#NorthernStars: Interview with Salma Conway (MrLista)

19 Nov, 2015

The recently completed tech hub C4DI based in Hull’s docklands played host to over 100 tech entrepreneurs, investors, developers and local business leaders for the latest round of rising stars competing for a place in the Grand Final soon to be held in Manchester, 24 November.

Located in one of the fastest growing digital industries outside of London, Northern Stars was ready once again to showcase an outstanding group of local startups about to deliver their best pitches to date, sharing with the world their new businesses and unique digital insights.

An inspiring introduction to the evening from Matt Jeffs-Watts from Tech North, David Keel of Trident and Jon Moss co-founder of C4DI, all highlighted the immediate opportunities available in Hull’s burgeoning digital sector for investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Leading on from an atmosphere now charged with positivity it was time for action. The onstage stop clock was set for the first 3 minute countdown and our contestants were ready to pitch their startups to the audience. With a sterling performance from everyone, shining brightly this week were our Northern Stars winners, Salma Conway and James Wardlaw, co-founders of MrLista. Salma explains how they have made it from their initial startup idea to this most recent win and their digital vision for the future.


Can you give me some background on you and your company?

MrLista is a website and iPhone app for making and sharing gift lists and wish lists with products from absolutely any online store. My business partner Jim Wardlaw and I founded the company in January this year, soft launched the website in July and then hard launched the site and the iPhone app in October. We’ve designed and developed everything between the two of us — it’s been a very busy year! Jim is based at the Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI) in Hull, and although I’m based in London I travel up to Hull as often as I can. The advice and guidance we’ve had from the brilliant team at C4DI has been so valuable and we are incredibly grateful!


What are you working on right now?

Now the site and app are launched and we’re developing a strong user base, we’re preparing for the next steps we need to take to grow the business. We’re also constantly listening to user feedback and working on ways to improve the system.

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Where did your idea come from?

Jim actually came up with the idea one Christmas — I think it might have been after opening a particularly terrible gift! We did a lot of research into the market and found that there’s a real demand for online wish lists but nobody was quite doing justice to the concept. Since my background is in journalism we wanted to take an editorial approach to the site’s content and work with bloggers to create fantastic collections of products for people to browse and share with their friends. If Buzzfeed and Pinterest had a baby, it would look something like MrLista.


Explain your business model

Currently our business model is affiliate-based – we have affiliate partnerships with 18,000 retailers.


What’s been the single biggest highlight for your business?

It’s so tough to pick just one! The plaudits we’ve achieved at such an early stage have been a huge boost – in addition to the Hull Northern Stars competition, we won the award for Best Digital Start Up at the Hull and East Yorkshire Digital Awards, and we’re so honoured to have been featured in this year’s TechNation 200. But the biggest highlight would have to be the brilliant feedback we’ve had from our first users – we’re really thrilled to hear that people are loving the product and we’re delighted to be able to have such an open dialogue with our users to make the system better.

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What was it that about Northern Stars that encouraged you to engage with them?

It’s such an exciting time to be a startup in Hull, but connecting with the rest of the country is so important and TechNorth is such a brilliant driving force for that. We’re excited about the opportunities that being involved in Northern Stars will bring, the people we’re meeting as a result and the potential for networking and collaboration.


Has there been any businesses or entrepreneurs that have inspired you?

My background is mainly in writing and journalism, so I’m relatively new to the tech industry and it’s been interesting to find myself in this position of being in a minority as a woman – that’s not really something I’ve experienced before! As a result, I’ve been really interested to learn about all the brilliant women who are crushing the stereotypes that still seem to permeate the industry. I’m quite in awe of Eileen Burbidge, not just for what she’s achieved in business but for the way she talks about it!

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Why should investors be excited about Hull’s tech industry?

Because there’s so much happening! The tech community here is incredibly inclusive, and the appetite for innovation and collaboration is so inspiring. There are some brilliantly talented people here.


What does success look like for your company?

Success will come as a result of good decisions made for the right reasons. Both of us are total data nerds and we make all our decisions based on analysis and research. It’s such early days for us, but we learn something new every day and we’re constantly adapting to move the business in the right direction.

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Want to learn more about MrLista?


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Written & edited by Noel Peatfield, copywriter specialising in tech. Based in Manchester (UK)
twitter: @noelpeatfield