Julia Mallaby, co-founder and CEO of Bimble

Photo of Julia Mallaby

I am a co-founder and CMO of Bimble; a digital platform for listing the places you love; a Spotify for places. You can create lists, whether you want to remember them and go back or share with other people or you want to go to them in the future. It’s a social media for places. We are Oxford based, so we have a lot of content in Oxford, London and then New York. We have places listed in 129 countries.

We had to downsize as a company during the Covid-19 pandemic, but now we are growing again. We are now at six people and we are looking to bring people through the government kick-start program. An organisation called Turing – long-term placements for PhD students in data science.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
Firstly my dad was a diplomat so we moved around all the time. It is a life when you are always getting to know new places and people. Then I studied languages and lived and worked in different countries. Each new place introduces you to another way of doing things, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you look at things differently. That is the seed of innovation. The driving factor is that I don’t want to be in a big company with a lot of layers of administration around me. I love trying to create something out of nothing. I worked for L’Oreal, then did management consulting in Paris. I had a little start up in South West France. I did a fine art degree for fun as well. I taught a business course in a French university. Basically, I have always looked broadly at all the possibilities.

I lived in France for 20 years, and weirdly no, I don’t miss it. I love going back, I go back every year. I don’t feel the need to move back. When I lived there, I thought I would always stay there but I’ve been happy to be back in England.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Bimble Logo

An entrepreneur is a kind of adventurer or explorer who wants to create value; to create something of value.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I joined Bimble, I didn’t actually ‘create’ it. Francesca and Tommy started with an initial idea which was to create itineraries, you share your route for example. What they found very quickly was that it was very restrictive and that it’s much better to ask people about their favourite places instead. When I heard about it from Francesca, I couldn’t sleep for two nights thinking about all the possibilities. I have seen what happened to me happen to other people when they encounter the idea. We explain Bimble to them and though the idea is very simple, all the possibilities light a fire. It has the potential to be amazing. The next question really is, Is this the right time, will people buy it. We did user testing in 2019, this really clarified it for us: what people understood, did they care? And we found out that yes, they did care.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
1. Be someone who listens. Listen to the noise around you and hear those trends.
2. Cut through the noise and pick the relevant nuggets.
3. Stay focussed, keep going and be brave.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
There is never a dull day, there is just so much to juggle, so much to learn all the time. Everyday is a whole mixture of different things and I love that – I love that variety. It is exciting. Francesca and I read lots of books all the time, you walk down the street and listen to podcasts. It is so important to keep learning.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
That’s so hard to answer. On one hand, Apple, because I grew up with Apple being a tiny company, and it’s grown to be so huge. So single-minded on their vision and they’ve remained committed to quality and design. In a completely different way, I love different authors. While literature sounds like a far cry from business, it’s not – both are about understanding people, their motivations, needs and desires. Virginia Woolf is extremely inspiring. Reed Hoffman – I love his books and podcast: Masters of Scale.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
We are very lucky, we are working with a guy called Andy Baynesin, who worked very closely with Steve Jobs. He came to Apple to do everything to do with environmental issues, and worked to ensure all products were developed in an environmentally friendly way. He shows us how to keep a laser focus, how to do product management. I have had those conversations with Andy. Virginia Woolf – I would love to chat to her just about everyday life. Reed Hoffman – his podcasts.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Lots of good moments I am happy to say. I think that very early on working at L’Ooreal, doing my first launch and announcing the launch of this new product – that was an early excitement. Right now – we took a risk. We focussed on saving places, creating your own list. We knew that this is a harder thing to ask people. We absolutely wanted Bimble to be authentic, user generated content. The only way to have a discovery platform, is either to pay people to create the content fill it up with things or ask your community get people to share their own content fill it up. It is riskier, but we chose the latter option and it worked. Over 100,000 places have been listed last year on Bimble!

