StartUs Presents: M14 Industries, The Alphabet For Online Dating

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M14 industries is a recently founded startup who released Bristlr, the Tinder for beards. Founder John Kershaw shares their future visions - read more!

We’re pleased to introduce John Kershaw, the founder of Bristlr App, – ‘Tinder for beards’, to our readers. It started as a joke, got incredibly successful and received a lot of attention in the media, recently passing the 100,000 users milestone, which was happily celebrated in Manchester startup community.
However, today we’re not talking about Bristlr but about M14 Industries, the newborn company to unite all niche dating projects, which John and his team have in mind.

I think we’ll be discussing M14 today, because Bristlr has already gotten publicity, but M14 is a rather recent thing and needs more explanation.

M14 Industries is essentially the company, which produces apps like Bristlr. As Bristlr’s evolved especially going through Ignite Accelerator, the idea grew from just one app into multiple apps. So it makes a lot more sense to have M14 exist as an umbrella company for all the niche apps. M14 will probably never be consumer facing, it’s only a way to structure the business and talk to investors.

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

Because pursuing other people’s dreams makes me really sad and bored. Essentially I like solving problems and occasionally that lines up with what other people need me to do. However, if I worked for some generic company or an agency, I’d be really miserable, because if I’m not creatively solving problems I’m doing what I’m told. But running something like Bristlr is entirely my own fault and there are a handful of problems I have enough time to solve.

In 7 years from now, how do you see M14 changing the world?

M14 will probably be as big as Tinder by essentially subdividing all those on Tinder into niche demographics with a network of apps, thus providing significantly better matches. Also we potentially may expand out of dating, more reasons for calling the company M14 Industries and not ‘M14 Dating Services’, because ultimately we’re building apps, which lets people meet other people. I think in seven-years time M14 will have a very similar structure, being an umbrella over a lot of smaller niche and incredibly diverse offerings.

Would you consider cross-platform matching?

Maybe. We have a tattoo-based app and there’s a beard-based app, if you got a tattoo and a beard, and we produce both apps, you’ll essentially have one account, but they can function independently. You’ll take advantage of the network effect – that’s our goal.

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

Emotionally, I keep a diary where I put all my feelings every day and then read it back to myself. It’s a hundred and something pages long at this point. I use it to get everything out of my head and keep myself emotionally detached.

In terms of business, M14’s growth, the platform and how you move it to success, we have a model built around seven KPIs, including turn rate, number of sign-ups or friend referrals, etc. We’ve been using the same model for three months now, and surprisingly, all of the predictions fall within a few percentage points of where we think the variable would be at this point. Those KPIs are tracked in real time and we actually share them with investors: on the page we send them a link so there’re literally real time KPIs as they’re being generated by the server. Not many people do that, because if something goes wrong, investors might see. But I myself am a big fan of transparency and honesty.

How does your typical working week look like?

I refocus on the weekend on what I want to achieve the next week. But I work every day, starting at 8am and usually work from bed. And then mid-morning, after rush-hour, I come in and work in a place like SpacePortX if I’m working from town, or start meetings. And then work until late in the evening and afterwards go home, doing that continuously.

That’s my typical week for the last two weeks, before that there was lots of travelling to London and Newcastle. And before that it was Ignite Accelerator. So my typical week is very busy, very fun and very tiring.

Did customers use Bristlr like you imagined it in the beginning?

When I first launched Bristlr I didn’t know if I wanted it to be a dating app or a social network. It was jokingly referred to as a dating app and most people started using it like a dating app. But some use it to share advice on how to take care of beards, that’s where the original confusion emerges. We’re adding social components: now you can have hashtags in other people profiles. It’s still very early, but we’re making it more social, because you can keep a dating site simple and still have basic social tools, letting you learn an awful lot more about someone, which is really important for online dating.

What’s your further strategy for M14?

Currently we’re putting together a seed round to fill in the financing gap between the amount of money we have now and the cost of everything we need to achieve the next year and then by the end of that year we should be profitable again.

Then we’ll probably do another funding round to expand faster than out means normally allow to. Bristlr will probably keep raising until the point of exit. We run a very lean team, which means our capital expenditure is really low.

Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you keep ahead or in line with them?

No one is actually doing what we’re doing. Bristlr had a direct competitor, they launched three weeks after we did and they are no longer around. The main competitors would be people trying to launch a network of dating apps. And there are already websites out there. Essentially, our technology is build intentionally to make it easy to move into a niche and beat competitors. If someone wants to do the exact same thing that we’re doing and build a niche network, it would be cheaper to use our platform under the licence agreement or buy us than to try and compete with M14.

What about your current talent policy and intended changes to it?

Currently Bristlr hires by finding people who want to work in a startup environment rather than at stable and more boring jobs. Then, it’s finding people with the skills you need, but it’s a lot more down to a track record of being able to learn rather than knowing specifically what the skills are.

Currently we hire people on a freelance basis first, so no one’s working for free and we can see how well they work with the team. And when we polish this system, we’ll move to hiring people straight away. We’re also considering a distributed team: if we find the right person, they could be anywhere in the world. It allows us to have more diverse and skilled workforce, because we’re not limited by particular areas.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

No idea. I forget what happened in the morning, as everything moves so fast. When something happened it’s already in the past, and I get it out of my head and move on to the next problem. I guess I remember only the traumatic stuff that gets stuck in your head. Like I never was on radio before and came to BBC and talked for two minutes about beards, that’s memorable and weird. That’s the reason I keep a diary, to remember what I’ve actually done.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Work out what the shape of your business is in terms of a business model, get it vigorously tested, work out what the industry problems are and if your startup is viable, because 99% of startups that work, change their shapes. You might need to change the industry that your startup is in, maybe you can switch to using the same internal models to another sector. And get mentors – find people smarter than you and tell them all your secrets. Don’t ever bother with NDAs, seek good advice.

Photo by Shirlaine Forrest, for Bristlr


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