Still brimming with excitement with their inclusion as one of the 16 startups chosen to join Wayra for a 6 months intensive incubation, I sat down with one of the co-founders of TrueView, Matt Verity to find out more about their startup, his journey before TrueView and what it means to be a part of the Wayra programme.
Hi Mathew, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Really good thanks, I am losing the TrueView table tennis challenge at the moment so not in the best of moods ;-)
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am from Harrogate, North Yorkshire. I didn't work too hard at school but soon realised that when I got to University I was paying for myself so decided not to waste my time and worked the hardest I had ever done before. I went to Northumbria University to study Multimedia Computing and felt very out of place. As much as I was interested in computers and the digital landscape, the books full of C++ and HTML didn't excite me. For this reason I moved over to Multimedia Design where I found my passion for designing for the web, creating creative solutions and content that was as useful as it was engaging. I came away with a First class honors degree and a train ticket to London for our degree show and the New Designers Exhibition. I had no intention of ever moving to the big smoke, I wanted to move back to Yorkshire and work in a cool web design agency in Leeds but I knew that a week in London would be fun and would give me a chance to at least meet new people in the industry and get some feedback on my work. Plus my brother worked in London so it meant I could have a few beers with him too.
The first night of the exhibition, which incidentally we were briefed as being the most important, I spent an hour and a half chewing the ear off someone I presumed to be a creative director of some huge agency. The following day I embarrassingly saw him exhibiting his work at the Nottingham University stand which I quickly walked past and headed straight to the organisers desk to kindly ask them to hand out colour coded name labels so you can work out who is worth talking to, a scheme they implemented in later years, which being on the other side of the fence soon made me realise why most professionals opted against wearing them after being swamped with big smiles and overly complicated business cards.
The second day into the exhibition I had given up on selling my self to fellow graduates and went to Sainsbury's to get some lunch. I got a phone call from a friend who said that someone wanted to see me. After first asking whether they were from Nottingham University it was apparent that this could be a serious opportunity. And indeed it was, Mark Cridge the CEO of a digital advertising agency who was impressed with my work and wanted me to start straight away in a funny sounding place called Shoreditch, now famously renowned for style, strip joints and creativity. I accepted and joined the then 28 strong agency as a junior designer. It was 2003 and the agency had managed to ride the wave of the internet boom, bust and came away slightly bruised but full of determination and passion. I worked there for 9 years and left only this year after climbing the ladder to Associate Creative Director. The now 150 award winning agency was my family, my inspiration and my drive so it was always going to take something big to force me out of the nest.
How did the idea for TrueView come about?
My business partner and best friend Andrew moved down to London and stayed with me for a few months while he found his feet. I suggested that he should get signed up to some dating sites as a way to meet some new people and explore London, which he did, and I had the privilege of also applying my advertising skills in writing his profile. Fast forward 2 years and Andrew and I were having dinner discussing his success or lack of whilst on these sites.
The two of us had always talked at length about various ideas we had, and how one day we would go into business together and that night was when a real spark hit us. We spent the whole night discussing at length the problems with current dating sites; the static profiles, the expense and the sales like pitch that people are encouraged to do. We are a society that now lives on smartphones and we knew this was how we would be different. We would be dynamic, friendly, secure and most importantly, in your hand.
We left the restaurant with a name, a proposition and a business idea that we believed would be a revelation to a very archaic industry and we never stopped talking about it. Texting new features and ideas everyday. That is when I knew this could really work.
Why go into business?
Having an idea that was validated by so many people and organisations meant it was more than just an idea it was something that we feel solves a problem, which in turn makes it commercially viable. Having the right people in your team also makes a business. You can't go into business on your own, you just don't know everything and you need people you can rely on to make the rest of the pie. When you have the right combination of people and an idea you are truly passionate about then the idea of turning it into a business becomes exciting and possible. I am not saying you have no doubts, I am simply saying the thrill of potentially having a successful business from an idea you conjured up over a beer gives you a funny feeling inside.
What was the hardest part of starting the business?
The business has only been official now for a month yet the idea was born in 2010 so I suppose that is your answer right there. Turning the idea into a business idea is the hardest part. To be taken seriously and to show that it is an idea worth being involved with. Without a prototype of the product it was hard to sell so without a developer we relied on our own skills, I wrote and made an animation, which meant we could present the brand, the story and the product in a 2 minute video. A quick way to grab peoples attention whilst we worked our away around various start-up, networking events.
