All Posts in Musings
We’re usually taught from a young age to be wary of the people we trust. You go through life meeting all sorts of people from family members to teachers, friends, colleagues and so on. Each new person we meet, we assign some sort of ‘trust score’ whereby we calculate in our heads how much reliance and confidence we have with that person, no matter what the thing in question is (a secret, your car, money or even their word). Today, I think that's a little different thanks to technology and its self-governing attributes but I’ll get to that later on. Fast forward a number of years later and trust is the new currency in the economy.
The intensification of consumption, by way of collaboration, in the world has risen undoubtedly thanks to new technology and the start-ups that harness its power. Paperclip is a prime example of this, amongst other technology start-ups. We encourage you to buy, sell and swap goods from strangers you’ve never met before and instil a level of trust in them based on a self-governing system of reviews and ratings. 20 years ago, this would have seemed insane; stranger = danger (remember when entering your credit card information online was deemed senseless? I don’t.) Companies such as AirBnB have proven that this new form of consumption does work, and it is evident in both their business model and user base. AirBnB lets you post images of the most intimate rooms of your house to then post on the internet in an attempt to attract random strangers to rent from you. BlaBlaCar is another start-up which lets people use their personal assets commercially; it allows you to hitchhike in someone else’s car for a small fee as opposed to an expensive train or bus ticket. These two companies are examples of several start-ups that have utilised everyday assets to derive greater value from them. The evidence can again be seen from the amount of consumers using these services. Welcome to the world of collaborative consumption.
By definition, collaborative consumption is a social and economic system driven by network technologies that enable the sharing and exchange of assets from spaces to skills to cars in a way and on a social scale never possible before (Botsman, 2012). Consumers are starting to see the efficiency and value in trading, renting and bartering assets, skills and time in a fairly democratic, self-governing way. This is apparent by looking at the types of businesses that operate in the market today. As mentioned earlier, this is all possible thanks to the rise and diversity of technology. As technology advances by way of sociability, geography and mobility, it increases both efficiency and trust among people almost simultaneously (think social media, GPS locations and mobile phones; they've all increased efficiency and trust). What’s more astonishing is the way in which ordinary people have had their lives changed simply by engaging in collaborative consumption, whether that be by the higher income they now generate or the relationships they build through networks. It quite a shift from when the only things we shared were trains, buses, parks and stadiums.
So what now? As consumers and as entrepreneurs we should continue our participation in the collaborative consumption ecosystem and find yet more ways to expand its reach. By increasing our consumption collaboratively, we leave room for more efficiency in both the environment and the economy. Some firms are starting to realise this; Uber is already working towards it. As consumers, we can start by using more services like Paperclip, AirBnB, TaskRabbit etc, which will see the consumer better off. Adopting these types of consumption habits will be our biggest step towards a more efficient future.
Published by: alan in Musings
After recently closing our seed round, we moved into an office and required some office equipment. Where could we buy a 50 inch TV quickly an easily? Using our own platform of course! So we booted up the app and were delighted to find a decent Samsung 50 inch HD TV going for £200 locally. Naturally, we low balled and sent an offer for £150. After a brief back and forth, we settled on £180.
When dealing drugs, it's advised that you 'stay away from the end user' (Layer Cake, 2004). However, when it comes to a tech startup (or any firm with customers to be fair), it's the opposite ; you want to get as close as possible to your end users. Simply asking them 3 things that they like and dislike about your platform will provide invaluable feedback - actually sitting with them and watching them use whatever you've created, even more so. Sometimes I like to camp outside the houses of our users and watch them with binoculars as they go about their daily lives. Once or twice I've even snuck into their homes and watched users as they sleep. Just kidding, I'm a tech CEO goddamnit, have some respect - I hack their webcams and watch them remotely.
Anyway, the deal went down at around 7:30pm in an Asda car park on the outskirts of Cardiff. The seller arrived wearing a tuxedo and driving a custom car, an eclectic combination that I've come to expect from esteemed Paperclip users. We cracked some jokes and made the exchange. Easy!
The TV now sits proudly on our office wall - we've recently been donated a PS4 by a friend, and Steve likes to watch Netflix on it during lunch. We'll beam our stats dashboard onto it during the days as of September.
