Startup Interview: Elliott James Perry, Founder of FLEX
March 10th, 2016
Launching a startup is like launching a rocket. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned (or envisioned at the beginning). What to do in cases like this and how to understand where your passion lies? We have interviewed Elliott James Perry, a startupper whose business adventure had been like a rollercoaster and whose startup, Extravaganza, was a 3-rd place winner of our Grossum Startup Contest.
How did you get to be in a startup business?
My startup journey began a while back, almost four years ago. I am a software developer by trade and I was working for Sage, a huge multinational software development company. As a result, you feel like a very small part of a large machine. I had job security and good wages, but if you’re an entrepreneur, you just know, you feel, that’s not what you’re looking for, not that fulfills you.
As I sat there, working and receiving my handsome wages, I watched app store exploding with new apps and people becoming millionaires with their startups, and I thought to myself, “If they can do that, I can do that.”
So I quit, bought a MacBook, and said, “Well, let’s start this startup journey.”
Together with my co-founder, we launched a project called EventSneaker. We got into a startup accelerator program here in the UK, in the northeast. They gave us about £10,000 (in exchange for 10% equity). After 10 months of going through this, a company in London, evvnt, bought us out in shares. I moved to London and spent about 15 months there, doing the technology handover with their CTO, so that the integration with their processes was more streamlined, more organized and more tech-savvy.
My next venture was the company called beatmatch - an online marketplace for DJs. The idea was that DJs were sort of on a rise, from shopping malls to weddings, etc. Everything is about DJs these days. Someone to play music, mix up the tunes, all the way through the nightlife industry.
We have spent about 3 months on beatmatch and decided that the top level figures were too small and the industry was embedded into the old way of doing things that were difficult to disrupt. Fortunately, throughout that journey, someone expressed an interest in purchasing the technology assets, so I sold that and that’s when I moved on to Extravaganza.
The nightlife industry wasn’t very receptive to the services marketplace, but the wedding market seems to be crying out for something like that. I have spent 3-4 months with the project, and I still believe in the commercial viability of the project, but unfortunately, at the end of the day, it was going down the path my co-founder and I weren’t really passionate about. (Which is a shame, but that’s a nature of a startup journey, I guess.)
Right now I am in the process of contacting the competitors to see whether anyone wants to purchase the technology assets, to recoup some of the funds that were invested into the project.
Was it a difficult decision to leave Extravaganza behind?
Of course. The actual feeling I didn’t want to pursue it hit like a freight train. It wasn’t like “Oh, I’m not sure about this, I’m not sure about this, I’m not sure about this” in the course of months. It was more of in a week. All of a sudden, I thought “Something just doesn’t feel right about this.” I didn’t relate to the users, brides-to-be, children, and I hesitantly expressed my feelings to Jamie.
I didn’t know what to expect. I have been recruiting the guy for two months. We finally got him on board, he moved from Scotland to London to work on Extravaganza together, and now this. There was just air in the office, when I said, “I thought it would be different. It makes sense on paper, but when it came to daily activities, I felt like this is not where our hearts are…”
He replied, “You know, I feel the same.”
And that was it.
It takes time for a startup to become big and you have to be passionate about your idea to go through tough times (because there will be tough times).
How long does it take for a startup to get on its feet?
In my estimate, it takes about from 3 to 5 years. Granted, you may get a crazy explosive start and takeoff before, but you don’t want to place your chips on that, do you?
Three years is a good estimate to allocate for the startup to get from the point of an idea to reaching market fit, actually working and getting revenue, it can sustain itself, and it can look to growth. If you have been in the high bracket of people who launched successful startups, in three years you can begin to consider exit options. The growth happens in the fourth and fifth year usually.
What you wish you knew when you just began?
I was lucky in a sense that when I had the idea, I didn’t have to go to the loaner. Instead, I joined a startup accelerator program and leaned on their expertise and advice. In that sense, I was very fortunate. I was exposed to the principles of a lean startup, business model canvas, and other. So as a result, even though the last couple of ventures were not exactly a success (they were more of 3-month-long experiments), the very fact that they went for three months and I realized that’s not where my heart is is much better than raising initial money, going a year and a half… and then finding out “Oh, this isn’t what I thought it would be.”
So my advice is this: when you come up with an idea, the last thing you need to do is to “build it and they will come.” You can’t think “This is a great idea because I like it and so others will like it too. Let’s raise some money, let’s build it.” Instead, if you think it’s a good idea, stop and think why is it a good idea? Where is this group of users that also agree with me? And even further, is a good enough idea to pay for or could it transition into something to pay for in the future?
It’s all about validating your assumptions. This can take place in a form of building some technology - because nothing beats the direct market feedback (since what people say and what they do are often different things). However, before you build anything, there’s nothing wrong about bouncing those ideas off people as long as you do it the right way. This is where the customer development comes into place. Not just saying, “Here’s my idea, what do you think?” since people are going to politely say “Oh, that’s nice.” It’s more of digging deep into what they like and don’t like, what’s their experience is like, and seeing whether their needs connect with your idea.
What is the project you’re working on right now?
It was an easy decision regarding Extravaganza because we didn’t want to continue doing something we were not passionate about. However, deciding where to go next took some time. It was back to the whiteboard, asking questions “What do you like?” “What are my interests?” “What problems do we want to solve - day-to-day, society?” “What are our skills that would be hard for others to replicate?”
Jamie founded livecoding.tv so he knows live streaming infrastructure, the technology, the user base, the competitors, the challenges, and roadblocks, etc. So we thought, “What can we apply live streaming technology to that we feel could be a huge benefit?”
After toying with an idea of live cooking classes, we opted for live fitness videos. We thought it was a good concept, but again, we needed to validate it, so we ran an experiment. We contacted fitness and yoga instructors, we went on direct mailing and yellow pages, asking people “Do you want to take part in this experience?” We’ve got some volunteers, a studio that volunteered its space, and within a week, at the event, we had 3,000 page-hits.
It began as an experiment, it took just a week and I felt we could make it more technical and professional, so I wanted to continue with it. However, my partner is not passionate about Flex, while I, on the other hand, have fallen in love with the project and have been contacted by the Disney accelerator that owns ESPN, by wellness accelerator, and a couple of different media outlets. Since they are contacting me, obviously people are connecting with this venture. The problem, however, is that those accelerators won’t take me as a sole founder and I’ve lost my teammate. So now I have to make a decision. We'll see how that goes.
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