Stefan Pretty: A Young Entrepreneur Taking on an Entire Industry

By @AtanuShaw on
Stefan Pretty event-cover-1075
Impossible is nothing. Young Entrepreneur Takes on an Entire Industry

Some of you may be aware of the subscription service and box trend that has continued to gain momentum over the last 5 years. 15% of online shoppers have subscribed to at least one subscription (source), and even Amazon have added “Subscribe & Save” and seem to be experimenting with subscription boxes.

Whilst I was doing research on the most prominent companies focusing on this vertical in ecommerce, I came across one company that stood out due to it’s unique story and edgy approach, a company called Subbly. I decided to reach out and interview the founder, Stefan Pretty, a Scottish born entrepreneur with a unique last name, who has been launching startups since the young age of 17.

Subbly is an ecommerce solution that makes starting a subscription service straightforward and accessible for entrepreneurs and SMBs. Stefan bootstrapped Subbly, and despite this decision, he and his team, have managed to grow Subbly to a multi million dollar valuation with over 500 merchants using their software to power their businesses. And based on their current growth rate, they’re on track for that to be in the 1000’s within the next year.

So let’s get right into the interview.

How did you end up starting Subbly?

I was running a digital marketing agency and was having a meeting with prospective client. They wanted to start a subscription service, but they had a limited budget. So I did my research to see what would allow us to do this out of the box. To my surprise, knowing the growing popularity in subscription boxes, there was nothing. So that’s when I had the “lightbulb” moment. I wasn’t going to watch another opportunity walk by.

Why did you decide to bootstrap?

This has been an on-going decision. A long time ago one of my friends and mentors said to me that “ownership is everything”. And it seared into my brain. He was very successful. How could I not listen to his advice?

I’ve questioned and entertained raising money multiple times on the journey. I know I peddle bootstrapping, but I always say “if the deal is right then I will be open to it”. And also “I won’t raise if I’m desperate”. Those are the conditions for me.

I think I just continued to believe deep down that it was possible, despite also know the odds were against us. We have competitors who are heavily funded, and also building an ecommerce platform is massively complex, it’s a huge task in and of itself, I’m lucky I know how to code.

However, that said, I think next time I would consider raising money earlier on, but still only after validating and really learning what is required to grow the business from feedback, to make sure the money isn’t wasted.

Did starting Subbly go as expected?

In a word. No. But I think rarely do things go as expected. But honestly the journey has delivered invaluable lessons.

In fact I believe that a little naivety and delusion about things being easier than they are or that anything is possible is what leads us to take action and actually embark on the path.

Perhaps if I had known it would be such a difficult journey I wouldn’t have even started, but honestly, I am so glad I’ve taken this path and here I am now. Maybe a few wrinkles more, but wiser and still excited for whats next and possible!

What have you learnt? Where to begin!?

I think the first thing is, the thing you least want to do or the hardest task on your list, probably is the thing that will move the needle for your business the most.

Another one is, listen to your gut, actually practice tuning into your intuition. Even if it’s wrong, it will serve you well.

Finally, one more, delegate the things that drain you or that aren’t your competency as soon as possible. Focus on the things you’re strongest at. That might take some looking inwards honestly looking to recognise. Especially if you’re a jack of all trades.

What would you have done differently?

I would have worked on the difficult things sooner, instead of polishing things that didn’t move the needle.

I’d also have ironically ignored the advice of others and listened to myself and believed in myself more. I let others influence me and felt I had to prove myself and keep getting to “validation” of the business. But realistically the business had been validated long before I was able to say it had been. I think we’d be further along if I’d started listening to my gut sooner.

Balance is key between trusting yourself and listening to advice from the right right people. Everyones journey is different, what works for one might not work for another. But do seek advice when you feel you need it, even a shift in perspective might be all that’s needed.

What’s next?

Well… I can’t give all the goodies away! But I’m excited about what we’re working on and our overarching vision, and all I can say is we’re going to keep working on awesome solutions and growing up as a company. We recently made some huge changes to our product to pave the way for the future and the response has been great so far.

I want to spend more time giving back to the community that we’ve built and inspiring other entrepreneurs.

In terms of the subscription industry, it’s only going to involve and subscription is becoming more and more embedded into ecommerce.

What’s your #1 piece of advice to someone starting on their own entrepreneurial journey?

Only work on what you’re passionate about. This requires knowing your “Why”. For me it’s helping others grow their businesses and make them look good, plus solving complex problems with good design. And more recently helping give back and to inspire.

But without passion you will not be resilient enough to face the inevitable challenges and may give up 1 step to early.

This is part of the 3 P’s I often talk about: Passion, Patience and Persistence.

And I know this is a second one, but I can’t express enough: believe in yourself and listen to your gut and don’t give up (unless there is clear evidence you should).