By Maya Plentz
What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Are they born or made? Some say they are born, wired that way. Some say it can be taught. The reality lies in between. Some have entrepreneurial veins. Some are pushed into it. What is certain is that entrepreneurs need the right conditions to grow and develop their ideas. They need a space where they can meet with like minded people. They need mentors who were in the trenches, who trail blazed before them, so they understand that new ideas need nurturing, and need to be put to test in the real world.
The way the economy is moving dictates the level of interest in creating companies, for recent college graduates, in some cases. When hiring in the investment banking sector – or in much of the economy, for that matter – contracted, during the Great Recession, entrepreneurship gained new followers.
Our current obsession with young celebrity entrepreneurs also fueled the explosion of entrepreneurship advice in the last decade. Which created a whole new chapter of start-up advisory, from the ashes of the late 90’s dotcom crash. There are excellent professionals dispensing advice, entrepreneurs who earned their stripes actually working for a start-up that had real products and services, and funding. And VC’s, who write cogently about what it takes to create, launch and run a tech company. If you are not already familiar with this quite good source I suggest you subscribe to Mattermark, they do a very sharp newsletter compiling all the writings of the day by VC’s and entrepreneurs, from the blogosphere/online media.
The number of accelerators, incubators, websites, workshops, meetups and – gasp, even books teaching the new entrepreneur class how to become the next Mark Zuckerberg has grown exponentially. How to lean this and and bootstrap that. To Canvas or not to Canvas. But there are also loads of start-up poseurs, dispensing advice they read in books, and entrepreneurs doing little more than vaporware.
Yet there are those that regardless of the weather conditions outside will always seek to experiment, create, and have a huge appetite for risk. Huge. Beyond what most common mortals have. And they have the discipline to carry through their ideas to implementation. And they are trying to solve real problems.
Stroll by Bonhill Street in Shoreditch and you will find Google Campus, a place that welcomes these souls interested in creating value, ready to risk the tranquility of a steady paycheck. Walk in any day of the week and you will find aspiring entrepreneurs of all stripes, persuasions, ambitions.
We met with three of them to find out what makes them tick. And we met with Luka, who is 11 years old and has already created his first start-up, selling and renting school supplies to classmates. More on that later. It nicely makes a case for the personality type that naturally gravitates towards entrepreneurship.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to Anton Gu, the founder of Hitch. The app that will finally get you engaged, in the traditional sense. That is, if your friends do match you.
Who: Anton Gu
What: The definitive app for those interested in getting hitched.
Why: Because after your mother only your friends know you better. You do have friends, don’t you?
Where: In the savvy hands of your friends during dinner parties in the company of lovely strangers.
How: Download it and start matchmaking or be matched.
London London: How did you come up with the idea for your start-up?
Anton: It all came from personal experience. I went to a concert with a group of friends. There was a girl there, a friend of a friend, that I have never met before. I liked her. She only stayed for 15 minutes and left before I had a chance to talk to her. The next day I was sitting at home, thinking how could I reach her? I could ask our mutual friend for her number and text her out of the blue, “Hey, I’m that guy at the party last night, Steve game your number” and so on. But that might be a bit awkward and who knows, she might get annoyed at our mutual friend for giving the number away. There’s got to be a better way.
At the same time, some people just love the idea of setting friends up. A guy at work might be perfect for one of your friends, they have so much in common but have never met. Set them up! You never know what might happen. Maybe they will really like each other, start dating or even get married! Then you get to brag about how you are the one who brought the two together in the first place and are partly responsible for what it turned out to be!
And guess what, the app works for both singles and people in a relationship. Because they are matchmaking their friends!
What trends do you see in the online dating industry?
There are many dating apps out there at the moment. The vast majority are providing random suggestions, refined by mutual interests, hobbies, sports and so on. Some services use location data and tell you: here are the people in your area, see what happens. In reality, it is just a computer algorithm that provides semi-random matches. And that’s the problem. Everyone in the online dating industry is missing the point – and I don’t mean it in a small way, I mean it in a big way.
People are happy to receive suggestions of what movies to watch, what albums to buy, but should it be the same for relationships? Especially when you are looking for someone special? The experience has to be more personal with a human touch and it cannot be replaced with an algorithm, no matter how good it is.
So we took a step back and thought “Why not replace the matching algorithm with a person?”. Who knows you best – what food you enjoy, what music you listen to, favourite sport? Your friends! And it just so happens that those friends sometimes suggest who you might like. So we built Hitch around relationships – friends set you up with someone, you chat and if it works out, they are the heroes that brought the two together. You cannot replace that experience with a computer algorithm.
What advice would you give to founders that are starting to develop their MVP?
Advice for founders – I’ll break it down.
1. I have a full time job, but I have this really great idea which I know will work but I’m not sure what to do.
Quit your job and start a company. If you are worried about finances, wait until you have a little safety net. Then quit. You cannot build a successful venture part time. You have to be committed. That’s what differentiates people that just talk about how they have these great ideas and how they could make millions if they wanted to; and those that might/might not have a great idea and just give it a go. When you do that, your learning curve just explodes and that’s how progress happens.
2. We are working on an MVP.
Start with a problem. There are a lot of products out there that are completely pointless, they may be popular for a very short time and then they disappear. The concept has to address a need. You need to figure out why people would use your product, whether it is an app or a website or an invention. Spend some time on this, do research, don’t invest anything until you know you have something.
