It can be tough for female entrepreneurs to make a name for themselves in the tech space, but Shalini Chandrala and Kruti Bhagani are fighting fit.
Chandrala and Bhagani are the founders of Sydney-based business Meeeup, which provides quality introductions to your friends’ single friends.
Chandrala talks to StartupSmart about why Meeeup is different to other online dating sites, and the pros and cons of being female founders.
How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?
So far we have funded the business through our savings. We try to keep costs low, with our biggest costs being development and marketing.
We have started to receive calls from investors, but at this stage we are waiting for the right opportunity.
How many staff do you have?
We work off a fairly lean structure. Other than the co-founder and myself, we have a technical director, a part-time developer and a part-time social media/PR manager.
How do you promote the business?
Like all online businesses we use Facebook, Twitter, Google Ads and SEO. We are also in the process of ramping up our blog.
Our biggest challenge is that our concept is quite unique and for it to really take off it needs to go viral amongst people’s existing social networks. The most effective form of marketing for us is word of mouth.
One thing we realised when doing our market research is that Australia is slow in adopting new concepts compared to the rest of the world. We are constantly keeping this in mind when thinking of strategies to acquire users.
We have spent many hours working out a clear promotion strategy for Meeeup and thinking about what we want our brand to be known for in the market.
This has given us clear direction in building strategic partnerships that would suit our business.
Currently, we are talking to a few companies that complement our business and which will hopefully allow us to increase our customer reach.
Additionally, we are also planning events and working on some charity projects that will help us build our brand and user awareness.
Initially we wanted to steer away from the event space, but from the feedback we’re getting we think it’ll be an important space for us to work in.
How do you stand out in the market?
Meeeup started because we found the older we got, the harder it became to meet new people. You can either ask your friends to introduce you to someone or join an online dating site.
When we looked at online dating sites, we found three major perception problems: very creepy; not private; and unsafe.
It became apparent that there was a gap in the market between what was on offer and what customers were looking for.
We also surveyed a number of what we call “hardcore daters” and found that they used RSVP and eHarmony not for their amazing service, but because there really wasn’t an alternative out there.
So we decided to create something that addressed these issues, and something we ourselves would use.
We provide quality connections – every profile is verified using a Facebook account to ensure that users are not fake.
We are private, so no sifting through people’s profiles and getting poked by randoms.
We are safe – we connect you to people that are within your own networks. Currently, we are connecting to second degree friends.
We created something that is easy to use, with the objective of giving people an overall quality introduction experience.
We take our users all the way from the initial introduction to the actual meet-up by providing our members with exclusive offers with our partners to try on their first meet-up.
We also added in a feature that allows people to match-make on the site by introducing their friends to each other over Meeeup, with the introducers receiving incentives for successful connections.
This is quite different to anything out there and has had a lot of interest.
What are your revenue projections for 2012/2013?
Right now our primary focus is to acquire users and expand to all the major Australian cities.
You’re both female founders. What are the pros and cons of that?
As women entrepreneurs we have found people tend to underestimate us.
Whilst there are a number of successful businesswomen out there, we find that when we go to any tech meet-ups we are definitely in the minority.
It’s in these settings that we find that people, particularly in a group situation, really try to belittle us or our knowledge in the technology space.
Being able to hold our own in these sorts of settings has worked majorly in our advantage.
We meet with a number of women entrepreneurs regularly, and we found a common trend is that women seem to have a natural instinct to doubt what they do.
Generally speaking, we are slightly more risk-averse than men and when things go wrong we take it more to heart.
Our advice to women entrepreneurs is this: to get this far, you have a strong sense of will and self-belief. You need to stay optimistic through the roughs and troughs.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Currently as there are no competitors in this space in Australia, our biggest risk is someone coming in before we gain market share.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
There are a number of things we would have done differently.
Our key learning has been that we can create the most amazing product, but if you can’t market or sell your product then your company is worthless.
So far all of our growth has come from word of mouth, PR and social media with limited marketing spend.
Whilst this has been great and given us brilliant growth at a low cost, we probably could have grown much quicker with a more structured strategy and more marketing spend.
This is what we are doing now, but looking back we should have done this earlier.
There are so many dating sites around now. How do you intend to grow?
Firstly, there is a stigma attached with online dating and negative perceptions around the safety of online dating.
We like to think that we are not an online “dating” site, rather an online “introduction site”. We provide low pressure introductions to your friends’ single friends.
We believe meeting people through your existing networks leads to quality connections, and our site empowers our members to take their introduction to where they want to, be it for friendship, networking or something more.
We have done a lot of research and have found there is nothing of this kind available in Australia.
We are looking to provide something for people who are looking to meet new people, but at the same time are not willing to join more traditional online dating sites because of the perceptions surrounding them.
We have created something that we ourselves use. Something that is safe but a little bit of fun at the same time.
Over 90% of relationships are formed through people meeting their friends of friends in the real world.
But in a world where people are increasingly time-poor, we’ve brought this old-school concept online, in a convenient way.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Start-ups are hard work. We started our company while we had full-time jobs, which was difficult.
We were sleeping an average of three hours a night and we found that we couldn’t grow our features fast enough. We increased the number of staff we had – managing staff also takes time and a certain skill set.
On the other hand, we were so passionate about what we were doing that despite all the hard work we were putting in, we didn’t feel like it was enough.
Day in, day out, my co-founder and I woke up to the question of should we quit our jobs and take a risk to do this full-time or not?
This is something most early stage entrepreneurs are faced with everyday – when things get hard, do you stay or do you quit?
My advice: Before you decide to quit because it all seems too hard, take a long hard look at your concept and how much you are willing to sacrifice to make it work.
Have a think about what is more valuable to your business – your time input or your cash.
Have a look at all the businesspeople that inspired you to start your business in the first place. They are the ones that stayed.