Creating an AI That Will Help You Transcribe Meetings and Take Notes


At Microsoft, I looked at where I spent most of my time. It was in meetings (more than 20 hrs per week) and I had to say the same information again and again. I hated repeating myself and sending those painfully long follow up emails after every meeting. Naturally this was something I wanted to change. What if there was a way to have someone other than me take notes. Could an AI assistant help me remember everything even 6 months after a meeting? That was the lightbulb moment that led to Fireflies. It was an idea in the back of my head for a long time but when I left Microsoft it was actually to attend business school at Cambridge. I decided last minute to pursue this idea with my co-founder and turned down the opportunity to go to Cambridge in the UK.

Before we even wrote a line of code, we spoke to over 80 people within our network to validate the problem. Everyone we talked to clearly had a need. It seemed like a no brainer; however, the hard part was seeing if it was technologically possible. Our first 3 customers came from our network and they were willing to pay for the product before it was even ready. So we created a waitlist and let people on to the platform gradually after we built out our MVP. Tire hits the road moment is when they were telling us “take my money, I want to pay for this… just get me early access.”

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

Sam, my co-founder and CTO, worked on Deep Learning at MIT. I was working on NLP and Customer Voice initiatives at Microsoft. We were always fascinated by the process of extracting meaning from conversations. This is one of the hardest things to do because language and text is completely unstructured unlike numbers.

We’ve announced a $5million round in October 2019. We’ve had some great angels participate as well like Chief Product Officer from Slack, VP from Skype, Former Execs from Salesforce, Dropbox, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and CEO of Segment

Who is your target demographic?

Any professional having meetings at work. We have integrations to dozens of web-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, MSFT Teams, Uberconference, GotoMeeting , Etc.

People tell us that they send Fireflies to meetings that they are not able to attend to transcribe everything and take notes. This was really neat to see people use it so creatively.

Fireflies is in meetings with tens of thousands of people each week. Our users spend more than a million plus minutes on our platform each month.

How did you fund the idea initially?

We were bootstrapped for the longest time. We won a hackathon at MIT that gave us a couple thousand dollars to just test the waters. We then got some small angel checks. When my roommate from college heard what we were doing, he wrote a $25k check on the spot. I’m grateful for our early angles who helped us kick things off.

Sam moved to San Francisco with $200 in his pocket. The first 2 years were tough living off ramen, soylent, and dominos pizza. We subletted a small place in SF and just kept grinding. My peers were also wondering why I left such a well paying job as a product manager at Microsoft to do this. I was one of the youngest product managers at Microsoft and absolutely loved my time there, but the entrepreneurial calling just really pulled me into it.

Me and my cofounders have worked several projects while in college. We won several coding competitions and Hackathons.

In terms of hiring your first employees, hire slowly. You need to use your peer network and background checks are a must. You can ask them to work part time first.

Did you run any companies prior?

When you are a PM you are like the CEO of your own product line. There is a very tangible experience from that. I also worked with a startup in college that ended up getting acquired by a big healthcare company. First year of college, I started a project that ended up getting several thousand users.

fireflies-platform

I started my own business because I wanted to bring something to the market that is iterating really quickly and moving at a fast pace. This and the chance to build a team of very talented people. Our team has former CTOs and great engineers across the globe. We also wanted to change the culture by building a global company from day one. We have employees in 5 companies and 9 locations. Running a fully distributed company takes effort but it also helps you scale quickly.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on Fireflies.ai?

Startups come with attention but you also need to be able to deliver. A lot of people play the game of startup for 1-2 years, but very few people can really push forward and build something substantial. That was the big question and I think in the last 2 years we were able to push through that ceiling

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

As you scale you have to focus on execution. Being a perfectionist, I’m trying to make everything 100% but you have to be ok realizing not all fires will be put out immediately and that it’s a part of the process of growing. It’s incredible walking into a peer’s company and seeing Fireflies being used across all the meeting rooms or a stranger approaching you at a conference or meetup telling you that they’ve used Fireflies. This makes me excited about what would happen if Fireflies was helping power every meeting across the globe.

For those who are just starting out, make something people will miss if you took it away from them.

What has driven the most sales?

Our product is naturally viral. When one person uses it in a meeting their teammates and colleagues see it and sign up. Word of mouth is really important for us.

We just need to keep up with demand and scale the platform to handle more volume so we could be 3x the size we are right now.

What are the top 3-5 apps that Fireflies could not run without?

  • Slack
  • Zapier
  • Segment
  • Fireflies powers our globally distributed team

We need these to automate workflows and run a globally distributed team.

Company Name: Fireflies.ai
Founder: Krish Ramineni



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Creating a Raw Honey Inspired Café After a Federal Prosecution Career


The idea began as a casual family conversation between my husband, brother-in-law, sister-in law and me. My brother-in-law, a neurologist and psychiatrist, began talking to us about exciting cutting-edge neuroscience related to food and the brain. And how frustrated he was that this information was not widely available to the public.

If the best way to good brain health was through food, it occurred to us that opening a restaurant could be a good way to make this cutting-edge information readily accessible. We started discussing the possibility and decided on a fast casual restaurant because we wanted people to make Honeybrains a part of their daily lives. Fine dining restaurants do not become a part of your daily life. It is a place you go to once in a while. That is why we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We opened our first fast casual restaurant and café in Noho, NYC in December of 2016. We designed Honeybrains to be a community-driven place where people could go any time of day to eat, drink, socially engage with others, and discover something that could be beneficial for their brain and body health. We make everything from scratch because nothing previously existed that was built from the ground up based on the best brain nutrition science. This includes our food, our Brainbar featuring raw honey-infused coffees and teas (no processed sugars here), our juices, and our nutrient-based supplements. We also created a brain health curriculum for those wishing to learn more about the neuroscience behind Honeybrains, which we have started to animate and communicate beginning with a series of self‐published articles.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual process?

It was a gradual process. It took us three years from the initial conversation to opening our first restaurant. Because the foundation of Honeybrains is based on science, we are very careful and exacting in everything we do. We spent a lot of time analyzing and reviewing every aspect of the business to ensure that it stayed true to the mission.

Honeybrains salmon-toast-avocado-crush

MENU ITEMS: Our menu is based on five food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and omegas 3… plus herbs, spices, fermented foods and natural sweeteners, such as honey. To learn about the science behind our food click here.

We aim to include at least three of the five food groups in all our menu items. In addition to multiple tastings, every menu item is reviewed by our team which includes my brother-in-law, the neurologist and a nutritionist, who is also a dietician.

JUICES: Each house made juice contains one or more active, natural ingredients that have scientifically-proven benefits for brain and body health function. An explanation of the health benefits of our juices can be found here.

We also balance each juice with just the right amount of fiber (which is lost in the juicing process) so the ratio of sugar to fiber is similar to that found in a whole apple. This prevents a sugar spike in the blood, which can be detrimental to the metabolic functions in our body.

LIGHTING & DÉCOR: A key pillar of brain health is socialization and community. We decided to invest in the lighting and décor of our locations. We installed a circadian lighting system that mirrors the behavior of the sun and thus the natural internal clock in the human body. Lighting can affect one’s mood, alertness and productivity.

Also, unlike other fast casual spaces with hard benches, we have cushioned banquets and chairs to encourage people to stay, relax and socialize with others.

Why honey and how did you validate the idea?

Switching from sugar to raw honey has scientifically-‐proven brain health benefits. Fructose, a major sugar component of honey also found in natural fruit, is more gradually absorbed in the body than processed sugars. The brain functions best when sugars are gradually absorbed. Special sugars within raw honey also can act as “prebiotics,” promoting growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

Having healthy gut bacteria positively impacts our brain’s ability to use the energy we eat. A very easy way to start improving brain health is to stop using processed sugars in coffee and tea. Every Honeybrains location is anchored by what we refer to as the “Brain Bar,” a place where you can find delicious coffee and tea drinks that are made with raw sustainably-sourced honeys. You can also purchase raw honeys that we have sourced and vetted from sustainably-sourced apiaries.

Sustainable beekeeping practices are also important because they assist local farming practices by keeping bees happy and close to home, where they perform their essential pollinating function. Such practices help protect our food sources. Honeybees are a necessary element of a significant portion of our food supply, and modern industrial farming practices are threatening the health and existence of our bee populations through, among other things, the use of heavy pesticides. An increase in consumer preferences for sustainably produced raw honeys results in better health, and a healthier environment.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

None of us had had any experience in the restaurant space. However, each family member had a different set of talents which were directly applicable to the business. I am a lawyer, my husband is in finance, my brother-in-law is a neurologist and psychiatrist and my sister-in-law has an art degree and is a yogi and a teacher. I believe not having experience in the restaurant space has allowed us to view everything through a new and refreshing lens.

For example, other restaurateurs advised that I give employees discounted or family meals during their shifts. I decided to go in a different direction. At Honeybrains, each employee is entitled to choose one complimentary menu item with no limitations whatsoever. Employees can choose to eat the most expensive items on the menu including salmon, grass-fed steak or free-range chicken. Not only has this led to greater employee menu knowledge, but it has also led to healthier and happier employees.

Honeybrains Cafe

As a result, one employee used to leave Honeybrains to purchase fast food during her breaks because the food served at Honeybrains was unfamiliar to her. Over time, she stopped going to fast food restaurants and slowly began eating Honeybrains food. She recently visited her doctor and reported that she has lost a lot of weight and is no longer pre-diabetic for the first time in 7 years. She no longer consumes processed sugar and she has stopped feeding her young son fast food as well.

Who is your target demographic?

Any health conscious person who cares about their brain and overall well-being. Anyone who cares about their body because the health of both your body and brain are intimately connected to each other.

