Path59 is a consultancy that helps companies in traditional industries get to grips with digital transformation. They look at human interactions in both the customer and employee experience to identify which parts could be helped by technology – and how. We caught up with Merje Shaw, founder and MD, to chat about Path59’s journey so far and her plans for where the business is going.
Originally from Estonia, Merje started her career in Customer Support at Skype before going on to look after Usability at their London office. A few years later, ready for her next challenge, Merje took on a Senior User Research Consultant role at LBi (now part of Digitas). At this global marketing and technology agency, she worked with major brands including M&S, Etihad Airways and Disney.
“And then I had a baby. And of course, every sensible person starts a business when they have a baby,” Merje laughs. “It’s the best time: you’re not getting any sleep and you don’t have any money!”
Path59 began as a joint venture for Merje and her husband, Mykal, to freelance in their respective fields of UX Research and Creative Direction. In time, as that freelance vehicle grew into an agency, they decided to separate out the creative services side of the business.
“It made it easier for me to crystalise what I do,” Merje explains. “It made sense for us to focus on our separate offerings because our customer bases are actually quite different. Where Mykal works mostly with start-ups and smaller companies, I work mostly with the FTSE100 and big housing associations.”
Part of what Path59 does is to help established companies to think like start-ups. Although Merje jokes that she joined Skype long before start-ups were cool, she has never forgotten the customer focus and lean ways of working that she experienced in that environment. She uses this to help clients question procedures, think differently and be innovative in what they’re doing.
Working with the FTSE100 means that Path59 often get paid on very long payment terms. Merje tells us: “I complained bitterly about it so they’ve come down now but at first they were working on 60-day terms. That’s a really long time, especially if you have to pay staff. I can pay myself on peanuts but it’s not their company so I don’t expect them to live off thin air.”
Path59 employs a small number of full-time staff and uses a pool of expert freelancers for research and consulting. For Merje, it doesn’t make sense to keep a smart cities expert, for example, on the payroll when she might only need them a few times a year. She also prefers to work with experts that have the exact niche skills that she needs and explained to us that you can’t keep amazing people like that to yourself.
With staff and freelancers to pay and long payment terms putting pressure on cash flow, Path59 came to MarketInvoice for funding in July this year. They now use invoice finance to unlock cash from outstanding client invoices to cover wages or one-off costs like large VAT bills.
“Cash flow to any new company is an absolute killer,” says Merje. “But with MarketInvoice, we can fund an invoice at any point throughout the month and pull cash from the future. It’s money now instead of money in 30, 60, 90 days which has helped a lot since we came on board. It keeps us going.”
Knowing that the facility is there when she needs it means Merje can spend less time worrying about cash flow. That frees her up to focus on the things she’s really passionate about. On top of running Path59 and being a mum of two, Merje also has a successful side hustle called Scandiscapes. It’s an online store for in and outdoor garden decor that combines her business acumen with her love of nature and Scandinavian design. Where Path59 is concerned, she has big plans for the next 12 months:
“We’ll increase our visibility through speaking platforms and articles on specific key subjects like AI, for example, and the impact that it’s going to have on just about everything. We’ll also increase our focus on Housing Associations because we strongly believe we can help them with the challenges they are currently facing, particularly when it comes to adopting digital solutions.”