This week we spoke to Mark Hardwick, co-founder of the game based social gifting site Flooting.
Tell me a little bit about your background and why you founded Flooting
Sarah (my co-founder and wife) and I have been working together on social media for the past 13 years. Our last company developed a social network called Create.tv, which sadly suffered from serious focus issues. We found ourselves trying to build the social network while at the same time selling consultancy to fund it, and it just didn’t work. In the end we decided to start over.
We had some vague ideas kicking around, but we’d also had two lovely kids and, for many reasons including them, wanted to get away to a more adventurous lifestyle and massively declutter. So, we set about trying to get rid of loads of unwanted stuff and found the process really difficult. We didn’t get on with eBay or Freecycle, and after looking around, found that there wasn’t a service available that did what we wanted. So, we decided to build it.
What is your vision and what problem do you solve?
Services like eBay are focused on getting money for items, and in the past they did a great job. Now eBay has moved on and is focusing on the needs of professional retailers. The upshot is that there are a lot of hurdles facing private sellers and we found that the time to list, answer questions, resolve issues, and package and post simply wasn’t worth it for the value of the items we wanted to shift. I mean we’d do £20 of effort to sell something for £5. Freecycle is very easy to list, but there is a load of emails, people don’t collect and I really felt that if I put good stuff in, it would be nice if it helped me to get good stuff out.
We realised we needed to combine the best parts of eBay and Freecycle with something like Foursquare, and more, we needed to move away from selling, because it really complicates the process of getting rid of stuff.
The solution was to use a game mechanic. Flooting enjoys the listing ease of Freecycle but people play a game to win items. Less popular stuff goes for free and at the click of a button. With more popular stuff, people play our simple strategy game. To play the game requires points, and all the points played to get an item go to the lister, which helps them get the stuff they want.
How do you monetise? What is the business model?
We make money by selling points to people who don’t want to list stuff but do want to play for something. We will sell advertising and soon pro users (predominantly organisations and businesses) will be able to offer Flooting points as a loyalty reward.
Tell me about your team
Sarah and I have worked together for many years now, and complement each other well. I’m an creative technologist and tend to come up with the big idea. Sarah is a details person, and grills me until the big idea is a big workable idea.
Functionally, I do all the backend coding and database work. Sarah does all the design and frontend coding (it’s fantastic to work with a designer who can code – all designers should be able to code!). She’s also a daemon with corporate finance and keeps our accountants on their toes.
What stage are you at with the business and what comes next?
We’ve launched an open Beta in London about 2 months ago. We signed up our first 100 users very quickly, then stopped pushing to deal with the things that have cropped up.
Next we need to really push for media attention and get more people Flooting. I’m also quite interested in adding the ability to loan things via Flooting. I think I can make that work well, but there’s more thinking to do.
Finally, we have to launch across the UK and US, which I’d like to do in the next few months.
What is the main challenge you face?
We’re too few people! Now that we’re launched we’ve suddenly got to do a load of marketing, support and development. It certainly makes things more difficult. We’re having to be really disciplined, and not rush things while we try and cope with the increased demands.
What has gone well? Give your best startup tip?
Andrew Chen did a great post where he said that startups often try to be too innovative, and I completely agree. The problem is that innovation is expensive and risky. You’re constantly breaking new ground. The answer is to copy like hell. Copy at least 80% of other services and just innovate around 20%. Of course the trick is to find the right 20%.
With Flooting we’ve copied the good parts from Foursquare, eBay and Freecycle and our innovation is to use a game instead of an auction. In fact we’ve borrowed some of our game concepts from lowest unique bid auction sites (also very successful), but we morphed it all to work with location and floating bubbles rather than unique bids.
Now we have our fingers cross very tightly and we’re hoping like hell it works!
About Mark and Sarah
Mark’s first foray as an entrepreneur was a technical consultancy that he started when he was 25 and grew to 25 employees and £1m pa in revenues.
In 2001, Mark and Sarah started a micropayments business together, however we quickly realised that we were too small and too soon for micropayments. We pivoted and developed a social network for collaborative film production, for which we raised £450k in private investment. This lead to many projects with major clients including the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5, spanning mobile, social media, online payments and e-commerce. The company traded for 9 years.
Check out their latest venture, Flooting