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

The model Gigi Hadid has been photographed holding our bright yellow coffee cup. Vogue once did an article about how Hadid matched her outfit to our yellow coffee cup.

On one occasion, Justin Bieber and his now wife Hailey Baldwin showed up which caused utter chaos in the restaurant. They tried to sit down and order food but people kept asking them for photos. Justin’s bodyguard tried to only allow so called “customers” inside our restaurant but that did not prevent swarms of people from coming inside to get a glimpse of them.

EMPLOYEE RELATED

Being in the restaurant industry requires you to problem solve on a daily basis. We have had the typical issues restaurants routinely deal with including, pipes bursting, floods and broken air conditioners on a 90 degree day.

One Sunday, we could not get the front door open. A screw became loose and the only way to fix it was from the inside. We had to scramble to find a locksmith to figure out what was wrong and get the door open. This delayed our opening by several hours. Not being able to open the front door was definitely an issue we had never anticipated.

On two occasions, we had guests pass out in our bathroom because of diabetic conditions. Our general manager noticed that these customers had been in the bathroom for a really long time. She peeked under the door and saw the customers lying down on the floor. She opened the bathroom door with a key and performed first aid and called the paramedics.

One day, I noticed that one of our employees was holding a piece of paper very close to her face. I also observed her constantly bending over to look at things on the counter and often did not greet guests at the door which was one of her key job responsibilities. After speaking with her, I learned that she had broken her glasses several weeks back and could not afford to buy a new pair. I bought her new glasses and immediately saw a transformation in her work performance. I anticipated her needs by paying close attention and that increased her loyalty to the company.

Does third party commissions affect profitability of third-party orders?

Yes, very much. We have partnered with third party delivery companies and office catering platforms. Many third party vendors are demanding higher and higher commissions every year which are eating into our profits.

The commissions range from 10% to 25%. We do not increase our prices as a result of it, but many other restaurants do. Most of our third party partners assist us in getting more catering. I believe the delivery partners helped us increase traffic to stores, because they offer a pick up option.

Where did you meet your co-founder / founding team?

The co-founding team consists of only family members and our dietician is the wife of my husband’s best friend.

Any tips for finding first employees?

Use your personal network. Ask family, friends and current and old work colleagues for recommendations. Because start-ups typically cannot pay as well as more established companies, look for people who are interested in higher growth opportunities. It is also important to hire people who express a strong belief in your mission.

At times it is just being at the right place at the right time. One of our first general managers worked for a company that delivered drinks to my husband’s office on a weekly basis and mentioned the desire to work at a health conscious restaurant.

What sells best?

The best sellers are the Chicken & Rice Bowl, Chicken Tikka Bowl and our version of avocado toast, the Avocado Smash

Did you run any companies prior?

No. I was a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, where my roles included being Chief of General Crimes and Deputy Chief of Public Integrity. Although delivering justice to victims and criminals held deep importance to me, I decided that there is nothing more important than our individual and collective health. The health industry has always been a part of my life, given my parents’ professions as an emergency room doctor and a hospital administrator.

What motivated you to start your own business?

The mission. I am passionate about educating as many people as possible about how to live a brain-healthy lifestyle. I really want Honeybrains to be a force for good in the world by empowering individuals with knowledge and products that can improve their quality of life, as well as reduce their risk of long-term brain degeneration or disease (e.g., dementia and Alzheimer’s).

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

“Are you crazy?”, “You want to leave the law to open a restaurant in NYC?”, “What do you want that headache for?”, “Aren’t there enough restaurants in NYC?”. It was especially hard for my mother who is an immigrant from the Philippines. To her, being a doctor or lawyer is the American dream. She was very nervous for me to leave my prestigious government job and no longer practice law to do something extremely risky.

What motivates you when things go wrong?

I remind myself that there is a lesson to be learned every time something goes wrong. For example, early on we had an allergy scare after a customer did not tell us she was allergic to sesame. My sister is deathly allergic to nuts, so I have always been focused on allergies and taken extra precautions in the restaurant. After this incident, I completely revamped how we handle allergies. Now we proactively ask each guest whether they have any allergies. We do not wait for them to raise the issue with us.

Employees can no longer place an order without acknowledging in the POS system that they have asked the guest about any allergies. We also created bright yellow signs that are posted at each register alerting people to the fact that we care about allergies and to please tell us if they have any. All allergies are printed in English and Spanish in red writing on order tickets. These open conversations and new processes and procedures have virtually eliminated all issues relating to allergies. People really appreciate that we ask about allergies. It is something that also differentiates us from our competitors.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

You don’t have to know everything about running a business, but you should definitely seek out and hire people who fill your blind spots.

What has driven the most sales?

Instagram has driven the most sales compared to other forms of social media. The first thing people do when they want to research your restaurant is visit the website and check out your Instagram page. One interesting thing we did for social media was to create a custom bee stencil for our coffee and tea-based drinks. We use these stencils with cinnamon, cocoa powder and matcha for eye-catching appeal. The addition of the bee stencils to our drinks definitely drove business to the restaurant. Indeed, we were just cited as having one of the best hot chocolates in New York City by PureWow and one of the things mentioned was the matcha stencil on our hot chocolate.

Instagram stories also allow you to talk directly to your customers in a direct and personal way. We recently started a segment that has become popular called Marisa Mondays. Every Monday, I pick one topic to discuss that relates to improving your brain health.

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

We are not ready to be 3X the size we are now. All in due time. We are currently growing at a pace that we are comfortable with. We opened a restaurant in October 2019 and will be opening another one in April 2020. Our pace allows us to perfect all our systems and procedures and build the best team possible.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

By continuing to innovate and create. For example, we recently developed our own nutrient-based supplements which are natural and contribute to better brain health and performance. We are always developing new educational materials based on the latest science.

For example, we have a section on our website entitled LEARN where we post various articles about brain health. Our latest one is entitled, “The 10 Key Biomarkers of a Healthy Brain.” We are always developing new menu items and assessing the nutritional content of our food and how we can best communicate it to our customers. We are about to release a new nutritional label called “Essential Brain Nutrients,” which will educate people about what essential brain nutrients, and how much of them, you need every day. You will also be able to see how much of the daily target amounts you are getting from each of our dishes.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

We use the Square app every day. Square is our POS provider. We monitor sales very closely. I check the app multiple times a day to see where the sales are at and also what items are selling the most on a particular day.

Looking at data is extremely important in running a business. For example, waste is an issue that every restaurant grapples with. Our salads are made every morning. We do not simply make a set number of salads every day. We look to the previous week’s sales on that particular day and also consider the weather in deciding salad quantities. This data has helped us reduce waste to very minimal levels on a daily basis.

What are your favourite books?

At Honeybrains, we believe in constantly empowering our employees with education and knowledge. We recently started a lending library where employees can borrow books from Honeybrains. The books contained in the library are ones that I have read and enjoyed and believe can inspire and motivate our employees. The first two books in the library were Grit by Angela Duckworth and Mindset by Carol Dweck.

What are the next products you’re working on?

We are working on releasing our seasonal menu as well as opening our third location at 55th Street.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

I see Honeybrains in multiple states. Also, Honeybrains is the first healthcare hospitality brand, 100% based on neuroscience. Thus, I also hope to partner with major insurance companies so that Honeybrains meals will be partially subsidized to incentivize more people to eat healthier. Healthier eating leads to lower healthcare costs.

Company Name: Honeybrains
Founder: Marisa Seifan



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Creating A $15m/year Lawn Care Marketplace


I have been in the contracting business my entire life starting out by mowing lawns in high school and over the course of 15 years time grew that into a construction company with 125 employees and $8 million a year in annual revenue. In 2015 the company was acquired by a national organization.

The idea for GreenPal came to me while reading an article about Airbnb in 2012. I observed what they were doing with crowdsourcing accommodations and just knew that a similar type of platform would solve the problems. I was seeing every day in the lawn care industry especially for smaller lawn maintenance providers. I guess you could say that was my lightbulb moment. Fast forward three years since our launch we are now living in all 50 states with 220,000 homeowners that use the system every week to their lawn mowed by a local lawn care professional nearby them.

But the real reason why we do this is to help small business owners in the lawn care industry just like I was in high school. There are so many hard-working independent entrepreneurs in this industry that just need an opportunity and a platform to plug into. We are building the operating system and platform for small lawn care companies to run their entire business through.

How did you get your first three customers?

We found our first customers with Facebook GROUPS. Especially local Facebook groups. No matter your niche or vertical there is a FB group that you can participate in to contribute to the discussion, answer questions, and develop a presence to refer people to your business, often times when they are looking for exactly what you offer.

FB just also launched a dedicated mobile app to support their groups’ communities so now it’s easier than ever to manage the groups that you participate in, monitor the conversations, and participate while on the go throughout your day.

We have found this tactic to be very effective for our marketplace. We monitor local groups and neighborhoods’ groups , and when anyone is asking for a recommendation on a lawn care service, we kindly let them know about the GreenPal community. We track the success and 60% of the time we make a recommendation, they signup for our service.

How did you validate the idea?

We knew we had to validate the idea and more importantly our value proposition and if anybody would care about what we were building . The main consideration every aspiring small business owner needs to make one starting out their small business is to formulate their value proposition.

To understand your value proposition you need to answer this one question: “If I am your ideal prospect why would I buy with you rather than one of your competitors”

We have a motto “nail it then scale it.” The main mistake I made when I first started my business was failing to nail my value proposition or what is it about our product and offer that compels people to say yes.

Until I knew this, any sales efforts or spend in any channels was like pouring gasoline on wet leaves. For instance, when we first launched, we thought people would like our service because it’s a cheaper way to get their grass cut. What we found through copy testing in different channels such as ad-words and FB is that the customers ability to get same day service is a much more effective and compelling subset of our value prop that drives more visitors and more conversions on our landing pages.

