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.