5 startups you’ve never heard of who are about to change the world

If you caught my I see dead businesses the other week then you know it’s time we all took an honest look at the value we offer our customers.

It’s that. Or RIP.

Too often I see business leaders walking around in a daze, unaware their business is heading for oblivion.

I also meet a lot of entrepreneurs that are totally hyped by their ‘next-gen product’ but have no idea why they’re here or who they serve.

But I admit, it’s easier to point out where people are going wrong than when they’re doing things right.

So this week the team set out to gather inspiring examples of companies that have their brand and product development nailed.

In no particular order, here are five small but mighty startups quietly doing world-changing things.

#1 Zūm

Often described as ‘Uber for kids’ - Zūm is a ride-sharing and child care service which transports any child aged over 5.

It was born out of founder Ritu Narayan’s frustration with juggling childcare and career, having watched her mother do the same before her.

However, the reason Zūm is striding ahead of competitors such Shuddle, (hey, nice name, sounds kind of familiar..) which folded in 2016 is because they recognised the role of schools, not just parents and children, in the ‘demand’ side of their marketplace.

Schools traditionally use buses or minibuses, but they lose money if they rent a bus that has capacity for 20 kids but only 5 of them use it for their return trip. In effect, many schools are tied into an archaic system that involves paying for excess capacity.

The 1000 schools who’ve partnered with Zūm have saved a whopping $10 million dollars so far.

By solving the school’s problem, making transportation more straightforward and cost effective, Zūm solves the parent’s problem and avoids falling into Shuddle’s ‘running out of demand = running out of money’ trap.

Their service area may be limited to western California at the moment, but with 340% year on year growth and on track to reach a million journeys safely completed by the end of the year, we fully expect to see them zooming nationwide across the US- and maybe beyond- before too long.

#2 University Cribs

For many students, my daughter included, finding somewhere habitable to live is a grim process.

Wandering around the streets guided by ‘To Let’ signs on buildings that look ok from the outside but turn out to be hovels on the inside is disheartening, and traditional property sites like Rightmove just aren’t set up for marketing shared housing.

That’s where Cardiff-based startup University Cribs comes in. Its four founders experienced the issue firsthand when they met as students themselves back in 2010, came up with their idea to make the situation better in 2014, and launched their site in 2016.

They secured an impressive £450k in seed funding, and were listed on the prestigious Startups 100 in both 2017 and 2018, but it’s their innovation that really marks them out from the crowd.

They considered another problem students face, the fact that often they’re looking for their term-time accommodation from their hometown, which can be hundreds of miles from their University.

This lead them to commission some research, and having discovered that a huge majority of students (82%) would rent a place having viewed it only in VR, developed VRCribs, their virtual reality property viewing service. No more juggling viewings with lectures, library and as was in my case all-important pub time! 😉

As if that wasn’t enough, they’re making student living even more straightforward with their latest launch, CribsBills, which condenses group household outgoings into one easily split monthly bill.

#3 DocTap

You know that situation when you’re ill, it’s definitely not an A&E job, but you don’t think it should wait until after the weekend?

You ring your GP’s surgery, and having waited in a queue for what seems like an eternity, you’re told by a surly receptionist that there’s no way a doctor can see you any time soon.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

DocTap founder Alex Hamilton discovered that “Battling with GP receptionists was as tough as anything I’d faced in the army!” when he tried to seek help for his chronic back pain, and he wasn’t alone.

One in four of us have to wait over a week to see our GPs, and public satisfaction ratings of NHS general practice are at an all time low. DocTap was born as a result of those disheartening facts.

It’s a startup founded in 2016 that enables people to see an excellent GP at a convenient time, for an affordable price- 15 minute consultations start at £29 and there are no hidden charges for prescriptions or sick notes if they’re needed.

And when we say ‘see’, we mean in person. Not via an app or laptop screen, but at a choice of London locations.

That’s the big difference between DocTap and a lot of the others using tech to disrupt this area of healthcare.

