Morten's Story - How I quit my corporate job to launch an app business
Ever considered stepping away from your corporate job to launch a business based on a nagging idea that won’t go away? We spoke to Morten Schroeder about his decision to do exactly that!
Mortan co-founded friend recommendation app, Friendspire, alongside three good friends over a bowl of ramen in Chicago. Let’s find out the full story…
I worked 6 years for the Boston Consulting Group as a management consultant. I started my career as an associate in our Copenhagen office straight out of University.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I busted my ass for two years and learned a ton and decided I wanted to venture abroad. I transferred to our Chicago office on a 1-year temporary assignment and ended up staying for 4 and got engaged in the meantime.
Tell us more about Friendspire. How did the idea come about?
As a consultant, you are often on the road and forced to eat out all the time. Upon arriving in a new city, I would always struggle to find places to eat and got frustrated with random online reviews. Instead, I found myself asking colleagues or clients for recommendations all the time, and more often than not they would have a neat list ready to share with me. I thought to myself: “How do I get access to these lists in a more efficient and consistent way?”.
At the same time, I got really into listening to podcasts while flying, and again ran into the same problem – I would constantly ask friends for recommendations. The idea of an app where you could easily share recommendations with your friends across restaurants, movies, books, podcasts, etc started taking form.
I researched the market and realised nothing really existed that solved this need in a way that I liked. I pitched the idea to two of my friends and around Christmas 2017 we decided to build it ourselves.
When did you know the time was right to leave your job and focus on this full-time?
It took a while! We pursued Friendspire as a hobby for about a year and put in 5-10 hours a week alongside full-time demanding jobs. We outsourced development and essentially bootstrapped it from our own salaries. None of us had any significant startup experience, so we made A LOT of mistakes.
Upon going live on the App Store in Feb 2019, we quickly realised that one of us had to go full-time to keep up with work. For me, this happened to coincide with a promotion in my current job, which meant I was at a crossroad:
Either 1 – Stay and gun for a partner position.
Or 2 – Take a risk and pursue your startup.
My motivation has always been strongly linked to challenging myself so the choice was actually relatively easy: Here I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue an idea of my own and venturing into completely unknown territory. Staying just felt too safe and too easy. What sealed the deal for me was actually asking myself: “When I grow old someday will I look back at this opportunity and regret I didn’t pursue it?”. I knew I would.
What has been the highlight of this journey?
One of the biggest joys of Friendspire is that its appeal is so broad – essentially anyone I meet is a potential user. So when a friend tells me about that awesome restaurant he found because of the app, or the new podcast she discovered because a friend rated it, that makes me really proud.
The feeling that I have created something that can bring other people that joy (free of charge) feels really good.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
That’s a tough question because there are so many. I think the one that has surprised me the most is how hard it is to get someone to consistently use an app. Apps are great because they are very easy to develop and distribute, but they are just as easy to discard. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they love the idea, and would definitely use it, I would be a happy man by now.
Kidding aside, I really do think these people are being honest, yet app usage has become so habitual and ingrained in our subconsciousness today, that trying to squeeze your product in-between Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. is tough. But we are slowly getting there.
What is the day-to-day reality like of working on an early-stage startup?
Since I am based in Miami, my day usually starts with getting up early (6-7am) to make sure I have 2-3 hours of overlap with our developer team based in India. This usually consists of bug solving, and current and future development efforts.
Since I am currently the only full-time employee in Friendspire, I am a jack of all trades right now. To limit my fragmentation, I try to bucket each day into bigger work modules, so one day I might work on all of our e-mail communications to users, the next I might do our trademark application and the next I might do our funding material. Luckily, one of my co-founders will be joining me full-time at the end of October so we have a very exciting time ahead of us.
What advice would you give someone who has an idea for an app-based business?
- Don’t think you always have to quit your job to pursue a startup initially. The fact that I was able to pursue Friendspire alongside my full-time job made it easier to get over the first hump of ’starting your own company’. Consider ways to leverage outside help to get started and test your idea before you plunge in.
- Think carefully about whether to develop out of low-cost countries. For us, low-cost made sense and I wouldn’t change it with what I know today, but for others, it might not. Do proper diligence of development companies across all price ranges upfront.
- Get user feedback as early and frequently as possible. The first version of Friendspire was embarrassing but we learned a lot from it, and the key thing to realise is that no matter how much thinking you do upfront you can never predict everything in advance. Structure yourself so you can develop fast, launch fast, and course-correct fast.
- Ask for advice on which tools to use. I wish I had asked other app entrepreneurs which programs they use on a regular basis. There’s so much advice for startups out there, but something as practical as a list of programs to use would have been a huge timesaver early on. So, here’s a list of the ones I use at least once every week or found very useful: Slack, Asana, Mailchimp & Mandrill, Hootsuite, Squarespace, Mockuphone.com, Placeit.net, Pixlr.com, Fiverr. Did I miss one of your favourites? Please tell me!
- Focus on the core. Make sure your app solves the core need to perfection before you branch out to new functionality (which implies you understand what your core functionality is).
What stage is Friendspire at now in terms of customer traction?
We are making our way towards 2k users and 20k reviews so still early in our growth journey. We have deliberately not put any money into marketing yet, and instead, we’ve focused on improving the app based on the feedback we receive.
We are now at a point where we are relatively happy with the performance and functionality of the app and will start to put money behind marketing and exploring various growth avenues to figure out what sticks. We are also looking to secure funding hopefully before the end of the year, which will be used on a big marketing push and further app development. So if you are intrigued to invest, please let us know!
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