Squarespace is a company which has sought to infuse delight and wonder into an industry where previously there was little. It was an inspiring move, not dissimilar to the one Apple made in the computer hardware industry almost three decades previously. This very blog you are reading right now was created using the Squarespace 6 Developer Platform, and across the board at Maptia - whether as a developer, designer, content creator, or marketer - we are massive fans of Squarespace. So we decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind this inspirational CMS platform.
Back in 2003 in his dorm room, Anthony Casalena - a self-described 'anti-hoarder' - had just turned down a job at Google and opted instead to use a $30k loan from his dad to build Squarespace. His dad's money barely covered the initial server costs and a few Google Adwords, but was enough to bring him his first three paying customers. He was able to make money from Day One. Since then those three true fans have evolved into an impressive community of designers, bloggers, photographers, and creatives.
We were fascinated by how Squarespace had achieved this success in the face of competition from CMS giants like Wordpress and Tumblr. How on earth did they pull this off? Simon Senek has a great TED talk explaining his theory that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Using Apple as his example he asserts that no matter what they made, whether it was computers or phones, people would have bought it because they believed in Apple's vision to 'challenge the status quo' and to infuse everything they built with great design. Similarly, Squarespace does not exist purely to solve the mechanics of a CMS (Content Management System). Instead, they are on a mission to build 'a foundation for the future of the web'.
One foggy Sunday morning in Seattle last December, we were frying bacon at Maptia HQ and brainstorming ideas for the best place to base our company over the next few months. Being UK citizens we now can't return to the States for another 6 months unless we somehow manage hold of longer term working visas (time-consuming, difficult, and expensive), or the Start Up Visa act is passed.
London, despite being close to our friends and family, and with a great network to fundraise, was quickly ruled out as an option. Among the most expensive cities in the world to live and rent, it didn't seem like a good way to spend our carefully saved pennies when all we really needed was peace and quiet to finish building the product. What's amazing about this stage of building a tech startup is that all you need is cheap living costs and fast internet.
After much animated discussion, and wistfully dismissing a treehouse in Hawaii as a good option, we hit upon Morocco as the place to be. It turns out to have the fastest internet in Africa, flights are super cheap from Europe, and we were certainly attracted by the idea warm weather - a welcome change from London's various shades of grey. Jonny's prior knowledge of good places to live on the coast, having worked there as a surf instructor a year or so ago, will definitely be an asset in helping us in finding a great place to live and work.
We look forward to having the freedom to create our own maker's schedule. Besides the odd camel and a couple of goats climbing in the trees (we couldn't believe that at first either) distraction will be minimal living between the Sahara desert and the Atlantic ocean. No meetups we feel we have to go to, and no daily commute to sap our time or energy. Just the soothing sound of fingers flying over keyboards as code is written and pixels are slotted into space, punctuated by the crash of empty waves and the smell of spicy tagines.
Last summer, we were fortunate enough to be brought into the TechStars extended family - a close-knit family that is defined by the generosity and energy of the experienced entrepreneurs and technical geniuses who give up their time to mentor the fledgling companies accepted onto the program.
On arrival we were painfully aware of our relative inexperience and tender age compared to your average TechStars company, and this often left us in literal awe of some of the mentors. We were eager to please, eager to learn, and eager to take on all the feedback possible. As a result, when the onslaught of mentor meetings began, we were literally drowning in opinions for the first few weeks. They don't call it 'mentor whiplash' without reason. Many times there were dramatic highs and lows within minutes of each other when someone loved what we were doing or conversely when it fell totally flat.
The torrent of feedback didn't ever slow up and nor would we have had it any other way. We valued every moment and learnt to filter frantically. Like gold hunters sifting through sand we grasped at ideas and stored away little nuggets of advice.
Of all the marvel hollywood films, X-men is probably my favourite. I’ve seen them more times than I’d like to admit in public. But in case you’re not familiar with the mutant heros – there is a scene where Professor-X builds an impressive machine called Cerebro. This nifty contraption enables him to locate all of the mutants worldwide. Professor-X can now see what they look like, learn how they feel, and start to relate to them. Being able to empathise with these strangers he eventually persuades them to join the X-men team and fight the bad guys.
The FullContact API is like a Cerebro for marketers seeking to build their tribe.