Platforms like Pushdoctor, Now GP and the NHS’s own GP at Hand are necessarily limited by the doctor’s inability to physically lay hands on their patient.

Dr Lawrence Buckman, former chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs’ committee has expressed his concerns with such systems, saying:

“The idea of doctors prescribing medicine to patients they haven’t physically examined or taken a detailed history from makes me nervous.

Without examining you, I don’t know if your croaky voice is a viral sore throat or pus on your tonsils, which indicates tonsillitis. Doctors shouldn’t generally prescribe antibiotics remotely.”

Less than ideal.

At present DocTap is based in London only, but there are plans to expand to new locations early in 2019 next year.

It’s on track to hit £1.8 million turnover this year, and more impressively has racked up over 20 thousand patients who were so satisfied with their treatment they’d recommend the service to friends and family.

Thanks to DocTap’s masterful melding of digital systems and face-to-face consultations, the doctor will see you now.

#4 SIMBA Sleep

If you’ve ever tried to shove the unwieldy, bouncy-yet-floppy dead weight of a new mattress up a flight of stairs or into the back of the average car, you’re probably coming out in a cold sweat just thinking about having to do it again. (Let’s not even go into the headache of what to do with the old one…)

However, there’s a new wave of start-ups disrupting this staid industry, headed up by SIMBA, that promise to solve the logistical nightmares AND give you a fantastic night’s sleep.

From a quick glance at their website and social media output you could be forgiven for thinking they were a tech startup, dealing in digital products rather than pocket springs - indeed founder James Cox speaks the language of tech when he describes how he “had been looking for something for a long time where there was a large addressable market, a genuine need and the opportunity for innovation.” and says he definitely sees his company as a technology firm.

His unique design which combines a high pocket-spring count with the support of memory foam and cool comfort of trademarked latex, informed by the data of 10 million sleepers, was hailed as the first innovation in the sector since the invention of memory foam over 50 years previously.

That’s not all though, it’s ROLLABLE, thanks to being pressed to around a tenth of its thickness in “what looks like a big Rizla machine” and is delivered in a maneuverable 107cm x 50cm x 50cm box.

SIMBA have raised a mind blowing $75 million in funding since their launch in 2015, achieving £2 million of sales in their first three months alone,and forecast revenue of up to $167 million by the end of next year.

A combination of winning e-commerce strategy (customers are given 100 days to fall in love with their mattress by using it, so despite being available instore at John Lewis and other selected retailers, the majority of their sales still come from their website), major funding and innovative design make SIMBA is a roaring success.

#5 Bulb

When is only having a 1% market share a good thing?

Well how about when that 1% could fill the city of Leeds, when 100,000 of its members were gained in a three month period, and when the market is worth a whopping £54 billion?

That’s the happy situation energy supplier Bulb find themselves in after just three years trading, and having grown their team from a single table to a whole floor of Second Home, not far from us in Shoreditch.

Energy is an industry ripe for disruption. For too long it’s been dominated by huge companies with the terrible telephone helplines, difficult to decipher paper bills and an attitude of general disdain towards in their customers. (Naming no particular names, but EON’s Trustpilot page is an eye-opener…)

Bulb are different.

They’ve tapped into growth hacking by focusing on word-of-mouth recommendations, aided by a £50 sweetener for both the inviter and invited when customers refer friends.

It’s not just money that’s reeling them in though - they’re seriously good at customer satisfaction, and fanatically committed to simplicity.

The future looks bright for Bulb, particularly as they received a £60 million investment last month from two international renewable and technology investors DST Global and Magnetar.

This hefty cash injection will help Bulb’s to tighten their squeeze the ‘big six’ energy companies even more, driving forwards their mission to make the UK one of the greenest countries on the planet.

The art of delicate disruption

These are just a handful of the innovators Huddle admire.

I believe we can learn more from following guys like these - understanding the hacks they use and the trends they’re tapping into - than following larger more financially successful businesses.

Most likely it’s these unknown heroes who are just heads down trying to  improve on the work in front of them that will eventually be seen as disruptors and survive to tell the tale.