As we’re seeking to rev up Moblify I wanted to take a few moments and document it’s origins and why we think we have a big company on our hands. It is outrageously long and probably more borring than a European Art Film but I also think it may be useful someday for some poor sap who is hoping to start a company to see what we did right and wrong.
The story begins in February of 2008 but most of it is boring so I’ll sum up with the writers last resort, bullet points.
Feb 2008 – I founded CJC Solutions- Which may have been the world’s stupidest company. The stupidity of the company was only matched by the stupidity of the name. C- Standing for Chris, J-Standing for wife Jess and C-Standing for son Carter. The problem with that, I had another kid. “Sorry Sam (youngest son), I wish you could be part of the name of our company but you came along a little too late.”
Late 2008 – Instead of killing the dumb company I create a second company around the same concept to diversify my offerings. My thinking…why start one stupid company when you could start 2!
2009- With the failure of stupid companies emanate, I started my first smart company with friend Tony. Real Good Technologies. We’re painfully early in selling text messages to political candidates but despite making a bunch of mistakes we managed to outlast our competitors to become the leaders in our space. We also don’t raise very much money so we’re very very…very poor. Did I mention we were poor?
2010- I get accepted in to the Founder Institute’s inaugural Denver class. (not sure how or even why I applied) I come up with a GREAT idea, a billion dollar idea. I won’t bore you with the details but it revolved around letting people earn discounts on their cell phone service by advertising products to their friends. If you have a spare $10 million call me and you can chase a really big idea…but if you have a spare $10 Million you will be buying lunch.
Early 2011- I bury the concept because I can’t find anyone to invest the roughly $5-10 million that it would take to do that company right. I’ll write more about that decision (maybe tomorrow) but it was an incredibly humbling experience.
Mid 2011- Nothing is more boring than the year before a presidential election for people that sell in to politics. It makes the reference section of the library seem like a rock concert. We start throwing around some ideas mainly to pass the time and decide to spend a couple of hours and build ourselves what we called a SMS business card mainly because we thought it would make us look cool.
End Bullet Points.
FIGURING OUT A PRODUCT
Our thinking was simple. There’s bound to be some guys out there that would pay a couple of bucks a month to look cool as they talked to girls in a bar. We built a very early version that let you build your own text message response when someone texted your keyword to our short code (that probably only makes sense to a few of you but it’s not that important).
We weren’t spending too much time or energy on the project, but something unexpected happen…we started having fun…a lot of fun.
David (brilliant hacker) and I spent hours on the phone coming up with a bunch of use cases. Some of them real, most of them funny. After a while we were having so much fun, we decided to build something a bit bigger but we needed a different brand to put under…and I just so happened to have a company that was not really doing anything…Moblify was reborn.
Most conversations, revolved around one problem. When you meet someone new, how do you connect with them? Not just shake hands, not just exchange cards (which we deem as the most stupid and archaic practice in business). But how do you connect with someone new? To us the bulk of our relationships lived online. If I met someone new and interesting the first thing I did was to connect via LinkedIn or Twitter. There were a couple of apps like Bump and the new iPhone let you send a vCard relatively easily but to us that didn’t solve the problem.
The vCard was contact info… we needed a new vCard one that allowed you to share your social profiles. We love About.Me but that product was made for desk top computers and had no easy way to share your profile. The mCard was born.
The more we looked around the more we realized we had stumbled on a sizable problem.
David started working and we just kept coming up with new ideas. Most we tossed out but kept a few. The one that really proved to be a game changer was the concept of adding analytics to your personal networking efforts. I liked Klout but that measures your impact in a virtual world we were interested in how well you were doing at human to human contact. Based on that David added an entire set of features that allowed you to track, measure and compare your networking efforts.
My “Holy Shit” moment came when David added in a mapping feature that tracked where you met people. That was when I started to get very excited.
To this point the only way we could share your mCard via SMS. We were adamant that our solution needed to be platform agnostic. I am a die hard Android guy and both Tony and David are iPhone fan boys and we didn’t like the idea of building just an app we wanted build a full product and a company. We loved the SMS solution because EVERY phone could use SMS but it was a too clunky for most users. So David built the html 5 app next (http://go.moblify.me) and we were starting to get going.
Before too long we had a product that I felt was pretty good. It was far from perfect but it was also beyond a “least viable product”. I needed to figure out what Frankenstein we had created.
A quick note on our research.
Just about everyone in the world will tell you the ONLY smart way to start a company is to do a ton of market research, identify the problem, work, work, research, research and then work some more. Find a good market first, then find a problem to solve. Here is roughly the formula they teach: big problem + a big market + good execution + limited (or poor) competition = success.
We did none of this. We did 0 market research. We didn’t even build a pitch deck. We just built something fun because we were having fun.
Let me be clear. I am NOT advocating the Forest Gump approach to building a product or company. I think knowing what your getting in to is critically important. We just got lucky. Very, very lucky.
When I started digging up competitors I was surprised to find a huge gap in the market. There were a bunch of really cool companies that fall in to what I call the smart address book space. They include Plaxo, Network Hippo, Gist and others. A couple of these guys do a GREAT job in taking your contact list and adding a layer of intelligence on top. For instance, my favorite Gist takes a look at your contacts based on their email address and finds what that person is talking about, tweeting about, posting about etc. The other group mainly focused on vCard transfer. They were small and frankly I wasn’t impressed. But here’s what interested me.
Gist- bought by RIM
CardMunch (cool company that takes a picture of a business card and turns it in to a vCard) – bought by Linked In
About.Me- Bought by AOL.
The list goes on…
Uhm… I’m not that smart but I think we just stumbled in to a space that a bunch of big guys seemed to be interested in.
I’m sure there are two MENSA National Merit Finalists sitting in their Stanford dorm room right now working on the same problem (doesn’t really scare me) but there are only a couple of people working on the core issue. How do you, when you meet someone new, connect with them? Put another way. If Gist and others do a good job of taking your address book and making it smarter… it should be easier to get people in to that address book!
So what about the big guys? Could we get smooshed by one of the big guys? I don’t think so. The value here is that we are not one of the big guys. We direct people to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
If we execute we should be able to make some noise in a big market… with limited competition.
I thought we had something cool but I’ve been wrong before (See CJC Solutions). My next step was to go to the smartest people I knew and get some feedback. Of all the really cool people I talked to the vast majority of them really liked the idea and what we were building. Here’s how it broke down.
One- Neutral- (Didn’t say I was nuts just not his cup of tea)
One- Luke Warm (Was positive and agreed to meet again but not super positive)
Three- Got it Immediately and I signed up as Advisors on the Spot.
One- (Love this Guy) Basically asked to be on board.
One- Took two conversations but is very positive. He is technical and makes me work.
At the end of my time I identified one (maybe two) investors and five really outstanding advisors. I was pumped by the feedback and we kept moving forward.
One more thing of note… I pitched with all the other Founder Institute companies to a really famous investor and he not only gave us great feedback, he signed up on our system… that was a good day.