Here was our problem – we had our landing page live and we were getting email signups through at a decent rate, but had no way of knowing anything about the kind people who were signing up. Even if I was spending every hour of my day watching our signup list increment one by one, it is usually impossible to even recognise someone’s full name from an email. This meant friends, mentors, investors, journalists, and influencers were often signing up without us knowing. We would have just ended up ignoring them and missing out on great opportunities to reach out to interested people at that moment of emotional investment in Maptia. How useless is that!
I mentioned our dilemma to T.A. McCann, one of our mentors at TechStars, and he recommended that I try out FullContact, a Denver-based company backed by the Foundry Group, and he kindly provided us with a personal intro.
A little over a year and a half ago we barely understood the definition of a ‘start-up’. Our collective entrepreneurial experience was limited to Dorothy’s village recycling scheme she organised all by herself at the age of 8.
Three recent graduates from university in England, we shared a passion for travel and for not playing within the lines. The world of corporate and sophisticated jobs held no allure for Dorothy, nor for Dean or myself, and we were eager to set ourselves a challenge on our own terms.
So, in January 2012 we took the leap headfirst into ‘Start-up Land’ when we were accepted into the ‘Start Up Chile’ (SUP) incubator program on the back of a video we hacked together in Dorothy’s living room. We somehow found ourselves in the midst of this exciting Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Riding on the back of this exciting success we then managed to convince Jianshi, a software engineer from Japan with far more experience, to spontaneously leave his well paid job and come join the Maptia team in Chile as our fourth co-founder. Miraculously, when he arrived – a perfect fit for the team from halfway around the world.
It wasn’t until towards the end of the SUP program that we then made the bold decision to climb the imposing mountain that is the TechStars application process.
Raining lightly and rather grey as we arrived into Seattle, it felt like home. The English climate is far more akin to Seattle than to arid Santiago. The Space Tower was bobbing UFO-like along the misty skyline.
Here I will briefly recount the awesome time we had at TechStars for a Day (TS4AD) in Seattle. Coming 10,344 km from Chile was absolutely worth it. Whether we make the final final cut or not, it doesn’t matter. The advice, feedback and encouragement we have been lucky enough to gain here in the last few days have already moved on our thinking and planning in certain key ways. We are racking up a debt of Karma!
The TechStars mantra – Do More Faster – doesn’t quite capture what we want want to do right now. We want to do more at lightening speed. Special thanks to Andy and Kayla and everyone else here for making us feel like part of the extended family and like cousins visiting from afar…
I have a theory that the principles required for surfing can be applied to the world of start-ups.
Careers guidance councillors at university would have you believe that everyone requires an MBA in order to even have a chance of building a successful business. Fortunately this is considered by many to be a myth. However, if this is the case then where else can you turn in order to learn the elusive start up meta-skills set? There are likely a thousand and one decent answers to this question, but for me it lies in the ocean. I reckon that the principles required to be a great surfer can also be applied to the realm of start-ups.
Diving in for the first time
Jumping head first into a start-up fresh from a cosy university lecture theatre is not dissimilar to cautiously picking your way across a sharp coral reef and then having the guts to launch yourself into intimidating waves for the first time. The icy water steals your breath and your enthusiasm is suddenly called into question. Overwhelmed with powerful feelings of both trepidation and excitement, in both cases you’re stepping miles out of your comfort zone.
These scenarios can appear somewhat intimidating and unforgiving to newcomers. It’s easy to lose focus on your business idea or be demotivated by the perpetual walls of crushing white-water and strong rip currents you must overcome. Despite giving it everything you have, it can sometimes feel like you’re going backwards. That said, the rewards – once you reach them – could not feel any more exhilarating.
A week or so ago, Vivek Wadhwa descended on Start Up Chile with his energy and enthusiasm in full flux. Darting around CMI, our collaborative open-plan workspace, he talked and brainstormed with many of the participants…gems of wisdom dropping right, left and centre.
Dean, Jonny and I seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time during these few days and more than once got delightfully entangled in the vortex of Vivek’s buzzing ideas and spitfire collaborations. You can see in the video to the right that even the ‘Travel & Tourism Tribe’ we lead at Start Up Chile was infiltrated…
Two years ago the Chilean government sent for Vivek to come and, they hoped, write a glowing review of their ambitious and expensive effort to become an IT outsourcing hub. Of course Vivek – being Vivek – turned things upside down, and ended up declaring that the venture to become a hub like this was currently impossible for Chile. Too much of a focus on infrastructure and too little investment in the human capital networks was the verdict – fancy tech parks and government-sponsored clusters were not the answer he argued.
