StartUs Presents: Excuses To Meet

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Need an excuse to meet people in a new city? Excuses To Meet co-founder Eduardo Cordova explains why the app might be the solution for you & what sets them apart from competitors!

Describe Excuses To Meet in 50 words or less.

Excuses To Meet is an app that makes it an easy and enjoyable experience for city newcomers to meet others based on mutual interests. These could be: finding compatible flatmates, learning new languages, visiting exhibitions, theatres, and concerts together etc. The app includes a total of 30 friendly “excuses” to pick from.

How did the co-founders meet?

I attended a 3-Beard’s Silicon Drinkabout event in East London; one thing led to another and after a warm intro we found each other at opposite ends of a Skype screen a few days later. Two interviews later Eduardo met Ruslan Zaharov in St. Petersburg, Russia. Funny story, due to very unforeseen circumstances Ruslan stood for a few hours completing his code test using a public charger of a tech store in a fancy shopping centre while I persuaded customers away. In addition to acing the code test, Ruslan’s strong work experience and education coupled with this small gesture of goodwill and adaptability sealed the deal 100%.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

There’s something about pursuing your own dreams that’s never quite matched by a 9-5 job. We’re both highly passionate individuals, but nothing brings out the best like the simple fact of truly enjoying what you do. Working late nights and weekends truly doesn’t feel like work if you really enjoy what you are doing and if you’re very clear on the common vision that you’re working towards. This is a bond both founders shared from the start.

7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

We both migrated to London and were equally frustrated by how a city with so much to offer and so many great people, could still end up feeling so cold and lonely as you make a start, so we decided to do something about it. Excuses To Meet, diving into “new friendships” targets what has otherwise been a highly neglected market in a time when immigration, mobility and cultural integration of people are highly sensitive topics, in particular in Europe. The E2M app focuses on this segment head-on.

Seven years from now we want to remain the go-to brand for socially transitioning into new cities, for example following relocation for a job or for university studies, relocation due to geo-political crises, or for any other reason. This segment is quite underserved, in great part because (until now) there’s not been an easy way to put a finger on it, with most efforts coming centrally from government initiatives rather than the innovative private sector; nonetheless its a segment playing a critical role in how diverse populations adapt into their new cities and one that must be addressed, which we are doing. Seven years from now the app may become more than just an app, but the philosophy must remain the same.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

The project has gone through various stages; in the very beginning we had no admin panel, we would very manually track our KPIs and just based on gut-feeling, common sense and some limited data, we’d make decisions about how to move forward.

Not long thereafter sign-ups and various other KPI’s started going up considerably. This is when we invested some time in creating our own admin panel to do proper, real-time tracking of our metrics, such as number of sign-ups, popularity of each of our “excuses”, unique senders, number of messages exchanged per day, and various other metrics about our users and their activity in the app.

I personally keep a few tabs open in my browser to correlate real-time how our various marketing campaigns directly affect our metrics, thereby enabling us to justify the strategies we’re implementing to bring users onboard. Other than online monitoring we also talk to our members both through the app, and in events hosted by us in central London, to better understand their experiences first hand.

Describe your typical working day from coming to the office to leaving it.

Every day is different really. The only thing that is somewhat consistent is that we both work from home from 9am to noon on week days, this gives us undivided and uninterrupted attention to tasks that we each need to complete individually. This is a very important portion of the day as it allows each of us to advance on key deliverables before all hell breaks lose when we meet later on. Ruslan’s main focus is server side, mobile development and advances to the admin panel. I work on marketing efforts and investor relations, while also dealing with the unfortunate administrative bits and pieces that come with running a LTD.

We meet at TechHub Google Campus sometime around midday, we start-off by discussing any critical topics. As much as we’re always looking forward, on strategic ways to grow our app, we also need to pay close attention on the maintenance of the day to day operation, keeping a close eye on bugs within the app, or any obvious user experience improvements that could go a long way for our users. We respect each other’s time, but its inevitable that we’ll have to interrupt each other at different intervals so we have a system where according to the level of urgency, we’ll either interrupt each other (top priorities), or raise tickets for each other, labeled according to their priority, on our internal task-tracking repository. Our workspace closes at 8pm, which is when we’re almost literally kicked out – last out the door.

