After several months looking for angel funding I’ve realised I’m not investible. Here’s why.

A story for you. 2 years ago I created a pop artist marketing agency. I won my first client, and after a successful one-week trial, I started asking for £500 a week to manage pop artists’ social profiles, websites, mailers and fan events, double average industry rates.

Off the back of some great work, and an unexpectedly high chart position from my first client, I won work from every major UK record label. Within 3 months I had 5 employees housed in an office in Soho. 90% of people I pitched went on to be clients.

It never crossed my mind to work for free.

I was building a company that offered a unique, labour intensive and much-needed service to record label Product Managers… and that required being paid. Obviously.

Fast forward to today and I have my ‘startup’ Teen Events. I’m part of London’s Google-Campus-fuelled ecosystem of individuals ‘looking for funding’, with me somewhere at the back of the queue, beating the same drum and repeating the same bullshit. Because nothing great ever happened without funding, right?

We’re playing a game of dress up.

How the hell did I end up part of it?

I’ve met several angels in the last 3 months. Many have given me great advice. Some have asked me to come back repeatedly, refusing to give me the quick no I asked for. Some questioned if the world’s biggest band One Direction were popular. These meetings and their preparation took hours of work. It terrifies me to think of the time I wasted on funding that could have been spent on building an actual business. Worse, the angels only really told me the things I already knew – but didn’t want to admit.

I’m not investible.

I’ve used ‘once I’ve got funding’ as an excuse too many times. Can’t find a committed technical co founder? I’ll get one once I can pay them. Labels aren’t convinced of the site’s value? A redesign will help, I’ll do that once I’ve been funded. User growth good but not fantastic? Ah, I need cash for marketing.

Actually

  • I need a co-founder who loves what we’re doing more than being paid
  • I need a designer who will take on a short fun project
  • I need to simplify my marketing messaging and product execution
  • I need to sell what I’ve got – because it’s good enough

I’ve spent some time reflecting on how I want to spend next year. Whilst the idea of a fancy east-London office, free staff lunches and a limitless team is attractive, it’s not a game I want play. I want to create a real, sustainable business with an invested team who are part of something great.

I spend a lot of time working with funded startups. They have the talent and the means to create a success story, but all too frequently they have too much choice. This removes innovation, hustle and urgency. Worse, they’re accelerating an imperfect, wasteful, machine. Then the wheels fall off.

Being bootstrapped is as liberating as it is constricting. My single day development a week forces me to think smart, be data driven, and properly prioritise, reducing wasted hours and push my thinking and creativity.

I will get funded. And I’ll take it when my business foundations are in place and I desire to expedite the process of growing users and revenues. Until then I’m Olly, and I’m building a business not a startup.

Record labels promoting artist events on Teen Events

Good news alert. UK major record label RCA, which is part of Sony, is now promoting their artists’ events on Teen Events to drive event follows. Followers receive SMS and email reminders and content notifications, which means the artist’s fanbase is informed and mobilised.

I didn’t pitch Teen Events. Here’s the video, and the latest Teen Events stats

Update in 1,2,3…

1. Last week I (didn’t) pitch Teen Events at Don’t Pitch Me Bro and here’s the video. Hold out for the questions which are probably the most interesting part. Thanks to the 3Beards for having me, it was a fantastic and useful experience. And there was beer.

2. Here’s some graphs showing the increase in total Event Follows and Registered Users on the Teen Events website:

3. And here’s the number of Event Follows and Registered Users from the last 5 weeks, showing an average week-on-week increase in both of 8%.

06/09/2013 13/09/2013 20/09/2013 27/09/2013 04/10/2013
Total Event Follows 27128 29987 33241 34863 37200
Week on week growth 8.17% 10.54% 10.85% 4.88% 6.70%
Registered Users 4517 4750 5526 5911 6138
Week on week growth 8.01% 5.16% 16.34% 6.97% 3.84%

I got it wrong… again. Forget registering more users, it’s time to delight the ones I have

It’s July, and we’ve passed 3,000 registered users and 10,000 event follows on Teen Events in less than 2 months – in many ways things are going well. But they’re not great. In fact, despite deploying new functionality weekly based on user feedback and analytics, we’ve not hit the ‘sweet spot’ where the site takes on a life of its own. Website visits are relatively stable, numbering about 300-700 a day, and the lack of user appreciation for the product is deafening.

Today, thanks to a burrito-fuelled chat with Alex Pounds, I think I’ve realised why.

I’ve spent all my energy using every tool in my kit to drive more registrations and follows – a life-time of marketing ideas deployed one by one to drive up some top-level numbers, that are in many ways meaningless. In short, I forgot to delight the users I have.

People do what they know, and then they do it more. Lawyers write and sign too many contracts and neglect their products, developers deploy and embellish features endlessly and wonder why users don’t come, marketers get people through the door but can’t make them love what’s inside. Founders, good ones – well, they create the magic. I’ve spent too much time marketing and not enough time creating magic.

The last few months’ development on Teen Events has been ‘connecting the dots’; iterating functionality from content discovery to event following, alerts and content updates. And the complete product vision is executed, if vaguely, exactly as I mentioned it needs to be in my 7 lessons I learnt from building my MVP post. But nothing is done incredibly well. Nothing creates that euraka how-did-I-live-without-this moment. Nothing has turned my users into tireless evangelists for what I’m doing or forced them to form a habit more addictive than crack cocaine.

And that needs to change.

I need stop marketing and focus on getting it *really* right for 1,000 people. They’ll do the rest.

How?

  • Rework copy across site to add tension and excitement as well as signpost functionality and drive exploration and full usage of the product.
  • Improve and tweak every user flow, email and landing page to enhance the experience.
  • Use the existing functionality we have – more events added daily, content added to every event.
  • Focus limited development resource on just one element of functionality until users love it.

