My ‘Why?’

I just finished an inspiring book called ‘Start With Why’, by Simon Sinek. It’s a business book, and the name pretty much says it all, but here’s a summarized version — in the author’s Ted talk:

It got me thinking — why am I doing what I’m doing?

Startups are tough, consumer apps especially so, and social apps, well… ‘forget about it!’ (I just arrived in New York, channeling my inner New Yorker 😄)

For the past 2 ½ years, I’ve been a full-time startup Founder (& CEO) of PartyWith. I’d been working on it as a side project before that too, for a couple of years. My background is not in tech, or startups, but my present (and future) is.

It’s been a wild ride so far — lots of hard work, lots of new things, getting out of my comfort zone, lots of highs, met amazing people, grown a global community who use (and many of whom love) the app, got accepted into Techstars, went from dreading public speaking to getting quite good (and even enjoying it), and learnt more about business, myself, and life in general, than in the rest of my work, or study, life combined.

There’s also been (a hell of a lot of!) challenges as well.

In those same 2 ½ years I became a father (which made me a better entrepreneur / person), tried, failed and eventually raised money from investors, recruited an (awesome) team from all over the world, been really embarrassed by early versions of things we launched, had lots of ideas completely fail, moved to New York with the team for Techstars and spent months apart from my family.

I’ve had great people (who are still friends) leave the company, almost completely run out of money (more than once), and been told ‘no’ or ‘there’s no way that’s gonna work’ more times, and in more ways, than I can remember — by investors, partner companies, and even friends and family.

Early on, when making the leap to full-time founder, I really struggled with self doubt, and even depression. It’s been one of the best, yet hardest, undertakings of my life, and there’s been lots of times when I could have (should have!?) quit. And if you look at the stats about startups, there’s still a very very big chance that I’ll fail.

Yet I keep going… I just keep finding a way. Why?

I’ve been writing this post for a while, but was struggling to put it into a good structure, until I read this: 8 Questions I Ask Every Startup, by Li Jiang. So here goes (in that structure):

1. Why are you building this company?

(This was in Li’s post too, and it struck a chord with me): I can’t imagine working on anything else. Like Li also mentions: I’m feel like I’m doing my life’s work, and I would die (at least on the inside) if I wasn’t building this…

That’s not to say that an app called ‘Party with a Local’ is my only, and final, goal of my life, or that I can’t ever do anything else (far from it, stay tuned for evolutions on that same theme, soon).

More broadly in the space — connecting people, new authentic and local experiences, having fun. That’s just… me. A combination of my upbringing (open minded supportive family) and my experiences (traveled around the world, lived in 6 countries) that have no doubt shaped me. My life is richer from the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met. But I’ve had to go far and wide to find it.

On a more personal level, despite always finding ways to make friends & feeling like I can fit in almost anywhere (almost always through activities, like partying & sport) — I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider, not really fitting in to any one defined box, or group of people (if I did, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to build this). And for some reason I have a weird internal drive, and ambition, to try really hard things. I don’t feel like I’ve reached my potential, and I’m determined to leave my mark.

For anyone that knows me, I love traveling, and I’m relentlessly curious, sometimes maniacally seeking out more and more new and different experiences (ask my friends and family what it’s like to travel with me — I think probably very annoying at times). I like going out, letting loose, drinking (sometimes one too many) — I enjoy life!

And I want to build something that brings people around the world closer together, for them to share new experiences, and to be able to belong anywhere. The best way I personally have found to do this (through a lot of trial and error), is by connecting with people, through shared activities and experiences.

I wrote some other posts about Real Human Connection, why a New Kind of Online Offline Community would be good for the world.

2. Why do people want this more than any other product?

We’re more connected, yet more isolated, that at any time in history.

Within a decade social media has exponentially increased the number of shallow connections we have (online), at the expense of more meaningful offline connections, that had previously defined humans for 1000s of years. Real human connection… is part of what makes us human.

Further — there are widening divisions in society today, and online-only social platforms like Facebook & Twitter are part of the problem — they keep people divided, in their own little bubbles.

