Steve Jordan talks to Becky Downing, CEO of buzzsurvey, following the restructuring of the company at a time when virtual surveys in the moving industry are booming.
It seems inconceivable that a company providing virtual survey technology, in fact one of the most respected in the moving industry, should cease providing its video surveying services, just when the whole world is crying out for its services. But for buzzsurvey, run by Becky Downing, that’s exactly what happened.
Becky started her company buzzmove in 2013, to provide lead generation services for the moving industry. It was a startup company that, as most tech startups are, was focussed mostly on growth. buzzsurvey started in 2016 and last year she introduced buzzvault that provides home contents insurance using video technology to identify and inventory insured items.
Becky explained that the company was not closing down because it wasn't growing, quite the opposite. In fact, since the COVID outbreak the company had been inundated with removal companies wanting to adopt the software. “Because we've been running three companies in one, the overheads have been substantial and we have always been in growth mode,” she said. “We were quite close to gross profitability but that means we were still relying on fundraising and investment coming in to continue to support the company financially.”
The company was very close to closing another funding round from its investors but, when COVID hit, the funding round collapsed. “Liquidity completely dried up,” she said. “We could never have forecast a global pandemic.” The company wrote to its clients at the end of May saying that all its survey services would be stopped by 5 June.
“We have always taken pride in delivering the best possible service to our clients and because we couldn't do that during the pandemic, it didn't seem fair to continue servicing our clients and charging them for it,” she said. “Acquisition conversations are ongoing. We have built a great product and it will be a shame for that to be consigned to the graveyard. It is known as one of the most user-friendly products out there, so obviously there is interest.”
Becky said she is not closing down the whole business. “We are re-evaluating and restructuring,” she said. “I'm trying to get through this crisis with as little cost cutting as possible, at the same time we have to be prudent. The reality is we are about to enter into the biggest recession any of us have ever seen so we need to hunker down at this point and try to get through it.”
She remains determined, despite the setback. “I've lost count of the number of people that said I would fail but, if anything, that has just spurred me on over the years. I truly believe that we have great software so it may well be that a third party, perhaps a large removals company, may be better placed to run with it and develop the technology further. That’s fine with me, I have no ego around that. It's a business that I believe in, that helps and improves the removals business as well.”
According to Becky the business would have been profitable were it not for buzzvault, that only started a year ago. That too, however, had attracted a lot of investment and was about to attract more until the economy took a turn for the worse.
“We have had to make people redundant and I made the decision to take some people off furlough because I didn't want to use anymore taxpayers’ money in circumstances when I knew that the business would need more funding. I didn't think that was the right thing to do,” Becky explained. “I feel very strongly about looking after people and have always made sure people get the right severance packages so we haven't sent a single employee into this new apocalyptic world without having been looked after. But's still obviously heart breaking to have to let people go.”
I wondered how Becky would pick herself up? “As an entrepreneur, you always have to deal with ups and downs. Any business owner, particularly those trying to do something new, will identify with this. I've had to overcome a lot of hurdles over the years. I don't think I could do this job if I was easily knocked down. I'm really just focused on trying to salvage as much as I can. As every door closes another one opens; as an entrepreneur you always have to have a positive outlook and see the silver lining in things.”
But she also keeps everything in perspective. She talks of her family and the support she has received from the industry over the years. “I'm very proud of what we have achieved. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would.”
Photo: Becky Downing