Putting the ‘start’ into a Croydon startup.
Tim Buick founder of Streetpin shares his experience on growing a start-up business.
It was back in the days of working at the Land Registry, Bedford Park, that I first trundled in to the Croydon Conference Centre for one of the early Croydon Tech City meetups. I was greeted by a very chirpy Jonny Rose, who subsequently interviewed me, and StreetPin’s affinity with Croydon was born.
We had simple goals:
- enable organisations to create interactive websites (which we call Pinboards) in seconds
- help those that ‘don’t do digital’ to go digital
- provide a local alternative to pay-per-click and keyword bidding
- and essentially, to help anyone build and maintain themed communities at any venue/location
Simples (though creating catchier descriptions is obviously high on our priority list).
I’ve frequently stated that we’ve put the ‘start’ in startup, and we’ve tried so many ways to entice our baby out into the world, but it has been an incredibly long journey, packed full of learnings. I say learnings rather than failures due to my adopted mantra (from Edison): “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. We’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have been learning from the tireless feedback of the good people of Croydon – too many to mention here, but you know who you are and you have a special place in our hearts!
From our initial iPhone and Android apps that were built in conjunction with STA Travel, to our offshored/shoe-string budget V2, we were building, testing and repeating. We camped out at schools, fetes, markets, shops, churches, pubs – anywhere that would have us. If you’d been in the Whitgift Centre for a tech demo a couple of years ago, you may have even seen me running between stores, collecting a few ‘for one-day only’ offers to splash all over our sparkly new platform.
All was going well for a while with this version, but we’ve had to ride out more than a few visits from the technology gremlins. Accessibility also raised its mighty head pretty early on, and it really brought home the need to be truly device and system agnostic. While I was manning a demo stall at Kings College, the feedback was ‘wow!’, ‘awesome’, ‘cool’…’but she’s on Blackberrry..?’, ‘I’m on Nokia’… Daaaaaamn! A further nail was put in V2’s coffin whilst in the backroom of a local church, huddled around a Windows 95 machine, with our kinda-responsive site misbehaving like Horrid Henry on a sugar rush. How could community membership be dependent on what sort of phone you have?
We then decided to put some fairly serious cash (for a self-funded entity) into a front-end build that was supposed to save the day whilst using our existing Java backend. V3 was however, short-lived and pretty disposable: the ‘new hope’ team arrived to push it over the hill to our commercial launch, they instead tore the code to shreds and left it crying in the corner.
V4’s team of new-hopers was made up of highly qualified, accomplished designers/developers – what could possibly go wrong? Well, the thought was there, but deliverables were sadly not. This, in turn, opened up another fun and exciting chapter called ‘getting your shares back’ – a story for another day methinks. V4 never really got off the ground, but as with the other versions, the snowball gathered pace, absorbed more money, even more precious time and resulted in yet more determination! V5 had to be it, didn’t it? Working with developers that you’ve worked with in the day job? This took many months out of my life before accepting the harsh reality that not everyone’s priorities are aligned with yours, and though it may be ‘cool’ to work on a startup, you do need to actually work on the startup. V5 was unfortunately just a blackhole of resource and sanity, and by then a load of the backend had become out of date.
So, after borrowing some bigger bucks and a good few months of designing and building, the glorious V6 is about to be unleashed on Croydon. A fully working, transactional platform that I sincerely hope responds well to the years of feedback and testing we’ve gratefully lapped up. After a quick Wikipedia search, it turns out that 6 is the first Perfect Number! I’ll take that as a good omen and get back to making sure that StreetPin is accessible, affordable and making tangible differences to people’s lives. Hopefully V6 will also enable us to give up the day jobs and set up home in one of Croydon’s awesomely supportive startup hubs! Thanks for reading! Now time for some action – the Croydon Digital Services team have graciously permitted a follow-up blog, once we’ve launched, so if you’re up for growing and maintaining your community (on and offline) and collaborating with retailers/businesses/residents around you, let’s talk and create a fabulous show case! We’re all ears over at firstname.lastname@example.org.