Myuran and Rozbeh have been friends since their time in Nottingham and soon started learning basic HTML and CSS using online tutorials at the age of 15, creating a number of small websites along the way.
The two friends soon went off to study Computing degrees at different universities, Rozbeh at the University of Nottingham, and Myuran at Imperial College London.
After finding their day-to-day work unchallenging, with Rozbeh being a web junkie and constantly finding it time consuming to keep track of all the websites he browsed, finding the process rigid and the experience dull. They decided to challenge and push themselves, creating Rolio.
Myuran Balendran and Rozbeh Nassab are the co-founders of Rolio, a free web application that aggregates real-time content from your favourite websites, including Facebook and Twitter, into one visual interface, eliminating the need for multiple browser windows.
Hi Rozbeh & Myuran, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
We are both doing very well thanks. We would like to take this opportunity to thank YHP for this interview.
Can you give us some background information about yourselves?
Rozbeh: We were school friends in Nottingham, England, who both developed a strong interest in computing and business. At the age of 15 we started learning basic HTML and CSS using online tutorials, and created a number of small websites. We started advertising and affiliate marketing on these sites, and soon began receiving income which was a fantastic feeling for two school kids. This led to bigger things. While still at school, we created an online business called CheapEuroCars which acted as a middle-man between official car dealers in Europe, and UK buyers who wanted to import brand new cars and save 20-40%. Although our market soon disintegrated when the UK brought their retail prices in line with the EU, it gave us a great understanding of what it took to create and manage a business.
Unsurprisingly, we both went on to study Computing degrees at university, myself at the University of Nottingham, and Myuran at Imperial College London. Subsequently, Myuran spent 7 years as a software developer in the Investment Banking Industry, while I had been a freelance web and graphics designer primarily within the healthcare sector for a similar period of time.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
Myuran: Neither of us felt challenged by our day-to-day work and both wanted to push ourselves further. We both knew each other’s capabilities; myself in programming and Rozbeh with design, and we knew we had the necessary skill-set to design and develop the concept of Rolio into the state it is now. The partnership was key.
How did the idea for Rolio come about?
Rozbeh: I am what may be termed a web junkie. I browse lots of websites, and always found it time consuming to keep track of them all. While I did try many RSS readers, I always found them to be very rigid and the experience to be a little dull. Having spoken with Myuran, who shared my views, we decided to try and create something a bit more flexible, and a bit cooler, and Rolio was conceived in November 2011.
We knew we had to integrate content from social media. And we wanted to create a really intuitive, visual, and user friendly interface with a focus on speed. Rolio had to be super fast and super simple, and had to let users instantly get to the content they really wanted to see. We launched the website into Private Beta in March 2012, and went live with the web version in July 2012.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Myuran: As we were both working prior to Rolio, the hardest part was leaving our full time professions to focus full-time on a web start-up, forfeiting income from our regular jobs. We both knew of the risks involved, especially given the current economic climate, but after seeing the end-product and having read the feedback we are very happy to have taken the risk.
What is Rolio? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Rozbeh: There are an estimated 2.3 billion web users, and with the growth of the internet and the number of resources that are now available online, it's becoming increasing hard for people to manage this information overload. Rolio has been created to solve this information overload problem.
Rolio is a free web application that aggregates real-time content from your favourite websites, including Facebook and Twitter, into one visual interface, eliminating the need for multiple browser windows. Rolio allows you to choose from thousands of websites worldwide, and add RSS for anything we don't cover. Connection of your social media accounts allows content from your Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline to be seamlessly integrated with content from whichever websites you choose.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Myuran: Rolio was designed and developed in-house by myself and Rozbeh with zero funding. We knew we had the skill-set to develop the product and did now want to give away large equity in our company to Venture Capitalists during the development phase.
The site was developed over a period of 6 months and neither of us took any salary during this time. All external costs like domain name, initial hosting, trademarks etc were paid out of our own pockets.
Rolio was invited to join the Microsoft BizSpark Plus program, designed to provide high-potential startups with offers, products and services from Microsoft including a $60,000 sponsorship of cloud resources. This meant our two major costs (development and infrastructure) had been taken care of.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their startups?
Rozbeh: Make sure you research all available options and choose the right one for your startup whether it be funding from family, incubators, VCs, or crowdfunding. Each entrepreneur’s circumstances will be different. In our case, we decided against the VC funding route in the early stages as we did not want to give away large equity in our company to Venture Capitalists during the development phase, which we felt we had the right skill-set to complete ourselves. As a side note, I would also recommend looking into money saving opportunities. In our case, being accepted onto the Microsoft Bizspark Plus program has been a great help to us as the cloud resources provided under the scheme would have been a major cost for us.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Myuran: The first few months were very exciting for us. After an initial period of uncertainty, it was a fantastic feeling seeing the business and user base grow on a daily basis. When we saw the users connected to Rolio from all over the World including the UK, Canada, Bolivia, Spain, France, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia all online at the same time, we got a real sense of satisfaction from our work!
How did you initially get traction?
Rozbeh: Apart from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we contacted various technology blogs and submitted Rolio to the numerous startup review sites available. We found this was a great method of attracting users to the site and we were fortunate enough to get featured on International sites too ranging from Brazil to Poland to Japan! We attended technology conferences and exhibited too which gave us an opportunity to demonstrate our product to people in the industry, ultimately leading to more press features.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Myuran: The fundamental key for expansion has been to excel ahead of the rapid changes in technology, rather than move along with it. The technology industry is so cut throat that if you fall behind then you are at risk of suffering greatly no matter how good your product is when you launch it. We are constantly looking at implementing new features and new platform support for Rolio and we feel this is essential in aiding growth.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Rozbeh: Without a doubt, the development of an idea from initial sketches on paper, into a fully working product with a global user base which has positive feedback. The user feedback has been overwhelming and certainly is a highlight making the whole entrepreneurial journey all the more worthwhile.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Rolio team for 2013?
Myuran: We are very excited about 2013, especially with the launch of our mobile application which is due for release very soon. We have been working tirelessly to get the app launched and now we are in the final stages, we cannot wait to release the app to the public. The app will be available on iOS, Android as well as other platforms. In addition to the app, we have many new features that we will be we adding to Rolio.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Rozbeh: The first piece of advice would be to not give up, and just to keep pushing. If there is a particular area in which you are struggling, make an extra effort to learn as much as possible about that area. There are so many free courses you can attend, and there is so much information in general on the internet that you can leverage.
Secondly, you have to be patient. The process of launching a startup from scratch is a lengthy and tough process with many obstacles. Success is not achievable overnight.
Finally, be innovative and original. Competition is fierce in this day and age and unless your product stands out in the crowd, it may never reach the heights you hope for, or feel it warrants.
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!