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Bootstrap Fireside Chats: Jack Ray

Jack Ray founded Billing Better back in 2016 with the ambition to create an end-to-end billing solution for tenants, landlords, agents and built to rent operators.

Today, Billing Better generates a 7-figure revenue and employ’s dozens of people, a business built and scaled from bootstrapped beginnings with no external investment to date.

In the first of our new interview series, Jack tells us the story behind his bootstrapped behemoth and how he built Billing Better.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

I’m Jack Ray – the founder & CEO of Billing Better – we help home movers set up their household bills into a single monthly payment with a few clicks.

I set up Billing Better having suffered a couple of painful experiences as a renter managing my household bills with housemates (the bills weren’t paid). I wanted to build a business which was based on a monthly recurring revenue stream which solved a problem that I’d experienced – I remember being in a bar a couple of days before pay day not sure whether to buy a drink because I didn’t know if my bills were going to leave my bank account the next day. The concept of Billing Better solved this, and so I set up the business to help people to manage their money in a better way.

Today, we position ourselves as a B2B2C FinTech / PropTech by solving a painful change of occupancy process for letting agents/landlords/build to rent operators before offering our bills consolidation product to people moving into a new home. We’re yet to raise any funds and collect and pay over £3m per month in bills.

Why did you decide to bootstrap your venture, rather than opt to raise investment?

When I founded Billing Better, I wasn’t from a typical start-up background. I had no experience of building previous businesses and didn’t have a network around me of people who had, therefore I didn’t have any connections within fundraising/investment. It wasn’t until I started meeting other startup founders when I started to understand the scope for fundraising, but for me my focus was on building the business to generate revenue.

I guess there was also an element of fear of rejection and imposter syndrome as I didn’t see myself as a startup founder who had the credentials to raise money. My comfort zone was working on the business and driving towards building revenue and customers vs speaking to people within the fundraising game.

Within the first three years of Billing Better, I was also working full time as a police officer in central London. This meant that I had to work on Billing Better in my spare time but it also meant that I wasn’t reliant on revenue from the business to support me personally.

Tell us about those first few years, how the business grew and some of the top challenges you faced getting the venture off the ground organically.

Over the first few years, we were able to grow the business on a monthly basis and were able to hire what we needed as we grew and this is still the case today. Along the journey, I heard people talking about fundraising being a “full time job” and I just didn’t have the time to focus away from the core business – I could also recognise the opportunity for growth and revenue and didn’t want to deviate away from this.

The biggest challenges for me were having enough development resource to move at the speed we want to. I had to become a web designer to build our websites, a low-code user to automate tasks through Zapier and be able to pick up the phone and walk cold into sales situations knowing we’d need to hack something together if the requirement wasn’t exactly what we had built in the background.

Looking back, are you happy you chose to build this way, and why?

Yes, I am. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow the business at our own pace, make the right decisions at the right time for us and be able to refine our product as we grow. I’d love to give it a go the other way round the second time around though (just not yet!)

If you were speaking with a potential founder who thinks bootstrapping is not an option for them, what would you say and what are the first steps?

When you bootstrap your business, you are forced to get into the trenches and learn everything about your company, product and the challenges of your customers. For me, I have a crystal-clear understanding of almost every requirement for the business and I’m able to leverage this knowledge within all areas of the business. If you raise money from Day 1 and hire people within entry level positions, I don’t think you get the level of exposure you need to truly understand the challenges your customers face. Therefore, I would suggest “getting in the trenches” for as long as you can, generating revenue and (if it’s the right route for you) raising money once you really clearly understand how you’d use the funds to build, grow and scale your business.

What was the most surprising advantage of bootstrapping that you didn’t know beforehand?

The amount of time founders spend fundraising – one founder recently told me that they spend 7 months per year fundraising!

Is there something we haven’t asked you which we should, or any final advice you’d like to offer those who are deciding to make the leap?

The longer you wait to raise money and the more revenue you generate, the stronger position you’ll be in. Along the way, you might even find ways to not have to take on money. Raising money doesn’t = success!