Nailing your value prop first is crucial.

Have you raised any money? How much?

Our business is profitable, self-funded and will surprise $15 million in revenue this year. Debt can magnify mistakes; however, when used wisely it can be a powerful fulcrum.

When we launched our business two years ago we had no money and no outside capital to get started with. Like most tech startups we went on the fundraising circuit talking to angel investors and venture capitalists begging for money to get started. However, our vision was just too broad in scope and luckily we got turned down and told no over 40 times.

I was fortunate enough to have solid personal credit and this enabled my team to secure an unsecured line of credit for $85,000 to get our business started. We paid that off in the first year and this year we’re going to surpass $15 million in annual revenue. Good thing early investors told us no because with their capital they would have owned and controlled 30% of our business and because we are self-funded, my cofounders and I own it all.

Who is your target demographic?

Our target demographic is millennials aged 25-35 , 75% of our recurring users are women .

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

We once had an unjustified negative review almost tank a new office that we launched, let me explain. I myself have to resist the urge to appeal or delete negative reviews on review sites such as yelp. When we launched our office in Nashville we were unlucky in getting a negative review right off the bat. The reviewer never actually even used our service; however, left the negative review confusing us with another service. We appealed to yelp but they would not take the review down we even reached out to the person to get them to correct the review and they never responded.

We were distraught because it is very difficult to overcome the cold start when launching a new market and negative reviews with no positive reviews can be almost impossible to overcome. We knew we had to develop some sort of strategy to get reviews no matter what to push the bad review down with positive sentiments.

After brainstorming we came up with an idea to tap into our customer’s soul through their pets. When a homeowner signs up for our service, we gather information if they have pets, and if so what are their names. We do this so our lawn vendors know to be careful when entering the lawn. We decided we could use this info about our customer to send a personalized gift to our customers’ pet, addressed to them.

This really wowed our customers, we received personal thank you notes, photos being posted to Yelp and FB and thank you tweets, it worked really well for the time and money we invested. As the Nashville office now has 27 positive reviews. We have seen several yelp reviews that specifically reference receiving the gift for their pet so we are going to continue the strategy and engaging our customers and making a personal connection.

Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?

I found my two co-founders four years ago starting our company when searching for two people whom I could trust to start a business with. Over the years I have mentored and consulted with other start up teams and I believe tech entrepreneurs tend to overemphasize for skill sets when choosing a cofounder rather than character and trust.

Getting a cofounder for your business is much like getting married and you need to really consider is this someone who you would break bread with. Because you will be in the trenches with that person for many many years building your company, slogging through the highs and lows of building a business from scratch.

Before you look for somebody with coding skills or design skills first need to understand do they have the work ethic and character to build a company from scratch trust that person. Only if they pass the test then move onto skill sets.

Any tips for finding first employees?

Your first employee or two can be a force magnifier for your efforts. However, before you go off the deep end and take on probably your biggest expense you need to first understand how to delegate to your first employee.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. That is one of my favorite quotes from General George S Patton.

I believe with respect to new hires, you’ll need to outline what the big picture objective is and then get out of their way and let them show you they can do it. If they are unable to deliver, then odds are you don’t have the right person on your team anyways. This is especially critical for employees for small businesses as the first 2-10 teammates you high will make a break or success.

What motivated you to start your own business?

What entrepreneurship means to me is the opportunity to live out my “why.” Why does our company exist? Why do I get out of bed every morning and if I didn’t why would anybody care?

Greenpal

When I was running an organization of over 100 people it proved it was daunting; however, creating something bigger than myself was a fulfilling experience. Our company created prosperity for our people and that’s why we did what we did. Much of our operating core was comprised of Guatemalan immigrants and these were the finest people I have ever known. Typically, they would come to the United States for several consecutive lawn mowing seasons, saving as much money as they could to improve the lives of their families back home by building homes, ranches, and setting up farms stocked with cattle.

This became our company’s purpose, our “Why.” In weekly meetings, we would get progress reports from our men on how projects “back home” were coming along. In the halls of our office and in the shop, we displayed picture collages of all the homes, farms, and businesses that had been established by our people in Guatemala. Celebrating these victories gave us fuel to get through the tough times, particularly when the economic recession that began in 2009.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

For me, small business and entrepreneurship is the primary vehicle for social mobility in this country and what makes it the greatest country in the world. Entrepreneurship can be both the most beautiful and painful thing in a person’s life and can be the primary change agent as well. For me about a year after starting my company the two primary changes in my character make up or as follows:

Humility

Starting your own company from scratch is one of the most humbling things a person can go through. In the beginning it is the most important thing to you, and the most important thing in your world. However, friends and family probably will not get it, will think you are crazy, and will not care about your baby the way you do.

Thinking bigger

Starting your own company forces you to think bigger and expand your circle of influence bigger than previously before in your life.

So often when we are working a steady job we become engulfed in our little microcosm of the world, watch ordinary shows on TV, and just live an ordinary life. When you are in charge of your own company, you have to be at the forefront of your capabilities at all times, learning new skills, and exposing yourself to all sorts of new ideas and concepts that you never even knew existed.

For me, entrepreneurship has been my source of my personal growth and fulfillment. Something I could’ve never gotten anywhere else in life.

What Have You Learned?

Three things that I’ve learned in the first year of building that business and my current business:

  1. It’s going to be 10 times harder than you think it’s going to be. Any creative endeavor is going to be faced with uncertainty and while you’ll need to create a business plan, also be advised that that will fall apart the moment it touches your first customer.
  2. Nobody cares. Starting your own business is a lonely journey because your friends and family will not “get it” and truthfully nobody will really care about the long hours and sacrifices you’re making. Only you will care about your vision and birthing your new business to life.
  3. A need for an insatiable desire to learn. I’ve learned more in the past year of starting my second business that in a previous 14 years combined. Ideas are still born and they will require execution and more importantly specific knowledge of skill sets to bring them to life. The first year or two is the toughest because you’re having to learn all of these new skills to make your new venture a success.

What makes you stand-out from your competitors?

I have been somewhat obsessed about our culture starting with my three co-founders and 20 employees that we have built over the past four years. Culture can be a competitive advantage; you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.

Culture is no doubt critical to any team’s success, no matter what the size. My concern is that I observe teams in infancy place an over emphasis on things in the name of company culture before the business fundamentals are flushed out. In the beginning, we as entrepreneurs must focus and prioritize the basics and fundamentals of creating a scalable business over trying to build a cozy culture.

Ping Pong tables, free lunch, and massages help make some companies a great place to work, but these things did not make a company great in the first place. These are the perks that help keep employees happy and a great company on top, not necessarily what propels it to greatness. The best precaution we can make as entrepreneurs is to hire good fits. If you can break bread with the person, then why hire them? If you won’t enjoy hanging out with them socially then they won’t be a value add for culture.

Culture gets mislabeled as “perks” offered throughout an organization. In its most potent form, culture should refer to the aligning values of the organization; do you and your team members all believe in the same things? What is your team’s mantra? The specifics of your team’s values are not as important as the fact of having the values ingrained that align each member of that team. This adds purpose to the mission, and passion is a product of purpose. These are the elements by which real culture is created. These values have to be installed at the early stages of a company, as it’s impossible to come back later and sprinkle in some culture and values into an established team.

Strong culture is created when each member of the team believes in the same things. When that is the case, trust emerges, and when you have trust you have loyalty. With these elements embedded in a team, no matter how big or small, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

To guide our product development and product management, we use a framework called the “problem/solution canvas.” We have it set up a tool called Trello and it’s a repeatable framework that we use on a weekly basis to identify our top three problems and how we are going to solve them for that week.

The best part is their mobile app interface is simply amazing. It is intuitive and extremely powerful allowing you to upload ideas, pictures, notes and files from your mobile on the go. You never know when a good idea is going to come to you and you need to append to a certain thing that the team is working on. This allows us to make small changes that compound off of one another inching our way towards the end zone rather than making huge bets we make small ones.

Trello allows us to coordinate tasks across or 20 member team distributed across four different countries. The best part that I love is that you can set due dates for each individual task that will nag your teammate until they get it done, it’s the ultimate set it and forget it cost to get stuff done.

What are your favourite books?

The discipline of controlling my spending living within my means and ultimately saving money each month is one of the hardest I know of. When I was in high school I was very fortunate that my father gave me a classic book from the 1930s called “The Richest Man in Babylon.” The book talks about the concept of paying yourself first 10% to 20% each month’s earning before you pay any of your bills.

When you are forced to pay yourself first each month, it acts as a forcing function to live within your means. This discipline combats the phenomenon of no matter how large our personal income gross our expenses and lifestyle always grow along with it. The author talks about if desire to purchase something i.e. a car Etc you must first acquire the asset that will deliver the rate of return to purchase whatever it is.

I’m so glad that I absorbed this book at a young age because I practiced its teachings over the course of 15 years and have now over time acquired 12 paid for rental homes. Now I’m in my mid-30s and that has allowed me to pursue my dreams of building a successful tech company.

What are your favourite podcasts?

I listen to dozens of marketing podcasts and my favorite one is called “The Zip.” It is the only podcast that I have come across that dives into the strategies and interviews practitioners in local search engine optimization and local public relations. It is the most effective marketing podcast I have found.

What are the next products you’re working on?

As Jeff Bezos would say it’s still day one and that is definitely the case with GreenPal. Currently , we are working on machine learning technology to deliver auto bidding prices for homeowners so they can instantly book Lawn care professionals using our platform in seconds so they won’t have to wait for bids from lawn care pros.

GreenPal’s goals is to become the only nationwide platform that homeowners and Lawn Care professionals use to get their lawn mowings completed for as long as they own their home.

