What went wrong at Availo

Over the last 18 months we had a few “learning experiences” (read, we made a fair few mistakes), and we think it’s always good to be open about these so people can avoid making the same mistakes as we did.

But before we focus on the learning experiences, here are some of the wins and great experiences myself and the team had over the last 18 months.

  • We had over 3500 applicants to the platform without ever doing any paid marketing
  • Companies such as Google, AKQA and Facebook reached out to use us directly
  • We estimated that around £200k of contracts went through the platform within the first 3 months
  • That platform had a pretty great m/f split
  • We built a really positive community where people supported each other, gave great intros and helped each other land work (that is why we’re starting BLKBK)
  • We met some incredible people such as Jeff Veen, Shakil Khan, Tom Hulme, and many, many more
  • Crucially we actually succeeded in placing amazing designers at great companies, where everyone genuinely enjoyed using the platform!

Our main learning experiences

We should have brought on a full-stack developer sooner

Our founding team was comprised of a mobile developer, a designer and product lead, ideal for when one is building a mobile only platform, but after adding in a desktop client (change of user case) this left a skills gap within the team. We had to bring in a freelance full-stack developer to help build the desktop client and whenever we wanted to make a change/iterate, the costs flew up and impacted our burn rate.

In essence the founding team has to be able to build everything in house for at least the first year with no additional help. If you have to rely on external resource, it will get expensive quickly.

I chased investment instead of building product

Straight out of the gate we focussed on raising money and, in hindsight, we started this process way, way too early. Raising money is a full-time job for a CEO, and doing this meant I was distracted from building and launching a great product. Plus, the majority of meetings will end up resulting in absolutely nothing.

So get your product right (bootstrap), then raise money when you can prove that you have traction. By all means start taking investor meetings, but don’t make it a priority until you have some solid growth, vendor relationships, sales and solid figures.

We focussed on growth and ignored revenue generation

Our beta was a quick build that allowed us to onboard freelancers and help clients find them, but I made a decision to not develop the part of the platform that would actually allow users to transact. We were already tight on budget due building the platform with freelance support, so shortening the build time lengthened our runway greatly. Plus integrating payments would have lead to a huge amount of legal complexity as Availo would have then become responsible for our freelancers and their work.

Initially this decision allowed us to build and launch quickly, however it proved to be relatively short sighted as it made it harder to show investors that companies wanted to use Availo and were willing to pay for it. When something is for free, of course everyone will use it.

So when you build and launch something beyond an alpha, try and get users to pay for what you’re offering. Revenue provides the strongest piece of evidence that customers want to use your product and any money you generate instantly drops your burn rate and lengthens your runway. It’s a massive win-win.

What the team are doing now

Nick Clement is freelancing as a Product/Experience Designer and after a bit of a well deserved holiday Nick Wood is open to new iOS Developer freelance roles and Rob has just started as a Product Manager at Founders Factory.

Follow us on twitter to stay in the loop.

Rob Bye — RobJBye

Nick Wood — TheWhiteWood

Nick Clement — NickClement

Last but not least a huge round of thanks to

The freelance community who jumped onto the platform before we even launched. They provided the most valuable pieces of insight and often helped get Availo into some of the best studios in London.

Every single company who was part of the Availo beta. They gave us their time and helped us design the client facing side of the platform.

Glug. They helped us quickly onboard 100’s of freelancers and gave us so much validation in the design community. Plus supplied us with plenty of beers!

Our earliest investors including Seedcamp and our Angel investors. They backed our vision from an early stage and gave us so much support throughout. Without them we would never of been able to build or launch what we had.

The people who joined the team on the way. From our intern Alex, through to our freelance dev Mac. Everyone chipped in way beyond their job descriptions and often worked at their lowest possible rate. Your time was massively appreciated.

Our advisors who helped us out throughout our journey, providing some amazing introductions and steering us as we went along.

And finally a special thank to from myself to Nick and Nick. They’ve been there from the start and without them Availo would never of existed. You guys are awesome and I can’t thank you enough.

That’s a wrap, for now, we’ve learned a lot, got people jobs, built an amazing platform, but sadly we couldn’t make work without a lot of money behind it.

Be sure to check out BLKBK for a free way to find freelancers in London.

Thanks again,
Rob, Nick C & Nick W