This is the story about how an idea I had whilst building IKEA furniture became a marketplace connecting thousands of people in a service networking community.
#1 THE IDEA: I like to think of myself as an ideas guy – they’re definitely not all good ideas (as my mates have openly told me) but I generally like to spend my days looking around and thinking about how things could be done differently to be faster, better or more efficient. I tend to think about these things even when I’m doing pretty arbitrary work so it wasn’t too out of place when I was putting together an IKEA shelf for my new apartment and mentioned to my mates how cool it would be if I could find someone who was faster, better and more efficient than me to help with assembly (I really sucked, and was often having to disassemble stuff when it was 90% built because I had forgotten to follow step 2).
Usually my room mates would heckel my idea at this point but somehow this concept resonated with them – what if we could just post up somewhere that I needed something done and someone in the local area could pop in and do it for me. If I was to pay $50 to spend 2 hours of my life not building IKEA furniture ($25/hour saving), and that person could get the job done in 1 hour ($50/hour assuming he or she is twice as fast as me) then everyone would be happy.
I sat and mulled on this idea for a few weeks until one of my mentors (and the CEO of amaysim – where I was working at the time), Rolf Hansen asked me to go out and take a look around at what was happening in the mobile web. After doing a ton of research and meeting up with some cool upcoming mobile startups (notably the awesome guys at GoCatch), we came up with three big issues that we thought should be addressed:
1. Mobile web is ubiquitous – Australia had the second highest smartphone penetration in the world and mobile web was taking over the desktop quickly.
2. Digital identities have been established – Facebook, Linkedin and other social networks were allowing you to create your real online persona (rather than the Neo and Morpheus pseudonyms of the 1990′s web).
3. Real and online worlds have merged – the internet was now clearly being used for real world interactions, like selling houses, insurances, banking etc not just “online stuff”.
On the back of these points, I thought again about my “IKEA furniture inspired” idea and from then on, I decided that I couldn’t wait for someone else to build the platform that we had envisaged – it was time for this to exist NOW. I’ve now realised that if you’ve got a vision to build a technology that doesn’t currently exist, you need to act really early, when most people still think your idea is crazy. If you do that, then you should be in the market and running just in time for the market to actually take off (otherwise you’re likely to be much too late).
#2 THE POWERPOINT: When it comes to jotting down ideas and getting them to the next phase, everyone has their tool of choice (Evernote, Moleskine, bar napkin etc). Mine is Powerpoint. I think the best way to solidify your idea is to pretend to pitch it to yourself and answer all the possible questions that could arise. As a general rule, I use the following as a skeleton plan for a pitch document:
1. The Market Environment – what trends, behaviours or technology are supporting your new innovative idea?
2. The Problem – what’s wrong with how things are done today?
3. The Solution / Opportunity – how could things be done better?
4. The Product – what’s your specific product that will make things better?
5. The Investment – what’s the investment and what’s the potential for success?
Our pitch document was about 15 pages and once Jono and I had put this together, we pitched it to everyone who would listen – friends, family and workmates included. The best thing about pitching is that people will ask you the hard questions and you’ll be forced to think about them and come up with the answers. I think some people are worried about getting told their idea isn’t good, but by having the discipline to get this feedback, you can constantly refine your pitch until eventually, most people will have nothing bad to say – and that’s probably when it’s best to start on your real “investor roadshow”…
#3 THE DECISION: Every entrepreneur will go through forks in the road when they need to make key decisions to either stop, pause or push. About halfway through our pitches we had secured a few investors but were still working our day jobs. At this point, we needed to make a big decision on whether to quit our jobs and make this happen in a big way or not. This is not a decision that we took lightly and I can remember vividly sitting in the Australia Square food court for a few hours before both Jono and I stood up, shook hands and said – “we’re doing this”. I would say that this decision ended up being the most important in the life of Airtasker.
#4 FUNDING: During our time at amaysim, we had the privilege of meeting some really awesome entrepreneurs and investors from Australia and around the world including guys from Groupon, Spreets, DoubleClick and tons of other really big businesses. Building genuine relationships with these people over the years was one of the most important things that we did as most investors told us that they were mostly backing “us as a team” rather than business plan numbers (which are always wrong anyway!)
By the time we had taken the decision to put everything aside to focus on Airtasker, we had already done a fair bit of “sweat work” on Jono’s coffee table – designs, business plans, wireframes and technical specs. We had also quit our jobs and started spending quite a bit of our own money building our product. This was really important as we were able to show investors that we were 100% committed to our vision and were going to build it with or without them! It was also important to move fast – we would have 3-4 meetings per day and although some rejections were inevitable, we would have little successes often enough to build momentum. In the end, we had enough momentum to close the round about 1.5x our initial target and breathed a sigh of relief once the signatures were on the paper. That said, getting funding is only the start of the journey…
#5 BUILDING: So I can’t really tell this part of the story in past tense except to say that this is by far the hardest part! We launched Airtasker a little over 6 months ago and every single day since then has been a mad rush to build new features, roll out marketing campaigns and work on strategic partnerships. Most days are super hard work and some days are disappointing but getting to build your own vision is something that we feel really privileged to have the opportunity to do. And although it’s tough to build a product for a brand new market, we can clearly see the end goal – we know without a doubt that the community marketplace for services will be significant in 3-5 years time so it’s simply up to us to make sure it’s Airtasker.
So that’s the story of how we built Airtasker off the back of a weekend IKEA-assembly session. Have you had ideas for a new business in an unexpected situation? Would love to hear your story or questions in the comments below.