Sometimes last week, I had a conversation with one of the co-founders of Six3, an easy way to communicate with friends and family through video messaging.
Could you give us some background information about yourself?
During the dot-com bubble in the late nineties I worked at a company called Forrester Research in the US and ever since I’ve been very interested in startups. It wasn’t until last year that I finally found an idea for a business and a set of co-founders that I was really able to do something with.
Did you start any business growing up?
When I left Forrester, I joined a very small marketing agency called Frukt and during my time there grew the company from about 3-4 people to almost 40 people over 4-5 years. Working with a small agency growing that fast is very interesting because they’re very people driven, which isn’t talked about much in the product-focused startup world. Your people are your product.
Where did you start your career?
My work at Forrester Research involved the high level analysis of markets and big technology dynamics. While and whilst working there, I felt like I wanted to work on some of the challenges that we were talking about with our clients.
The disruption the internet was creating, and also the opportunities it opened up. I later moved to work with Frukt and got the opportunity to work really closely with record labels and other companies trying to navigate their way through the changes in music so that was one step closer.
I saw that you worked at Nokia as well, how was that experience for you?
I wanted to work for an organisation that had put a big bet into digital music, and I was working very closely with the music management team who were managing that bet. The upside was that I was very focused on a particular product, the downside is that it was hard to be innovative and disruptive within an 80,000 person organization. I learnt a lot during my 3 and a half years in Nokia but it became clear that I wanted to do something smaller and more nimble and around the same time a good friend of mine came to me and pitched me the idea of Six3.
How did the idea for Six3 come about?
One of my co-founder in the business is Leigh Middleton, Leigh is a busy creative guy, and after he had a son, Leigh and his partner started looking for a way to communicate with their friends and family because they wanted to share their son’s experience growing up. He knew that video was the most powerful way of communicating, we know from Skype video calls that video let’s you see where somebody is and you get the non-verbal communication that you don’t get through email and text. The problem that they found is that most of their communication was being done in the form of messages like emails and text messages, but no one had made it easy or fun to communicate with video messages.
The challenge was, can we create a system that lets people send short beautiful video messages and make it incredibly easy for people to reply using whatever device that they have, PC, iPhone, Smartphone? Leigh’s strength is in design and not just superficial design but in user experience thinking. My background is obviously in the marketing space, but we needed a technologist. We were lucky to be introduced to a guy called Simon Frost who was previously the technical architect of the BBC iPlayer. We went out for beers with Simon several times just to talk to him about Six3 to see if he would be interested in joining us on our crazy mission and it turned out he was and then we felt like we had a team.
Getting a technical person from the get-go is always so fundamental to the development growth of a startup, you guys could have decided to outsource the development or the technical side of things, why was it so important to get a CTO onboard?
We needed someone with the technical expertise to build the platform, but also someone who could work with us to continually refine and enhance the user experience as we learned more from our users. The world is full of technology for moving videos around, but what doesn’t exist is a productised form of those technologies that make it incredibly easy and appealing for people to share video messages. An obvious analogy is when you look at Instagram, they are lots of ways of sending pictures to people but Instagram built a product that made it incredibly easy and incredibly compelling.
For Six3 we knew we needed a CTO that could help us deliver that product experience and we’re also working on the bleeding edge of what 3G networks can do, what smartphones can do and we knew we needed someone really heavyweight who understood not only how to build it, but how to build something that was economically viable.
What would say has been your biggest challenge since starting the business?
I always say that the biggest challenge is just starting. Its quitting the job, convincing yourself, convincing your partner or your friends and family that you’re not completely crazy and actually getting started. Once you get over that hump, it kinds of develops its own momentum and we’ve been very lucky with Six3, we have consistently iterated the product, attracted more users and been recognised by the industry.
You talked about iterating, getting the products out and getting traction - how have you been to do all these?
While I was in the US, several people mentioned that the UK and Europe produce beautiful products that are often not well marketted, we took that onboard and have tried to really focus on the marketing side of things recently. In the next few months, you’ll be seeing increased integration into Facebook, partnerships with artists and thanks to our relationship with Telefonica’s Wayra program, we’ll also be talking to mobile operators about potential partnerships.
How have you gone about funding the business so far?
We started out using our own savings and we then brought on a small friends and family round of investment to get the product completed and we are just working our way through the remainder of that. We’re finalising a small capital investment as part of the Wayra programme and we’re raising a further round for a big push on the marketing and to get the product out to some more platforms.
What would you say has been biggest lesson that you’ve learnt so far?
One of the most challenging things is to avoid getting stuck in your own bubble and that means constantly finding ways to listen to your users and to get more and more feedback and to act on that feedback in a timely way You need a high level of self confidence to start a venture like this but you also need to have a lot of humility with it and to listen to your market and that’s a very difficult balance to strike sometimes and we’re getting better and better as we go along.
What other advices would you like to give to young entrepreneurs just starting on their entrepreneurial journey?
The best advice I could give to other entrepreneurs is to be extremely careful whose advice you listen to!