Company Name: Greenpal
Founder: Bryan Clayton



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Connecting People Who Will Work in Xchange for Accommodation


The idea for The Room Xchange evolved naturally. After my eldest child left home, I cried for a year every time I walked past his empty bedroom, a feeling many parents experience when their children leave home.

After a year, I recognised its revenue generating potential and, wanting to do something practical with it, I did what most people would and listed it on Airbnb. It was amazing. I loved the random nature of people from all walks of life coming to stay with me. I engaged in really interesting conversations and was able to grow and learn from other people who I might not have usually had the opportunity to meet. However, the four hours it took me to get my entire house ‘hotel ready’ for each guest wasn’t worth the $50 a night I was being paid for a guest.

We then started to have young adult friends of our children who were travelling come and stay. They liked it so much they often wanted to stay longer, using our home as a base, but their limited finances often made it uncomfortable and unfeasible for them.

For me, too, I much preferred for them to feel at home, eat what they liked, and come and go as they pleased, without feeling any financial pressure. As a busy entrepreneur, I realised I could do with some help around the house, so I just offered an ‘Xchange’ as an option.

It was so well received it became an ongoing experience over the next four years with several people staying in our home at different times.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual process?

It was a gradual process over a period of time. As we continued to create our own Xchanges at home, friends and associates began asking for advice about how to source and host their own guests. As an entrepreneur, I take notice of comments like this.

By the time I’d heard it five times, I realised what a great idea it was and that there might be something in it.

How did you get your first three sales?

We offered our service to a certain number of people for free for a year. In that time, we worked closely with those hosts and guests to find out what worked, what didn’t and how we could improve our service offering. They all provided us with a number of video testimonials that we then used to promote to our database and social media. Once the platform was finished and able to take payment, we were in a great position to start trading.

How did you validate the idea?

When we decided to give it a shot, I built a rudimentary wordpress website so we could test the concept. We managed to find a small group of hosts and guests, who were an ideal match. They Xchanged for a period of time and provided us with much needed insights into the experience. It was only a small test, but enough to give us the confidence to go ahead.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

I have been working in digital since its inception. Over the years I have consulted as a business advisor for a number of companies assisting them with building online brands and being a voice in their market. I’ve also previously invested in tech companies in the years leading up to launching The Room Xchange, and had assisted one in raising capital. It seemed like the next logical step in the evolution of my entrepreneurial pursuits.

Who is your target demographic?

Our target demographic is two fold – hosts, and guests.

Our hosts are households who are time poor and/or in need of household support. They consist mainly of busy professionals and families. We also have empty nesters and able elderly people who have large homes to manage.

Our guests consist of people who are looking to reduce their cost of living and who are willing and able to contribute to their host’s household in some way. The are usually university students, travellers, young entrepreneurs, and people who are in between stages of life and who need a soft place to land for a while.

How did you fund the idea initially?

At the beginning we self-funded. I re-mortgaged my house at the age of 50 and backed myself.

Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?

I am the only founder of the company. I never felt like I needed to have a co-founder as I had a great leadership and advisory team to support me from the get go.

Any tips for finding first employees?

Finding the right people for your team is imperative. You spend so much time with them that you want to ensure that they not only have the right skills you require, but can complement you in your role as CEO. Being skilled across other areas is also helpful at this stage as we are usually wearing multiple hats.

I also find it valuable to have people who can push back and stand their ground as much as I do and to know when it’s time to let something go. There is a fine line between being assertive and knowing when to back down. I also like working with people who I enjoy being around. You spend so much time with them through the development of your business, so you want to make sure they’re people you like to spend time with and who you respect.

What was your first major obstacle and how did you overcome it?

Raising our first round of capital was a massive challenge. We were on the cusp of social enterprise. No-one had really heard of the term ‘Xchange’ yet. I spent 8 months pitching to various investors up and down the east coast of Australia. At that time, investors were mainly interested in things above or below the ground. (Buildings or minerals) I kept hearing ‘It’s a great concept; come back in Round 2.” They didn’t understand or believe that a business that had no hard assets could make money. I got sick of hearing that and I wondered why they were so sure I’d go back to them in Round 2 if they didn’t invest in Round 1?

So I put on my own pitch event! I hired a pub in South Melbourne, invited a bunch of influencers, supporters of our brand, investment funds who had been following me, friends and family. I had some major players speak on my behalf and essentially endorse The Room Xchange. I then got to speak for 40 minutes as opposed to 10 minutes which is usual for pitching. Overnight I received four offers for meetings and on Friday that week I closed the deal. We raised our capital and we did it my way.

Did you run any companies prior?

I have been an entrepreneur for most of my adult life. I’ve never had a day job. I began in hospitality as a young adult. When I started my family in my mid 20’s, I began looking for things to do that would allow me to be at home with my children. Being self-employed seem to be the logical approach. I haven’t looked back.

What motivated you to start your own business?

What motivated me to start this particular business was to be able to support households and young adults with more balance and less stress in their lives. It costs a lot to live these days for both our hosts and our guests. They are both experiencing housing stress, just in different forms.

Having two adult children in their 20’s has given me first-hand insights into the challenges millennials are facing when it comes to affordable and accessible housing – in Australia where we are based, it’s particularly so.

I always believe that if you want something to change, don’t complain about it; be the change you want to see. So I did.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

They were really happy for me, so much so that a few of them invested in our first capital raise. It’s humbling to know that people who respect and love you will back you too.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

I call these experiences, ‘good mistakes’. I value them. They hurt at the time and don’t feel good, but they’re valuable lessons that I never begrudge experiencing. When things go wrong, I take some time out to consider what’s been done, the decisions made that got us there, and what I can do differently so they don’t happen again. The end goal is to learn from them and move on, and move on quickly. I don’t dwell on mistakes.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Where do I begin?! Make sure that you have a high level of self belief and self confidence. There will be many times that it will be challenged and you’ll question yourself at times. If you can always confidently come back to who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll get through it. If you don’t, you’ll be easily swayed and find it difficult to stand your ground. It’s also vital that you build your resilience muscle. It’s the best friend you’ll have in business.

Also, have a creative hobby that you’re passionate about that has nothing to do with your business or the thinking processes attached to it. I’m an artist. I don’t watch TV at night; I paint instead. My art allows me to relax the part of my brain I use so intently during the day. It allows me to get lost in something other than work. Interestingly, many of my business challenges are solved during these times.

It’s like a form of meditation for me.

Plus it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I’ve created something from an idea. That’s what business is all about. Having an idea, planning it out, creating a framework, filling in the gaps and completing. That’s art. It’s a discipline to finish something and that’s a great discipline to have.

What marketing channel has driven the most sign-ups?

We have done a great job on content marketing which provides us with some good organic SEO for very little money in comparison to other marketing channels. So Google is our best channel right now.

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

Nothing is stopping me. We just don’t want to grow quickly. We’d rather grow at a steady, manageable rate. Growing a business like this too quickly can kill it as fast as growing it too slowly. We are dealing with people’s livelihoods, homes and lifestyle.

We are currently raising our second round of capital for our growth phase. We have now done our user testing with a good number of case studies, gathered data and insights, have substantial user stories, built the technology, legal, financials, executive team in place, marketing and digital tested and ready to go. Once we raise this capital we will be ready to grow it 100 times more!

What are the top apps your business could not run without?

I use Trello for project management. It keeps my sanity and allows me to manage projects with multiple people.

Lastpass for all my password encryptions and storage

Canva for graphic design

Why are they essential?

People rarely consider how challenging it would be for others to access (or shut down if need be) their digital lives, including their business affairs, if circumstances meant that they had to.

For that reason, Lastpass in particular is absolutely crucial to me.

I made a decision while undergoing treatment for cancer nine years ago, that if something were to happen to me, I wanted to make absolutely certain that my executive team and/or family could come in if something were ever to happen to me and be able to take things over.

My master password for Lastpass is stored with my last will and testament at my lawyer’s, so it’s easy for my life partner or my leadership team to gain access if necessary. We’re all human – if something were to happen to you, what would that look like?

What are the next cities/countries you’re looking to expand to?

We have registrations in over 40 countries which has been a pleasant surprise, especially as we’re not advertising outside of Australia! Our international expansion goals will include countries that are the most feasible, accessible and which are open to our business model. We’re initially looking at New Zealand, Canada, the USA and UK.

Would you ever sell the company?

I never know how to answer that question! It depends on a few things. The right offer, the right company offering to buy it, and how much we’re being offered for it!

Company Name: The Room Xchange
Founder: Ludwina Dautovic



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Building Drone Highways for Drone Industry, State & Local Governments


Airspace Link is an FAA Approved UAS Service Supplier (USS) of the Low Altitude Authorization & Notification Capability (LAANC). A cloud-based platform founded by Detroit, Michigan based founder Michael Healander.

Airspace Link can be used anytime, anywhere with existing Esri solutions. Airspace Link solutions can scale to hundreds or even millions of people, pilots and drones interacting with it at the same time.

Building drone highways was inspired by the 2014 Amazon Prime Air drone package delivery video. We realized that a low altitude infrastructure and Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) would need to be built to make this type of delivery safely within our communities. After some research we decided to wait until the drone industry, FAA, State & Local Governments would even start to consider this capability. In 2018 we gradually saw signs by the FAA and the drone industry that it was time to start building Airspace Link.

How did you get your first three customers?

We attended the National League of Cities (NLC) conference in San Antonio which landed us Ontario, California. We also picked up several cities in Michigan with support from Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Mobility initiative group (PlanetM) and direct sales with demonstrations of our Beta SaaS solutions.

How did you validate the idea?

