This is a guest blog by Jon Pellington, the founder of dating startup TextDater.
How does a startup stay up?
TextDater is only just beginning its startup journey, so what makes the founder confident enough to write an article about staying up in business?
While I can’t guarantee that we will make a fortune or will even be around in the next three years, just getting to this pre-launch point has been a complete rollercoaster and a steep learning curve. My team and I have reflected on our “lessons learnt” and hope that we can save time for future startups.
I won’t give a top 10 list of things to avoid or embrace, you can find thousands of very good blog posts about that. What I will share with you is snippets from our journey, how we have managed to keep going and what is spurring us on.
Stepping into the abyss
The idea for TextDater appeared around mid-2014 and, like many startups, the concept was a few diagrams on paper at this point. The idea was simple enough and it seemed pretty straight forward:
“TextDater takes away the superficial nature of mobile dating, you invest in people, their interests, quirks, hobbies etc before seeing their pictures, this way, you will only really bother requesting someone’s picture if they had something interesting to say in the first place, viola!”
I was in full time employment and solidifying the TextDater concept in my spare time, however my job was pretty stressful and I couldn’t really get any traction on the idea; a concept that had seemed so simple, quickly started to get rather complicated, and I just didn’t have enough free time. I’ve started a number of businesses before and out of all of them, TextDater has been my true passion. I had to decide what it would take to really get this started! At the start of 2015, I said goodbye to full time employment, it was the only option for me and it’s definitely not for everyone – anyone who is used to a regular pay cheque but who’s been out of work for a while knows how damn “uncomfortable” this is. The end of the month comes and “WHOA” there is no cushdy pay check waiting for you! Fortunately, I had enough savings and credit to sustain myself for a while. Or so I thought.
Money, money, money
The money started drying up quicker than spilt water, on the sand, on a really hot day in the Bahamas. My initial plan of six months “smooth” sailing couldn’t last, I had to move and move quick. Motivation was high and late nights cracking out a viable business plan, working on the concepts, pre-designs, logo, pitch, financial forecasts and professional services, soon became my new life.
Through a lot of graft, TextDater managed to secure a startup loan as part of a UK government scheme. Now things could get started! I’d vastly underestimated my survival budget and had to get part-time work, but far from putting things on hold, my part time job took the edge off and gave me the time needed to continue to develop the idea.
You can’t set up a business alone; you need help. There is no way TextDater would be where it is now without the help of my team and the fantastic contractors who have helped. The first hurdle is identifying who you need to help you, and making sure this can fit within the budget. I received mentoring and support from Virgin Startup, who assigned us a business advisor and made our lives a lot easier – we could get the right help in an instant.
No matter who helps you, don’t forget that business plan you created – it’s damn essential, as you will have already set a guideline on how to handle your budget. You are going to waste some money and make a few bad decisions, but that’s life. You will learn from it and if you weren’t good at budgeting before, you will be after a few expensive mistakes, trust me!
Setting the foundations
With the help in place or at hand, establishing the foundations of your company is one of the tricky things to master. You can’t be an expert at everything and some days it feels like you can’t be an expert at anything, so delegation to those who know more than you is key. That said however, you need to know a little about every aspect of your business. TextDater is a mobile app and so although I knew nothing about app development, I had to get to grips with the basics of app distribution, phone types, design processes, as well as marketing.
Go, go, go creating the MVP
Once your foundations are in place and your website, PR, marketing machine, design, developer and creatives are all doing their thing, you’re ready to get the product out there as a BETA version as a way of validating your idea once more. To do this, your product needs to be developed as a most viable product (MVP), the bare bones version of the product/app, which is then put before people such as threebeards.com who will give real, honest feedback. Your product or service won’t be perfect right away and it’s this feedback that will guide your next steps. For more information on BETA testing, see our Virgin Startups blog.
Where is TextDater in this journey now?
We are currently at the MVP stage and our app is being tested. Once that has been done, tweaks will be made according to feedback and then we will get it out in front of potential users for another round of feedback. We’ll adjust again and then, with some luck, we will be good to go!
By Jon Pellington,
Founder of TextDater