customer. And what happened was is that we did such a good job of developing the product and cured such a big pain. Very, very quickly, other airports started to take notice because Parker was very influential, specifically in Florida. And our second customer was Tamper International.

[00:17:11] Our third customer then effectively was tamper International. Again, they actually paid us to further develop our cust our product. And when we had received their big check to do that, we coupled that with venture capital to grow the engineering team out to, to scale the business. That was the start of a cloud.

[00:17:27] Now it sounds really quite simple, but the fundamentals are there. One, you've identified a problem without asking the market. You've then gone to the market to validate your assumption of the problem. You've then found a candidate that wants to solve the problem, that has budget. You've then capitalized on that received.

[00:17:45] The payment for the product you've gained, your first customer, you've created, then an evangelical customer that then goes out to market and, and shouts about your product to get your second customer. And like you say, no one wanted to move. Parker did. The pain was so great that he, he, he was willing to take that risk on us.

[00:18:04] And now it's amazing. Not many airports ask us about referenceability because they know who we are Now that is a privileged position and that takes. Years of grind. And from January, 2020, which is when Parker paid his bill we've raised now nearly $18 million of venture capital. We've got to 60 customers in, you know, three and a bit years.

[00:18:26] We're scaling at a rate of knots. We're 60 people and we've never looked back from that day. Really great story.

[00:18:34] Omer: And it, it definitely was, you know, you were making a bet. Parker a lot of founders here, if you build this, I will pay that. And then you go off and build something and then they just ghost you and you just, you know, can't, can't even get them to reply to anything, let alone pay for the product.

[00:18:54] You know, what was it? Was it just something about, you know, just being able to spend some time, one-to-one or face-to-face with somebody that kind of gave you enough confidence to say, I think he's legit. I think he's. He means what? He says we should go away and, and do this, or, or was it like, well we don't have any other choice.

[00:19:14] It's not like, you know, we've got a whole bunch of other people knocking at our door right now.

[00:19:18] George: Well, we needed a reason to build and he was our reason to build. Right. But at the same time, you know, he was kept up to date, he was. We run an agile development process that we still run now in two week sprints.

[00:19:29] So we were leasing product to him every two weeks that he was feeding back on, which then further shaped the following sprint and then further shaped the, the, the product. So from a point of view of the customer, he felt like he was getting, you know, all of his pain solved effectively. So by the time the.

[00:19:49] The scope of work that we'd agreed had been completed. He had no option but to give us the money. And to be honest, they're like, you know, not many people would say, I'm, I'm easy to deal with if, if I've gone to war for, for them, they're going to war for me. And you know, I wholeheartedly go in 100%. I don't leave anything on the table.

[00:20:07] And I think that he saw that as well as, as us. And I, I 100% expect a customer that's been kept in the loop to pay what is right. I. And what I've fought for them for and what pain I've sold. I'm in the business of employing people. I'm in the business of making sure that they have the lives outside of work that they want to have.

[00:20:27] I'm, I'm in the business of making sure that they enjoy their work and I'm in the business of creating enterprise value and, and that there's no, there's no question about that. And I often speak to customers that try and. You know, low ballers at the last minute, you know, or doing deals in different territories is specifically bad for it.

[00:20:43] Where you know, they expect a discount because they're a larger airport than we usually go for or whatever. And I said very simply saying, well, you know, thankfully I'm not in a position anymore that I need to take, that I'm very confident in the ability to deliver. I have product market fit. I'm no longer a small startup, and I think what I am providing you solves all of your problems.

[00:21:05] Does it not? Yeah, no, it does. Well if it solves all your problems, that's the market value for AeroCloud's product, and I think that when a customer understands that. That their money is not just going into my back pocket so I can buy a flash sports car. The money is going into building customer success function, to building more engineering talent, to creating stronger minds, more innovative product.

[00:21:30] You know, our local economy, their local economy gets better as a consequence. And I try and educate the customers that your money is not just going into George's Play Fund. Your, your money is going into building sustainable business. And once you receive a sustainable business that's giving you a product that solves your, your pains, then that circle of wins.

