We sat down with Sara, CTO of digital community platform Rest Less, to learn about her experience of building a business from scratch.
Tell us about Rest Less?
Rest Less is a digital community and advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond. We offer content, guidance and resources on a range of topics spanning Work and Careers, Learning, Money and Pensions, Health, Hobbies and Activities, Social Connections, Relationships and more. We also have our own Community with tens of thousands of our members connecting virtually with each other.
Rest Less launched in early 2019 and now has more than 650,000 members in the UK.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
After reflecting on my parents’ experiences in the workplace, I’d been thinking a lot about the opportunity to help this generation thrive in the workplace and get more from life more generally. At the same time, my co-founder was reflecting on his late father’s experience of a 36-year long retirement after having worked for 35 years. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance in 2018 when I was working for Credit Suisse in New York and I returned back to the UK to set up Rest Less.
What is your background?
At University, I studied Computing Solutions part-time whilst also working in web-related roles. After graduating, I worked in a variety of software engineering roles throughout my 20s, eventually reaching a senior management position in a bank in both London and New York during which I was responsible for managing technical teams.
As Chief Technology Officer at Rest Less, I’m responsible for technology across the business – whether it’s product, engineering, operations or security. My team is currently 14 large and growing.
What sets you apart from your competition?
Rest Less is a digital resource and community offering people advice and inspiration on a whole range of different topics. We have been told by many of our members that they consider us to be like a trusted friend and advisor, which is wonderful feedback and a responsibility that we take very seriously. We hope to be a great starting point for people as they navigate their way through life’s many midlife transitions and often sign-post people to more tailored help where necessary.
How do you spread the word about your business?
We use a range of tools to reach new customers. With an average age in their mid to late 50s, this is the fastest growing demographic on Facebook so that has been a central channel for acquisition, to date. We launched our app in Summer 2021 and supported it with television and radio advertising which are two new routes to customer acquisition.
We have also built a strong media presence as an advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and older. My co-founder has been interviewed on multiple occasions for the BBC, Sky News, ITN and other broadcasters. We have also featured across all the national newspapers with our analysis on government data as well as stories from our members. As well as providing a voice for our existing members, this has helped us to reach new members too.
How has business been during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Like many businesses, we navigated a total change in priorities during the pandemic. We used the time to focus on feature delivery and product testing. We rapidly built out three new platforms on the site (coaching, volunteering, and courses) and we also launched our own Community which proved to be essential for many of our members to connect with others whilst in isolation.
We secured our Series A funding round during the pandemic too which has meant we have been able to grow our team rapidly this year – from 12 in January to 43 now. We’ve been able to launch an app, grow our Commercial team and plan a couple of exciting new platforms before the end of the year too.
How do you see your market evolving over the next few years?
We are all living longer, healthier lives and as a result, almost all of UK population growth is coming from the over 50s. Our goal is for Rest Less to continue to grow to meet the needs of our members – across jobs and career, money, lifestyle, relationships and more – and help them live their lives to the fullest.
What’s the hardest thing about running a business?
Building a business from scratch takes blood, sweat and tears. You give it everything and you know it inside out. This makes it really difficult to delegate when you scale. Hiring great people is central to being okay with letting go a little and learning that just because someone takes a different approach to something doesn’t make it wrong.
Time and energy management are also difficult. There are never enough hours in the day to get through the workload, there is always something else that needs to be done. This makes life outside of work very difficult to justify at times and I often feel guilty if I’m spending some down-time with my family or friends when I could be spending even more time working on Rest Less. I appreciate the importance of boundaries though and consciously look after my mental and physical health to ensure I don’t burn out – I have a gym buddy who I exercise with and she holds me accountable if I don’t show up!
Have you received any financial support for your business?
We raised £6.1 million in our Series A Funding round in early 2021 which has enabled us to scale quickly this year and grow the team from 12 to 43 in the space of about six months. We are planning another funding round for early 2022 as well which will help us expand Rest Less even further.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
As for many other businesses, the pandemic was a really difficult time for us. We were focusing on the jobs the pandemic was a difficult time for us – we were focussing on building our jobs offering for employers and for members. The pandemic forced us to accelerate our plan but this had implications on our funding runway and also our hiring strategy. Instead of taking time to find the perfect candidate match, speed of hire became more important. We’ve found certain roles really difficult to hire for – tech, product, and marketing are all sectors where we’ve noticed a scarcity of great, senior level people. We are pleased to report that we got lucky in the end!
What’s the best decision you’ve made so far?
Hiring the best people from the very beginning will remain one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Having a strong and passionate team on board from the very beginning was instrumental in our early successes.
I imagine that’s a very common answer, so I wanted to give you one more, specifically on the tech side. We made a decision early on that we would allow our sales and marketing teams to self-serve for lightweight technology requirements. This meant they weren’t reliant on an engineering team to deliver business-impacting tech solutions, like building new landing pages on the main site for example. Whilst this required a certain amount of upskilling, it has delivered a huge impact and has enhanced the capacity of our tech team to focus on broader projects which has really helped to support our growth.
If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?
Knowing the huge difference it has made when we’ve brought these people on board, I would have hired for product and finance a lot earlier. These people have had a big impact on how we work and if we’d known just how much, it would have been a no-brainer to bring them on board earlier in our journey.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
We had our first team away day of the year recently and I felt so proud when I looked at the 42 other people in the room. To know that we’ve built a business from scratch and we’ve got a bunch of incredible people working with us feels like an incredible achievement.
What are your hopes for your business in the next five years?
I’d like to think that Rest Less will have a global footprint in some capacity in the next five years. I’d also like to think that we will have expanded further into the financial and health sectors which are proving so popular with our members, delivering them world class products.