Earlier this year, The Next Web’s US East Coast Editor Courtney Boyd Myers ran a feature called Silicon Roundabout from a New York State of Mind. Part of this piece constituted an interview with Rich Martell, founder of Floxx Media Group, a company specializing in location-based social networking apps.
To give you a quick recap, Martell was the guy behind FitFinder, a social networking website launched in early 2010 which caused quite a stir at the time. FitFinder gave UK university students a platform to publicly (and anonymously) post messages about people they thought were ‘hot’ in specific locations, such as in the library. The site was ultimately forced offline by University College London (UCL), where he studied at the time, and was banned by several other universities. Some comparisons were even drawn between Rich and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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Floxx Media Group is a spin-off from all that, and it has secured some seed investment from Doug Richard (formerly of Dragons’ Den) and Silicon Valley investor Kevin Wall, whilst FitFinder rebranded simply as ‘Floxx’, releasing an iPhone app in January this year. The company has since set out to release a series of apps running off the Floxx platform, the first of which we covered back in August.
MapChat is what the company called “the first location-based instant messaging client”, and you can actually read all about it here: MapChat: The location-based instant messaging app for strangers.
But first, we caught up with Rich to delve a little deeper into where he came from, where his company’s at and where things may go from here.
Although still only 22, Rich’s entrepreneurial tendencies started at an even younger age. “While at school I freelanced and built websites for friends and family”, says Rich. “As well as being a great way to learn and improve, it gave me a decent income while I was still in education.”
“I was about 4 or 5 years old when my family first had a PC, which was an Acorn, says Rich. “My first school had computers too, but they were beasts back in the day, with about 2MB RAM. But I was never particularly academic. I did enjoy maths, computing and physics, and I was always interested in computing at school and had a number of other projects on the go. I started freelancing when I was 16, which beat working in a pub.”
And given Rich’s gravitation towards the mobile sphere, what was his first mobile? “I think my mother stopped me from having a mobile until I was 13 or so”, says Rich “And then I was allowed a Nokia 3210 – a classic phone where you could even send picture graphics and had a vast selection of ringtones!”
What with all the FitFinder activity whilst still studying at UCL, you may be wondering whether, as with Mark Zuckerberg, Rich dropped out to focus full-time on Floxx. “It took a while to sort a few things out but, fortunately, I got my degree a few months after leaving Uni”, says Rich.
Unlike many Uni-leavers who may take a year or two out to travel, or work their way up through graduate positions, Rich launched head-first into Floxx, securing investment from a young age, so does this mean Rich is missing out on some of the funner aspects of being in his early twenties? “Running a startup is more than a full time job”, says Rich. “To want to succeed means you want to do it more than anything else. It’s the thing I think most about, and you have numerous sleepless nights thinking about your next move. I do have some limited leisure time, I like to go running and keep fit in general – it’s a great way to force your mind off work.”
Rich and the whole Floxx team currently reside in London, and it has a small office in the Silicon Roundabout area of the city. But, as with any up-and-coming entrepreneur, there seems to be at least one-eye on the States. “We’d love to make it big in the US”, says Rich. “We recently took a trip there, which we video-blogged about for Sky News. This really hammered home the scale of things over there. Obviously having a permanent presence like that over there somewhere down the line would be great.”
There’s actually an interesting sub-story to the rebranding of FitFinder as ‘Floxx’, something that any budding startup should remember when considering the global appeal of their product. “Rebranding as Floxx was a quick fix for the problems of not being able to get the .com domain”, says Rich. “And there was also the issue of international users not having the same understanding of ‘fit’ as British students.” If you’re not aware, “fit” is used colloquially in the UK to mean someone who’s attractive, hence FitFinder worked perfectly well as a name for domestic users of the app.
MapChat and other apps
With a few months passed since we covered MapChat, I asked Rich for an update on its progression, and the promised Android version of the app. “MapChat was an interesting case, in part, it was a side project to help us test out our servers and get some insight into location software”, says Rich. “Despite a total lack of paid advertising, we got into tens of thousands of users and had over half a million messages sent just a few weeks after the initial release. It’d be great to get an Android version of MapChat out, but we’re really focusing on Spottd at the moment – hopefully somewhere down the line we’ll shake our tendency to release iOS-only apps!”
What’s this…another app being offered already? It seems so. No sooner has MapChat gotten out of the starting blocks and Floxx Media Group already has a second app out. Spottd is another location-based app, this one lets users share and discover the things they love. I guess that could even include ‘hotties’ you see at university, but I digress.
So, you see something cool that you like, insert a description, take a photo of it (if you want) and you can share it with the world. The app has a ‘social deals’ feature, which allows users to see the latest deals in their locale, ones that have been shared already by other users.
“When we were putting the app together, we thought about how useful it would be to have something that listed all the deals around you, rather than what other websites do where you tend to have to go to the deal, rather than have it come to you. And, of course, include the experience of other users. However, as time went on, we realized there could be much more to it than that – the experience of users at certain locations, beyond just deals, was a much more interesting idea than just having them ‘check-in’.”
So Spottd could be used for finding a new bar, or even engaging in a bit of celebrity-spotting, if that’s the sort of thing you like.
What is it about ‘location’?
First there was FitFinder which morphed into Floxx, then there was MapChat and now there’s Spottd. So what spurred Rich’s enthusiasm for location-based apps? “This really stemmed from Floxx/FitFinder”, says Rich. “It was interesting to see the ways in which people used the location element in ways other than those we had intended. People would talk about where they had seen Princess Eugenie (at Newcastle University), and others posted about lost handbags and asking if there were many vacant computers in the Library.”
Floxx currently has six employees – three full-time developers, a part-time graphic designer (who is still at university), a marketing/communications/social media manager, and then Rich, who says he’s taking a less active role in the hands-on product development. “I used to handle a lot of the development, but being able to delegate this means I’m handling a lot more on the business side of things”, says Rich. “That’s been an adjustment, but I’m starting to get the hang of public speaking and preparing proposals.”
The future for Floxx
Looking to the future, where can we expect to see Floxx go from here? We’ve already seen two apps released in the space of a few months, so can we expect to see many more? “Obviously we’re working hard on Spottd right now, and when you’ve got a new app, you sort of get tunnel vision when it comes to working on anything else”, says Rich. “If all goes well we’d love it if, twelve months from now, Spottd has taken London by storm and we’re launching it in more cities across the world.”
And there could be more money on the horizon too, something Rich wouldn’t be averse to, but admits it could still be a little on the early side for some investors. “We had a lot of great conversations with potential investors on our trip to the USA, but the general consensus is that with Spottd having only been out for a couple of weeks it is too early to do a VC round”, says Rich. “That said, we are speaking to people, some based in the UK, and some in the US, about getting further investment.”
So watch this space. Floxx is still a young startup, but with three apps to its name this year, and the US very much in its sights, we could be hearing a lot more about Rich Martell.