[00:21:50] We're all involved in the circle of wins. And I think you need to understand that. And I think that people will try and low ball me on stuff or cut me off or whatever. Like a, they're probably not a partner for 50 years like we want. We, we see ourselves as an airport infrastructure company, so we're selling technology to every stakeholder within the airport that can benefit from our, from our our, our, our product and the ways that they benefit, solve their pains, which makes their job easier, makes their life easier, which makes their airport better.

[00:22:21] I believe that we should be paid for that, and I think that that's my being my mantra from the start. And I think that customers know where they land. And I think we know where we land with customers, and of course we try and grow the business, you know, with. Encouragement to sign on within a timeframe or encouragement to displace our legacy competition, which we do all of the time.

[00:22:42] You know, we've done five this year, replacements of our largest competition, and of course I'm incentivized to do that, but there's a significant value back to me and I'm also very happy to share with the customer what value they're giving to me because I've got more money to raise. I've got a board to suffice.

[00:22:57] I've got, you know, capital to to gain. I've got investments to make. So I think that having that empathy with the customer. Getting that customer to have the empathy with you means that you're building a proper business from the ground up. And that's what gets me outta bed in the morning.

[00:23:12] Omer: Really. So that, basically, that approach you described eventually got you to the first 200 K in ARR and then at that point you raised a seed round.

[00:23:23] How much did you raise at that point?

[00:23:25] George: I think we raised 1.25 million pounds at a about a 5.5 post money. So, you know, a, a typical non-crazy seed round with proper investors. What I would say is that we weren't a typical venture capital company. We were very mature even at that point from a revenue standpoint, from a product standpoint.

[00:23:50] And I think looking back on it, like it was a, it was a fantastic deal for investors, but what it meant was, is that we could select the investors that we wanted. I think that still one of the best decisions I ever made was picking the right seed investors that wanted the right things, and they're still with me today.

[00:24:08] They followed on in every round. They led the second round, and we have a fantastic working relationship. If we'd picked up bad investors at seed, I don't think Eric Cloud would be in existence. They've, they've nurtured us to become a venture capital backed company, and it's definitely, definitely worthwhile.

[00:24:28] Doing extensive DD on your investors, and we did that. But c coupled that with being a prime target when we didn't even know about venture capital and one could say, oh, you know, you undersold your seed round. But the thing is, is that, yes, I probably undersold it, but because I was the creme de de la creme or tried to put myself in that position of creme de la creme, it meant that the really good investors at seed were really interested, which mean that we could then take our pick and.

[00:24:56] That's a dream scenario for a founder and, and, and didn't happen necessarily at the second round for sure, when I was kind of on my, on my backside of it. And they're, they're very good and I think that, you know, I highly recommend them and I do a lot of reference calls for them, and I, and I've, I've invested my personal.

[00:25:15] Cash alongside them just this year actually. And I, I strongly believe in the mission and they're, they're called playfair capital. And that's not necessarily a plug, but my point is, is that if you're going to do a round, do it with proper people with the right intentions and don't be afraid to ask the questions that you that you want to ask.

[00:25:30] Because you know, they have 10 year, 15 year cycle looks and you should have that about your business as well. Don't take a short term decision just 'cause you need the cash.

[00:25:39] Omer: Yeah, totally. Yeah. So let's talk about that next round because. You get to the first 200 K in a RR without any funding. You raise a seed round.

[00:25:49] You're in a, in a, a great position to be able to, to pick the, the investors that you'd like to, to work with. Everything looks great. But then things got pretty tough as you, you were, you know, before you raised that next round. So what, what exactly was going on there and in terms of your runway and, and you said, you know.

[00:26:10] Kind of being in sort of a vulnerable position.

