I recently started using a great app called YPlan. The company started in Feb 2012 but has just recently been launched for London in the last couple months. YPlan gives you a list of events local to you for that day or the next catering for the spontaneous amongst you. It's really simple and lets you buy tickets straight from the app. I spoke to one of the founders Rytis Vitkauskas last week and below is what we discussed:Chris Leydon / Hacker News London
First of all, can you give me a bit of a background to yourself?
So before founding YPlan, I was the vice president at Summit Partners, which is a venture capital and growth equity fund. I was leading software investment there, and I did that for 3.5 years. Before that, I did my MBA at Harvard Business School and then yet prior to that, I lived, studied and worked a bit in Germany, up North in Germany, and then still prior to that, I was in Lithuania, basically going to school, and then running my first start-up by the age of 14. I was also a DJ there, and also organized events and what-not. So that’s briefly about me.
Wow, OK, so you started your first company at 14. How was that?
Yea, that was an excellent experience. It was a very simple business – basically assembling, fixing, and upgrading computers, that’s what I did as a teenager – from age 14 to age 19. It was a fantastic experience – fantastic entrepreneurial experience, but obviously a very simple business. Then I decided to move from Lithuania (Lithuania is where I'm from originally), and go and study abroad and learn more about entrepreneurship, and go and do a launch of a big business. So that’s how it all came about finally in YPlan.
Cool, so can you give me a sort of little run-down about what YPlan is?
Sure. YPlan is the nights going out app. We allow people to get inspired by a great event, book it, and go on the same day. So we say that YPlan is serendipity at its finest. You know – you’re sitting there at work at 2 or 3pm in the afternoon, thinking “oh Gosh, I have a free evening tonight. What am I going to do – am I going to go on a date with my other half?”… and then whoop – YPlan – “let me check it out”. That’s what the name suggests – why would you plan when you have YPlan? You fire up YPlan, you browse around, you see an event that you like - you know, be it a music event, the theatre, a cinema event, a wine tasting event, a champagne tasting, a silent disco, and you like it… click, click, you’re booked, and you’re going. We also make sure that it’s easy for you to share the event as well as the app with your friends through Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging, and therefore we encourage your friends to join YPlan as well. That’s why we have amazing way round with what’s going on with the app. Just a lot of action on Twitter and Facebook – people sharing and commenting on each others’ shares about YPlan etc.
We’re also proud to be the world’s first mobile only event booking app, which is really exciting, and we started in London, so London is the home if you will. Now we’re doing mobile only.
So what was the inspiration behind this idea?
The inspiration was essentially when my co-founder and I went through a very thorough ideation process. YPlan was ultimately idea number 51, and we were testing a bunch of ideas along the way, and YPlan just kept coming back with extremely positive results, and so we just couldn't negate that we’d probably stumbled onto something fantastic. And the inspiration was twofold. Essentially we were looking at what’s going on with the world in terms of the big trends, so what is changing in the world, and mobile trend, and there will be a huge trend, so not only do people use more and more phones, but they consume more and more of real world through their phones. And then on the other hand we were looking at people’s activities day-to-day, so listening to music, going out, dining out, other activities and dating – just talking to friends, and looking at the intersect with trends in the world and what ways the daily activities.
The intersect of going out and mobile just kind of all came together one day when we were looking at that intersect, and we realised actually (we were hanging out in San Francisco at that point), we figured out if we wanted to do something tonight (and we did want to do something tonight) we had no idea where we could find out, book, and go and do something cool and interesting. We literally had no idea. It just dawned on us that there needs to be a service that allows people to go out on the day, so be truly spontaneous, in a very easy and kind of curated manner. So rather than listing hundreds and hundreds of events, I actually just want to know about a few cool events I can go to – so there are tickets, and I can buy them and I can go. So that’s the job that YPlan does – to consumers, it allows people to go out on the day.
Awesome, that’s quite interesting actually that you've sort of done all this research beforehand and looked into where the gaps are as opposed to just falling into an opportunity as a lot of people maybe do.
No, we didn't dream that up in a shower. It was a very structured process of coming up with it, and then we spent a lot of time validating it. We MVP tested for a long time before we put in the first line of code, frankly. Well, that long time means for 3 or 4 weeks, but we just did it hardcore. Whatever we did, it just came back with flying colours and so at that point we developed a little prototype of the app that we did in about a month’s time so my co-founder Viktoras Jucikas developed a prototype which we then gave to a small group of Londoners – about 30 Londoners, which were friends of friends. So not immediate friends, but people a little bit further away, and we gave it to them, and we knew how frequent do they use it, whether they were willing to book, what kind of events they were looking at etc. and we just learned so much and got so much feedback. And all of that just supported our feeling that we’re on to something really big here. And that helped when we decided to go out and fund raise.
As you know, we closed through the seed round this past summer for Wellington Partners, who are the investors behind Spotify, Halo, Life Bookings, and a number of other great companies as well as from Octopus Investments – the guys who are behind grave.com, Secret Escapes, and a few other fantastic businesses, and also from a number of business angels, including Sherry Coutu, who’s on the board of advisor's for LinkedIn, Brent Hoberman who’s the founder of lastminute.com, Andy Phillips, who’s the founder of booking.com, and a number of others.
So how did you find that experience of going and raising funding? Was this your first time that you had to go and do that?
