As an entrepreneur, finding your first or next big idea is usually pretty formulaic.
The path most trodden is — Go and search for it. Throw a dart and see where it lands, brainstorm at your local coffee shop, research a market that you know nothing about, ask friends what problems they have, rip off someone else’s (poorly executed) idea or improve on a current idea. Often works for 2nd time entrepreneurs, but it didn’t work for me. I simply didn’t have the experience at that point to ask the right questions and identify real problems. I had been teaching myself how to build websites over a 6 month period (while continuing to work as a freelance photographer) and almost invented a problem just to show off my newly acquired skills but it wasn’t going to satisfy my deep desire to build something that people want and something that people genuinely love. I’m lookin’ at you Instagram.
Enter Zoe, my wonderful fiancé and now awesome co-founder who started telling me about a real life problem she was currently having. After modelling for a long time, then moving into a music career, then wanting to reignite her modelling career in a freelance capacity, she serendipitously stumbled across an actual opportunity. An opportunity that fits directly into both her and my real world experience. You can’t create and sustain a professional freelance modelling career easily. Sure, Emily (1000’s of Emily’s on Instagram) might be using social media to promote herself, but what serious client is going to sit on Instagram all day hoping to find someone of great calibre, utmost professionalism and 99% certainty to show up on time, having understood the brief and for the client to pay them a real modelling rate. Although “Emily” is probably great, Instagram isn’t built to facilitate her freelance modelling career.
I immediately stopped working on my current crap company and we started talking to our network of models and clients to further figure out if this was a real problem or if we were convincing ourselves that it was. Good news, apparently for a vast majority it was. More and more models want to be independent and more and more clients want direct and instant access to models, especially emerging brands and young creative companies. We’re moving away from the agent in many industries. But that’s another story.
Ok let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A great idea without great execution is worthless. When people say they have a great idea, I say so what. I have 20 in my top pocket. Fancy a stab? Anyway, back to our story. So we have a problem and we think it’s fixable. I can build the technical part (at least pull together a working MVP) and Zoe can build the community part. But how do we sell it and do we even need to? Sales = yuck. But, we’re not totally disillusioned that people will just take to our idea, so we need help.
Through my past experience with working with entrepreneurial MBA students, I had witnessed the power of accelerators.
Input company at point A — export a fully investible and scalable company at point B.
Often works but not always. I had also read all the ‘Beware Of Accelerators Ripping You Off’ articles often written by casual observers of the tech community. I think my dad even forwarded one to me. It usually pertained to accelerators that you pay the privilege to attend. That ain’t no accelerator pop. If they are not taking a risk and putting their hard earned cash up for grabs, they don’t believe in you or your idea sucks. Forget it. Aside from this, ask any photographer, some months you’re up, some months you’re down. At this stage I was down and needed a safe place to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of paying next months bills.
I was aware of Seedcamp but maybe we were too early for Seedcamp. We needed to find the right fit. I remember saving an article written by George Bettany, GB, (ex Ignite Programme Director) previously, about a recent cohort of companies that weren’t too different from us. Marketplaces with a similar business model. George had this raw energy about him too. On further investigation, it seemed that Ignite were perfect for us. Amazingly (young) talented individuals with infectious personalities waxing lyrical about their ability to identify exciting companies and great co-founders….and I believed them. They also seemed like genuinely nice people. That mattered.
So the next morning I’m sitting in bed waiting for Zoe to wake so I could tell her the plan. She awakes and I announce “Babe! I’m applying to Ignite Accelerator and we’re moving to Manchester in January!” Her response — “What’s an accelerator?”
So she’s not from the tech world, but that‘s neither here nor there. She knows the modelling industry. She’s been there, worked on the global stage. Her friends are models, her friends hire models. And she’s a people’s person. This is her value and it’s got us to where we are today. She is the customer from a models perspective…
Onto Ignite, a quick application form and an invitation for a 1st round interview over Skype. Damn, that escalated quickly. Turns out the interview was a super casual chat with Flossie (though I was armed with a rapid-fire-defence-rhetoric which I didn’t need to use thank god, ain’t really my style anyway). We were then invited for the 2nd round of interviews (shit just got real) with the Ignite team and some of their investors at KPMG in Manchester. Manchester has always been on my radar for many reasons. I had played shows here in the past, recorded music at the now legendary Blue Print Studios and been a huge fan of 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny (and was secretly hoping all Manc’s had his sense of humour). It was here that we met Flossie, Gabi, Tristan and George for the first time in person. To summarise, the interviews went well, and I immediately started planning our move to Manchester. Yes I’m cocky but it felt like we made real connection with the team. Flossie called me 2 days later to ask us to join them. Our lives changed at that moment.
Fast forward 6 weeks, 5 hangovers, 4 website iterations, 3 leaving dos, 2 ‘is this the right thing?’ conversations, and 1 wedding engagement later (she said yes) and we’ve arrived at our new home in Manchester to begin our startup careers. I simply can’t express how much of a game changer this experience has been for us. Perhaps it’s for another story (2nd time I know) another time but to give you perspective -
Take what you think you know about validating, building and scaling a company, crumple it up into a tiny paper ball and shoot (then miss) the large recycling bin in the corner.
Ignite have taught us how to build this company the right way and we will be eternally grateful for that. With their help we hope to scale Another Story to be a global leader in the modelling industry. To help thousands of models create and sustain a freelance modelling career and to help clients with direct and instant access to amazing models all over the world. Why? Because we care about making it right…. and it’s the 21st century. Get with the times Mr old-school-traditional-agency. You’re old hat…