Starting-up - we've been there! Earlier this year we closed our seed round. However, having 21 different investors has resulted in a lot of delays with the paperwork.
As such, the roller coaster of emotions for 2016 has looked like this;
- January: optimism - funding talks go well
- February: joy - advanced talks, agreement in principle
- March: jubiliation but fear - investment agreed, paperwork actioned
- April: paperwork being drafted - minor agitation
- May: paperwork delayed due to slight error in initial 50-page draft investor agreements - bouts of depression
- June: momentary joy, then absolute depression - paperwork delayed
- July: ???? - but the outlook is RAGE [5th August, follow-up] The day we received the cash was the happiest day of my life. It made everything above totally worth it. 10/10 would ride emotional roller-coaster again.
Note: worth mentioning that during the above timeline, our competitors managed to merge and raise a further $100m USD while we were still haggling over £100k GBP...this didn't help.
Obviously it's great that we've closed our round, but until the funds actually arrive it still feels like the rug can be pulled from beneath us. Even though it's unlikely, it's still horrible.
Depression in startups is a real thing, and only recently starting to gain more attention as a serious issue - 30% of startup founders report feeling depression - and it's totally understandable; you've put yourself on the line, you've borrowed money from all of your friends and family, you've gone 'out there' with your idea and it feels like it's all on you to make it happen. Every day that you're delayed, your competitors gain ground on you.
So what can one do to keep sane during these dark times?
- Startup Housekeeping: during this downtime, budget has obviously been constrained. However, Alan and I took this time to both review our current v1.0 for 'quick fixes' and UX breaks - and also plan v2.0 with our legendary designer, Steve. We also updated the website a little bit to make us look less like the startup noobs that we then were (and still are in the grand scheme of things). All of this was completely free to do, and having spent so many months focusing on whether things actually worked it was nice to turn our attention to making things work well. It also got us all excited for our v2.0 release and the rest of our runway.
Scrappy User Acquisition and Marketing:
being without a budget doesn't mean we haven't been able to draw users to the app, in fact it has spurred on an entrepreneurial instinct that we haven't had since university. We took the time to build our social media identity, speaking directly with existing users, and focusing on retention campaigns - after all, it's cheaper to retain a user than acquire one. During this time we actually stumbled upon a user acquisition strategy that has yielded some amazing results and now become one of our primary user acquisition strategies - we'll share it in due course.
- Work on yourself: everyone has goals; learn to play the piano, finish off my online course in iOS development, get completely fluent in speaking French are just some of mine. Having some downtime is the perfect time to work on yourself and do all the things that you were putting off! Such endeavors have benefits in so many ways; distracting you from your own impatience, replacing all of those 'rewarding feelings' that you were feeding off in the early MVP days when progress was coming thick and fast (as an aside, I reckon the feeling of accomplishing so much in a short space of time actually becomes addictive, which further compounds the depression when a slowdown inevitably does arrive - but this could be absolute BS as I'm just speculating here. But you gotta speculate to accumulate right? Is that saying even relevant here? I digress). Re-kindling my love for the gym, and hitting up Tinder are things that have personally helped me through tough times; if everything goes to hell, at least I'll have become a hench womanizer in lieu of being a successful CEO. Plus, everyone loves exercise-induced endorphins... 😉
So there you go, 3 ways to keep sane during the dark times!
So, people usually ask me, "Zee why on earth are you still at university if you've already Co-Founded a start-up?" Apart from student discounts, it really comes down to three factors entrepreneurs need, and it happens to come free if you're a student; smart people, passionate people and time. Students often forget about these riches. They are at your disposal whilst studying at university. What students also tend to forget is that the student demographic is a very profitable one indeed. Pushing a product, service or app to students can be very, very pivotal to the success of your start-up. Being a student means you have this entire demographic in the palm of your hand.