We validated the market with a lot of interviews with potential customers. We talked to communities heavily involved in drone technology and communities that didn’t want anything to do with drones. This information allowed us to build a MVP solution to test with these different types of user personas within the FAA, drone industry and state & local government. Similar to a three legged stool, we learned that it was going to take multiple stakeholders to solve the problem of safely and legally flying drones through the national airspace and our communities.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

Much of our team’s experience comes from solving complex problems using geospatial technology for Federal, State & Local Government and Fortune 500 companies.

Have you raised any money? How much?

Yes, we closed a pre-seed round with 2048 Ventures in October 2018 for just over $1,020,000 when completing Techstars Detroit accelerator. We quickly hit several milestones and closed another seed round for $3,050,000 in December 2018 with Indicator Ventures.

Who is your target demographic?

State and Local governments and the drone industry. To stay competitive, the Aerotropolis region deployed the Airspace Link low altitude drone infrastructure to its local communities and airports to support the safe use of recreational and commercial drone use in the region. These capabilities provide a new type of Smart City mobility infrastructure supporting the growth of drone operations, drone service providers, drone manufacturing, package delivery and air taxi in the future. “The Aerotropolis Board has directed me to actively pursue enabling technologies that build on our region’s multimodal transportation network. A means to safely open low altitude airspace for commercial activity building on our existing network.” Said Christopher Girdwood, Detroit Aerotropolis Executive Director.

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

Can I shoot down drones over my property? No, that would be a federal crime.

How did you fund the idea initially?

Danny, Ana & I self-funded for the first year as we tested the market. We then met with Detroit Venture Partners and Ludlow Ventures who supported us with our first $100,000 convertible note.

Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?

Danny & I have worked in five different tech companies together over the past decade. We’ve been through one IP acquisition, one spinoff, one acquisition of Gemoetri and I met my amazing co-founder wife at CrossFit.

Any tips for finding first employees?

I reached out to some very talented people that I had worked with at other companies and I let them know I was starting a new company.

Airspace Link Team Photo

We currently have four employee’s that have worked with me in the past at different companies. We have the band back together.

Did you run any companies prior?

Yes, I was a general manager, co-founder and senior partner in previous companies.

What motivated you to start your own business?

I have a passion for technology and solving complex geospatial problems. When I see a problem that doesn’t have a good solution, I build a vision and team that can solve it and bring it to fruition.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

Everyone was really supportive and thought we were really on to something special.

What motivates you when things go wrong?

What is the end goal? We are providing a much needed solution and when things go wrong, I know that everyone can benefit from the technology so that keeps me moving forward. Our end goal is that the FAA , State and Local Governments have a solution to support the drone industry. That drone pilots have the safest flight path, with all the up to date information needed for their flights.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Get out and test your pitch and listen to feedback, watch the body language, etc. Pitch it 150 times. This will help you craft the message. Understand the business model, how are you going to make money in the future. Build the vision and focus on the problem to be solved. Be willing to change direction based on things you learn. It’s hard so bring the passion.

What has driven the most sales?

Case studies and social media support sales. But face to face meetings and demos work the best at this stage. Our customers can then see the product and all it’s capabilities first hand. This is really new technology and requires a bit of teaching during the pitch. Take them on a journey to uncover the problem and solution and value.

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

This is a new infrastructure and we’re on boarding innovators, early adopters and getting ready to cross the chasm to early majority customers. We have hit a bit of a slow down with the pandemic but we are still pushing through. If anything, we believe this technology is needed now more than ever, we just need to get more cities and states educated.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

We have built a FAA approved, cloud-based platform simultaneously connects all constituents involved in legally flying a drone. It’s a 3 legged ecosystem that protects our company.

AirspaceLink Platform1

To help meet the demands of drones in local airspace, the FAA has introduced the UAS Data Exchange, a partnership between government and Airspace Link facilitating the sharing of airspace data between the two parties. Under this umbrella of cooperation, the first program available to drone pilots today is known as the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). In the United States, the LAANC program is intended to directly support the integration of UAS vehicles into national airspace. Regulators are interested in supporting technology innovation while still providing air traffic professionals with visibility into where and when drones are operating.

AirspaceLink platform 3

To help meet the demands of drones in local airspace, the FAA has introduced the UAS Data Exchange, a partnership between government and Airspace Link facilitating the sharing of airspace data between the two parties. Under this umbrella of cooperation, the first program available to drone pilots today is known as the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). In the United States, the LAANC program is intended to directly support the integration of UAS vehicles into national airspace. Regulators are interested in supporting technology innovation while still providing air traffic professionals with visibility into where and when drones are operating.

AirspaceLink platform2

Several cities have gone live with AirHub for Government system providing communication tools from its communities to the drone industry. Drone pilots get free access to this data and FAA (ATC) flight authorization through AirHub for Pilots app.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

  1. Amazon Cloud technology
  2. Pipedrive
  3. Esri.

Why are they essential?

To have a hosted solution a geospatial cloud allows our government customers to leverage its existing Esri investment to quickly connect residents, pilots, government, and data. Because it’s software-as-a-service (SaaS), Airspace Link can be used anytime, anywhere with existing Esri solutions. Airspace Link solutions can scale to hundreds or even millions of people, pilots and drones interacting with it at the same time.

What are your favourite books?

  • Principles – Ray Dalio
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; Death by Meeting; The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Getting Naked, The Five Temptations of a CEO – Patrick Lencioni
  • Outstanding – John G. Miller
  • Fanatical Prospecting – Jeb Blount
  • How the Mighty Fall – Jim Collins
  • The Challenger Sales – Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
  • Great Demo! – Peter Cohan
  • The Power of Full Engagement – Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a – Mark Manson
  • Switch – Chip Heath
  • The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
  • Ted Talks – Chris Anderson
  • Spin Selling – Neil Rachham
  • Raise Capital on Your Own Terms – Jenny Kassan
  • The Four Steps to the Epiphany – Steve Blank
  • The Art of the App Store – Tyson McCann

Can you share what are your next steps? Where do you see the company in 5 years?

Airspace Link next steps include hiring great people and expanding our system and services to every state and local government in the US. Airspace Link will be deployed globally providing products and services required to safely integrate and manage drones in the global airspace and local communities.

What is your current revenue? If you don’t mind sharing

Product started shipping in Q1 2020 and the revenue numbers are not able to be shared at this time.

Company Name: Airspace Link
Founder: Michael Healander



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Are upgrades enough to convince millennials to purchase insurance?


Consumers don’t trust their insurers. It is a problem that leads to vulnerable people being left with large bills when accidents occur. Alex Rainey along with his two co-founders are trying to change the public perception of insurance. The team are going after the young traveller demographic by trying to offer free upgrades to lounges for delayed flights and 24/7 access to GP’s. Their goal is to do what Monzo and Revolut have done for banking, in insurance.

How did you get started in insurance?

My background is in technology. Before Pluto I worked at Accenture Digital for about 7 years where I worked with a number of organizations rolling out digital transformations. We covered e-commerce sites, mobile apps everything across the digital spectrum. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to start a business but I never had the idea, never had the team, never had everything in place.

I knew one of my co-founders for a very long time as we started at Accenture together years ago and he introduced me to one of his friends. We chatted as a trio and all had that same entrepreneurial thirst. We weren’t quite sure what to build but my background is in technology one of my co-founders background is in design + product and the third co-founder worked in finance.

How are you making those first few sales?

In the first few months we did no paid marketing. We managed to secure a couple of very low level partnerships with travel startups where they would get paid for a referral link. We also really just tried to get the word out as far as we could within the first couple of weeks and there’s a couple of reasons that we chose to do that.

If we look at our first month, it was very much a beta phase for us. We learned a lot about the product in that first month. A lot of things didn’t work as we thought they were going to, but also some things worked much better than we would have expected. We were very clear that we wanted to have a dry run for a couple of weeks from people that we knew and people that we could pick up the phone to. If they had an issue or they didn’t like something or they thought something could be better; we could just pick up the phone and have a 15 minute chat with them. Whereas with an unknown user, you don’t really get that opportunity a lot of the time because you might not be able to reach out to them.

We found insurance a really interesting space because it was quite boring. There was so little happening and we looked at how similar industries had been reformed by the likes of Monzo, Revolut and similar. These companies were all popping up at the time and we thought, “why is it so much interesting stuff happening across these different industries” – especially retail banking which is notoriously boring and had lacked any interesting change in decades.

We thought we could use our skills, technology and design to try and shake up this tired industry. We started to dig around in this space found tons of problems although we hadn’t focused solely on travel insurance just yet.

We found that people were massively unsatisfied with their providers. Customer service and user experience was weak. There were loads bad practices around loyalty penalties and unfair and untransparent ways of phrasing and wording policies. It just felt like there was a huge opportunity for a group of us to apply our skills and really have an impact on customers.

So you found that there were problems in the industry – How did you go about solving them?

We started with our first product – helping people to manage and organize with their insurance. From that data we saw that that young people actually don’t have a lot of insurance and the ones that do find it very unsatisfying.

With our first product, we took a bit of a step back and said this is not how we’re going to make and impact on this industry. We actually need to behave like an insurer if we’re really going to have an impact on this industry because that’s where you can affect the claims process and that’s going to affect the way people buy.

It enables you to find out what’s within the policy, what’s within the cover and how customers are going to get paid out.

The reason that we chose travel is because my co-founders and I love to travel and want to travel as much as possible. Ironically we’re travelling less now we’ve started our travel insurance business.

We’ve also had our fair share of things that go wrong – lost baggage, broken feet, sleeping on the floor of airports, delayed luggage etc.. So we know all about the terrible experiences that occurs when those situations happen.

We thought we could have a positive impact on travelers like ourselves, improve the way people are traveling and improve their holiday experience. At the same time we can take advantage of this industry which is so clearly in need of some disruption and change. So that’s where we came up with the concept of Pluto and that’s where we came up with our initial offering – hassle-free travel insurance through your smartphone.

