26 April 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Annil Chandel is an entrepreneur and successful founder with over twenty years’ experience in the recruitment space across three continents. He has launched and grown several companies of his own, as well as holding senior roles in multi-million corporate businesses.
He is the co-founder of Wurkr, a unique ‘office in the Cloud’ start-up that is shaping the future of work. Wurkr is a UK and India-based SaaS platform that enables teams to work together from anywhere in an immersive virtual workspace. Annil has championed remote working, distributed team engagement and video technology for office environments and is a keen advocate of effective work-life integration through developing new technology products that remove the isolation constraints associated with traditional remote work practices. In addition, he is the co-founder of KnownFour, a disruptive “working together from anywhere” recruitment company.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’ve worked for two decades in the recruitment sector across the world, in one way or another – across young but fast-growing businesses all the way to leading PLCs. After a fulfilling corporate career, I embarked on my ambition of being an entrepreneur, with the launch in 2015 of KnownFour, a remote recruitment firm that I created with my two excellent partners. We went on to also build Wurkr, a virtual workplace platform based on advanced video technology that allows colleagues to work together remotely with the same level of engagement and collaboration as they would in a physical space. It is used as an intra-company tool, reducing departmental barriers, allowing management and teams to remain closely connected and work together regardless of where they are based.
Going back to the beginning – I graduated with a computer science degree and began my career in the UK before relocating to India. I also never forgot my love of music, having launched a single in the UK charts and worked as a DJ.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The idea actually came to us when my business partners and I were running KnownFour, our recruitment firm, and realised that there was a real gap that needed to be filled. We saw first-hand how distributed teams trying to work together can often lose that vital sense of connection. So that’s how Wurkr was born in 2018 – as a prototype when we set out to create a platform that would bring back that feeling of working closely together, wherever in the world we were all based, for our own use. We were a growing team that worked 100% remotely across the UK, Europe and USA. Once we saw how effective it was, and how much demand was coming in for this kind of product, Wurkr grew quickly from there.
How did you achieve awareness?
We were already working with quite a lot of businesses through KnownFour, and were able to share the success we had of using the Wurkr platform internally. The timing was great as Wurkr also benefited from first mover advantage at a time when demand for this type of product was increasing, driven by accelerating digital transformation across industries and an evolution taking place in how people viewed the workspace of the future.
Our strategy at that point was to ramp up our engagement with larger organisations to demonstrate how Wurkr could meet their specific needs, and boost marketing activities and sponsorship of key industry events. This led to a greater level of brand recognition – and then around a year ago we started working with a global PR and marketing agency to grow our profile further and reach our target audiences.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We were able to scale up without government grants or funding, and last month successfully completed a seed funding round of over £1 million from investors including one of the biggest media companies in India. As part of this fundraising activity we also leaned on Seedrs, the equity crowdfunding platform, where we managed to beat our original funding target by 25%. In 2018 we started working with several beta clients before rolling out the Wurkr product to the wider market – in this way we were able to gauge whether any tweaks or improvements were needed to further optimise the platform based on that valuable initial feedback.
As a start-up, we didn’t have the same wherewithal as much larger businesses to expand, and so our hiring remained quite minimal. However, we put a strong emphasis on giving an opportunity for interns to come in and experience the business, plus experiment with innovations, which we could then take through the development cycle into live offerings and speed up their route to market with the help of our existing user base.
What are the key successes?
Since 2018 we’re proud to have grown from a prototype into a fully optimised and multi-functional platform that has been chosen by 88,000 subscribers and 2,400 companies – the subscriber base has seen a 1,000% increase since March 2020 alone. Our roster of great customers is growing, across sectors and sizes – from Hello Monday and HiveMind, to Swansea University and One Tree Planted. It’s good to see that Wurkr is really making a difference to the people using it, particularly when Covid-19 has made growing a business in physical premises inaccessible to smaller players.
Other milestones include developing and adding exciting new features to make the platform experience even richer, including full optimisation on mobile devices, and our recent funding round of over £1 million, which will fuel the next stage of Wurkr’s expansion.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
As a fairly young start-up, we haven’t come up against any serious roadblocks apart from obviously needing to survive those vital first stages in a challenging and competitive landscape. Of course, an obvious challenge for any smaller business is budgetary constraints, and we did have to self-fund our initial growth before becoming more established in the market. As for hiring and product development, we collaborate with talented interns and outsource certain functions where possible to keep ahead of the curve with technical development.
I’d say that Covid-19 has brought a host of fresh challenges (and opportunities) for many companies out there. Our most recent funding round faced some delays as a result of the pandemic, and we were also just about to launch a paid product just as the pandemic hit. We pivoted at that moment to keep it free for the foreseeable future, as added support for businesses out there needing to suddenly ‘go online’ but with no budget or plan in place to do it.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We’re focused on growing our team, user base and continuously updating our features and product to ensure that it is aligned with what businesses and employees want. We’re looking to accelerate global growth with the help of our recent funding round, and to undertake additional investment rounds in the future.
We see an opportunity to replicate the success we have enjoyed in India and the UK into the US market and globally, and that’s something we’ll be thinking about over the coming year or so. There’s huge potential for growth, as demand continues to rise for remote working, or more ‘hybrid’ working solutions, further driven by the pandemic effect. Research out there suggests that around 57% of people will want to continue working from home or another location post-Covid (according to YouGov) and they will need strong digitally enabled tools to enable this shift, something that goes beyond a video call or a calendar invite.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I’d say don’t be daunted to try – if you have a compelling idea and you believe in it with passion, if you have tried it out yourself and felt the benefits, and if you’ve done the research and legwork to try and get as much initial feedback as possible – you can grow your business incrementally without huge cost outlays, and you can grow from one person to a global company fully remotely.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
1. Be agile – remember that you must be able to make quick changes
2. Prepare and plan everything meticulously
3. Get help from your network of trusted mentors
4. Budget and financially plan on a shoestring
5. Make sure the whole team understands the vision and believes in it
6. Prepare for the unexpected, good or bad, as anything can happen
7. Document your ideas even if they are not for now
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
1. Tim Lloyd, my co-founder – after semi retiring from his first exit, he has shown energy and great aptitude to adapt to change
2. Ratan Tata – visionary founder who has proven time and again that by sticking to your values and beliefs you can build a great company
3. Steve Jobs – well, who isn’t inspired by him! He changed the world in his own mad way
4. Varun Verma (https://www.linkedin.com/in/varun-verma-6970b04/)– my brother-in-law is a successful HR specialist, but one of the humblest and most giving people I know; the humility he shows to others is without boundaries
5. Stephen Hawking – inspirational as he showed how not to give up in life and achieve everything and more than the average human being
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
1. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” – Charles Swindoll
2. “It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela
3. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
4. “To see what is right and not to do it is a lack of courage” – Confucius
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?