[00:26:13] George: Well, our average sales cycle is about seven months, and they're lumpy, really lumpy sales, so when they come, they're huge. We, we still go, well, not maybe now, but we might still go six weeks without, you know, doing a deal. But when you get that deal, it's a, it's a quarter defining deal because of the, the size and magnitude that, that we're at, even when, back then in sort of 2021 going into 2022 and I just had a couple of deals, didn't land when they were meant to land.

[00:26:46] I had. You know, arguably poorer financial governance than I have now. And, and less grip on the numbers, thinking that, well, I've got loads of cash. I don't need more cash because these deals are gonna come in. But I was still hiring and I learned a very, very quick lesson, which is, okay, now you are threatened with six months runway.

[00:27:05] Now it's soon, three months runway, and you need to go and raise and keeping the board close to, to, that was a great decision and the board effectively led. The second round of funding, which is 1.5 million, increase the value of the company at the same time as well. Arguably bit off more than I could chew.

[00:27:23] I did an M and A out of our own cash at the time, which was really, really risky. And you, you take these huge risks when you're in that position, right? Because you know that it's the writing on the raw wall for this is success. You have to, you have to truly believe that if you're not, then you're in the wrong job and you should probably move on.

[00:27:43] And I just knew that the, the stars were aligned with this m and a. The current cash position and the fact that I could raise this seed extension, we called it from a close group of investors and every single investor, pro ratted which was a massive testament to our business, keeping them informed.

[00:28:00] And then a quarter after we, I think we tripled in size and it was just nuts. We went from, I think maybe 4, 7, 5 to maybe 1,000,001 or something like that. Know within literally a quarter and it just pinging ping, ping pang it, it came, it came in and we were delighted and it was pure elation. And I haven't actually felt that type of elation from anything else at that point in my life.

[00:28:29] And it was, it was a really good feeling because then you're a company that's small, agile enough with low overhead, with lots of income. Lots of cash in the bank and you're really, really dangerous. Then, so then we went on the hiring spree. We rewarded our early soldiers and went into series A on really the strong foot and we raising a very difficult series A market.

[00:28:53] You know, we closed in December, 2022, so we started raising in the summer of 2022. Everyone was saying, you're nuts, you know. Pull it back, don't raise. It's the wrong time to raise. Valuations are, are down. And I think the best advice that that I had at the time was, you know, good companies will, will always raise good rounds.

[00:29:17] So I was only focused on building a great company and then I built a team to help me raise, which was one of the best decisions we did, which meant that I could keep one eye. On running the business and one eye on raising and spread the workload of the raise across some of internal and external people where we had a team to raise and a team to build the business.

[00:29:37] And we just saw this massive unity and communicated that back to investors, the board and the, our staff and our team. And it just worked. And you know, I remember going to bed on the, I think it was the 14th of December. I. 2022 when we'd signed. And I just felt this amazing, like, sense of relief and I woke up three days later.

[00:29:59] It was, it was one of those moments was just ridiculous. We'd given it, we couldn't have given it anymore. And I, and I think that, you know, I. Those tough times then go into good ones. And I, and I do believe that, you know, if you're hitting your right numbers and you're doing what you say you're gonna do, I, I, I think you'll attract the right investors and then when you get the right investors, the stars definitely align for a company for sure.

[00:30:20] Omer: Yeah. Yeah. Great. I want to talk about your sales process and some, some things that you were telling me earlier about, you know, asking the question about what keeps you up at night and what you do with the answers. Walk us through that, that process, because I think what I heard. In terms of what you're doing there is, is a pretty simple approach, but it's pretty clever the way that you're doing it.

[00:30:42] And, and so I, I wanna just unpack that and maybe, you know, there are people listening out there who can learn from, from what you're doing. Yeah. So

[00:30:48] George: customer empathy. Is a massive sales tool, and having the right balance of knowing when to listen and when to speak in sales is also significantly powerful.

[00:31:02] Combine that with, we don't call our sales team a sales team, we call it an engagement team. Their job is to listen to a problem and their job is to laterally suggest. How our software can help solve that problem or solve it in its entirety. And what I quickly figured out was that, you know, if, if a sales team member comes and goes.