So you came up with the idea and you had an idea of the people you you could work with. What is the next step you took, how did you make it a business?

So this was this is summer last year and I made one of the biggest personal decisions that I’ve had to make. It was a decision we also weighed up as a team, we thought only one of us needs to leave first because we certainly can’t support three of us going full time.

With one of us going full time, we knew that we still had to raise a bit of money because we’re living in London, we have partners, homes and bills to pay. We needed to raise some cash to prove the idea, so we built a first release and spend a little bit of money on marketing that was required.

In order to raise the money we need to prove ourselves and show to investors that we are capable of setting up an insurance company because it’s not the same as setting up a business in a non-regulated area.

You can’t begin trading until you sort out some of these core essentials and those two core essentials are

Partnering with an underwriter. We went around town to speak to many insurers and loved Zurich the first time we met them. It’s been fantastic ever since, they really put their money where our mouth is when it comes to innovation. They’ve also paid out 99% of claims over the past 2 years. These stats made us sure they were the partner for us.

The second thing was getting fully regulated. We managed to get into the FCA’s innovation Sandbox which is a program to help small businesses and also big businesses get regulated or help navigate regulation requirements.

We managed to get those two things in place so we pushed on with the Zurich partnership.

Those two credentials weren’t necessarily a done deal when we went to raise money but they were very definitely in the works. This gave us enough confidence and our investors enough confidence to say the wheels are in motion and the right things are in place for us to launch an insurance startup.

So we went out and we effectively raised our SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme – provides tax relief to investors in the UK who invest in early stage UK startups) money as most Startups do because the risk is higher. So that offsets the risk for those very early investors. We raised some money from within our network and once you get a couple of investors and they know a couple of investors etc.. In the end our angel investment round was £130k that we took in the summer last year.

Once you have all those three things that place, the money, the underwriters and regulation or the last two are almost signed off it was time for me to take the plunge.

Did you test the concept before or were you able to raise money on the idea?

Yeah, so we pretty much raised money off the fact that we were in the sandbox, the fact that we were in good conversations with Zurich, the team and the pitch deck. We were fortunate to find investors that were very supportive of what we’re trying to do and to believe in us and we were the right guys to execute on that. But that’s really all we had when we were raising the money. We didn’t have customers we didn’t have a product we didn’t have anything live. There was nothing proven. We had a very strong sense that there was a massive opportunity.

Without a shadow of a doubt it’s been harder than we than we thought it was going to be. In terms of disrupting the space, making an impact, being known, raising awareness, being a complete outsider and an unknown in the industry, selling an important financial product, which people want credibility and trust for. Sometimes you can’t get everything in place before you take the leap and there’s no way that we could’ve got fully regulated, got the underwriter onboard, build the products and got everything in the right place on the side of our full time jobs. By the time I left my job we were all up to our eyeballs at work and we knew that one of us had to go full time to ease the load.

How do you market the company now?

We got past our first 50 policies in the first couple of weeks just through that initial word of mouth. Then it was the next chapter. We needed to think about how we were going to acquire users and for us there were three main areas that we wanted to explore. They were paid, direct and organic.

Going beyond our network we started a bit of paid on Facebook and Instagram, a much more challenging task than we thought it was going to be. Facebook created these tools making it very easy to run ads but this doesn’t mean that it’s right for you or the first avenue for you to go down.

We definitely wasted a little bit of money in the early days, but we learnt a lot from that. We were very cautious, very data driven so when we didn’t see results in some areas, we would tailor it back and eventually we got to a point with paid marketing where we knew we needed to get some external support in. None of us came from a marketing background, we’re very honest and open about that. We got in a small agency to help us manage some of these paid channels. We’ve seen massive improvements over time as we’ve done more A/B testing, campaign testing and creative testing to determine the ads that are going to work. We’re still on that journey right now – we’re not spending a lot of money because you really don’t need to in order to learn. There’s a lot we want to do with the product before we start to turn on the taps. We’re still very much in the learning environment right now.

The second main area for us was and still is partnerships. We wanted to build on some of the very light touch partnerships that we had. How can we work with other brands that millennials are already using, already trusting. Brands they already love and engage with regularly. How can we find a way to get Pluto within their purchase journey, within their engagement journey, whereby they’re recommending or referring customers to Pluto. So we started to work with some finance and travel brands.

We ended up doing a short and sweet pilot with Monzo, which was massively exciting because they’re one of the businesses that inspired us to set up our own business. We worked with some really exciting travel startups as well, like Lucky Trip who have started to become a bit of a rocket ship themselves. So that’s been awesome to work with some of those companies and we’re still working hard to find new partners.

How large of an impact on sales does business cover have? And are there any other areas that you’re looking to expand the product offering as well?

Yeah, so business is actually a relatively small, almost an incremental addition to the product so far. I think the biggest probably most interesting change that we’ve done so far has been group policies. It allows you to add on your partner or a group of friends to a policy and we launched that about a month ago. Since then we’ve seen 30-35% of our sales that are coming through now are group policies. This is a feature our customers were asking for a lot.

There’s quite a few things going on in the next few months. The first is a mobile app. We want to make it an even better experience for people to manage their policies, make claims, get access to around the clock support and check their cover.

Another very interesting feature is a flight delay product and this is still being worked through with our underwriting partner, Zurich. There’s still some details to work out. Effectively, we want to allow our customers to register their flights with us and if the flights delayed, we give them instant access to an airport lounge or we give them £25 in cash instantly. This is really exciting for us because it’s completely changing the model of how people normally expect to interact with their insurer. We’re being proactive and actually giving people benefit without them even asking us for it. We’re massively going on the front foot when it comes to helping people get the most out of their policy and ultimately the most out of their trip.

The second exciting feature is allowing people to get access to UK GP when they’re abroad through an app, 24/7, wherever they are in the world. Again, it’s another kind of service you just do not expect to be getting from your insurer.

What apps do you use day-to-day?

Apart from the usual suspects in the Google Suite and Slack, we’re big Trello users and also just started using Notion much more and absolutely loving it! Also, Intercom for customer support is a lifesaver.

Company Name: Pluto
Founder: Alex Rainey



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After Trialing on My Neighbours I created a Valet Maid Service


I have always wanted to own my own business but have struggled with what exactly to start. I owned a subscription box for a while and have tried a variety of other online businesses. Although these were great products to sell, the subscription box required educating the market on what it was, but it had a recurring revenue model. The online businesses sold items that were nice to have but that no one really needed. Through this trial and error, I knew that I needed a business where a need already existed and provided recurring revenue.

I first heard about starting a maid service through a podcast. After hearing that, I started doing more research and thought that it was something that I could start in my local market. I have moved around a lot and have found that it was difficult to find a reliable maid service with easy online booking. Many of the companies require that they come to your home for an estimate or don’t have transparent pricing. I knew that there was a need in the market for the maid service that I wanted to build. That is when Valet Maids was born.

My first 3 clients came from marketing to my neighbors. I live in a high rise apartment building and was able to email everyone in the building about my service. By doing this, I quickly had a few neighbors sign up. These early sign ups validated my idea and I knew that this was a business that could and would succeed.

I didn’t have any experience in the home services space prior to starting Valet Maids. A lot of what I have learned has been through trial and error and through networking with other cleaning company owners. The community of local service company owners has been extremely helpful throughout the journey of starting and running my company.

I did not raise any outside money to start my company and funded everything myself. I participated in one pitch competition but realized that I did not want to give up any equity in my company. Additionally, as a business owner, my time is better spent trying to sell my service to customers and not trying to pitch my business to possible investors. Companies should grow organically through sales and not soley thorugh outside funding.

The target demographic for Valet Maids is busy professionals with limited free time. My typcal customer lives near the city center in a luxury apartment, condo, or townhome. They enjoy being able to see the pricing online without having to speak to someone, but like having someone to speak with if any issues were to arise.

How do you attract clients?

I have tried various ways to attract clients. I have tried Yelp, Homeadvisor, and Thumbtack when I was first starting out. These can be helpful, but ultimately to a good long term strategy. I have now focued more on SEO and social media to attract clients.

Google Ads shows you the search terms that people use to find your business. One person was searching for a “sexy maid service” and another for a “naked maid service.” I’m not sure why my company showed up in the search but I think they were disappointed that all of our maids are fully clothed so they did not end up booking with us.

How did you fund the business initially?

I self funded by business through personal savings. I had known that I wanted to start a business for a long time and felt that this was a great way to use my savings. I did not have a cofounder or founding team. That’s not to say that I have done everything on my own. I have a friend from college who has a similar company in a different city who helped be significantly along the way with tips, advice, and encouragement.

Early employees are critical to the success of any business. It is important to have a robust interview, testing, and background checking process to make sure that every cleaner will represent your company well.

The most common service that we offer is bi-weekly cleaning. We usually do a deep cleaning for our first visit to a client’s home and then we come back every other week. Clients really enjoy this service since they don’t have to worry about keeping their home clean. As soon as it starts to get dirty, we are back to clean again. We also offer move in and move out cleanings for clients moving in or out of a home.

Did you run any companies prior?

Valet Maids has not been my first company but it has been my first local service company. I was motivated to start the company because I have always wanted to have my own business and I wanted to have one that would provide a helpful product or service.

My family and friends were supportive of me starting my business. However, I have found most of my support from other business owners. People who don’t own companies simply don’t understand what goes into running a business. Most people are only exposed to Shark Tank, which is a very inaccurate depiction of running a company.

If a customer is not happy with their service, I take it personally and do whatever we can to make it right. I stay motivated because I want my company to continue to grow and hopefully expand to other cities.

For someone just starting out, I would recommend to do your research and have a plan. I don’t think a full business plan is necessary, but some planning is important. I would recommend reaching out to other business owners to get an in depth perspective on what owning a business is really like.