Universities are jam packed with veteran academics who have PhDs in pretty much anything you can imagine, whether it be finance or law to business and computer science. It is not very hard to arrange a meeting or to walk into the office of your lecturer and get advice on an idea. These people have spent their entire lives studying the foundations of subjects that are key to your start-up, meaning their advice is critical to what you're looking to achieve. Having a bunch of guys with PhDs advising your company is pretty impressive. I usually find myself sitting in the office of a lecturer that doesn't even teach me, asking about something that's not even in the university curriculum. In fact, lecturers and academics enjoy talking about their field away from the classroom syllabus. I mean, we've all seen Breaking Bad right?
Universities are home to some of the most passionate and sharpest people in the country; students. Before having their brains and livelihoods dampened by the corporate world, students are very keen on solving issues and working towards exciting things. Regardless of your skill set, if you are passionate about the issue or problem you are trying to solve, then the chance you'll succeed are very high. Start-ups are fueled by passionate team members, therefore, finding someone to start a project with is not hard if you're at university. In addition, you can find these people at relevant events and societies meaning you won't really have to do much digging. In fact, Rich and Alan met at university!
Entrepreneur or not, we all crave more time. As I'm writing this I have next 4 months off. Students enjoy several months off university after they've finished the academic year, giving them plenty of time to work on something. Actually, even during the academic year, you can still manage your time between studying and working...maybe not so much for the social life but oh well. One of the main reasons I chose to go to university is because I knew I'd have heaps of time to work on Paperclip and other projects, as opposed to going into full-time work. I'll let Alan tell you about that.
Finding motivation can be pretty hard as a student. Luckily for me, Paperclip was up and running before I undertook a hideous Economics degree. But for most students, they find themselves at a loss due to not knowing where to start or where to look. Plus career advisors on campus are pretty shit. The best thing to do is to start hitting up relevant events. What do I mean by relevant? I mean events that are related to your start-up (tech events, networking, marketing etc). Why? Well because it's a solid starting point for you to see how the underpinnings of start-ups actually function and also because you'll meet people with much more experience than you and people who are just starting out like you. I met Woolley at Start-Up Weekend at Google Campus. I thought Woolley was 16 years old. Anyways, from these events, you'll start understanding more about the workings of start-ups and more importantly, the tools needed to get you going. Just go, you literally have nothing to lose. Seriously...
In my opinion, the best time to start a company is at university. Not when you're knee deep in corporate work, have a mortgage resting on your shoulders and some wife probably named Bertha breathing down your neck telling you you're useless. Actually, forget the last point.
Published by: alan in Musings
I heard a quote once that has stuck with me:
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step.”
What they don’t tell you though is how hard and long that first step really is. You have some people who can take that step with confidence and determination, like Rich who founded Paperclip. Then you have those who just never follow through on their ideas or dreams, who kick themselves when they see their idea being advertised somewhere. Finally, there is me, who is smack in the middle. It took me 2 years of little painful shuffles to finally take that first step.
When Rich first told me about the idea of Paperclip I was in my second year of my graduate scheme, trying to blag my way through being a management consultant (only skill you need when being a consultant). At this time Rich had built up a team of around 6 people following a successful Google Start up pitch, my only role at this point was a friendly advisory position. Over this advisory time most of my recommendations were to get rid of the others (apart from Ziad who is our other legendary co-founder) in a true consultancy fashion. This resulted in the team being severely depleted so I started to help out on more of the BAU ‘Business as usual’ tasks (can’t shift the consultancy lingo) but unlike Rich I was having to do this whilst also trying to smash my grad scheme.
Sorry for that random spiel, I’m finally getting to the point of this blog which is to talk about how I managed to juggle my day job and Paperclip commitments before I took the big step. The truth is, it wasn’t actually as hard as you might think but that’s because of a few key points which helped massively:
- I had a great employer
Most management consultancy are cold, ruthless environments who drain every last bit of energy out of you, resulting in you never having a chance to pursue outside ideas (I have nothing to base this on but sounds good for the story).
This is where I was lucky because although the management consultancy I worked for is one of the biggest companies in the UK (a FTSE 250 company) it prides itself on promoting a strong work life balance. This meant 90% of the time I would be finished work by 6, which gave me time to work in the evening. I’d also sometimes use the train in the morning to do work but in reality id be asleep 5 mins into my journey.
