I think the one piece of advice that I’d give to someone if you have an idea, is just to do something about it. I’ve got a lot of friends and I’m also guilty of this that, erm, you know, often we’ll talk about about ideas and, we’ll think that they’re really really great but they’ll just stay as ideas. And I think you know, ideas are cheap really. A lot of people have good ideas that through every great business in the world there probably will be a hundred if not more people that have had that same idea. So I think the key to entrepreneurship or innovation is actually getting out there and doing something about it.
And that can be very small you know, you can start by going and having a conversation with someone about it or learning what other people are doing, or creating something and trying to sell it. You know, you can start in very very small steps. It doesn’t have to be this big… daunting journey with thinking, you know, ‘How am I going to get to twenty or thirty staff?’ or, ‘How am I going to use this idea to support myself?’ But yeah, getting out there and doing something about it and learning whether it’s a good idea or not through, kind of, through action rather than just, just thinking.
We have always been very public with demos, so, there’s a lot of companies, there’s this whole concept of being a stealth start-up. So you come up with this new technology and you want to get as far ahead of anybody else as possible, so nobody steals your idea. So you do it in complete secrecy until you’re ready to effectively go to market or have a product out there. We effectively took the complete opposite approach of that in that we’ve pretty much demoed publicly, every single little improvement that we’ve made.
And the, the concern about doing that would be that you then get bad feedback because it doesn’t work as well, it’s not perfectly polished, but actually I think that’s the best decision we ever made because you do get feedback that “I don’t like it” or, “this doesn’t work very well” sort of in, particularly in the early days. and then you learn from that. So something that you think works well in-house, you make it to a certain degree of finished, you then actually put it in front of people they test it, they try it and er, and they generally let you know, and you can see what works and what doesn’t work.
Erm so, pretty routinely getting real people who are not in the company in front of the technology and trying it. It’s good for us because it’s invisible and inaudible, the technology, so you can’t really put it in a video very well. Erm, so it lets people know that it’s real and that it works and then also we get a lot of feedback on what people like and what they don’t like so that our technology is an experience as we create consistently gets better over time. So definitely with the lean start-up the kind of customer engagement.
When we’ve been developing our subscription box that we’re just launching, we engaged ten women as part of a focus group very early on in the prototype stage and took their feedback and have developed it entirely off what they said. I think the rent, in kind of, purely in start-up terms the best way we did it was we got back, erm, took a wordpress blog and we, we produced a website basically at that time it wasn’t ‘Balloon Ventures’ it was ‘Balloon Kenya’ so we produced ‘BalloonKenya.com’. I remember doing it over Christmas. I didn’t have any coding skills or anything like that but, what was great was that you could just build a website.
Probably spent fifty quid on getting a nice design or a nice template. And then we spent probably six or seven hundred pounds on a milkround advert and sent out an email to probably twenty thousand people or something. And we said, if we get six people on our first program in June, we’ll run the program, and we ended up getting exactly six. And so I guess with, what less than a thousand pounds worth of investment and through a kind of pretty quick cycle, we managed to get those first six people on the program.
And then I guess we, we always, we never really had a lot of money anyway so we we’re always bootstrapping it in the sense that we would get those six people to pay before the program started. We would go and set the program up next, and then we had ten so we would get that money. The next year we had fifty two so people would pay deposits and… So we were always getting money in and then spending it slowly like that. So everything with a magazine I think is a bit of a test, because you never know which way a feature is going to go.
What we were very careful with the, with the early, stages of ‘About Time’ was looking at our Google Analytics figuring out what was and wasn’t working. So looking at our readership, figuring out things like what devices was our readership reading on? Were they reading on mobile or desktop? And which specific times were working for us? and which styles of content were working best, the length so that we tried to refine the articles from there. Looking at where our traffic’s coming from, we can figure out things like, we know that the morning commute is a really great time for traffic on mobile, because people are reading on their phones on the tube.
We know that the hour after lunch everyone’s dossing around at work, so we know that that’s quite a high time for our readership, and we know that 5pm is good as well because it’s the last hour of the day. Basically people mess around at work quite a lot throughout the day, but we could see those habits and we could try and match them. And other things like we could see that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday people were more interested in health content.
‘Juice recipes’, ‘where to work out in London’, and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday they were a lot more interested in ‘Where to get London’s best burgers’ or, ‘Best gin and tonics in the capital’ So they were kind of letting go towards the end of the week because they have had a long week and they are feeling a bit more indulgent. So we can match those, those human nature parts of our readership to the actual content. So in terms of how we test our ideas,
there’s obviously kind of one level which is about talking to people, but actually, we really favour prototyping. So it might be putting up a landing page that puts that pitch out into the open. You get real feedback in a real environment. We might test with some Facebook ads, and then we actually, you know, depending on what it is we might put on an event or two and from that we can really refine what we want to do. But the principal of that is not spending ages writing stuff down on paper, put something simple and then get into action, because the reality of any idea is the idea itself is worthless, it’s about how you implement that’s really important.
One piece of advice I would give is don’t overthink it. It’s so easy to have an idea and to do a really complicated business plan with financial projections and kind of ten year vision, and you freak yourself out and you stop yourself doing it and you can speak to too many people and you can get too worked up about it. I think the best thing sometimes is just to start.
I mean I didn’t really have a plan with ‘About Time’ but we went from a thousand readers, to two thousand readers, to four thousand readers a day and it just grew and it was a natural progress and it was a natural progression, and sometimes you don’t need to know what the end destination is and you don’t need to have an exit strategy. You can just work towards something day by day putting, you know, overnight success I think is overrated. It’s about putting in effort day by day and you’ll get there.