Pip Cartwright and Malcolm Munday were introduced to each other by Chris Leighton of the Business Skills Clinic in Norfolk back in 2011. At the time, Pip and his business partner Johannes Ahrenfelt were preparing to introduce a new and innovative product into the market but felt they needed an analytical eye to help them make the most of their commercial opportunity. We spoke to both Pip and Malcolm this month to find out how their mentor–mentee relationship worked in the early stages for the start-up, and how it continues to prove beneficial now that the enterprise has found its feet.Pip, tell us about your business? Pip: Johannes Ahrenfelt and I launched 99SQUARED in autumn 2011. Our first product was called SQUARE:CODE, which is a dynamic QR Code service allowing people to control what consumers see when a code is scanned, schedule changes and monitor the number of scans. Our experience with SQUARE:CODE led to the development of a second product called KUOOB, which is launching at the moment. KUOOB turns conventional online advertising on its head. Current systems guess what consumers are interested in by monitoring their Internet activity and then push adverts to their screen, regardless of whether the consumer's in the mood to look at them. KUOOB asks consumers what they are interested in and consumers choose when they would like to look at the adverts. Our target markets include complimentary digital content for printed media and shopping centres. Why did you decide to set up the business? Pip: Our backgrounds were in promoting ICT and e-learning in the education sector. By 2010 it became clear that mobile technology was the next big thing and that there were ways we could make it easier for people to find the information there were looking for, especially since the keyboards on mobile devices are very small. Making QR Codes more powerful was clearly one of the needs in this area. Why did you decide to get the help of a mentor? Pip: Our background in the public sector meant that while we had lots of ideas for good products, we needed help with approaching these in a commercial manner. We needed someone who could really get to know our business and its challenges and talk through the best approach to them. How has that relationship developed from your perspective? Pip: Malcolm Munday has mentored us from before the business officially launched. In our first session we explained all our different ideas and how they worked together. He was able to identify the absolute core of our business and encouraged us to focus on this alone. This then became the foundation for all our subsequent work. We have met with Malcolm routinely and he has been extremely generous with his time. He is also happy to take phone calls when we have a particular issue we need to discuss urgently. Would you recommend that other businesses seek the support of a mentor? Why? Pip: I think mentoring is essential unless people are incredibly experienced in their field before starting the business. It's not just a matter of knowing the nuts and bolts of business, but also having the opportunity to discuss ideas and philosophy, in order to understand the fundamentals of the business. How is the mentor/mentee relationship different than say, a business advisor? Pip: As the title suggests, an advisor tends to listen to a problem and then offer a solution. Our mentor helps us to find the solutions ourselves. This helps to develop the kind of critical thinking which can then be applied when he is not with us. Do you think having a mentor has made a difference to the success of your business? Pip: I think we would have found the whole experience of starting a business far tougher without the practical and moral support of our mentor. Is there one specific thing that it's changed for you? Is there something you've done because you've had a mentor that you wouldn't have done otherwise? Pip: We would probably have attempted to be making and selling physical goods rather than online software had our mentor not helped us understand what the absolute core of our business was from the outset. What next for your business? What are you ambitions for the business? Pip: Our ambition is for KUOOB to be a worldwide system which businesses use for on-line advertising, especially in the mobile space. What part will mentoring play in the future of your business? Pip: Although we are well beyond the initial few sessions that Malcolm had committed to, we hope he will always be part of our business and look forward to many more interesting and valuable conversations. Mentor Malcolm, could you tell me a little about your career background? Malcolm: I’ve spent my career in engineering and manufacturing. Starting out on the shop floor in hands-on roles I progressed through to management and then on to business ownership. I’m now in the latter phase of my business life and my objectives have changed somewhat. I feel that assisting others to achieve their goals is the kind of challenge that I enjoy now, whether it’s encouraging, developing or supporting new and established businesses on specific or more general matters. How would you describe your mentoring relationship with Pip? Malcolm: Stimulating, challenging, rewarding, open, honest and demonstrably effective. Our meetings take the form of me doing a lot of listening, and then together we try to discover the key issues and develop an action plan that either moves the business forward or brings clarity of thought and focus. What were your first thoughts about Pip’s business? What did you see that you thought you might be able to help with? Malcolm: Pip and Johannes are very creative people and their concept was innovative, but we found that the application was too narrow. Initially my role was to broaden the viewpoint of their business and then help them bring focus to the important elements that made them unique, and how they could deliver revenue and profit. Therefore, business structure/strategy, organisation, product development, sales management and direction are the relevant areas of my involvement. How has the experience been for you? Malcolm: Pip and Johannes are good company and the whole process has been most enjoyable. I find the experience most invigorating and refreshing. Watching their growth and development is very satisfying and makes the effort worthwhile.