Already pivoted? Did customers use the app like you imagined it in the beginning?

Excuses To Meet started as a skills exchange project. The idea was to create a hub where people could trade skills with others nearby. As we progressed, we came to the realization that what we had developed would have greater appeal as a service that more broadly helped bring people together, or “break the ice” if you will.

We launched on Android devices before we did on iPhones, and during this time we attended Meetup events like Language Exchanges, and promoted our app to its members, and then followed the use of our app by these members to benchmark those metrics against the average metrics of the whole of our users. Pleasantly surprised by the greater affinity for friendship (by Meetup members) we changed our marketing campaigns to have greater emphasis on newcomers, rather than city-dwellers as a whole. This has proved quite important.

We also ran a trial with users abroad (less noise) in Madrid, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Brussels, only focusing marketing efforts on 2 excuses rather than 30: “Practice a Language” and “Meet an AuPair”. This allowed us to test how volume (# of users around) vs. relevance would affect user’s attraction to the app and engagement with it. AuPair communities and language groups both joined the app quickly, and additionally, because other users of the app came in for similar 2 “excuses” it meant they were more relevant to one another and they chatted more with each other. It also re-validated to us importance of targeting newcomer crowds.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

We are not the first service to provide virtual meeting rooms, we are not the first company involved in the New Friendships space, and we’re not the first app to bring people together based on common interests. The timing of our launch is quite an important element in the whole of this mix, as people are increasingly less risk-averse to using dating-UX-styled apps and social media as a whole, and across all age ranges. We are very aware of how the timing of a project’s launch can sometimes be the biggest factor to its potential success and we’re optimistic by the start we’ve had.

In what ways is ExcusesToMeet different?

  1. E2M focuses 100% on friendship, while most competitors have created models of “one-app fits all”, not delineating dating apart from a full range of other segments, Friendship being one of these. We ensure our marketing only targets city-newcomers, and it does so for Friendship; this and our “excuse-led” user experience keeps conversations relevant to our user’s expectations.
  2. Even though event-based friendship platforms have a very similar target audience to our own, they only cover the offline space, while we cover the virtual meeting room space with the value added of generalized geo-location. We are different, but make great partners with one another in how we deliver value to our users.
  3. While some competitors work to anonymously match users together based on interests, we openly allow users to see each other from the start with little limitations.

What do you look for in team members?

We want to work with self-starters who are honest, passionate and adaptable, and who are sufficiently different to us in the expertise they bring to the table. This is a startup, this can come to mean working long hours or even strange hours, and it would be expected that any new team member buy into our philosophy, which is to go “all-in” for the success of the project. We really enjoy what we do, it means a lot of sacrifice but it also means a lot of time together among co-founders, which can come to be fun in its own quirky way.

Why would a talent join your team?

Everyone wants to work for a successful company or at least for a company thats headed in the right direction. Every startup is very different and they can all can have their tipping point at different and unpredictable stages, but what we can say to new talent is that joining early on would bring the most gratification as you can see how your actions directly impact the success and the scale of the project. We are a small team so everyone’s work is essential to one another’s day to day. Even though we work long hours, we are also very flexible with each other about working from home and vacation scheduling among other things.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

It was nice being in the press, like TimeOut London, ZDNet, and TNT Magazine within days of our iPhone launch, but it was just as nice to hear from some of our users that they had already gone to the cinema or to the park or grabbed lunch with others they met in our app, after all that is our intention, to help real newcomers meet and strike new friendships with other city-dwellers.

One other moment that comes to mind.. about a week after setting up our own admin panel, we made some considerable changes to our marketing strategies based on user trends we had spotted. The morning after launching our new and adjusted marketing campaigns we woke up to see a 6-fold increase in daily new sign-ups. This has been the way forward for future decisions we take.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Try developing in small increments and stopping along the way to validate your hypothesis before you continue investing more time or resources in the next steps of the project. In this way, if your project is going to fail (and many will!) then you’ll identify this early on, which is often the best-case scenario, and will ultimately save you a lot of time so that you can pivot the project in a new direction or dedicate yourself to something different. This is quite important because some of us are guilty of trying to perfect things every step of the way, which could end up only as a short-lived success.



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