How are you marketing the business?

My strongest marketing channel has been SEO and Google Ads for clients to find my business. SEO is a long term strategy and take a significant time commitment but is worth it in the long run. Google Ads provide a faster return to get attention to my company.

What apps could your business not run without?

My business runs on Launch27, a booking software on my website. This allows customers to book online and for me to manage bookings and cleaners. Another app that I use is Grasshopper. This allows my business phone number to be ported to any phone as well as to be abel to text customers. Finally, Stripe is critical for my business. Stripe is how we are able to accept credit cards and process payments. ‍

What are your goals for the future?

I would like to maintain my current services and expand them to other services. Valet Maids is currently in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and I would like to expand to Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. Once we have expanded to each of those cities, I would like to consider adding additional services.

Company Name: Valet Maids
Founder: Dawna Boone



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Creating A Studio That is Dedicated for Realness & Diversity


After several years working in advertising, me and my co-founder Pepa Dvoracek were both tired of lack of authenticity in brand storytelling. Before I started my own creative studio Pure stuff I had a new offer to do influencer marketing in an agency for biggest worldwide brands. Kind of a dream come true moment. One hour before signing the contract, I felt really sick . I could barely move.

I sat down in the car completely exhausted and realized I need to leave the competitive environment for good to start something pure, where people and also clients will feel like we are building something together and care about each other not just doing it for profit or high revenue. Studio represents dedication for realness and diversity. That is Pure stuff studio for me.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start?

In the beginning I was scared to leave everything behind without any future salary and started my own company. Luckily, with my co-founder we worked more than 7 years in the industry, so we had lots of connections. In a natural way we both started to talk about starting Pure stuff with others and first clients came immediately ready to cooperate with us and start something completely new. Actually, the first year we did not have a website and without any sale we had 7 first clients.

Every shoot is different, that is what I love about it. The best part is that you create a deep connection with the brand or service. I remember when we went shooting for tea company Leros in nature and had the opportunity to see how people are picking herbs to make the actual tea.

What is the funniest/most strange you did for the shooting?

One thing I can say for sure, we are never bored. In most cases we are the crazier part of the collaboration not the client, so once we ended up throwing food everywhere in our studio to get the shot or we convince the model to jump in the pool in a skiing helmet and whole equipment. That was sick.

Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?

10 years ago me and my co-founder Pepa Dvoracek met at a film school. Since we started working in the industry, we help each other – me in production and Pepa as a photographer.

Purestuff Pepa

I used to travel a lot but when we met over a coffee back home, we could not stop talking about creating a production house, where there will be a place for creatives and also clients who want to create quality work together.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Since I was a child I wanted to be a business owner like my parents. My main passion is working, that is why I started my first internship at 16 years old and had my full time job at the age of 18. After 7 years of freelancing in production and marketing, I started my own company with my best friend, because I had a feeling that we are both ready for it.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

First, I was scared to tell my family or friends that I quit my successful career as an influencer manager to start a studio with zero funding. Everyone just surprised me because they said it was a logical step to start my dream.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

You should know why you want to start it. Then it is easier to quit everything and focus on your goal. When you know why you will always have the drive to go on.

What has driven the most sales?

For us it’s working the most word of mouth. That is why we are focusing on doing the best job and getting things done. I am a big fan of online marketing but people sometimes forget about the main goal – to deliver the best work possible. The second thing is to promote it.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

Smart book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely about how expensive is something for free. My all time favorite book is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Golemann. My friends are tired of me saying that, but if you read only one book in your life it will be this one.

I am also addicted to podcasts. Here are my favorites: How I built it, Girl Boss, On the Line, Being Boss.

What are your next steps for Pure Stuff?

As we feel social responsibility once per year we do creative campaigns for free for organizations that are helping in topics close to our hearts. We are now preparing a new campaign about diversity for a non profit company. We can not wait to show you.

Can you expand on growth, how shoots work, what happens when clients don’t like it?

We try to keep our company small, so we need to be smart, curious and dedicated. Before a photoshoot we make a creative concept for a client to approve. Then is more about the production part – scouting for location, creating schedules and hiring freelance talents (DOP, stylist, influencers etc.).

Purestuff team

While shooting I organised the set, I am in contact with the whole crew and managing that everything goes as smoothly as possible. After the shoot we deliver our client’s final campaign. It barely happens, but if so we talk through it and listen to what the client needs. Then we do another shoot if needed but everything is based on contract conditions.

Can you provide us some numbers e.g. number of photoshoots, revenue, etc.?

Our priority is to do quality stuff over quantity. Last year we made more than 20 campaign photoshoots, one short documentary and one video advertisement.

What shoot has excited you most?

I believe everything is about the energy of the team. When people are really curious, creative and want to push the borders. So I guess my favorite photoshoot was the latest campaign Decode your individuality for cycling brand Repete Cycles, where we shot two campaigns in two days. It was a crazy busy schedule with a big international crew.

Pure Stuff Studio

Normally it could be quite stressful, but this time everyone was just excited to be on the shoot. You can just see the energy flowing and pure joy of our craft in the campaign.

Company Name: Pure Stuff
Founder: Sara Simackova



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£600k Year One Providing Data Insights For UK Estate Agents


LeadHub is a SaaS product that offers UK Estate Agents unparalleled data insights into what is happening in their local market, whilst also giving them the ability to act on this data through integrated prospecting options. Our dataset contains in excess of 120 million data points, all of which is continually updated and added to.

From a cold start in year one we turned over £600k, and are looking to reach the £1million mark this year. Our costs are minimal and we are completely self funded to date.

Was it a lightbulb moment of a gradual process?

The product itself was certainly more of a gradual process – in fact, we’re still very much in the ‘process’. I’m a believer that a product, especially software, is never fully complete. It is a constant cycle of conceptualising, validating and delivery.

Out of university, I worked for a company that provided lead generation software for UK Estate Agents. As a key account manager, I was in daily contact with clients and quickly became entrenched in their world – understanding their needs, frustrations and requirements. In many ways, these early days were the test bed for much of the product validation. I had no question in my mind that there was a huge need for a platform like LeadHub.

During these years, I made contacts within the industry and took to market a number of new businesses. A team of us launched BuyerPrice.com (https://angel.co/company/buyerprice) into the US back in 2016. The uptake was superb, and we hit 10% of our partner agent target in the first day. I spent a lot of time travelling between NYC and the UK, and felt passionately that we had a business here that could change the face of US Real Estate. The journey however was fraught with hiccups, mostly legal(!) and the decision was made to not pursue the idea further.

A personal passion project of mine has always been the relationship (or lack thereof) between millennials and the housing market in the UK. Homeownership is becoming increasingly inaccessible, and I set about addressing this.

Launched to much media fan far, Uppie looked to take advantage of the sharing economy (specifically Airbnb) to allow us as a business to help fund first time buyers deposits. It was at the testing and validation stage that we really discovered that people were not willing to take the risk on such a large purchase. We iterated to BrixPoints, but within 6 months the decision was also taken that without investment we’d be unable to continue.

The impact of this was ultimately detrimental to the unity of the team, and saw a breakup of the team. Determined to launch a successful product in a sector that I both knew, and had had the opportunity over years to test and validate, I teamed up with two former colleagues and set about creating LeadHub. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did you get your first three sales?

The huge advantage of launching a business into a space that you know, and have formed contacts in, is that you also have a reputation and trust. My first three sales were the result of picking the phone up to clients that I had worked with in the past, and presenting them with the product. Our first clients were fundamental in helping us test and refine the product – these early adopters have since gone on to be huge product evangelists for us, as they felt so involved in the development stage. We operate a freemium model (similar to Amazon Prime, Netflix etc), and subscriptions activate after 30 days. Our retention rate is currently 87% which is unheard of with this approach.

What are you actually selling?

A SASS marketing and data tool for UK Estate Agents.

Leadhub identifies the address of properties as soon as they enter the market, then tracks their marketing journey, informing our clients when the property has been reduced in price, withdrawn, switched agents, gone under offer, fallen through, or turned eg 4, 8, 12, 16 weeks old on the market. Agents can then mail target-specific letters via their Leadhub system within 24h of the event.

Our aim is “to provide a comprehensive nationwide platform for estate agents and businesses involved in the home moving process, to track properties on and off the market, act upon this detailed information and in doing so, better understand new opportunities, and exploit them.”

About me.

My journey into entrepreneurialism is perhaps atypical of many tech startup founders. I am a graduate in History and Global Politics, and initially it was assumed that I would pursue a career more closely aligned to these two interests. It requires delving briefly into my character to understand my founder journey so far, and unpack what fuels me.

The question that used to fill me with dread was ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’. It always struck me, and it still does, that so many of my peers so readily had an answer to this. “Oh, a lawyer”, or “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher”,. orOr, “I’m going to go into business”. They seemed to so easily place their flag, and pin themselves to a predefined career route.

Perhaps I have been wired incorrectly but when asked ‘What’ I wanted to be, I would draw blanks. The British are notorious, when meeting new people, for pigeon holing them and giving them a social marker based on their response to ‘What do you do?’.

It wasn’t until I really began to analyse what this loaded question meant, that I really began to dissect it and find comfort in how I approached it.

From a young age, and my mother will vouch for this through gritted teeth (as would my various driving instructors!) I have been very difficult to teach. Whereas some will settle with a ‘fact’ being a ‘fact’, my brain simply will not accept information unless I have had a chance to explore it further. One one hand, this is infuriating, but on the other it means that I have become very good at drawing solutions from situations that I deem to be insufficient, and conceptualising, validating and seeing ideas grow to fruition. LeadHub, especially, is the child of this pursuit of something being done better.

What led you to invest in Honeypot?