Despite our many differences I strongly believe we can always find things that connect us — some things truly transcend race, religion, background, education, occupation, income, political beliefs, gender and sexual orientation.

But there’s just no easy or spontaneous way to connect with new people in real-life (that’s not dating). Some people are actually starting to use dating apps like Tinder to make friends, but that’s not the purpose, and it’s potentially really awkward when people meet with very different expectations (plus it’s kind of transactional, and 70% of people who use Tinder never actually meet anyone in real-life anyway).

Our solution is to connect more people online, then offline, via shared interests, activities and (spontaneous) events, with groups of people interested in the same things.

Almost all our users find the app organically (via word of mouth or search), and we hear daily from lots of people who love the app. We may not have hit ‘product / market fit’ for everyone yet or reached critical mass globally, but it’s clear to us that — we’re building something people want, and serving a need that currently isn’t being met.

3. Why is now the right time to build this startup?

In 2017 by using apps, that connect you with new people, you can — get a ride anywhere (Uber), stay in their house anywhere(Airbnb), and get a date anywhere (Tinder). It’s become normal, and mainstream, all over the world.

All of these companies mentioned are ‘unicorns’, multiple times over. This trend is set to continue, into other verticals.

You’re telling me that by using an app, you can stay in a complete strangers house, but you can’t grab a beer with some people in a city? ‘Get outta here!’ (that New Yorker again 😄)

4. Why is your team the one to do it?

Me — I’ve long been a connector of people through activities, partly because I’ve always felt a bit awkward meeting people any other way: drinks / parties (I’ve organized more parties and nights out than is probably… healthy), sport (organized/recruited basketball teams, started an indoor football league in Amsterdam, that’s been going for 9 years), startup ping pong tournaments (& ridiculous videos to promote them), thrown dinner parties with only new people (code named ‘dinner with a random’), hosted startup founder stories with The Startup Grind Team.

Our Team — I go on a lot about how our team is so diverse and from 5 different continents. But it matters. We’ve all lived abroad, we’ve all traveled a lot, had a lot of different life experiences, we all like to meet new people… we all like to party. We’re all solving our own problem. How many other startups can truly say that?

Our Community — not officially part of the team, but there’s no doubt that our community of passionate users gives us an unfair advantage, by spreading the word, being ambassadors for the brand, creating events and generally being awesome!

5. Why isn’t everyone already working on this?

Platforms that connect new people are pretty easy to dismiss as ‘nope, not gonna work’. No one thought online dating would work 10 years ago. Airbnb — no way!

Startups have tried in other ways to connect people (not for dating). But swiping for friends… really? But connecting people over interests, events and activities, and starting in a niche (nightlife), is how our approach is different.

6. Why does this platform get more powerful over time?

More people to connect and meet up with, more events to join (all added by the community) — we have over 150 upcoming events, in the next 2 months in Amsterdam, all added by our community.

7. Why will you do this better than a bigger tech platform company?

Facebook switching from: online connections with people you already know, to: offline connections with people you don’t know yet, would be a pretty big shift. Instagram, Snapchat — they’re focused ever more on online connections, addicting and glueing people to their devices, not about connecting people offline. Google and social… Google+, enough said.

8. Why Should I Invest in Your Startup?

Someone is going to crack the ‘meet new people’ in real-life (not for dating) space, make it mainstream, and it’s going to be absolutely massive — the next really big social platform even. As well as a windfall financial return for investors, more importantly it will make the world a better place — truly more ‘connected’, and less divided. That’s a ‘Why?’ worth betting on… isn’t it?

With our organic traction, a diverse and passionate team all solving their own problem (who’ve been working on it together for 2+ years) I believe we’re as well placed than anyone for us to be the ones who do it. We’re driven tenacious, scrappy, creating for our users, and learning as we go…we’re gonna to do it (or die trying… on the inside)!

Let me know what you think of my ‘Why’! I’m hoping it resonates with people — my team, our community of users, my family, friends, investors, advisors, and other people who can believe in the same dream, and help us make it a reality.

‘Clap it up, cos that’s the real shit right there!’ — inner New Yorker, signing off 😜