Before I jump into what I’m working on, let me give you a quick update on how I spent the last couple of years.
Taking a break and fulfilling a dream
Following the acquisition of TrustedPlaces, I had joined Yell Group. Once we completed the key pieces of work we had agreed, I decided to leave in the summer of 2011 and spend the next seven months in Greece. During that time I built an outdoor basketball court at my parents holiday place (a dream I had for years), picked up my day skipper sailing diploma, climbed mount Olympus twice, travelled across Greece, spent most of my time by the sea and generally had an amazing time with my family after fourteen years living abroad.
As much as I love Greece, my family and friends, I couldn’t stay there. It’s not because of the crisis (quite the contrary). It’s because I am better when I’m surrounded by people who inspire me and there are more of those people in places like London and the US. So I packed my bags, came back to London for a few weeks, and then headed over to San Franciso via way of New York.
In the mean time I was also lucky enough to become a seed investor in two amazing companies: Secret Escapes & Calm.com.
Passion not optional
During my last few months in Greece I had been looking into a number of ideas with my friend Stavros. We moved to SF with a few of them in our minds and then settled on the biggest and most unsexy one we could think of: HR as a service for small businesses. Think Tribe HR or Zen Payroll. It’s a massive opportunity, with clear monetization and slow-moving incumbents – perfect for a startup to take on. We launched ourselves into it, but quickly found out that we were not making the progress that we would expect from ourselves building our MVP. Stavros (mainly) and I had created products over a weekend in the past, but this one was dragging on.
It boiled down to this question: ‘Can you see yourself working on this for the next 10 years?’. When we both answered ‘No’, we knew we had to move on. Up to that point I had believed that I could just will myself to go after any opportunity that ticked a number of ‘business plan’ boxes. Unfortunately, there is one truth that is implicit in any startup. The energy that is required to build a product people will love, can only be provided by a team that is fully committed and passionate about their mission.
Running a profitable business, which you have created, is extremely rewarding in its own right. The ‘problem’ is that in order to get there, you need to build a product first. Unless you care deeply about the core idea behind that product, you will either never manage to build it, or you will not build something good enough.
Getting healthy and strong
This is an aside, but one of the benefits of having time in your hands and living in California, is that you can engineer good habits into your life more easily. So, while I was not making that much progress on the business idea, I did a Ruby or Rails course, quit smoking and started strength training (eventually getting 1.5x body weight on my squat). All pretty handy investments for years to come.
Back to the drawing board
I discounted a ton of ideas. Some outright, some after some research and some after a MVP. I realized that for my next venture I wanted to focus on an idea that has global potential; can truly make a positive difference in people’s lives and that if executed well, the financial payoff can be life-changing for me and my team.
So what am I working on now?
A product for families to feel better connected through private sharing and messaging. Both Matt and I, have dispersed families and we found it hard to stay in touch. We wanted to easily share moments from our daily lives, through photos and general updates, but none of the existing solutions could be used by every member of our immediate families.
So we decided to do something about it and you can see the result here: www.togethera.com.
We’ve only just started and we have a ton of work ahead of us, but early signs on engagement are very positive. Matt Dempsey is the co-founder, we have a small team and plenty of generous help from Stavros.
We’re also recruiting, so do get in touch if you’re interested.
I know that the current version of our product is likely to change over the years and that there is a lot of competition out there. These are the factors driving me:
- Millions of people at both ends of the age spectrum are getting their hands on a smartphone or tablet for the first time. Their expectations around privacy and simplicity are different to expectations of the ‘Facebook generation’.
- For some of us, existing social networks have become either too complicated or polluted for us to feel comfortable sharing intimate details of our lives. Some research even points to technology making us feel more lonely or worse about ourselves. We want to change that.
- I believe that improving well-being is not just a noble cause. It’s what the next wave of technological innovation will focus on and where big businesses will be built. Feeling more connected to those closest to you, is one of the most significant factors affecting your wellness.
I only remember one business quote and it summarizes perfectly the way I feel about starting up and entrepreneurship in general. It’s a response by Elon Musk during an interview that followed SpaceX’s third failure to reach orbit:
Wired.com: How do you maintain your optimism?
Musk: Do I sound optimistic?
Wired.com: Yeah, you always do.
Musk: Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I’m hell-bent on making it work.
Pretty much sums it up. Thanks for reading folks and remember: we’re hiring!