So, along with Nicolas Shea, an adviser to the Chilean Ministry of Economy, Vivek proceeded to conceive the radical experiment which is Start Up Chile. By importing foreign entrepreneurs, they would boost a fundamental change in the cultural ecosystem and turn Chile into a Silicon Valley-esque entrepreneurial and innovation magnet.
Poised and beautifully dressed, Vanesa arrived half an hour late to greet a small group of girls and women from Start Up Chile and the local entrepreneurial community. Nobody minded at all as she had unfortunately been locked inside her apartment that morning and liberation had been a little slow to arrive.
Vanesa Kolodziej is a mentor at 500 Startups, a three-time veteran in the business of start-ups, curator of the StartUpDigest for Buenos Aires, and has her finger on the pulse of investments and venture capital here in Latin America. Vanesa is currently in the process of launching Nazca Ventures – a seed venture capital firm based in Buenos Aires, focused on nurturing LatAm-based start-ups into flourishing regional companies.
Loyal to Maptia and to me, Jonny and Dean were the token guys in the room – dragging themselves out of bed at 7am to come along too. This turned out to be a great decision, and not only because of the epic English breakfasts they served at Cafe Melba. Organised by Girls in Tech Santiago, it was a fascinating and informative meet-up – we all learnt a great deal about navigating the rarified waters of investment and venture finance.
Growing up in the UK, I have always had these nagging doubts about how our current channels of education are exactly that – channels. One side-effect of this system is that we are herded towards pre-determined destinations. There is a mind-set among many of us that has been instilled from an early age – that each of us should find the role we were meant to play in society. Think dressing up as doctors, or nurses, or teachers, or policemen. Did anyone in your primary school class ever dress up as an entrepreneur? Or suggest they would start their own business? Unlikely. It’s not presented as one of the ‘norms’.
Of course, as we grow up, a few game-changers come out of the woodwork – suddenly shady Joe who has an unusual amount of DVD’s is making a tidy profit, or before him chubby Charlie who brought the entire corner shop to school with him, but struggled with his margins because he ate most of it…not good for sales. That said, some slightly eccentric people start as early as eight. Dorothy, one of my co-founders, organised a village-wide recycling scheme – which turned over £5.80 a week, with wellies and a wheelbarrow being her only overheads.
Yet for many, and even for those who have the fortune to be able to choose, the pull of the societal mentality towards conventional city jobs or roles in corporate organisations is still strong.
Wednesday night Start Up Chile organised a meetup led by Oskar Hjertonsson – the CEO of Groupon Latin America.
A lanky swede in flip flops, Oskar was charismatic and incredibly open. Despite the fact he couldn’t talk about Groupon or even be photographed with the company’s logo behind him, he shared a wealth of wisdom and a very personal story.
About five years ago, Oskar arrived in Santiago with the insane notion of starting a global tech company from nothing, but a few thousand dollars in the bank. Back then, he said that being an entrepreneur in Chile was unheard of. No support, no networks, no investors, even the users had to be educated into a new way of thinking. When they finally got a little investment from Chileans, they practically became national celebrities.
Emphasising that the road to where he was right now had been extremely painful, Oskar recounted times when he was “literally crying” because he felt as if all the time and effort had been wasted, that it had all come to nothing, and no investor would ever be interested. That they would have to give up. There were times when he was living in an abandoned office in Santiago, with no kitchen, no hot water, and no fridge. He told us of one particularly low-point when he started reading job ads for sales back home in Sweden.
Relentlessly driving his country and economy towards a ‘developed’ nation status, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera says that while his country may have arrived late to the industrial revolution, it certainly won’t miss out on the information revolution.
With the accelerator program Start Up Chile his government have taken a bold approach. Busting through bureaucratic red tape and giving the go-ahead for officials to get stamp-happy when granting 1-year work visas, Start Up Chile dangles a $40k subsidy as bait. The program seeks to attract early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs who will grow their companies in Chile for at least six months, using Start Up Chile as a launching platform for their globally minded businesses. Its end goal is to lead the country on a path to becoming the definitive innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. Only a year and a half since its inception, and the program is reeling in smart, passionate entrepreneurs faster than you can say Patagonian trout.