“Hire problem solvers and give them autonomy”: Interview with serial entrepreneur Dan Murray-Serter

Dan Murray-Serter is a serial entrepreneur. He is currently co-founder and CEO at Heights, a braincare company, which makes an award winning ‘smart supplement’ to boost brain health. He also hosts one of UK’s top business podcasts, Secret Leaders, which features interviews with influential founders. Previously, he was co-founder of Grabble, an award-winning, viral social commerce app.

We caught up with Dan to learn more from him about managing work-life balance and mental health as a founder, how he built the community around Heights, and to discuss the exciting things that are happening at Heights at the moment – including their recent record-breaking crowdfunding round!

You must be extremely busy with running Heights and Secret Leaders! How do you manage your time effectively and maintain balance?

Good question – I’ve learned to timebox and prioritise. Heights is my priority and gets my full attention Monday to Friday whereas Secret Leaders usually takes up my Saturdays. For me, Secret Leaders has always been a creative endeavour that has been a pleasure. I’ve learned a ton from Secret Leaders (and have applied this to Heights) and it became a more surprise hit than expected. It’s bootstrapped but we just hired our first employee to run the show and another is on its way. But I’ve learned about leadership to hire really well and then give autonomy to smart people to make decisions. I apply that to Heights and Secret Leaders. But with the latter, the recent role that I hired for was essentially an MD so I just turn up and do the interviews now.

I definitely do work hard, and a lot. But I’ve learned from burnout before how to prioritise rest, sleep, social time, and time with my wife. I literally put my restful activities that aren’t work in my diary so I keep to them!

I saw that you have previously founded multiple other businesses. Unfortunately, Grabble failed. What lessons did you take away from Grabble that has helped you with growing Heights and Secret Leaders?

I learned two extremely important lessons:

1. Hire problem solvers and give them autonomy – don’t try and figure things out yourself. Who you hire is more important than how you do what you do.

  1. It’s all about the margin. Not enough of it and crisis comes around very often.

A topic that you are passionate about is mental health. Heights was founded off of your own personal need to take care of your own mental wellbeing. Mental health is an extremely important topic that is typically not addressed enough. It is particularly topical, especially during the pandemic. What advice could you offer to founders about taking care of their mental health?

Absolutely! My socials (@danmurrayserter) are predominantly about mental health/performance and balance. Generally, I think people hear ‘mental health’ and think about how to solve these issues after they happen but what I’ve learned here is that prevention is everything.

The most surprising thing I learned about mental health and mental performance was around nutrition (and where lacking, supplementation) after that’s what I was prescribed by a dietitian to help with my anxiety and insomnia… and it worked. So this really led me to the path to starting Heights as I want people to know that – yes, something as simple as taking supplements daily can have an impact on managing your energy levels, sleep, and fatigue.

However it’s part of a system that includes movement (I walk every day), sleeping properly, resting (especially including naps now we WFH!), having people to connect to, and so forth. Some of these are really obvious and the ‘gap’ to us at Heights was the lack of awareness on the nutrition side despite that being widely documented in science.

After writing over 100 newsletters every Sunday on how to take care of your brain, the simple answer is to prioritise rest and not forget the importance of nutrition!

I want to discuss more about how you launched Heights. I saw that you officially launched earlier this year. How did you get your first customers?

There were 2 strategies at play for launch. The first was our newsletter. I’d been writing that for a year already and we’d built up an audience of 3,000 readers organically who cared about what we said about brain health. When we launched our product in January, they were the first people invited to purchase.

The other part of the strategy was partially through Secret Leaders! We knew that a large barrier with our product was explaining the quality. The price is higher than people usually pay, and its subscription. These are choices that turn your average consumer off. But we are going on not just what science says about the impact (within 3 months) but focusing on having the highest quality product in the market.

As such, we did a trial for 100 participants (including lots of my guests from Secret Leaders). After 2 months on the product, they were the first people invited to buy. And 86 of them did, which was a fantastic start. By the way, from the 86 literally a year ago, 79 are still customers! By the time we launched, we had credible testimonials from exceptionally credible people and that helped us give some confidence. The newsletter list of people who had been with us on the journey as part of our community and enough of them were excited and invested in our journey and ready to take the plunge.

You have built an impressive, strong community around Heights. This includes some of the brightest minds using Heights as a part of their regime. Could you tell us about how you built the community around Heights?

From the first moment, we decided we were building a community-focused business. This means that everything we have chosen to do has had a community lens on it. It’s the forefront of our consideration.

I’m a big believer in building through time with consistency, credibility, and patience. You can’t shortcut credibility. Especially if you are going to be claiming to make a pill that people take to take care of their most important organ – you better be trusted! The newsletter process was all designed as part of our credibility building, knowing it might take a year to get to market (it did) but at least we would have been sharing consistently and with consistency about science and what we call brain care. Along with getting my network from Secret Leaders to join the trial, and getting people bought into our journey. Those two things combined to have the makings of a really strong community.

To me, becoming a customer of Heights is all about trust. If you are trusting us, there are a few things you’ll want to know. That the ingredients are the best, that our sustainability values are prioritised. That people YOU look up to, the brains YOU admire – trust Heights already. And that other people like you can also feel the benefits (which is where something like Trustpilot comes in). These are all things you can’t cheat, shortcut or fake. You have to BE the best to justify the investment and get people fully bought into your journey so we had a really clear plan, which involved doing it patiently, and knowing that these different elements of trust compound, and help build a passionate community.

What are some of the challenges you encountered when launching Heights? How did you overcome them?

A global pandemic was a small one. Having no prior experience with physical supply chain and logistics businesses and learning how to do it in the most disruptive year ever. The way we planned for this was with super high quality, experienced advisors – and listening to them!

Another challenge has been connection. Of course, we never set out to build a remote team, but it’s what we have.

I can see that you are currently raising a crowdfunding round on Seedrs, which is already oversubscribed! Congratulations! Can you tell us more about how you went about raising this round?

We got a lead VC, Rianta, involved and Forward Partners participating in this round before going on Seedrs because Seedrs do a TON of DD. Having credible leads and investors who have done their DD was really important to Seedrs. We actually just opened and closed a record-breaking seed round – around €1.1 million raised in 20 minutes – which just gives you a sense for how passionate our customers are about our product, and executing our vision!

What do you plan to do with the funds you raise? What’s next for Heights?

Red or black, but maybe retiring in Hawaii. Or we’ll use it to scale marketing channels but we’ve already got our second product in the pipeline so that’s something to look forward to in 2021!