Had you ever started a website before?
Previously, I had my own company creating websites for clients, so my background lent itself to this type of project. Sarah and I have been friends since we were about 14 and we hit upon this idea after realising that we had loads of fantastic single friends who really shouldn’t have been single at all.
The problem was, like so many people, they were reluctant to do online dating, so we changed the model and let the friends of hopeful singles describe them on their profile.
Well, once we’d identified this gap in the market we were able to develop the idea further and I began to build the website from my bedroom. We wanted a community feel to the site, so we went for a forum model, which gave it its unique selling point.
How have you been able to use Sarah’s profile to help?
I run the company day to day pretty much and Sarah has been able to get some fantastic press coverage, which has been critical. It’s a very competitive market and usually dot com companies require a huge amount of investment.
We‘ve been able to increase the profile of the site by getting some national press coverage and a couple of bits on radio, which has really helped.
You mentioned investment, how was the site funded?
It was self-funded, which can be an immense risk, and financing has been a bit hairy at times. We try to keep overheads extremely low and when you have that gut feeling that something’s going to work, I think you have to just go for it.
What has been the toughest hurdle?
I know it might sound odd, but finding office space, when we eventually needed some, was a real headache. We met lots of very unusual landlords and struggled to get what we wanted. It’s very difficult to make a commitment, not only in terms of the huge outlay that you have to make, but also because you often have to sign a lengthy lease.
You need to think about it really carefully because you don’t know how your company might grow and you don’t want to end up having too little space – you’re pulled in two directions.
What other advice would you give to people thinking of starting up online?
Be prepared to have to juggle a lot of different things at once. Especially with the online industry, every day is a total unknown. There are always new things to go wrong and new things to think about, like copyright and data protection, so if you’re not prepared you might find yourself in a catch-up scenario.
It can be very fast paced and you don’t always have time to think and stay on top of all the new technologies.
Having a good team in place to support you is therefore vital and you have to be very hands-on in helping them to do their jobs. Not necessarily telling them what to do but helping the different teams and steering the business.
The other thing I would say is that if you have an idea, don’t just head off and try to get investment straight away. It’s worth taking the time to test your model first – taking your product and showing it to as many people as you can is one way. I say this because when you have a passion for something, sometimes common sense can go out the window – it’s worth getting some feedback from others.