Keep it simple. Don’t try to address multiple things or problems. Niche products are much easier to develop, build and grow. Lean Startup is a great book to read on that. Build something quickly and as cheaply as possible and get it out there no matter how bad it is. As long as it is aimed at a problem, people will use it. There will be someone who will give you feedback – this is extremely valuable because the majority of the people will ignore what you are trying to offer. Then there will be people who will give it a go and forget. What you are left with after that are the people that get it and just might get in touch with you on how to make it better. Listen carefully to these people and take everything they say on board. They may not necessarily be right – ultimately it is your responsibility to choose the right direction for the product. It is not easy, but that’s what differentiates successful ventures from failures. As long as you can say – right, I have an open mind, I accept I may be wrong and if so, I will pivot the idea towards where the demand seems to be – it will work out.
3. We are in, but its not going anywhere / we don’t know what we are doing/this is failing.
First, take a day off. Go for a long long long walk. Balance the arguments. The most valuable thing you can ever do is to accept your mistakes as quickly as possible. Then move on. Ego is a dangerous thing. You have to let go sometimes and just move on. Having said that, if you think getting somewhere will be without hiccups, you live in a dream world. I highly respect people that have an enormous conviction in what they are doing, based on crude facts. To make something great, takes courage. Here is another interesting one for you: 9 out 10 companies will fail. What does that mean? The odds are against you and you will most likely fail. But, to me that means only one thing – in order to be definitely successful, you just have to set up 10 companies, no?
What do you listen to when you are working?
I do my best work when there are no distractions.
Having said that, when I think of some reaaaally big concepts and imagine the future (which I do a lot), I tend to listen to a lot of soundtracks to movies like The Dark Knight, Inception, V for Vendetta, TRON and so on. Hans Zimmer is a legend.
What do you enjoy most and least about living in London?
Most: diversity. This is probably the most important factor. Nowhere else in the world, and I mean nowhere! do you get as many individuals from different countries and cultures living together. And when you think what that actually means, you know you live in a great city.
You want to know a really big idea? Ok here it is, humanity is still thinking too small. We are all different, we have different skin colour, different languages, different beliefs. But when you look at us on a planetary scale, or as a species, we are the same. We live on the same rock that goes around the sun, share the same resources and have the same biology. So what the human race needs to do is to start acting like an entity – and London, through it’s sheer diversity of individuals and cultures, is a good example of that. If Britain realises and embraces that, I think London has the potential to become a global capital.
Least. The Tube. The tube sucks, I do not understand why a city like London does not have state of the art infrastructure. It’s starting to happen, Jubilee line, Crossrail – but it has to get better everywhere else. Why in the world are the trains not separated from people standing on the platform? Isn’t that ridiculously dangerous? Like I said, they’ve done the right thing on the Jubilee line and I salute their efforts, but in order to keep the heart of the country moving, infrastructure has to be higher on the priority list.
What was the last book you read? Do you read on paper or e-book?
I tend to read both. e-books are easy – cross-device, you can read anywhere these days and don’t need an actual book. However, I like the idea of owning a physical book for some titles that I think are more important than others.
Currently, I am reading through the earlier works of Ayn Rand (Rand is an interesting one. It will never go mainstream. But a small minority of people who truly understand her, know that she was well ahead of her time). Steve Job’s biography I am taking very slowly, partially because I am drawing a lot of parallels between his life and mine. Innovator’s Dilemma is another great title, Lean Startup – I mentioned earlier.
Real camera or smartphone?
Smartphone, its always in your pocket. Having said that, I really like big beautiful pictures taken with professional cameras. I cannot wait for virtual reality to go mainstream, think taking pictures in 3D will be awesome.
Favourite brunch spot in London?
Ah, there are so many…would be unfair to name just one. I probably don’t have one, I love exploring places I’ve never been to before.
Anton showing Luka what they do at Google Campus
Start-up at School (Make Friends Right Away)
Well, if you thought that hearing of celebrity entrepreneurs that created their first companies at 12 was interesting, imagine my surprise when I met Luka, at a private view at the Rosenfeld Porcini Art Gallery.
He is definitely in the category of those “born with it”.
Smart as a whip, he came up with the idea of renting school supplies for the forgetful souls in his second grade class. Now, that is the first step creating a start-up: identify a market need, or see one where no one else sees it. Then test the product/offer. How many of his classmates were willing to pay for the service? It turns out quite a few did. Then his disruptive vision met with the school’s regulations. Was it a tad mercenary to rent pencil and pens to those who had forgotten? Or was he supplying a much needed service? I quite liked that this young gentleman had the insight of offering a service that solved a real problem. Both to those who forget and those who in the past helped the forgetful, just to find out later that their beneficiaries had forgotten to return the goods borrowed 🙂 Luka was living in Berlin, and his parents are both musicians. His dad Dom Bouffard, played with Lou Reed and collaborated with Bob Wilson, and now the family is based in London. We had the pleasure to give Luka and his mom, Ali MacInnes, (who recently worked on the soundtrack production of A Most Wanted Man) a quick tour of Google Campus/TechHub to see what entrepreneurs are up to. Photo credit: Oliver Epp
#alli macinness #dombouffard #campuslondon #techhub #entrepreneurship #startups #startupculture #startuplondon