Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rewriting reviews: LoveThis launches blogger Alexis Dormandy has launched a new start-up. He explains why he's taken the plunge, and how LoveThis is his bid to rewrite how reviews and recommendations work on the web.

Today my business, LoveThis, finally launches.
Launching my own business first occurred to me when I was a kid – probably watching my future employer with a beard launching his airline. I’m not one of those people they seem to recruit for The Apprentice, I just had this thought that lingered at the back of my head.
As you get older the idea becomes more exciting (probably as the idea of working for someone else becomes less so), and you start to have ideas. They’re just not very good.
The problem for most of us is that at that time it’s very difficult to turn down a paying job for an idea that barely exists. So you take the job.
I was lucky, I got to work for Virgin, and got to launch businesses for Richard Branson. Aged 26 I was shipped out to Los Angeles to launch my first Virgin business. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I learnt really quickly – you always do when you make mistakes. I had the time of my life, but it’s still not the same as doing it for yourself.
As I got older, I realised that launching a business is even more risky than I thought it was when I was twenty. And I thought it was pretty risky then.
But still I daydreamed. I had lots of ideas. My heart told me to do something I could be proud of (and my head told me to pay the rent). The car, house, holidays, social life – they all make it more difficult to leave.
I convinced myself the real problem was the idea. I sort of knew this wasn’t true, but it was a lot easier than admitting I’d got no spine. So you forge a career, and maybe you get married and have kids, and you wonder what might have been.
Or maybe you don’t.
About 18 months ago I had an idea. Rather than withering away, this one grew. The idea was how to save all your friends recommendations in one place. When I was looking for almost anything: a restaurant, a plumber, and decent book, headphones, the only source I really trusted was my friends. The problem was that I could never remember what they’d told me. I couldn’t remember who sent me that email about a great new restaurant or told me about a book in the pub.
They couldn’t either.
From that I came up with LoveThis. It lets you share recommendations privately amongst friends. It lets you send, save and discuss them across an iPhone app, the web, email and Facebook. Just think how much more fun life would be if you had one place that saved all the things your friends would recommend. That’s LoveThis.
There comes the point you look yourself in the mirror and ask why sort of person you want to be. I decided that I only had one life, I knew what sort of person I was, and I was going to let that life pass me by. So I started working.
First of all there was too much paper and not enough doing. Then I built a frankly rubbish prototype. My friends told me it was great, because that’s what friends do – this is very dangerous.
You need a team. Everyone likes to believe that they would be a brilliant product designer, or marketer, because we all see products and marketing every day.
Turns out most of us are rubbish. I was lucky enough to find Brad Haynes, who was the lead product designer for Ocado for seven years and Stuart Dillon, who has built more than his fair share of these sorts of businesses.
At some point you need to find investors. They seem like a hurdle, but actually they’re a filter. They’ve seen lots and lots of these businesses, and if they’re not investing, it’s probably because the idea is not good enough. I enjoyed talking to investors, maybe it’s my sense of humour, but being torn apart by really clever people trying to show why my idea is rubbish really appeals to me. I was lucky, the idea survived the experience and we had a large number of investors who wanted to invest.
So finally we built the product. We found problems. We solved them. We found more. Everyone had a brilliant idea for “just another feature”. I resisted most of them – keeping things simple is really really difficult. After 18 months of nights and weekends cajoling people into helping you, to work for you, working out tiniest details of the product. After you’ve taken calls in the middle of the night from some junior associate in a California venture capital firm who hasn’t bothered to read the document, but really enjoys showing how clever he is. After you’ve discovered mice in the office, and that your blog has a remarkably similar URL to a porn star of a similar name. After all that, you finally get to launch day.
I know the colour of every button, every font used, I’ve written the copy of every email, and discussed and fought over every feature we’ve included. It’s like throwing the biggest party of your life, it's 8 o'clock and I don't know if anyone will turn up.
Never had so much fun in my life.

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