Vouch For You is an online voucher marketplace, connecting businesses of all types with customers by offering prepaid discounted vouchers for goods and services. Created by Jen and Ewen McCloy, husband and wife duo, in a time where businesses need cash flow solutions more than ever.
The platform, launched this week, is not a charity but is a Not-For-Profit; it offers direct cash flow to small businesses at a time when they need it most.
The idea is, that for businesses, it brings cash in immediately and gives them access to their customers while closed – and potentially hundreds of new ones. For consumers, it gives them discounts from their favourite businesses and also supports their survival in this time of crisis.
Jen is an entrepreneur who launched her first business when she just 24, so she recognises first-hand the impact that this crisis is having on business, and how helpful this solution will be. She is currently building an app within the med-tech space and has recently co-launched the Beauty Bags For Bushfire Heroes initiative. She is also a mentor for small businesses across Australia.
Her husband Ewen, previously a lawyer and management consultant, is currently busy building a fin-tech education platform.
At the end of the day, Vouch For You is about real people helping real people and both Jen and Ewen believe in human kindness, loyalty and the power of society when we come together to fight something that is beyond us.
We spoke to Jen about Vouch For You, her advice for cash flow problems and entrepreneurial advice for the future post-pandemic.
Tell us about your entrepreneurship and how you landed in the space of founding multiple businesses?
It’s so lovely to be back here chatting to Dynamic Business after all these years – I remember being included in the DB Business Women of the Year back in 2012 – it was so exciting for me as it was one of our first pieces of coverage for Jennifer Kate and I was so young! That was my first business, which I ran for 5 years and sold in 2017. In addition to Vouch For You, both Ewen and I are currently building tech platforms (mine in the Medtech space, Ewen is building a Fintech platform for the education industry). I am also helping my beautiful friend Victoria Baron with her initiative, Beauty Bags For Bushfire Heroes.
How have your businesses been affected by the crisis?
The situation we all find ourselves in is going to effect everyone, in some way. There are businesses who have adapted and come out of this in a stronger position than before – but there are also businesses who, no matter how innovative they are, just did not have this option. That is where the idea for Vouch For You came from. I grew up on a farm in Country NSW, and there are businesses in my local town who have been effected so severely – firstly by drought, then the bushfires and now COVID19. I don’t care how smoothly you run your books, there is no way that a small business could have prepared for that – and it breaks my heart.
Why do you think Vouch For You is such a critical initiative at this time?
The idea for Vouch For You actually came to us when we were watching the initial lockdown announcements a month ago. I had already called my hairdresser (and a few of the other businesses that I use regularly) and offered to pay upfront for a few months of haircuts to help him survive during social distancing. He was so over the moon, and we just decided that there had to be a way to do this on scale. Whilst Australia has done incredibly well compared to the rest of the world, it is not just the lockdown that is going to effect these businesses. It is going to be a very long road out, and we wanted to build something that could help businesses for a long time. Vouch For You is not charity, it’s cash flow.
What has the feedback and uptake been with Vouch For You?
Overwhelming. We absolutely could not have predicted the uptake that we have seen. Ewen laughed at me when I said I was going on the Today Show to “test the appetite” before we had even built the platform – but we really didn’t have any other option. We couldn’t take the traditional route of testing the market, validating the idea, doing a soft launch – we just had to get out there and back ourselves and our idea. So, we built a landing page with sign up capability for businesses and customers, and the Today Show kindly came to our place (given it was lockdown) and we filmed an interview with Richard Wilkins. It was only a few minutes but we had thousands of businesses sign up that day and without any further marketing as yet we are seeing more and more every day.
How long did it take you to launch it? What were the basic steps for setting up an organisation so quickly?
As I mentioned, we didn’t take the traditional route! Ewen spent many years as a lawyer, and is naturally risk averse, so he was understandably fairly cautious about us putting ourselves out there without validating it first. However, it is times like these when you just have to back yourself. At the end of the day, we were trying to do something good for the world – and if it helped one business that was going to be enough for us. Of course, we both already had experience starting businesses, so it was a little smoother for us – but we really rallied around with our friends and family and those we knew could help. It’s so important to be clear on what you want to achieve – and even more important to sit down and record this from the outset, particularly when you have a Co-Founder. “Getting your house in order” as I call it (all the fun administrative tasks like company setup, accounting framework and tax obligations!) is equally as important, so don’t skip over that.
How did you know it would be a success?
What would you say to business owners right now struggling with cash flow?
I think any business owner who has never struggled with cash flow, even without the pandemic, is not pushing themselves or their business hard enough. It is a daily, almost hourly consideration and it is so important. I was lucky enough to have my sister-in-law as a mentor very early in my career, and she taught me the importance of building a robust foundation for your business, and really understanding every process within it – what it costs and how long it takes. For those businesses finding this situation particularly tough, you are absolutely not alone – and that is why we started Vouch For You. To build a community of like-minded small business owners, from all industries, of all sizes, right across Australia – and to provide a tool that can tangibly assist with cash flow – not just some airy-fairy advice and “you can do it” cliches!
Lastly, do you have any entrepreneurial advice for the post-pandemic business world?
It is so important not to put too much pressure on yourself. Situations like this are opportunities. For you, it may be an opportunity to innovate within your current business and come out the other side with a new or improved offering. It may be an opportunity to take stock, to have a moment (because let’s all agree, who ever really gets those!) to consider what you are doing with your business or your life and make the decision to completely change direction and take a new path. Or, it may just be a moment to slow down, and not to have any major breakthrough like Instagram keeps telling us all we should be experiencing. Whatever it is for you, just remember we only get one life, so be kind to yourself and enjoy it.
Australian businesses can register their interest at vouchforyou.com.au Jen and Ewen Hollingsworth: the two Aussie business owners behind Vouch For You.