Project Delight starts now.

A first look at the new Teen Events design work

The new Teen Events design work refreshes the website with a classier and less clunky look and feel, surfaces recently-added site functionality, and groups similar navigation routes together for clarity. And it’s bloody fantastic. Here’s a look at the first-draft which is currently being tweaked. Comments on Twitter if you’ve got them.

Click to make it very large

I found the designer Oliver Lisher on Dribbble – his use of colour, illustatration and typography are fantastic, he’s scary fast, and realistic when it comes to fees. Highly recommended. If you’re in a similar situation to me and need some great work with a limited budget, get in touch and tell him I sent you.

Teen Events has been accepted into the Ravensbourne Incubator!

Brilliant news! Teen Events has been accepted into the Ravensbourne DMIC Incubator programme – free office space, working internet, access to world-class production studios, mentorship, workshops and advice, and all less than 50 metres from London’s iconic O2. Although this doesn’t involve funding (or giving up equity), this incubator should help me build a more robust and investible business over the next few months. Inductions start tomorrow. Woo!

Thanks to Simon Devonshire of Wayra for some *very* good advice

Brutally honest, actionable advice is imperative if I’m going to improve my pitching, business plan and accelerator applications, which is why I’m incredibly indebted to Director of Wayra Europe, Simon Devonshire for taking half an hour last week to talk to me about my (failed) Wayra accelerator application from a few months back. Although lots has changed since that moment, not least the site launching – we weren’t short of things to discuss. From *really* knowing your competition, the art of story telling and appropriate levels of obnoxiousness, to Jamie Oliver’s Italian, via the joys of networking; every minute was as challenging as it was informative. Thank you Simon.

I’m constantly impressed and surprised with the generosity some of the established players in the London ecosystem exhibit by sharing their insights and wisdom with the ‘little guy’. People like Milo Yiannopoulos of the Kernel and hy! Berlin, Alicia Navarro of Skimlinks, Paul Smith at Ignite100 and Simon have all shared their own time with me, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. After a less-than-great first month on Teen Events, I’m excited to continue growing my business.

If you’re looking for feedback, advice or insights – my tip is, don’t ask, don’t get. And, seek advice from people who challenge your perception of yourself and your work. Let me know how you get on.

Month one on Teen Events – delivery vs aims. How did we do? Not very well…

My first-month aims for Teen Events were ambitious. How did we do? Not very well. In fact, pretty shit. See below an outline for how the site performed vs my top-line aims. And some thoughts as to why I under-delivered so significantly.

Show traction – 100,000 users

The priority aim was to show traction, 100,000 users. When writing this aim I didn’t consider what a user actually was: a visit, a registered user, a unique user? What I can tell you is that in the first month we registered 2,100 users, and delivered 11,137 visits, of which 7,853 were unique. However we define a ‘user’, this falls massively short.

Show repeat usage – at least 30% of users go on to use the site 4 more times

Of 11,137 visits, 1,945 were 4+ times. In fact over 118 people visited over 100 times. In other words there are some positive insights here, but we have fallen massively short of the 30% target – landing at about 17%. This metric can be seen more as a benchmark to work towards as we enhance the site’s functionality and copywriting.

5,000 email addresses into Mailchimp, 5,000 twitter followers

We delivered this before the site launched and have now passed 15,000 Twitter followers and 6,000 Mailchimp subscribers.

Look beautiful – great UX and establish the brand Teen Events

This was ignored. A redesign is in the works.

What went wrong?

Simply, I didn’t get enough visits on the site. I believed that people would ‘get’ the product immediately, follow 100s of events, generating tweets and social buzz that would drive more people into the site. In fact, only 2,000 people registered, between them following events 4,400 times. Not insignificant numbers, but not quite creating a sense of movement and excitement within the various fan networks.

Other thoughts,

  • Clarity around metrics – define these more clearly.
  • Product issues e.g. no way to discover new events on the site until last week. User now receives an email with new events from Topics they are following. Also, new event list and trending Topics.
  • Limited dev resource of about 1 day a week and back-end changes mean we’re not always deploying new functionality for users.
  • Marketing plan wasn’t implemented. I was working full time in a freelance role for the whole of May, significantly limiting my time working on Teen Events.
  • Not enough new event listings, for the same reason above.
  • Design. The clunky design was fine as part of the MVP, as we were still able to validate certain assumptions, but now it is holding back users’ understanding and appreciation of the site’s functionality.
  • Need to shift away from anecdotal insights and implement metrics and undertake user testing to create actionable insights.
  • On the previous point, there are still very obvious gaps in the product and user experience that need to be fixed as a priority – stats or not.
  • Generally the poor performance of the site has dented my confidence and belief in the product. I need to regroup, double down, and execute with clarity.

Designer needed to rework Teen Events

Update: We’ve now found a fantastic designer, thanks for the emails and recommendations. I’ve left the brief below for anyone who may find it useful.

The current Teen Events design and UX is bodged together from some early PSDs and doesn’t do the overall Teen Events experience or site functionality justice. We’ve deployed new functionality on Teen Events twice weekly for the last month, it’s time to surface and sell that as part of a brand new set of design work. Hopefully this will help users make more sense of the site.

I’ve placed my very brief brief below which shows some of the design reference points for the new look and feel. I’m looking for someone who wants to work through this project in 2 or 3 days and pull together a design, that’s generally cooler than what I currently have, very quickly – to see it deployed in less than a week. It’s a lot to expect in a couple of days, but what the product needs right now. In return I’ll offer to pay well and make decisions / sign off incredibly quickly. If you know anyone who might be interested in the project, drop me a line. Until then, I’ll be over on dribbble stalking people.