[00:31:24] There's a lot of knowledge lost in the way that they respond to that q and a, which is Omer. What keeps you up at night and effectively you're getting one of 50 answers usually in our target ICP because we are targeting people with very similar problems. Right. I. By recording those q and As and doing lots of like, do down and simplified training around that and using the tools that are available to us with AI and GBT now laterally, you can stimulate, you know, real good input and output from that.

[00:31:58] And I think that, you know, our solution is really quite simple. It's giving access to. A pair of glasses over, you know, somebody who has, you know, bad eyesight. It, it, it's really that simple. It's, it's visibility above everything. The latter part, and as we've progressed is driving efficiency, dyna efficiency analytics, predictive analytics.

[00:32:22] That's far more complex, but actually where we try and empathize with the customer is we're taking them from. Very poor legacy software that is very difficult to use, that is version released and, and painfully, painfully difficult to renew, to expand, to customize, to migrate, to integrate to optimize all of those sorts of things and above.

[00:32:50] And, and what we're giving them is something really, really simple as a land and grow product that they can then modular build, if that's even a word, modular, build further product to develop the efficiency of their airport. So the, the, the question that we say, you know, what keeps you up at night, if the response is well.

[00:33:10] I don't know how many Rons I have. Ron stands for return overnight. I think someone's gonna catch me out on that, but effectively it means an air, air airplane that stays overnight. If I can give you visibility to that, which then gives your CFO, the ability to bill that, all of a sudden is a revenue uptick.

[00:33:28] It keeps you from getting a couple more minutes of sleep every night knowing that you've got a piece of software that tracks that. So then if I can combine that with. What happens in the summer versus the winter for Southwest? What happens at Thanksgiving versus Christmas on passenger arrival? What happens when my boards say to me, how are you going to grow air service?

[00:33:51] If I've got a tool to answer those questions, I'd be a lot better off and I'd sleep much better. So all we're doing is we're, we're giving them what they need and what they want. And I think that when you simplify it down like that, our salespeople, our engagement people. Have to listen, and they have to give solid advice on the basis of what previous customers have used our software to, to, to to solve their problems.

[00:34:16] And when you actually put it like that, it's really not that, that difficult to sell our software. You've got a willing customer. And, and we're a willing seller.

[00:34:25] Omer: Really nice, really nice and simple, but you know, super effective. I, I want to just. Help listeners get a sense of what this journey has been like for you as a founder.

[00:34:38] And you know, when you and I were talking earlier, we think about this, this world of professional race, car driving and, and, you know, speed and risking your life and all of these things. And then you said, no, being a founder is much harder. Can, can you just give us a taste of, of what, why you feel that way based on.

[00:34:57] Some of the, the challenges you've had to face over the last few years? Yeah,

[00:35:01] George: I was, I was reading an article recently and I, and I will answer your question, but if I can give this sort of thought process that I was thinking recently is that a, apparently 35 years ago, if you asked a kid, I. At school, what they would wanna be when they're older, they say, I'm a wanna be a footballer.

[00:35:18] I wanna be a astronaut. I wanna be a policeman or a fireman, or whatever. Now, if you ask a kid at primary school, what they wanna do is effectively, they wanna be a social media influencer, and the perception of a social media influencer now is effectively as they take. A number of photos get paid, shed loads of money to post them on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever it may be.

[00:35:39] And then they travel the world taking more photos and, and the, and the, and the the sort of cycle starts to, to, to, to roll. But that's the end result. And, and people only ever relate to the end result. So, you know, it's very easy for people to say. If I look at my old career, well, it must be absolutely amazing getting paid to drive in circles and and waste fuel in supercars around the world that you are, you're driving, and on the TV it looks incredibly glamorous, but what they don't see is that three days ago I was in Vegas and now I'm in Thailand.

[00:36:16] In driving a completely different car with a completely different seat, with a completely different teammate, that completes that speaks a completely different language, and I'm only judged on my last race. So effectively, if I can't perform and mitigate all of those issues consistently in, in real time, I will have a poor race.