It’s the first time that we had to go fundraising. It definitely helped that I came from the kitchen, so to say – that in my previous life I was in the venture capital world, so that helped me understand how the community thinks, and helped with a few introductions early on. But ultimately when you get into the room with the venture capitalists, it’s all about the substance and the research and the data points that you have, and that you can prove that your idea is going to change the world and is going to be a billion dollar company. It’s a lot of hussle.
When I speak at universities, people often ask me “how are you successful in fundraising, or how can you be successful in fund raising?”, and there’s really no clear-cut formula to it, but one approach we took was, or a twofold approach was we did a lot of homework every single time, so before every single meeting, we knew inside out who we were meeting and then secondly we’d just work our tails off. If we had questions, we made sure we responded to those questions from investors within like 2 hours, or within 10 minutes if it’s a simple question. And we just took it very seriously, and the investment community appreciates that, because they understand that this is the same rigour that you will approach your business with. That was the journey.
What would you say has been your hardest challenge so far in running YPlan?
Well, we overcome every single challenge that we find along the way. Challenges are plentiful. Every single day you’re up against a new one, which keeps it exciting, but also keeps everybody on their toes. It’s a marketplace model that we have, which means we need to have a large enough number of really exquisite events, but at the same time we need to have enough user base so that the event partners, who give us the allocation to events, that they are happy with the amount of sales that we do for them. So that has been something that we've spent a lot of time thinking about, and hopefully I think we've actually got it to perfection, but it was very not straightforward to get there.
You always worry about your customers being happy, and having a fantastic experience throughout, and that has really paid off for us. If you look at what’s been going on Twitter, if you look at our app store reviews, people rave about YPlan, because often when they were interacting with us, we made sure that their experience was special and that really helps to overcome the difficulties.
And then ultimately, every business is only as good as its people, so finding and hiring a fantastic team was the number 1 challenge I would say we had along the way, but we’re really lucky to have found phenomenal guys – we hired the team from Time Out, from Airbnb, from Get Taxi, from See Tickets, from Last Second Tickets, and from Top Table, and it’s a phenomenal, phenomenal team that we've assembled, and when you don’t have anything at all – not even a product on the market, it is really a tricky path to try and find and then ultimately convince people to join.
You need to be quite persuasive, but also find the right people frankly, who are willing to go with you and take the challenge and jump off the cliff, and assemble the plane on the way down together with you.
Those people that you found, they were all in some great places. Did you sell them purely on the idea?
It was multiple things. Obviously, people are in well-paying jobs and are doing well already with their lives, so what you have to do is find somebody who is really entrepreneurial and really itching to do more and has the creativity and space to go – that’s very important – just finding the right characters, and when you find them, then it is a matter of selecting an agreement that makes sense – with these parties, you cannot compete with bigger companies on salary, but you can compete on culture, you can compete on flexibility and responsibility, and you definitely can compete on equity as well.
One thing we did very differently with YPlan early on was we decided that everybody at YPlan is going to be a shareholder. And that vindicates to this day – we have 17 people now, and every single employee is a shareholder in YPlan, and that just makes sure that everybody is 100% aligned around the vision and that we have people really working as part of a team. One thing I'm really proud of is people own what they do – it’s not a job for them – they don’t just come and leave – they own what they do. They deeply care that what they do is of great quality – not good quality – and that really helps us throughout, and is the only way to build a great business, I think.
Cool, so being a startup founder, you must go through so many ups and downs in running a business. What motivates you through those down periods?
Just by my nature, I’m a very positive person. I work very hard, and expect the same from the team as well, but the way I look at the world – I’m just an extremely positive person, and my personality – show me a glass, and it’s always half-full, not half empty. I just dislike negativity generally. What also helps is that we’re just 2 founders. For a solo founder, it would be an extraordinary challenge to build a huge business like we are already, in no time really. We basically only closed the investment round last summer, and we were 2 people as the founders. Look at us 3 or 4 months later down the line and we’re 17 and ready to launch. Of course we go through ups and downs every single day, and it really helps that it’s the two of us. I have been great friends with Viktoras for over 10 years now – we met at university on the basketball court actually, and remained close friends ever since.
Wow, that’s a great story. And then finally – what advice would you give to somebody who’s looking to start a business now?
Sure, well a couple of things are quite straightforward, but they really make a big difference. First of all, don’t try to do it solo – there’s a lot of value in having a sparring partner, to talk through your ideas with… especially if that person is not very similar to you. What I always do is I encourage people to find a co-founder who has a complementary skill set, and you may be thinking similarly when looking at the world, your values may be similar, you will both be on the same honesty level etc., but you need to have different skill sets. And that just helps tremendously when you’re looking to solve problems that come the way of the start-up. These problems are always undefined, and always unclear what to do, and there’s always not enough data, and having complementary skill sets and ways of thinking is exceptionally helpful.
And then ultimately I think it’s important to do the homework. If you think a particular idea has legs, I probably would not advise you spending developing that idea. Rather I would spend a week developing a landing page, and just push it out in the market, buy some Google AdWords traffic for £50 and see what happens. So, just simplify to the absolutely stupid level – that’s what we like to say. Our entire approach basically on development team, we’re saying keep the design, keep the interface slick and simple, and the same thing should go with testing out ideas. Keep it simple, keep it lean, you know read Eric Ries Lean Startups, and that will save a lot of time and give you the validation points you need in order to be really convinced yourself. Not only convinced by way of “oh yea! I really think this will work”, but by way of “oh actually, I can see that the market is telling me that it will work”, because between the two of you, the market will be the one who is correct.
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