Growing up, Julie Grieve learned a very big lesson about business. Her entrepreneurial father became bankrupt when his printing business was foreclosed by the bank in the recession in the early 80’s. The family lost everything, including their house.
It taught her to be cautious. It also taught her that building any business from the ground up takes not only a good idea but also a lot of shoe leather, a lot of hard work, and a thorough understanding of the numbers.But none of that put her off. Two years ago, and after over 10 years in senior executive roles, Julie packed in a good job and paid employment; a year later she launched her first business venture, Criton Apps, and just after the company reached its first birthday, Julie secured a £5m investment to grow the business internationally.
“I always knew I wanted to run my own business, but against the backdrop of my father’s issues, everything had to be right,” said Julie. “I had to be sure of my own abilities. I had to know that I had the right support networks around me. I had to have done all my homework. And I had to have the right idea.”
Julie’s idea emerged as she was working as CEO of Lateral City, a luxury serviced apartment business, which runs Old Town Chambers and The Merchiston Residence in Edinburgh.
Frustrated with constantly updating guest information books, only for them to become shabby with use or coffee stained, she began to look to technology for an answer.
“I absolutely loved the hospitality sector and was always looking for ways to improve the guest experience. Running 5 star apartments was tremendous. We had a superb product, but even the most experienced independent traveller can struggle with the appliances, lose the key code or need guidance for the best restaurants, so the guest information book becomes critical.
“In an age where we use our smart phones for everything I wanted an app that would become the guest’s own personal digital concierge. When I couldn’t find one – or at least one that would be affordable and even more importantly one that I could update whenever I wanted – I decided that I needed to create my own. And that led to the birth of Criton Apps,” she said.
Using her own funds and resources, Julie began to talk to developers. She tested the idea on people within the industry and went into research mode. With a beta version of her DIY app builder ready to trial, Julie won the support of Scottish Enterprise, securing a grant to match the money she had already personally invested.
Launched in November 2016, Criton is the UK’s first DIY app builder for the travel and hospitality sector. Using cloud technology it is available on a subscription basis and can be branded and customised for any hotel, serviced apartment and holiday property. It allows for maps, videos, wifi and security information and local recommendations for restaurants and places to visit all to be uploaded and made easily accessible to the hotel guest.
“I firmly believe in the democratisation of technology and Criton gives the independent and small hotels and serviced apartment chains the capabilities of the big players. To have a branded app instantly makes a hotel relevant to today’s digitally savvy traveler – it’s not just Millennials who consult their phone for everything” she said.
Rolling up her sleeves, taking advice and talking to clients has been vital in the first 12 months of the business; building her team is going to be essential for the months ahead.
Julie adds, “With the investment in place, growing the team for our international ambitions is going to be exciting. We’re already looking at creating a sales team in London and we are in the process of deciding on our first overseas market, but we also need more developers, more marketing strategists and creative people.
“I am not a techie, and while our business needs developers and coders, I also believe we need a diverse range of expertise to make the company fly. This is an industry that needs to innovate, to embrace digital and be ambitious, and I have been so encouraged by the willingness of people across both the travel and the tech sectors to collaborate and dream a little.”
The company looks set to ‘fly’, but Julie will always be one with her feet firmly on the ground and her eyes constantly on the figures.
JULIE’S TOP TIPS FOR SUCCESS
1. Be realistic. It takes longer and more money than you think to get a business up and running.
2. Think like a big company from the beginning, constantly review your processes, what works when you are small will require improvement as you grow.
3. Your team is important, so share your vision with them. They will be your ambassadors and your greatest asset.
4. Culture is important. As we’ve grown, the team and I have reviewed the values I set 18 months ago, it helps new staff engage.
5. Mentors are crucial. Find one and use them.
6. Pivoting doesn’t have to be painful. Don’t be afraid to change something.
7. You need challenge and I love this saying “if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”.