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Before Bimble, I had a company called Bikini Lutece st (old name of Paris), we were based in Toulouse. The company offered a way to flavour water for drinks, in a totally natural and healthy way. We searched ways for doing that, we created a way, we patented that. We developed little sachets that you could put in your water. Once we made that, in addition to putting it in the water people would simply put it in their mouths or on top of yoghurt. We therefore put it on our packages – three different ways of consuming this product. We went to a food fair, people told us it was fantastic. We went to a factory and created our first bigger supply. Supermarkets then said it was brilliant, but they didn’t we don’t know where to put it: which aisle of the supermarket. The product was a cross of too many things and placing it somewhere specific was a challenge. We said we would go back for the single utility branding. They said no, you have to teach the public. But you can’t teach the public about a product that’s not out there yet! We were never able to get it off the ground because of that.

We wanted to be all things to all people and we really should have just chosen one and stuck to it.

How have you funded your ideas?
Initially self-funded by my business partner for the first venture business mentioned above. Bimble is different, we had angel investors. We raised just under 1 million in 2019, we just hit 1 million again but we hope to bring in 1.5 million. I can’t say enough how amazing angel investors are.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
With Bimble, we were very lucky -we were invited to join a program at Said business school called Liber which was really helpful to us. It offered mentorship, we had three MBA students help work throughout the summer and one actually stayed on. That’s been tremendously helpful.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
We feel really lucky to be in Oxford because of the connection to the university. Having 3 MBA students come work for us – that was a lot of work, it was brilliant. I work with the careers department, running micro-internships. When it is remote, there is no limit really, you can have up to 6 students doing an internship per person in the company. I must have had over 50-60 students to date work with us. Every university holiday I have had students joining us, writing articles, creating little videos, they have given feedback and advice, competitor analysis, viral marketing campaign ideas. That has been fantastic, it’s been such a big resource for us.

I went into Said business school for an entrepreneurship pitching event, getting feedback on that. It, which has been great in lots of different ways. Tech nation, we are part of the regional network of people, you can drop in for chat and network, get some advice. Lots of good things.
Negatives: at some point we may need to be in London or another bigger centre so that we have access to a greater variety of resources, but so far we don’t feel the need to move.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Tech Nation. What’s good is a lot of these organisations have Slack groups where you can ask questions.
I would recommend discovering which communities are relevant to their sector or product and then get into those communities. Gives you access to information and support.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
As a woman early in my career, I definitely faced challenges. As an entrepreneur, I would say that I have not directly. I know that it is a small minority of women who are in the tech and entrepreneurship space. But I’ve never noticed it as a difficulty I know statistically I probably I am a minority. People are perhaps too clever to say they don’t trust you because you are a woman. There are just not enough women in tech or entrepreneurship. Working in this space is really important because the people in tech are building the people of the future, and if the majority of them are men, the tech will be focused on men – and we need to balance that. It’s very important to diversify and represent the communities that you are selling to.

What resources would you recommend for other women?
There are groups specific for women, I joined one when I first started- Women in Business- which was useful. I am considering another one for women founders, a group in London. I think the main point is that it is worth meeting other women like you, pursuing similar goals. Men and women are slightly different in the way that they work so it can be useful to connect with those working similarly.

How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
I think it is just about raising the awareness of those differences. The point is not women succeeding in a men’s world but having a world that is for men and women

Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I have kids, and it is potentially even more of a juggle. It doesn’t have to be but in practice it often is. My main advice is that however set up your life, everyone is completely aware of what’s going on and that it is fairly distributed.
When my kids were really small, I wasn’t as wrapped up in my work as I am now. I didn’t have this kind of work when I had toddlers. You can balance it. We all feel guilty when the kids are around and they want to play a game but you have to go to a zoom meeting. I think it is really important to show kids that you can have a successful career and a fulfilling life, and that your career aspirations can co-exist alongside your home life goals. It is an important lesson for them as well.
Another last thing, about Bimble: we really believe that it will be great and that it will outperform tripadvisor and things like this, that it will be really big.
Bimble is about celebrating the great little independent places that make neighbourhoods special, all over the world. What I love so much about it is that we can help entrepreneurs who have created fantastic boutiques, bars, brasseries and so on to thrive. Bimble is about neighbourhoods, communities and people in their everyday lives.

Any last words of advice?
Don’t do it lightly. It is not easy. Honestly, I think that starting your own business is really quite difficult and tough, and you have to be ready for that. If you love it, then it is fantastic, But it’s not a walk in the park