I recently had the opportunity of interviewing the Co-founder of Fantasy Shopper - Chris Prescott. He talks about his crazy journey so far as an entrepreneur, especially with starting Fantasy Shopper.
This is the interview.
Hi Chris, how are you doing? Great to have you on YHP?
Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure to have Fantasy Shopper featured on YHP. I’m actually doing great thanks, a few days off over Christmas has enabled me to recharge my batteries, so I’m raring to go again now after a rather busy 2011!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I studied Computer Science with a focus on AI at Exeter University, initially wanting to build robots, but the cynic in me decided to not risk an unfilled life chasing unobtainable AI ideologies. So instead, I opted for a more commercial path focussing on web development and digital marketing. I did this for a few years in between traveling and then decided to come home (to Exeter) to build Fantasy Shopper.
Tell us about Fantasy Shopper? How the idea come about?
The initial idea was going to be called Shop Shares and came to me a few years earlier. Shop Shares’ goal was to ‘turn life into a catwalk’. I wanted to develop a platform that would enable the purchaser of a clothing item to automatically become a micro affiliate for that item. I wanted to reward offline peer to peer marketing but soon discovered it would prove to be a logistical nightmare.
I shelved the idea and forgot all about it until one day, literally a few years later, I dreamt of a solution: if all the transactions were fantasy, the logistical problems of Shop Shares would become redundant while maintaining the same emotional experience. I bolted up in bed, went straight to the stationers, bought a big pad of A3 paper and spent the whole day in a coffee shop sketching out Fantasy Shopper - we still have those original sketches on our office wall today :)
What is Fantasy Shopper?
Fantasy Shopper centralises, socialises and gamifies online shopping. It’s widely reported that while consumers appreciate the utility value of shopping online, they feel it lacks the hedonic experience of real world shopping - consumers want to be social and they want to be entertained. We see social gaming as a solution to this, but at Fantasy Shopper we’re evolving social gaming by making it relevant through the incorporation of real world product data enabling players to capture real world value.
Tell me about the early stage of turning it from an idea into what it is now, some of the challenges you faced?
Fortunately for us, quite literally every person we spoke to about Fantasy Shopper just totally got the concept and vision straight away, so we were always pushing on open doors. That helped us get momentum but what I have learned this past year is that it’s all about execution and execution takes ALOT of hard work. We each averaged around 90-100 hours per week consistently all year and maintaining that was our biggest challenge. You have great days and you have bad days and startup life is an absolute roller coaster.
One thing that always helped us was to remind ourselves on a great day that a bad day was just around the corner, that helped us stay grounded and focussed. Then on a bad day, we’d remind ourselves that a great day was just around the corner, that helped us stay positive. Our motto is “get shit done” and we just work our way through all the challenges with sheer perseverance and determination. One word of advice to anyone thinking about doing an ambitious startup is to make sure you absolutely love it because it will completely take over your life, physically, emotionally and financially!
How have you guys been able to fund it?
We had the absolute pleasure of being invited onto the best accelerator program in Europe, HackFwd, founded by XING founder Lars Hinrichs. We’ve been the only UK startup invited onto HackFwd so far and the support we’ve received through HackFwd these past 12 months has been absolutely mind blowing.
HackFwd provided us with around £170k of seed funding which is designed to replace our salaries, but we opted to live like paupers on virtually zero pay and invest every penny we could into Fantasy Shopper. We also won Born Global (Southwest Business competition) which gave us £20k, IC Tomorrow (UKTI competition) which gave us £10k and most recently Amazon Global Startup Challenge in Silicon Valley where we beat 1500 other startups from 78 countries to become the first ever non US winner which provided us with $100k and lots of other goodies.
You guys just only launched in October and already having so much impact, how have you managed to do that?
Firstly, we have a great product. Without a great product, we wouldn’t have made any impact. Secondly, we’re absolutely fearless and that goes a long way. The culture within our team is one of complete confidence and we’re all prepared to run through brick walls to achieve success.
You mentioned above about Amazon Web Services’ global Start-up Challenge, tell me about your experience in the challenge and eventually winning it?
It was pretty crazy to be honest. Dan (my co-founder) and I were in London the night before we flew to Silicon Valley and literally didn’t get any sleep that night. We then missed the next night through travel and arrived in San Jose around 4pm having not slept for about 50 hours. There was a cocktail reception party at the hotel from 6pm to 8pm and after that, all the other finalists went to bed while me and Dan ended up going into town clubbing again until I think 5am.
Our first judging panel was at 7am which was a super intensive hour long scrutiny from all the Amazon VPs. Throughout the day we had all sorts of other work sessions and then I had to present on stage at 8pm, 13 hours after the first judging panel and with literally about 1 hour sleep of the last 90 and lots of jet lag and hangover thrown in for good measure.
It was a live web stream and the physical audience was probably around 1000 people and I was really struggling to stay awake by that point! We always promise ourselves that we’ll behave sensibly, but it never happens! Anyway, it was a happy ending because we won the Golden Hammer and leveraged its capabilities very well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyq1-RGO_Rs
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
There have been LOADS of fantastic moments already. The competition wins were great every time. The HackFwd Build Events are always amazing. The recent financing round produced a beautiful conclusion. Meeting each new member of the Fantasy Shopper team for the first time was always very special.. hmmmm.. let me think.. I guess one that really stands out was the day my partner Andrea went into labour. She was having contractions and I had a really important video pitch to do with Dan in the office that morning, so I promised her I’d be back shortly and got up to the office as fast as I could. I asked the organisers to rearrange the schedule allowing us to pitch first instead of last and had to explain my reasons why.
I pitched it hard and fast, left the office asap, picked up Andrea and we went straight to the hospital and Isabel was born a few hours later! Luckily, Andrea is super supportive!! Note: try to avoid launching an ambitious startup, having a baby and moving apartments in the same fortnight, it’s challenging to say the least!! :P
What can we be expecting from you guys in 2012?
Hopefully more of the same but on a bigger scale. We’ll have to just wait and see because we take things one task at a time.
If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to him on Twitter.