Every week we publish an interview with a start-up. We ask five questions, hoping the answers will give you inspiration and new views.
This time we’re interviewing Tijs Teulings. He runs a small web agency called Automatique and has been busy building the online portfolio service startup Fresh.li during the evenings. Now that he’s finished, I’m glad to interview him about his “shoestring-project”. Thanks to outsourcing some of the work and keeping his regular clients, Tijs managed to keep the costs under €5k. Let’s hear the details…
How did you come up with the idea of Fresh.li?
“Well my main source of income is my web development business, I do technical design and build web apps for businesses small and large. For some reason family and friends always seemed to think this implied that I would be more than willing to build a nice website for them, maybe in return for a cake or a hug. Other freelancers might nod in recognition at this point. Enticing as these offers where fact of the matter was that I never really had the time to build these websites for them, much less keep them up to date. This never ending deluge of requests together with the fact that a lot of my family and friends tend to dabble in the arts lead to the idea that I would be well served with a generalized tool that would allow me to quickly setup an online portfolio and that would allow the artist in question to maintain it themselves. So what started as a website and CMS for my mother quickly turned into a full fledged consumer product.”
What was your biggest challenge during the development process?
“I guess the fact that I opted to build this web application in the hours I wasn’t spending on my freelance business was the biggest challenge. Startup veterans tend to tell you that the only way to get a project like this off the ground is to dedicate yourself fully to it. And while they are probably right in most cases I found that my lack of both time and budget actually forced me to make some creative decisions when it came to managing these issues. Since I have a background in technical design I was able to write a reasonably solid technical design and outsource all the development work. Although this was the first time I opted for such a solution I’m quite happy with the results. It allowed me to keep a certain distance from the development side of the project and regard the results more as client than builder. In the end this allowed me to save costs and focus on the features not the technology. Having anxious family and friends available all waiting for their new portfolio helped as well of course. I would only recommend outsourcing to startups who have technical expertise in-house as well though.”
Can you describe The Hague’s start-up culture compared to Silicon Valley?
“I’m based in The Hague in the Netherlands and as far as startups are concerned this isn’t exactly a hotbed of entrepreneurship. There are some startups here doing great stuff but there is definitely a lack of places where people in this scene can meet-up and exchange ideas. Recently things are starting to look up though with more coworking spaces, drinks and other events for entrepreneurs. Luckily I have a lot of business and friends in Amsterdam so I’m regularly there to work on projects and tend to hang out at most of the places where you would find dutch startups. Spend a week in Amsterdam coworking at the right places and you will probably meet 80% of the Internet startups in the Netherlands. This relative small size of the scene as opposed to Silicon Valley can be a great advantage plus the atmosphere here is rather relaxed. It also seems the the funding opportunities have been picking up lately with some Dutch startups hooking up with great investors both local and abroad. I have managed to stay self-funded for now though so I’m hardly and expert in that particular part of startup culture.”
What will be the influence of your start-up on the next web?
“My startup is somewhat different from most since it totally ignores the social web. When you sign up for a portfolio at fresh.li there is no way to add your friends, show off your great taste or even upload an avatar. I have a very narrow focus of allowing people to manage their portfolio in a simple way and frankly the whole social thing just gets in the way for this particular use case. The artists who host their website with fresh.li don’t want their visitors to see related work they want them to see their work without distractions. This has great advantages in the sort of functionality I can get away with. Less is definitely better since it keeps things simple and most of my current clients do not have much experience on the next web expect perhaps updating their MySpace pages. Therefore i don’t think fresh.li will have much of an impact on the next web but it does serve as a reminder that there is this huge untapped potential of people out there that still feel quite uncomfortable with most of what the next web has to offer. Hopefully I can convince some of these people that publishing on the web is not necessarily hard and can be achieved without learning lots of acronyms and share high-quality posts—even if you’re not a tech nerd. RSS will play a vital role in the next web, so we think it’s really important to help mainstream users get comfortable with it.”
You can make up this question yourself!
So since your audience is not the typical web geek, how will you reach them?“My biggest challenge beyond the development one will be reaching the kind of people that would want to use fresh.li. Since most of them are not really on the web in the sort of way that most of the readers of this blog will be I won’t be able to reach them through the usual channels startups use like The Next Web, TechCrunch and others like them. For my marketing efforts I will try and get as close to the source, of artists, as possible, i.e. the art academy. Flyers should help but i’m also trying to get my website into the collection of tools students use to get their work online, currently dominated by blogging tools not really fit for this purpose. Since my marketing budget is rather close to zero I won’t be able to actually buy advertising space in some of the media that might be interesting to my target audience but I don’t have much trust in the effectiveness of that kind of ‘old media’ channel anyway. What I’ve found so far is that word of mouth is by far the most effective. Some of my current customers have been the best PR people I could wish for most new customers find me because a friend pointed the site out to them. Still marketing in the non-web world, with a small budget, is hard work and an area I would love to read more about.”