What is TrueView and what are you trying to solve?
TrueView is a dynamic, dating application for your smartphone. It allows people to build a true representation of their personality in real time by logging the things they are doing and looking at their other social media channels. We then recommend people that you have common interests with for you to look at and review their timelines to see if they are worth connecting with.
What makes it different?
Current online dating sites don't have any form of dynamic content unless it is purely to find people around you who want a 'quickie' . We want people to be able to see more of someones personality before they decide to meet them and make it easier for people to create a profile. We want people to feel ok with logging that they stay in and pay computer games because if they do that and are matched with someone that also likes playing computer games the likely hood is that they will have a lot more to talk about on a date than someone who has pretended to be a V.I.P, superstar when actually they couldn't be further from that. We are a truthful, brand that wants to promote being truthful and honest on a platform that is affordable, safe, secure and enjoyable to use.
Why the dating industry?
It wasn't like we decided on the industry and then retrofit a business idea. We have discussed so many ideas that span pretty much every industry under the sun it just happened that Andrew had experience with online dating and we identified a problem that we then devised a solution. That was one of the reasons why it felt right. We weren't just looking for an industry we were looking for innovative ways to solve problems, which utilise modern technology and behaviour
How have you been able to fund it?
We didn't need to initially. We did everything in our spare-time. We were joined by a good friend and colleague of mine. Damian being an amazing creative technologist meant we had a perfect set of skills to move the product forward without having to spend any money. After a good 6-8 months we had a demo, a website, brand and a hard working team, even it if was in Damian's kitchen.
How have you gone about getting traction to the business?
Coming from an online advertising background we pushed our story out across as many social media channels as possible, attended as many networking events as we could, begged, stole and borrowed. Anyone who could give us some PR, blog review or just introduce us to people who could we tapped up for their help.
What’s your business model?
It is massively important for us that we are seen as credible and useful and that people like using our product. We know that the online dating scene is massively over priced, on average people spend 20 a month and even the less credible, and in my opinion damn right dodgy just come across as a money making scheme. We want to be a disruptive brand that shakes up this industry. We are a business that is putting the users needs first. From launch there will be a 6 month free period moving into a subscription model after that but with a more realistic price point. We have also partnered with iVoucher to extend our service and serve people with contextual offers. We are looking to broaden this out but we believe have helpful advice, tips and offers on the app will make it even more useful.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
For us as a team it important at the moment for us that we get the product right and the brand known about. We are working hard to add in the features that we are now able to implement being a full-time business, contacting crucial people that will help put us in front of the right people and get us in the right places means we can make our small budgets work as hard as possible. Clever marketing and PR, a lean team and working in an agile fashion means we get a lot done and we are constantly trying to better ourselves and get TrueView talked about.
TrueView was one of the first batch of companies in the Wayra’s first UK academy, Tell me why you decided to apply for it and what you are expecting to get from the programme?
We applied purely because it is backed by such a huge telecommunications company that understands digital and understands us as a business. It has already opened doors to influential people, technical know how and will allow us to grow our customer base much faster than we could ever dream of. Having such a credible business backing us also gives our brand the credibility and trust we need for people to believe in us and our product.
How excited were you?
Winning funding from Wayra was an amazing feeling. It was important for us to constantly get validation for our product and being one of the 16 selected out of 1034 entries was the icing on the cake for us. We didn't stop smiling for weeks. It meant that we could all quit our full-time jobs and go for it. Working 100% on this project now means we can really push it in the direction we want to. Coming to work in a space we control and with two of my best buddies is just the best feeling. We work hard, play hard and love what we are doing so you can't get better than that.
What should we be expecting from yourself and TrueView for 2012
TrueView by the end of the year will be on the radars of the big players in the online dating world, we will have hit critical mass and the brand will of started to be recognised around large cities in the UK as the new online dating product that is re-inventing how people meet one another; the right way, a more effective way and a way that people aren't ashamed to talk about.
As for myself, well I will continue to work with my best friends to make sure this company is a huge success, so much so, that we can be enormously proud of what we have achieved in the last 2 years and start to look at what the next project may be.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If it doesn't scare you then it isn't worth pursuing.
Everything takes at least 4 times as long as you estimate it will.
Validate your idea, talk to everyone; friends, family, the woman at the supermarket, literally anyone you can. The more people you talk to the more you will understand what needs to change about the business, what is right and more importantly what is wrong.