Michelle HammondFollow on twitter www.startupsmart.com.au
Stufftopia wants to be your friend-in-the-know
A trip overseas was the original inspiration for Stufftopia, which helps people find things to do anywhere in the world.
There are four founders – Rick Dzekman, Ned Jackman, Jarryd Clark and Simon Keung – all of whom are based in Sydney.
With no financial backing, Stufftopia launched a public beta in December and is looking for people to try out its web app and provide feedback.
Dzekman talks to StartupSmart about the story behind the Stufftopia name, why it can’t survive without Foursquare, and why arrogance won’t get you far in the start-up world.
How do you all know each other?
In 2011, Ned and I began working on a site called What Is There To Do, a competitor to the likes of TripAdvisor.
We quickly realised that we were in over our heads and parked the project for another time.
In June 2012 we got together with Jarryd and Simon and began working on a “hyper-local” search app, rather than a travel-based one.
So while the idea originally started in January 2011, we officially founded Stufftopia in June 2012. You can read more about the story in the history section of our blog.
In a nutshell, explain how Stufftopia works.
Stufftopia is that in-the-know friend that can always suggest the best places to go, no matter where in the world you are.
Let Stufftopia know where you are or where you want to go and we’ll tell you the best place to go.
Using the massive collection of places from Foursquare, we’ve boiled the most interesting things down to eight categories: food, coffee, party, explore, culture, relax, shop and different.
One place for everything – find what you want with one tap of a button. Best of all, you don’t need an account – no usernames, no passwords, no signups.
If you’re bored, we’ll tell you where to go.
Why do people need Stufftopia?
Whenever you’re out and about, be it in your home town or overseas, it can sometimes be hard to find stuff to do.
Most people rely on having a friend who knows the area well to give them advice about where to party, shop, have coffee, etc.
But when it comes to using the internet – it’s just downright difficult. There are plenty of competitors in our space but we feel the same about every single one of them – they’re clunky and hard to use.
Even Foursquare (who provide us their data) have excellent information but a clunky user interface. People need one trusted place to get their information about where to go.
How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?
Our business is self-funded. I run a small one-man IT consulting business, and most of the expenses for Stufftopia have been billed straight to that.
We’ve been able to keep our costs low by relying on low-cost virtual hosting, minimal advertising spend, and advertising through word-of-mouth.
All-in-all we’ve achieved what we have so far for less than $4000, and part of that was from the old days of What Is There To Do where we did hire an offshore programmer to help with the workload.
Right now our biggest expense is time. All four of us work full-time, and finding a way to fit Stufftopia continues to be a challenge.
How many staff do you have?
It’s just the four founders, all of whom have a role to play in the business.
How do you promote the business?
We rely almost exclusively on social media – Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn – and a lot of word-of-mouth.
Our biggest challenge with social media is trying to add a viral component to Stufftopia so that people are more inclined to share our searches and our venues.
Soon we will launch our original project What Is There To Do as a sister site to Stufftopia and will cater more to people who are travelling.
The two sites will share data but have different purposes, helping them cross-sell each other.
What are your revenue projections for 2012/13?
We have about three options on the table for a revenue model and, depending on the user base that we build up, will probably determine which way we go.
We have just launched a minimum viable product – the minimum marketable product we can develop.
Right now we are testing our assumptions about what users are looking for in this sort of tool, and we want to build the best possible user experience for consumers before we start focusing on how to generate B2B revenue.
By June 2013 we should have enough data to make revenue projections for the 2013/14 financial year.
How did you come up with the name?
While What Is There To Do made an excellent domain name, it was just too long and the acronym WITTD wasn’t exactly pronounceable.
When the four of us got together, we put together a list of key words that describe our business and started to link them together – explore, stuff, do, etc.
We basically sat in my kitchen for an entire day, drinking beer and throwing out ideas until we found a good name which had a .com available.
Whenever we came up with a good one, our designer Jarryd would mock up a logo and show us all how it looked.
After a grueling day we finally settled on Stufftopia – and the feedback from people about the name change has so far been extremely positive.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Because our product is still in beta, our biggest concern is that it doesn’t have the features we need to really entice users to come back and use it again and again.
Almost everyone who tries it gives us positive feedback but they all tell us they want more. As a small team doing what we can with a limited budget, the biggest risk we face is time.
While we slowly build up Stufftopia, a company that is better funded could come along and introduce an equally simple and easy-to-use idea that would spread far faster than we could.
Of course our biggest supplier of data, being Foursquare, already does something very similar, and if they chose to shut off their API we would be in serious trouble.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Most of the things that I would do differently I could only have learned by having made the mistake in the first place.
There are, however, two mistakes that I personally made out of hubris rather than inexperience. These are the things I would definitely do differently if I could get a do-over.
The first is finding out more about the start-up community. It was the height of arrogance thinking I didn’t need to go out there and seek advice and learn from the start-up world.
While doing it for yourself and giving it a go is definitely the best way to learn, there is so much knowledge out there about what not to do.
The second is the team. In 2011, I thought the two of us could do it alone and I’ll honestly admit that I was wrong.
Bringing Simon and Jarryd on board, not just as contributors but as partners and founders, has made all of the difference in the world.
In the start-up world, there is nothing more powerful than being part of a great team.