We talk heartbreak, partnerships and bouncing back with Bella Acton founder of the 'eBay for break-ups' - Never Liked It Anyway.
How did you come up with the idea?
I started thinking about all this stuff that I didn't want in my life after a break up. It was nice stuff but I didn't want it anymore, so it got me really thinking and thinking quickly, where is a place you can go to offload all these kind of things that have a lot of sentimental value, make a little cash and feel better, fast.
So I began researching the breakup space and realised there was nothing there, which is crazy when you consider the online dating industry is valued at $2 billion. If there were any players, they were either really mean, bitter and spiteful or very soft.
I saw a huge opportunity to create something that was cheeky, sassy and playful and very much about taking action and moving forward. It felt like a modern, empowered way to breakup, rather than the dated idea of sitting in your pyjamas watching Bridget Jones and eating ice-cream.
Why wouldn't someone just use eBay?
You absolutely could use eBay, but at Never Liked It Anyway the opportunity is really about telling your story, connecting to others in a similar boat, having a cathartic experience and moving on.
When I first launched the site I was thinking that it would be a bit more of a rival to eBay. Then as soon as it launched, it got a lot of press and a lot of traction because the name Never Liked It Anyway is very cheeky and playful and the whole concept of selling things from an ex is cheeky at well.
It quickly became apparent that it was really about the stories behind what was for sale, not just what was for sale.
So we dialled up the stories and brought them to the centre of the user experience, and structured it in a way that would make it easy for people to tell their tales. It became a real differentiator for us and helped us evolve into an entertainment platform.
How has the site changed since the launch?
To be honest I didn't really know what I was doing with the launch of the first site, and it wasn't that robust in terms of the build or the design. So I took it down for a good chunk of time, about six months, and had to find a way to care about it again if I was going to reinvest and rebuild.
The site that I originally built was very focused on the sort of the immediacy of the break-up. But if I was going to do it again I wanted to get into a different place which was more about the bounce-back – helping people get from a place of struggling and suffering, where you're feisty and telling angry stories, to a place that's a little more empowering, fun and uplifting – helping people pick out their new wardrobe or choose their new holiday destinations.
How has that new focus changed the business?
When I first launched three years ago, it was very much about functionality and features, but when we changed the focus to the stories, it became about turning it into an entertainment platform. We're developing a TV show, writing books and even co-designing products with other brands – we recently created a set of Nail Wraps with NailSnaps.
It also gives us the opportunity to start selling our own products – break-up is a step to bounce-back, and we can help you to do that.
How did the bounce-back box come about?
The first bounce-back offer was the bounce-back box, which is a little box full of all sorts of goodies that will make you feel better after a break-up. So it's got everything from lipsticks and mascaras to a voucher for Airbnb to a Spotify playlist to vibrators – we’ve thought of everything!
There were so many constraints getting the bounce-back box off the ground, one of which was that I didn't have money to buy the products that I wanted to get, so that meant my only real option was to convince people that I was worth donating their product to, which meant proving that it was a strong sampling opportunity.
Some of the companies I contacted wanted to see ROI, but I managed to nix those conversations and say, it's not about that, what it's really about is the press value because it is an idea that will get picked up.
However as soon as the vibrator got confirmed to be in the box a lot of the partners pulled out. They didn't want to be in a box with a vibrator. And so then I had to fight for that and say, no, that's the reason it's going to get PR, that's the reason Refinery 29, Marie Claire, all those people will write about it, you take that out, it's a soft idea.
And it worked as we sent out over 400 boxes, sold out and got great press. We’ve now moved on to selling our ‘Bounce Back Stack’, which is a set of cards with 50 Challenges to ‘Get you Back to Fabulous’ after a break up.
Did you have any difficulties at the start? How did you get round them?
One huge constraint we faced was around the initial build. Silicon Valley is very tech-obsessed, so there's a lot about what functionality a site or app can do, not why people would use it. Everyone I met was telling me I needed to get a CTO and to do a custom build. I'd meet these CTOs who I'd never met before and then suddenly you're meant to go into business with them and give them 50% of your company. I was told that was the only way to do it and it just didn’t make sense to me.
That was a huge blow at the beginning. I had that reaction of, oh, it's not going to work, it's all over. Then I realised that Never Liked It Anyway is not really about the functionality, the idea was really about why people use it, less about what they're going to do on it. So it didn't seem important how strong the back end was, so long as it worked. We didn’t need to beat eBay to it with a new piece of payment gateway tech!
Then I started dong some more digging and realised there's actually custom templates out there and I did not need to build it from scratch or require a CTO. So it was a gradual way of finding ways around the problem.
What keeps you motivated long term?
Whether I’m at a social party or a networking kind of event, it's a great feeling when you share your idea people get it and it makes them smile; I love having an idea that makes the world smile.
There are so many things that are taken so seriously these days in so many ways and break-ups – they are serious but there's still some levity in it- so I like the idea of adding levity into dramatic and heavy situations. That's something I feel really strongly about.
Do you have 3 bits of advice for start-ups trying to start?
Firstly trust your gut. At the beginning Never Liked It Anyway, was feisty and it had attitude and it was brash. And gradually I got emails from people that were a little bit offended and I started to change some things.
I started to change the language or pull down posts that I thought were a little bit too brash and then suddenly I realised, this is crazy, I spend my life telling people to be bold and different and then you get a bit of resistance and you end up watering down your own idea. It’s really important to trust your instincts, hold your ground and don't back down.
The second is to find ways to keep your own interest high. If I had built and been working on the same site that I launched three years ago I couldn't be doing that, I'd be bored and I was bored. I took it down for a while and found a way to spin it in a way that was more in line with what I was excited about, and the opportunities opened up. So try and move your idea along to accommodate where you are personally.
Lastly put it out there and commit as soon as you can, so whether that is a tiny thing like telling people your idea, a small thing like buying a domain or a little thing like investing in business cards; just do something that makes it real, because as soon as you make it real then you have to start standing behind your actions rather than just talking about them.
Bella Acton on starting a business
1. Trust your gut. Rely on your instincts, hold your ground and don't back down.
2. Keep yourself interested. Be sure to move your idea along to accommodate where you are personally.
3. Make it real. Put your idea out there and commit as soon as you can.
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