I was also open with my line manager who knew about Paperclip and embraced it provided that it didn’t impact my day job and that I only worked on it in my own time. Interesting point here, if you do any external work on company property, they can claim IP rights over it.
- I have great/patient co-founders
Everyone hates that person who doesn’t pull their weight and at times that was me - sometimes my actual job took priority!
It must have driven Rich and Zee crazy as they were both full time. However, they were very understanding and accepted that I had a day job as well. It’s always difficult when you have a mix of part time and full time founders but we managed to make it work, which is down to Rich and Zee’s flexibility.
My advice here is to just be honest with your co-founders, it is better to say you have no time to do something then to try and do it half-arsed whilst half asleep.
- I bought extra holiday
Another perk of my job was that I could buy up to 15 days a year holiday, which would leave me with 40 days a year, which is basically 3 months. This was needed for those times when after work or weekend work wouldn’t be enough such as the time I was on TV and the radio (yeah I’ve done both... baller!).
- I made time for myself
You always read something like this in advice articles and I use to hate it and think ‘what a load of bullsh#t’ but it’s so true!
We have all had those days at work where everything has gone wrong and all you want to do is crawl into bed and die. Now, imagine having to go home after that day to grind out 3-4 hours of work, which you don’t even get paid for! It does take its toll on you and you start to lose motivation, which is when it can all spiral out of control.
Luckily, this rarely happened to me, which I think is due to being a very chilled-out person and because I would always make sure I had time away from Paperclip and work. Throughout the 2 years I made sure that I still played football, went to the gym, played golf, saw friends/family, and had holidays. The last thing I wanted to do was to resent working either on my day job or Paperclip, the distractions helped me re-focus and continue with determination.
- I outsourced work
I read a lot about co-founders wanting to be involved in every aspect of work… seriously? You need to chill out, it’s not healthy!
We all have our roles in the company and if you hire people or companies its because they are good at what they do and you need to trust them. We outsourced all of our development and elements of our marketing and user acquisition campaigns. We had full control of the direction and process but rather than babysitting them through every task we would let them get on with it, which freed up our time to do other things, like my actual day job.
I’m not saying the all-seeing all-doing founder approach is wrong but you need to find the right balance that fits your circumstance.
Well, there you have it, my first blog and piece of advice I have ever given. The main point which is probably hidden in the waffle of a blog and terrible grammar is that you don’t have to be an all or nothing person to follow through on your ideas.
Thanks for reading.
Becoming newly single in September last year, I discovered Tinder pretty quickly.
Swiping through the pool of 'local talent', I was amazed to find a girl that, out of less than 1,000 people that liked Paperclip on Facebook, liked it too. I was so excited at the prospect of matching with her and casually announcing that she likes my app over a drink. Looks were irrelevant; I didn't even care if she was a minger or not, I just wanted the ego boost.
Funnily enough she swiped left.
Actually it's not that funny.
*tear rolls silently down ugly cheek*
Published by: Rich Woolley in Musings
Turns out that not all images labelled as 'free to use' are created equal... especially when it means a billion dollar behemoth can make £500 off a pre-revenue startup. We tend to blame young Ziad for this one, despite his protests.
Bit of background on this: back in July 2015 we needed a background image for the header of our website. Young Ziad managed to find a suitable image on a website purporting to offer restriction-free stock photos (Ziad can't remember the name of the website due to an organic memory leak).
Fast-forward to October to us receiving an email from Getty Images asking for 'compensation' for using 'their' image (despite it being replaced during this time and no longer even on our website).
Naturally, I ignored this ridiculous request.
However, a few months later we were contacted by a collections agency working on behalf of Getty, demanding that we pay £562.50. This all sounded rather serious and suddenly legit, so rather than have some huge bloke named Kevin show up at my door and walk off with my fridge/dog/dignity, I gave in and paid.
After speaking with a few others from this, it has occurred to me that this could well be Getty's primary revenue stream!? I've met at least two others that have fallen victim to them.
So anyway, a few lessons from this;
- Do not trust Ziad with important tasks
- Only use trusted websites for restriction-free stock images; we now use Pexels.com but there are a bunch of others out there
- Getty Images may have acted well within their rights of course, but we still don't like them
Published by: Rich Woolley in Musings