I recently caught up with Andy Ashburner, founder of Caffeinehit and more recently, Pin Drop app. In our interview, Andy shares his story from his time at Yahoo to Apple Corps, then MTV and finally Caffeinehit.
Pin Drop came out of Caffeinehit as a side project, v2 was released in January 2012.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
Well I grew up in a leafy town in Sussex. I went through the motions of school and college with no real idea about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I still remember the turning point. I was sitting in an art class one afternoon and my teacher told me I’d be a good Graphic Designer. I had no idea what a Graphic Designer did at the time (I was only 13) so I started to look in to what was involved and what you need to become one. I guess you can say the rest is history, I studied Art at A level, did an Art Foundation course and then did a degree in Graphic Design & Advertising.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I was always looking to make a quick buck when I was a kid, some sort of Del Boy-esque scheme. There’s no real history of other people running their own companies in the family so I’ve been a bit of an enigma in that respect.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
Hmmm... That’s a tough one to be honest. I guess my Dad was always pretty inspiring. He got me into computers when I was young and bought be my first copy of Photoshop (that’s paid for itself off by now I think!). He always did the right thing and however busy he was he’d always take the time to support what I was doing.
What was the inspiration behind Caffeinehit? How did the idea come about?
I remember the original idea for the name came about one afternoon with a friend. I wanted a domain for my portfolio and didn’t want it to be simply my name but something that I liked. We’d literally just been out for a coffee so that was it... Caffeinehit was born back in the .com dark ages on 1999.
Since then it’s grown from being my personal portfolio to being the company website and portfolio.
So Andy , what is Caffeinehit? What are you guys are trying to solve?
Caffeinehit initially started as a design house, specializing in web and graphics. Since 2007 the world of design has changed and we’ve got a reputation for our UI work for mobile and web. The company has slowly grown and now encompasses mobile and web development to offer a full 360 service for anyone looking to leverage their brand or company online and on mobile.
What were you doing before you founded Caffeinehit?
I’ve kind of stumbled across my previous jobs. My first job out of university was as a designer by Yahoo! back in 2002 to work on their World Cup creative. I’d never ‘really’ done any web design work as I was self taught so it really was a bit of a learning curve for me.
Having worked at Yahoo! for a year I was head-hunted by Apple Corps, the Beatles management company. I grew up listening to the Beatles so it was a no brainer for me. Needless to say this was one of the more surreal jobs you could have, your work being signed off by Neil Aspinall, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Very odd!
It was at Apple that I got started to realize that I wanted to focus on web design. Finding a job when you haven’t been a web designer before proved to be tricker than I thought. Luckily I got my break when MTV offered me a job working across their various web properties. Again, another surreal and amazing place to work. Not every day Will Ferrell and Paul McCartney (again) walk past your desk.
Having been working freelance for a number of years I decided to take the plunge and take it full time with Caffeinehit.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
I guess it’s juggling personal time and work time, being busy and not being busy. It’s really hard to keep up a constant stream of work. You find yourself crazily busy for a month and then you’re sat there thinking “Shit, now what” and it all starts over again...
I was lucky in the fact that I’d been freelancing for a long time and had a pretty good list of contacts. If you’re starting from scratch it’s opening those doors and meeting the right people that’s difficult. Whatever anyone says it’s definitely about who you know. Anyone says otherwise they’re lying!
How were you able to get clients for the business in the first couple of months?
Like I said that was down to the outside work freelance projects I was doing. I had a pretty low-fi desk I was renting in Kings Cross (whatever you do don’t work from home, you’ll go mental).
The few clients I had kept me going and allowed me to network and find new projects. Within 6 months I was working half the week in Putney for an Index startup and the other half the week working in Amsterdam for another startup.
What was your breakthrough project and how did it come about?
There’s been a few projects that have got the most amount of interest. One was the design work we did for Ryan @ MyBuilder and the other the work we did for the lovely Poppy @ WIWT. The work with MyBuilder came about through a referral and the WIWT project came about through meeting Poppy at Open Soho years ago.
Raising money is always such a hot topic when starting a business, How have you been able to fund the business?
I’ve funded the business 100% myself so far. I didn’t really pay myself anything for the first few years to help scale the team. It might have been an idea to take in some money but it’s hard when you’re an agency as investors can’t really realize their investment unless you take on huge amounts of cash.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
I think it has to be who you hire. I’ve had a lot of fun working with the guys here for the last 4 years and (don’t tell them this). If you surround yourself with nice, smart people that you can happily spend time with day in, day out then.
I had some help with my first techie hire from Kieran @ Playfire, I still owe him some drinks for that actually...
Who has the been your most successful client or your favourite?
It has to be Poppy @ WIWT. We’ve known each other for years and since setting up WIWT we’d always spoken about making it something more than just a website for her outfits but to build a community around it. She’s one of the most honest, driven people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. What’s most exciting is that you know that what she’s done so far hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s going to happen with WIWT, very exciting.
You seem to have worked with some of the most exciting startups in the UK and also with some really big brands and companies? What would you say has been the key to your success?
I guess it comes back to networking. Get yourself in front of the right people or at least people you think can put you in touch with the right people. You’d be amazed at who knows who and in London the scene is so small everyone really does know everyone.
Other than networking happy clients go a long way, about 90% of our work comes through client referrals and the other 10% through Google.
Before we round up, tell me about the Pin Drop app project, how it all come about?
Pin Drop was something I came up with at the end of 2010. I discovered you could drop pins on Google maps on the iPhone and thought it would be a great way of reminding myself about things and places. I was happily using it to drop pins all over the place only to discover that it was constantly over-writing the same pin each time.
I looked around the app store and realized there was nothing really catering for private location bookmarking on the iPhone. We started work on it and released it in to the app store in March 2011. We worked on it in-between client projects throughout the year and released a v2 in January 2012. Since January the uptake and interest in the app has gone a little crazy.
What your plan for it? How’s the feedback been for it? Are you planning to focus on it full-time?
We don’t have any solid plans for it as yet, the feedback has been amazing and we’ve been having some exciting conversations with some pretty big names. Other than that all I can say is watch this space :)
What can we be expecting from Caffeinehit/Pin Drop in 2012?
We’ve got some seriously exciting things in the pipeline for both but nothing’s set in stone right now. Some of the people we’re talking to are (without a doubt) going to be the biggest startups in 2012/13.
We’re definitely going to be growing the team, that’s for sure. How much I’m not sure, I’m guessing Greece is going to have the final say with that...
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
-Knowledge (knowledge is everything)
-Networking (your network will open up opportunities you couldn’t dream of)
-Life (work isn’t everything)