Get to know the founders as they reflect after 1 year of Ship Shape
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Incorporating in July 2020 amidst a pandemic, founders Daniel Sawko and Alistair Baille and Miguel Neumann had an idea to democratise funding in the U.K. Along with pulling together a great team working remotely from day 1, Ship Shape has grown and naturally evolved as challenges and opportunities presented themselves.
As with milestones like today, it offers the chance to reflect. Our CEO Daniel Sawko and COO Alistair Bailie, answered some questions about the past year and what the year ahead holds.
1) As Ship Shape turns 1 years old, what are your emotions and feelings?
DS: I’m really proud and excited. We’ve come from an idea in our minds and no money to a working platform that is making a difference to paying customers (plenty to do still!) and a brilliant team! We’re privileged to be in this position.
AB: Pride in the team and our achievements, excitement as we talk to customers as our Product/Market hypothesis is being validated (and refined), relied that the hypothesis is validated so I haven’t been wasting my time.
2) Did you expect Ship Shape to be in the position it is today?
DS: I knew we would always make progress, but looking back and measuring the time in which that has happened, it doesn’t quite feel real.
AB: After we got the core team together, yes. I knew we were capable of this.
3) What/who has kept you motivated for the past year?
DS: Knowing if we succeed, we’ll be making a positive difference to the number of brilliant ideas that make it, is a really strong driver. Especially when you factor in that we will be improving access to funding for founders from backgrounds or areas that have historically struggled to break into the VC funding network.
AB: My daughter, 18 months old. If I flag, she makes me work harder. And she also stops me working too hard, I spend playtime with her every day.
4) What has surprised you the most in your time running Ship S
DS: Most days, it doesn’t feel like work at all.
AB: The level of support for startups and small businesses in Wales. My co-foun
der Daniel knew more about this than I did, and proposed we set up in Wales. I have been learning, and can confirm that Wales is a truly excellent place to be a tech startup.
5) How have you grown as a person over the past year?
DS: Sideways! (Only a bit). On a serious note, I’ve learned the importance of balance, of multiple contingency plans, of measuring prospective investors by deeds not words (though words are important).
We try and run a company based on the same principles as ‘turn the ship around’ - that ultimately we each want to be the masters of our own sphere and giving that level of control and initiative ultimately leads to better outcomes and a tighter team and better culture. I’ve grown by trying to get out of the way of other brilliant people doing so.
AB: I’ve definitely grown in my belief in and support for work being a part of life, and all the other parts of life needing their own space. I wouldn’t sacrifice my family time for anything.
6) Did everything go to plan over the past year?
DS: Next question! Of course not, there have been a number of disasters and near misses, in many ways this has been a big learning - doing your best to keep your foot on the throttle whilst avoiding the rocks in the road.
AB: In terms of learning, yes. We’ve learnt an incredible amount. And the main aim was to learn.
7) Starting a company remotely, what was the main challenge you fa
DS: Believing we could make it work! I think we also struggled with the concept of long-term remote working, but it works. We think it’s brilliant however and that’s why we’re adopting hybrid working whilst having a physical centre of gravity in Cardiff (we may need to buy a solution from Schej in the future though as we grow).
AB: Sometimes you just need to huddle around a whiteboard, and you can’t do that remotely. Most of the time it’s fine though, and the positives outweigh the negatives.
8) Do you suffer from what is now being referred to as ‘Zoom Fatigu
e’ or how do you prevent it?
DS: Keeping blocks of the day for time outside of work is the best way I have found to balance. On some days it’s impossible to do though, but I think we need to be lenient on ourselves and be pragmatic - some days you will be on calls back to back because you need to be.
AB: I’m a talker so I don’t mind too much. But in general, I think Zoom fatigue comes from having one’s calendar clogged with repeat meetings that have lost their purpose. So we don’t do them.
9) Naturally you would have received a lot of advice from many people, what is one piece of advice that has stuck with you the most and one piece of advice that has been most useful?
AB: Think big, dream big… and manage the detail.
10) Ship Shape has gained significant traction in the past year and is starting to cement itself in the Welsh community, so why Wales?
DS: There’s an amazing ecosystem growing here. There’s talent, there’s excellent support from Fintech Wales, Universities like Cardiff, UWTSD and Swansea. There are people from Welsh Government and Business Wales like Cath Orton, Simon Ripton, Rachael Bayona and others - they want to see you succeed! I was lucky enough to spend lockdown in Swansea, it was great to see how many entrepreneurs there are in Wales, now we just need to open u
11)What does the next 3 years look like for Ship Shape?
DS: We want to build the best recommendation system - there’s a lot we can then do with that in a large number of sectors. AB: First, making our investor search and recommendation engine Fathom even better, and embedding it into the ecosystem’s workflow and dare I say psyche. And from there we have ideas, though I’ll keep them under wraps for now.
12) What has been your longest period without any proper sleep?
AB: That’s easy, and again a cliché that turns out to be true. After my daughter was born a VC investor I was involved with at the time told me, whilst laughing, “You’re going on a 12 week sleep deprivation marathon. You’ll get through it, we all do. And later the memories are happy. But it’s a marathon at the time.” All true.
DS: I’ve tended to keep myself sleeping well - a few weeks with 4 hours a night. There’s good research on the consequences
13) To those who doubted you (if any), what would you show or tell them about Ship Shape to prove them wrong.
AB: I’m not sure that anyone doubted us per se, but what we have done is be focused on a specific ‘job to be done’. I think doubts about any startup, not just Ship Shape, is that you get blown around. I’m proud of the balance we’ve struck, of being blinkered on our target in one sense but also allowing the picture of what that means to reveal itself without forcing it. And then being completely open-minded on how we get there, and particularly which steps of the journey make commercial sense to take first.
It’s great to hear from Daniel and Alistar about some of the challenges, learning and growing they have done over the past year, but what about something a bit more personal to get to know them as person, not a business man.
14) Apart from starting the company, what has been the most significan
t moment of your life over the past year?
DS: moving in with my partner, Kasia! We had been together for 5 years but always needing to live in different places AB: The first time my daughter said “Papa” and came running to me. It’s such a cliché I know, but when you live it yourself it’s amazing.
15) What is something that not many people know about you?
DS: I'm a pretty good cook! I love spending time unwinding by making things happen in the kitchen - if we do well by Ship Shape I hope to take a professional course at Le Cordon Bleu!
AB: I’m a tango fanatic, it’s how I met my wife. I said this on a post a while back, but if you’re a true tanguero/a then it sits deep inside you. Tango has been the passion of my life and I’ve danced all through Australia, NZ, US, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, France, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Germany, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Belarus, Georgia, Cyprus. Tango showed me the world.
16) What is your favourite tv character and why?
DS: Sir Humphrey from 'Yes Minister'!
AB: Probably Kerry and Kurten from This Country. It’s exaggerated, but I recognise in them many of the people from the village I grew up with.
17)What is your favorite part of the day?
DS: Meal times!
AB: Taking my daughter for a walk.
18) What do you and Daniel/Alistair bond over outside of work?
DS: We love beer and chats about politics and ethics! We vote differently but have similar values and a shared belief in the value of human capital (and that current structures and business culture does a bad job of looking after human capital).
AB: Gower Power, a lovely ale. We haven’t asked the Gower brewery to sponsor us yet, but if we talk about it much more then we’ll have to.
Daniel Sawko , CEO
Alistair Baillie, COO
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