[00:36:35] Therefore, going into next weekend, I've got poor expectation and potentially might lose my job, the race after. But they, they only see what's on the, the telly, which is, you know, we, we, we look like we're in good physical con condition. The's sun is shining and we're driving a Porsche. I think when you look at the founder's piece is that no one films.

[00:36:57] My day, no one sees my calendar. No one sees the time that I leave to go home. No one sees the fact that I eat my dinner often whilst on my computer, and my girlfriend does exactly the same. We're we're totally aligned with this period of our life. We have no, no kids, and our sole focus is building the business.

[00:37:17] No one sees me. In the office most weekends, and it's not necessarily about the time that you're spending behind your desk, it's the fact that you are continually thinking about something that's continually evolving and you have to evolve at the rate. To far exceed the pace in which your company is growing so effectively, you have to become X amount of times better than your company is growing every single year.

[00:37:39] That means being a better manager, being a better leader, being better empathy, being better. EQ skills. IQ skills. I. Developing better product. You've got the competition, you've got the board, you've got all these things going on, and effectively it's completely all consuming. So effectively, 99% of what I do is a cloud, and 1% is what I, what I do with my mates, my girlfriend, my dog, and my mum, my brother, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:38:02] Eating, you know, all these sorts of things that I enjoy outside of, of work. But like people don't know what that's like until they've signed up for it and been through it. And, you know, I often experience periods of time where, you know, I'm completely on my ass and you know, I don't want to get outta bed.

[00:38:20] And other times I experience immense elation being very proud of myself, very, very confident in what I've achieved. And other times. I can feel like, why am I doing this to, to myself? Why am I sacrificing, you know, frankly, my health and my immediate livelihood over the pursuit of perfection at a cloud.

[00:38:43] So it's massively glamorized and I. I think that should genuinely put people off because it's, this really is not for everybody, and that's not saying, oh, I'm great and I've, I've survived it. I, I, I haven't survived it yet. I haven't been successful yet. And everybody thinks about venture comp, venture capital companies on the basis of how much they've raised, but actually the better barometer is let's judge them in 10 years time where they are.

[00:39:08] And I'm constantly thinking about 10 years time. I'm 32 now. And I want to build things outside of a cloud. I might want a family, I might want these sorts of things. And all of that is on the back builder in per in pursuit of, of perfection at a cloud. So if you're not in it. 100% or 99% at least, you know, then it is really not for you.

[00:39:28] And I think that that's a really interesting thing because I often think about it. I spend a lot of time thinking about what would I be doing if I had my time again. And I'm very, very happy with the choices I've made. I, I, I, I 100% understand what I've signed myself up for and I'm a hundred percent committed and, and.

[00:39:45] If I get those right and I continue to enjoy it, then I'm, I'm gonna be doing this for as long as I possibly can until somebody's much better than, than me at being the CEO role. Right. And I also, I think, possess enough self-awareness to let the business grow after I. After it's outgrown me as, as long as I can keep learning, I keep enjoying it.

[00:40:05] I'm still, I'm still the first here. I'm still that guy that's there for everybody. I've got time for everybody, and still I can do that because that's what I enjoy and what I've signed up for. Then long may it continue.

[00:40:16] Omer: Love it. All right, let's let's wrap up. Let's get onto the lightning round. I've got seven quick fire questions for you.

[00:40:22] Just try to answer 'em as quickly as you can. What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've received?

[00:40:27] George: Stay in the saddle.

[00:40:28] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

[00:40:32] George: Oh, that's, there's not one single book because they're stage specific. But you should be leaning you, you should be reading the Lean Startup if you're starting a business.

[00:40:41] Once you've started a business and you feel like you've achieved a level of emotional maturity, you should be reading Tuesdays with Morrie and. In terms of building, consistently building and per in pursuit of excellence, you should be reading The Hard Things About Hard Things. I think it's Anthony Horowitz, if I've pronounced that correct. He's the one of the VC gods.

