What I Wish I'd Known Before Launching My Tech Startup
Ed Hewitt is an Escape member who now runs WorldinLondon. Here is some of his story and some things he’s discovered along the way.
I was an Oxford grad working as a commercial advisor for a big energy company. It was often interesting work, the hours and pay were good and the company treated me really well, but I just knew there was something missing. I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled (as you can see here)…
In 2012 I discovered Escape the City and realised I was the classic example of someone who had jumped through all the right hoops to somewhere I didn’t necessarily want to be. I also moved in with a really inspirational housemate who had founded his own successful company.
Suddenly I discovered an entrepreneurial bug I didn’t realise I previously had. The idea of being the master of my own destiny became really appealing.
The First Idea
The ‘business’ idea I initially started working on in the latter half of 2012 (whilst still in the corporate job) was called Dromomaniacs. The word means ‘those with the insatiable urge to travel’.
Essentially Dromomaniacs was aspiring to be ‘the society for those with that insatiable urge’. I’d modelled it on trying to improve on a society I was already a member of – the Royal Geographical Society. I thought that if I could create a younger, more technically savvy and accessible version of that great society then I’d be onto a winner.
Originally I started Dromomaniacs by building a ning community. Ning is basically a template for creating your own social network and you pay a relatively modest license fee. In hindsight the website was brilliant – it had in-built messaging, easy upload system, easy user management and customisation, SEO optimised and no need for any coding skill whatsoever! But at the time I just couldn’t see it.
The Worst Decision I’ve Ever Made
I was blinded by its lack of the one feature I desperately wanted – a map-based way to display the community’s beautiful photos, articles and videos from around the world.
So after a couple of months of people signing up to the ning website and uploading some great material, I decided to employ some web developers to completely redesign the site based around a map – using a completely different platform.
It was the worst decision I’ve ever made!
The new website cost loads of money (I won’t reveal exactly how much but in the thousands of pounds rather than tens of pounds I’d been paying per month to ning), didn’t have the same ease of use, wasn’t mobile optimised and soon became riddled with bugs which began to piss off my users. Migrating them all to the new platform was also a nightmare.
I went through 3 different web developers as problems mounted – each blaming the other for previous mistakes. None of this was helped by my lack of coding knowledge and my inability to understand what would and wouldn’t be difficult for the developers.
The whole thing became a massive headache and I pivoted my whole business from Dromomaniacs.com to worldinlondon.
Learning to Code
It’s unlikely I’m ever going to be a coder, but I felt I needed to have some more basic understanding of what the hell any web developer I was to work or partner with was talking about.
I also felt that having a tech person in my team rather than as a contractor for this time would be a much better idea – and knowing more code would ensure I didn’t look like a total idiot when speaking to potential tech partners.
What I got from the course was a basic understanding of HTML, CSS and Java Script. I can now do a basic code for my own site! But I think the more important thing is that it’s just demystified some of the language and practices around web coding.
Before, reading web code was like reading hieroglyphics to me. Now I have a pretty good understanding of what all the code means and can at least ask the right questions and know more about what is difficult and what isn’t. It gives me more control going forward.
Regarding tech stuff specifically, there’s a whole crib sheet of useful resources from Escape the City after doing the course.
I’m now using strikingly.com to host my new www.worldinlondon.co.uk website and couldn’t be happier with it. The next step for selling the events will be some mashup between wordpress and eventbrite/ eventbee for selling the events. Again, no coding will be needed. Once I’ve proved the fundamental concept and raised some investment, then will be the time to create something bespoke.
From a broader business perspective, the Lean Startup has been massively useful for me. It’s had a huge bearing in helping me understand where I went wrong with Dromomaniacs and is really guiding the development of worldinlondon.
If I’d have read The Lean Startup before starting on Dromomaniacs I’d have never done the same things. Essentially it’s all about build, measure, learn, pivot.
What I Wish I’d Known
I wish I’d done a bit more market research before setting off on the Dromomaniacs juggernaught.
I later discovered that the guys at Maptia had basically had the same idea as me regarding the map, but had focussed specifically on that and built their whole business around it.
They’d got the right tech people in place and basically just implemented the map idea so much better. The idea of ‘focus’ is now really important to me rather than trying to be all things to all people.
But hopefully now I have learned and my next venture won’t make the same mistakes again. I wrote more about my journey here if you’d like to read more.
The March intake of our Tech MBA is now open.