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Cardiff Character: Rich Woolley

Rich Woolley from Paperclip

Rich Woolley has come a long way from selling gum at school. Now the young CEO is excited to see the success of his business

Rich Woolley from Paperclip

The flat where Rich launched the company can be seen from his office window (upper left).

As he approaches his 30th birthday in December, Penarth-born Rich Woolley seems young to be already running his own company.

Business and Economics graduate Rich launched Paperclip: an item-swapping marketplace app, with best friend and former University housemate Alan Small.

After graduating and growing disenchanted with their careers in management consultancy, Rich invited his friend to live on a sofa in his Cardiff flat so they could launch the business together. He smiles nostalgically as he points to the flat in question, just across the road from Paperclip’s modern office in Cardiff.

When founding Paperclip three years ago, the then 26 year old had a very clear mission statement: to create a tinder-style marketplace. The idea was born when he returned to Cardiff after having worked as a management consultant in London, “I was taking a year out, coming back to Cardiff to just have a break – and there’s all this stuff in my room. I remember thinking ‘I don’t really want to throw this out. Why isn’t there a platform where I can just swap this with people?”

The first two years were hell

Rich Woolley from Paperclip

Rich Woolley from Paperclip

With this idea in mind, Rich headed to the London Startup Weekend to pitch his eBay-Tinder hybrid. While the idea was well received, with his idea being awarded second place at the end of the weekend, Rich had no idea of the challenges he was about to face. “People loved the idea, we got some funding, started to build a product and a year later we had this piece of shit” he says, laughing, “it was absolutely atrocious. It was only on Android and I didn’t even have an Android phone.” The setback forced the team to head back to the drawing board – Changing the app from a Tinder-style swiping format into a full-blown marketplace.

“I left my career and I was like: ‘Have I made the right decision?’”

While waiting for the new app to be developed, Rich was wracked with doubt. “The first two years were hell. I left my job, I left my career and I was like: ‘Have I made the right decision?’” As the team expanded, Rich was keenly aware of the responsibility on his shoulders. “We had nine full time staff and we were running out of money. It was terrifying, because every night you’re like ‘It’s not just me being affected, it’s people with families.’”

I think this is fate
It wasn’t until a potential deal was brokered with internet giant Mumsnet that Paperclip’s prospects started to turn around. “Mumsnet was the real turning point. Alan sent a speculative message to the co-founder about advertising on mumsnet, and she called him right away saying ‘We’ve been trying to build a marketplace for years, this is perfect timing I think this is fate.’”

While the deal with Mumsnet has faced delays, the breakthrough gave the team the confidence to pursue similar deals. “We thought: ‘We’ve got this web version, we’ve got this team, we can sell this to other people.’”

Today, Paperclip counts companies such as Dell among their partners. For Rich, he feels that “Every day this year has gotten better.”

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