[00:41:08] Omer: Yeah. All three great recommendations. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:41:15] George: Understanding what they're not good at. And convincing people to join their army, to populate what they're not good at in the early stages. 'cause effectively you're building a business of misfits that are believing in the vision.

[00:41:35] When there is no vision to prove, there's no customer traction. There's no revenue, you know, all these sorts of things. They're working for free. They're working 24 hours a day, like that's a skill. So if you can do that, then I would invest in you.

[00:41:48] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

[00:41:51] George: I only respond to about 10 emails a day.

[00:41:54] I don't let emails dictate my day. I do frogs, if you're familiar with that. So I attack my biggest job. At the start of the day, and I'm driven by calendar time blocks, not by email.

[00:42:08] Omer: What's a new or crazy business idea you'd have to pursue if you had the extra time?

[00:42:13] George: So my view on this is that every time I have an idea that's not of value to Error Cloud, I put it out to a network.

[00:42:19] With me and my brother, my brother's in venture capital, and, and I'm a founder of a company and we both have a certain level of disposable income that we invest through through the channels that that we get. And I'm a big believer in giving my ideas to other people and then hopefully they'll give me an opportunity to invest in them.

[00:42:37] So I don't have any. Desires to build anything other than a cloud right now. But if I did have an idea, I'd be giving it to my network via my various WhatsApp groups.

[00:42:48] Omer: What's an interesting or fun fact that most people don't know about you?

[00:42:51] George: That's one of the questions that I ask in an interview.

[00:42:53] And also when I'm getting my SLT or new members into SLT, I get them to sort of stand up about that. Then I failed my driving test twice. I only passed on the third time. People find that hilarious. That's a great one actually, that's 16. I was paid to drive racing cars, but in reality, the, the two actually don't align, but I would say that I'm pretty open like.

[00:43:15] I, I would say that people that, that work at aade, if, if they ask me a question that they want to know the answer to that they might be afraid to answer, I'll, I'll tell people very, very straight, you know, whether that be sensitive or not. I'm that kind of guy. So I don't think many people don't know if they're prepared to ask.

[00:43:30] Omer: And, and finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work in that 1% of your time?

[00:43:35] George: I guess building incredibly valuable relationships with the people who are closest to me. I have shed an awful lot of periphery, acquaintance, weight, and heavily invested in mentorship. My relationship with my partner, Molly, my brother my assistant Alex, and, and, and many others in my very, very close group.

[00:44:03] And heavily, heavily invest in those. And when I say heavily invest in those, you know, routine calls, being very honest with the way that I feel, making sure that I spend enough time with those people and making sure that I'm there for when they need me, and also expecting them to be there for me when I need them.

[00:44:20] Omer: George, thank you for joining me. It's been a pleasure talking about Aero Cloud and, and kind of you transitioning from a completely different world into a SaaS startup founder and, and, and kind of unpacking the. The journey over the last four, four or five years. If people wanna learn more about AeroCloud, they can go to AeroCloud systems.com and if folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:44:46] George: I'm at LinkedIn. I person ally try and respond to absolutely everything I get. So yeah, please connect with me on LinkedIn. Love to hear whether you think that I'm full of it or whether you think something that was of value. I very often, if I think somebody's done something like this or I hear someone keynote or whatever it may be, just pinging them a message saying, I totally agree with you, a hundred percent aligned.

[00:45:08] It'd be nice to connect. Or alternatively be, call me out. You know, I, I really. Very keen on people, on what people think of our business what people think that they could contribute or whether they think that my ideas are rubbish. I think that that's really valuable to shape the future of the business.

[00:45:23] So please yeah, LinkedIn me.

[00:45:25] Omer: Great. Thank you. Appreciate you making the time and I wish you and the team the best of success

[00:45:32] for the future.

[00:45:33] George: Appreciate it. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for your time.

[00:45:36] Omer: My pleasure.

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