One of the team that I was involved with in Uppie and BrixPoints went on to launch Honeypot – a new dating app for London. Every now and again you see an idea, and a founder, and know that their chances of success rank highly. Through the SEIS scheme the investment was an attractive one, and I have also ensured a close relationship with the team they’re building and fly their flag where I can. The way in which they have tested, built and launched their app really has been superb.

What is Your Target Demographic?

Our target demographic are independent UK estate agents with 1-5 branches, operating in specific areas of the country. Our product isn’t best suited for new businesses, so we specifically target those with an existing presence and reputation. Estate Agents are great clients to have – they are willing to give things a go, but do not suffer fools lightly! You have to ensure a deep working knowledge of their processes, and how your product fits into them.

What happened in the early stages?

LeadHub, and all of the others ideas have been privately funded. Each iteration since has been funded by subscription charges from users. This is a fine balance as in the early days the product certainly wasn’t worth very much at all, but those that were willing to adopt it become key drivers of how the app developed and we were able to use this feedback, and early revenues to add layers to the app that allowed further upselling.

As a team we have had to scale to match demand. I believe that startup founders can be notoriously awful at being good people managers. I have made a real point of trying to buck this trend as our team has grown, but this comes with its own challenges as all of a sudden you are responsible for managing the workload of people who don’t have the same vested interest, but also who don’t have the same ability to self start.

My advice would be to employ people that are willing, and hungry and believe in what you are looking to do. Empower them early on, make them feel included and importantly draw them alongside the wider vision for the company – this may be by means of share incentives, or other involvement, but it’s vital that they feel a crucial part of your growth.

What was the reaction of family and friends to launching your own business?

This has been a funny old experience! The nature of being an ‘agile entrepreneur’ is that family especially often find it really difficult to explain to people what it is that you do. Elevator pitches are always best done on family, as if you can condense your offering and get them to understand it then anyone will!

My wife has been extremely supportive of my various businesses. It’s not always plain sailing, especially if there is a dramatic pivot, but my experience has been that it all boils down to communication. Like with family, if you can’t explain to your spouse why you’ve done an about turn on an idea that just yesterday you were super passionate about, then you have no hope communicating this change to the wider world!

Advice for new starters.

You hear it on a lot of startup forums, but my primary piece of advice for new starters would be to not be afraid to fail (see https://medium.com/@jonathanharris_43498/the-art-of-failure-c09f6fcd52d5), or to change your mind. There is no shame in setting out with an idea, and changing it. You will be hard pressed to find a successful tech company that hasn’t had to pivot and adapt from their original idea.

My second would always be clear in your head what it is that you are looking to achieve, and what it is that that current model looks like. There is nothing more destabilizing than having those close to you question why you’re doing something if you don’t fully understand it yourself.

My third and final piece of advice would be to get comfortable with the ups and the downs. Startup life can be glamorized, and there are days where it is all that it’s cracked up to be. Engagement is high, people are loving your product, but there will be days where you feel at rock bottom. If you anticipate this then you will be better prepared to deal with it.

What has driven most sales?

Besides Linkedin, or target audience are not particularly active across the other platforms. Our greatest successes come from adwords, paid search, email and direct mail and remarketing. We are very active at national conferences and events, and drive a large amount of traffic based on this – our challenge is to convert these visitors either initially or through a cycle of re-engagement.

Our method of sign up has also been key in our ability to convert users from a freemium to a paid model. A no-commitment 30 day free trial allows anyone to create an account with no obligation to continue. We demo once they’re in, so we have their details and engagement. Our continuation rate is 87% which is unheard of for freemium SAAS models.

What is stopping growth?

There are a number of factors at play here. The industry as a whole has been squeezed with uncertainty over Brexit. The housing market seems to be the first to feel any economic murmurs, and this has been true recently. We have prioritised affordability as one of our key client benefits, so haven’t felt this like some other more expensive providers.

Internally, our focus this year is on growing a dedicated sales team. As a small team it can be difficult to focus solely on sales without being drawn into the management and development of the product. We continue to report steady growth month on month, but things can always be done better.

Mondays.com – I started using Mondays.com back when it was ‘dapulse’. This has now become a completely ingrained tool for setting work priorities and quickly visualising where we’re at with certain projects.

Slack – I’m sure this is a firm favourite! As a team, we work remotely a huge amount of the time (our data specialist is currently in France doing a homestay and working from there!). Slack is wonderful for just keeping up to speed with the team.

Base Camp – We use base camp as our tool for raising and dealing with development queries and future sprints. It is better than Slack for sharing and responding to documents, and seeing when progress has been made/tasks completed.

Intercom – This is a chat-bot that has been invaluable with converting web visitors. We have specific engagement messages based on number of visitors, activity etc and it removes the need to spend time on the phone, so efficiency has also been increased dramatically.

What are your future goals?

We are constantly planning future sprints. In the pipeline, we have a plan to release data on rental as well as residential. We are also developing various bits of machine learning to begin to predict a propensity for a property to sell, as well as reporting accurately on agents market share and successful listing to conversion ratios. We’re sitting on a gold mine of data, and how we interpret and present this will be key in our future growth.

Ultimately the plan is for an exit. We’re targeting a critical number of users, and this will be our priority for 2021.

Company Name: LeadHub
Founder: Jonathan Harris



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$50k/Month Providing Online Reputation Management


I kept reading article after article about how AI will be replacing all of our jobs. I realized at some point that AI could replace my job as a reputation consultant, so rather than become a statistic, I decided to go back to school and learn how to code. I started some online courses at MIT. I built Objection Co without much validation, knowing if it didn’t go gangbusters I would still use it myself in the foreseeable future to help manage my own customers. I brought in the first few hundred customers from my consultation practice. We haven’t raised any money but we plan on doing our first round of fundraising in May, this has been bootstrapped from day 1.

Our target demographic are reputation management suites, review publishers and medium-enterprise level businesses who want review fraud analytics. Right now as a startup we are happy to serve any size organization.

The funniest customer request we had was from a dog kennel, who houses dogs while owners are on vacation. They had a bad review from a customer because they wouldn’t accept their potbelly pig into the facility. We all had a good laugh about that.

How did you fund the idea initially?

Right off the bat, I knew I was going to bootstrap this thing. I started with an offshore team based out of India and wasted about $20,000 and a year. I met another dev team out of Ukraine and finished the first software iteration in about 3 months, and we are still working together today. I found them on Upwork, and have found it easy and convenient to use.

When it comes to finding great employees, hire slow and consistently and fire fast. I also recommend starting slowly with new employees and then building things into a more full-time role.

What motivated you to start your own business?

My entrepreneur story started when I was in nursing school. I was in my last semester, $30,000 in debt, and was rotating through the ER where I was precepting.

One of the doctors came into the Emergency Room to do a consultation. He was in a bad mood because a patient left him a fake review that was really hurting his practice. I followed suit and started to complain about my student debt and he made a comment about paying it off if I could remove the bad review. I followed up with him personally and asked him if he was serious, he was. I spent the next 3 days trying to remove the review and failed. I did everything I could but I could not get it off.

With $800 in my bank account, I booked a flight to San Francisco during the weekend to see if I could meet someone who might be able to help me. I figured if I asked around and was genuine with people, they would try to help me out. I was determined to get the answer. I ended up meeting someone who helped me understand what I needed to do in order to get the fake review removed. A few days later, I had a check for $30,000 and a CPA to start my Online Reputation business. That was 7 years ago. Everyone I knew supported me and thought I had a great idea for a business.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

Things are always going to go wrong, which enables us to be more successful is our ability to solve problems as they come. What motivates me is the opportunity to serve my customers better and solve problems for them in a way that mutually enhances our lives. The end goal for us to prevent review fraud from affecting the lives of consumers and business owners in a major way. Word of mouth has always been our best sales driver, second to that is organic inbound leads from people looking for us.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Right now, we are starting the process for patents. Right now, the only thing that protects ourselves from our competition is our datasets. We have been collecting fake reviews for years and have datasets large enough to be useful for neural networks. 6 years ago, I had no idea I would be going back to school for AI/ML, but I recorded tens of thousands of fake reviews along the way.

What are the top 3-5 apps Objection.co could not run without?

Python. Python allows us to work with AI/ML in a way that no other application can do. Without the automation, the data collection and data analysis that python does, we have what it takes to make our clients extraordinarily happy.

Intercom. Intercom is a customer service chat/crm application that allows us to educated, interact and communicate with our customers effectively. Satisfaction scores have gone up and customers get responded to almost immediately.

Upwork. Finding great talent is tough, but Upwork has allowed us to hire abroad, save money and find a team really easily.

Trello. Staying organized for all departments, whether its sales, customer service or development. Trello allows us to communicate, collaborate and stay focused on priority tasks.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

Some of my favorite books include works from Malcolm Gladwell, Eckhart Tolle and my personal favorite – the Bible.

Right now, the only PodCasts I listen to are TedTalks.

What are the next products you’re working on?

The next products we’re working on are our review fraud detection API services. Some of these include Review Pod Analysis, Distance Matrix Analysis, and Reviewer Image Analysis protocols that will quickly allow companies to make their own judgments and determinations about the legitimacy of online reviews. I will be discussing these products at the 2020 Dearborn AI Symposium at the University of Michigan on May 1st, and demonstrating the technology live on stage for the whole audience to see. Several MU PhD (computer science) students will be publishing some peer-reviewed articles about the accuracy of our technology when detecting review fraud.

I see the company becoming the “internet watchdog” of online reviews, helping businesses and reviewer publishers like Amazon and Google maintain more honest and legitimate reviews.

What is current revenue? If you don’t mind sharing

We currently at a 50k monthly run rate.We’re 8 months old and we have about 1200 paying customers. If Objection Co reaches a certain valuation/offer I would sell it.

Company Name: Objection.co
Founder: Curtis Boyd



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