Harry Marshall is the CEO of myFIVEby, a dedicated place for thinkers and makers to share stories, ideas and experiences, engage in conversations with others and discover novel content from the community. Combining the convenience and community of a social network with the creative focus and substance of a blogging platform, Marshall calls it “blogging, reinvented.”
Marshall holds a degree in business from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, and spent a year on exchange studying economics at Boston College. After graduation in 2008, he was off to the south of Spain, where he taught English for a year in Seville. From Spain, it was back to the UK, where he accepted a position with an investment firm in London. Feeling trapped from the same daily challenges in investments, he made a pact with his best friend, moved back to Spain (and the beaches of Barcelona) to break ground on his entrepreneurial ventures, myFIVEby and Pegatin, while creating a subsidiary company, Five Fingers Company Ltd.
An adventurer, entrepreneur and business guy with a gypsy soul, Harry Marshall took the time to talk to the Rackspace Startup Program about working to fill the silence outside the congestion of your newsfeed, and building the tool that he believes the Internet was meant to be. What follows are Harry’s thoughts on building a business with a primary focus on disruption and reinvention.
What is myFIVEby’s funding strategy?
We haven’t raised money for myFIVEby. Securing early-stage investment in Spain is difficult for startups, and especially so if your initial focus favors community and product development over revenue.
As an alternative to raising money from investors, we did two things. Firstly, we bootstrapped, making use of the many brilliant services available to startups, like the Rackspace Startup Program, and offering equity instead of a pay-check to a fourth team member, in return for his contribution. Secondly, knowing that a bootstrapping startup can only survive for so long, we setup another company called Pegatin. It took us a week or so to launch, including a day building the website and several days to find suppliers. It’s proving quite popular so far, and should allow us to fund at least the early stages of myFIVEby. It’s also teaching us many valuable lessons about selling a product online.
How was the myFIVEby product developed?
Product development and design at myFIVEby is a process. We never made an initial wireframe, but rather developed as we went based on intuition, tests and research. The advantage of working like this is freedom. If you set a plan or a design in stone too early on, you limit yourself to what you know at the start, which is usually not very much. We discovered that it was much better to build features with the knowledge that they would probably be changed later, whether by slowly evolving into something better, or being removed entirely. A disadvantage of this approach is that it can take slightly longer, though I would almost always expect the product to be better as a result.
What challenges did myFIVEby run into?
A challenge we faced at the beginning was that people didn’t understand what we were doing. We said that there was no good place to create and share original content on the web. Facebook has well established content norms already, and blogging is too complicated, and often isolated, for most people. People thought we were crazy to want to build something new. We listened to them, but considered their advice in the context of what we knew and the research we’d done. Ultimately, we knew myFIVEby was worth striving for. Later, when a well-known competitor launched something similar, based on similar principles as myFIVEby, we knew we’d made the right decision.
What were the ‘What to do’ and ‘What not to do’ while building your startup?
Five “What to dos” I’ve learned are:
1. Get feedback early and often. 2. Design matters and should be treated as an on-going, user-centric process. 3. When team members feel good, they work harder and better. 4. Through the good and the bad, keep moving. 5. Face issues head on. Don’t procrastinate.
And five “What not to dos” are:
1. Don’t think of advice as a be-all and end-all. It’s just an input like any other, to be considered but not necessarily taken. 2. Don’t get annoyed at differences of opinion in the team (which will undoubtedly occur, unless you’re a team of one!). Be constructive and pragmatic. 3. Don’t forget about the wider world. Even before the launch when you’re developing, it’s imperative to communicate what you’re doing. 4. Don’t forget that, in many cases, you’ll learn more by trying than researching. 5. Don’t worry about making mistakes.
What were the good, the bad and the ugly of establishing myFIVEby?
The good: When we finished first version of myFIVEby, we pitched a few journalists to get some early feedback, and ended up getting covered by one of the largest global tech publications. The responses we received from early testers were really positive, and that felt great.
Overall, working at a startup is fun and really challenges you. I’ve learned a lot more than I did when I was working at a corporate firm in London; not only about business, but about myself, other people and life in general.
The bad: I’ve found that startup life is a little like a rollercoaster ride, with high highs and low lows. For me, that took some getting used to, and I’ve had to remind myself many times that both good and bad periods are short lived and that the important thing is to push forward. As long as you feel you’re on the right path, it’s all good.
The ugly: Working at a self-funded startup doesn’t allow for a particularly lavish lifestyle in the short term! Fortunately, we’re based in Barcelona, an incredible city with amazing weather, beautiful beaches and plenty to do without spending a thing.
What straight up business advice would give to a startup?
1. If you can’t get funding from investors, set something up yourselves. It’s possible to do fairly quickly and, if you’re passionate about the product, can be fun. It will also teach you many new lessons.
2. Be in contact with users and potential customers all the time, not only to focus your development initiatives, but to learn about and secure access once you’re ready to put something out there. Just building a great product is not enough, as customers just won’t find it by themselves.
3. You’re unlikely to always find yourself in the ideal situation. Startups look sleek and cool from the outside, but are actually hard work, rocky and sometimes stressful, albeit fun and worthwhile. The important things are to consistently push forward as a team, and strive to create something you care about.
The Rackspace Startup Program thanks our favorite Lancaster U alumni, Harry Marshall, for taking the time out of his busy schedule to enlighten us on how myFIVEby is combining the convenience and community of a social network with the creative focus and substance of a blogging platform. For more insight on hosting your startup on the Rackspace Cloud platform backed by Fanatical Support™, contact the Space Cowboys today.