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Life after Warwick: entrepreneurship

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Gabriel Spencer-Harper answers my questions on entrepreneurship over Skype. We were unable to meet in person since, two weeks ago, he relocated to China. Gabriel graduated from Warwick last year, with a degree in Computer Science and Chinese. The day after finishing his final exam, he wrote the first line of code that would lead to the software behind Moju, a startup he co-founded with his brother Milo.

Gabriel describes Moju as “a keyword-based search engine used by brands and marketing agencies to discover Instagram influencers.” The necessity of a company like Moju, Gabriel explains, is partially owed to shifts in the advertising industry, such as the decline of TV-viewership and traditional print media. Advertisers faced with these new challenges relocate their advertisements to the wider-reaching platform provided by social media, Instagram in particular. Moju’s function is to facilitate the process of finding and getting in touch with influential Instagram users through software that filters accounts according to factors such as areas of interest, follower demographics and language.

The day after finishing his final exam, Gabriel wrote the first line of code that would lead to the software behind Moju.

In Gabriel’s summary of his experience as a co-founder, the highs seem to be sporadically dotted along vast stretches of lows. Gabriel recounts one low, which took place in Leamington Spa during a visit to old Warwick friends. “I was sitting on this bench in Jephson Gardens lamenting that no customers had signed up to our product, and disagreeing with Milo on whether or not we should build robots instead.” A few days later however, the high that would rid Gabriel of his doubts came in the form of an email from a company called Y Combinator. Y Combinator consists of a prestigious group of investors that in the past have funded start-ups such as Dropbox, Reddit, Twitch and Airbnb. Gabriel and Milo’s funding application had gotten through to the final round– an offer made to only 2.5% of applicants– and they were flown out to San Francisco the following week.

Gabriel describes his Y Combinator experience as intense. “They fly you out and interview you for 10 minutes and then spend three minutes deciding whether to give you 120,000 dollars for 7 per cent of your company. We got grilled by four partners, including a former chief of staff at Reddit and someone who had sold two companies to Yahoo and Apple.” According to Gabriel, it was the hardest interview he had ever done. Moju was not selected for funding. However, the experience of getting through to the final round was a confidence boost, the company a mere three months old at the time.

They fly you out and interview you for 10 minutes and then spend three minutes deciding whether to give you 120,000 dollars for 7 per cent of your company.

Gabriel and Milo intend to continue expanding their company, independent of external investment. Until then, Moju’s growing customer base provides Gabriel with daily work, which he divides between himself and his London-based brother over Skype. A day’s work consists either of coding, fixing bugs, talking to customers or conducting user interviews.

Moju also did some custom agency work for a variety of business-owners, one of whom Gabriel serendipitously met in San Francisco. He attributes this serendipity to the spirit of SF, in which everyone you meet is there in the name of tech. I ask if San Francisco, as a hub, merits a comparison to Warwick University. “San Francisco is ruthlessly focused on tech. The nice thing about Warwick is that you meet a diverse range of people.” Variety, for Gabriel, is at the heart of entrepreneurship. Part of the fun for him is the intellectual challenge entrepreneurship poses: “It lies at the intersection between economics, technology, psychology and future prediction.”

San Francisco is ruthlessly focused on tech. The nice thing about Warwick is that you meet a diverse range of people.

I ask Gabriel for some practical advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.“Find a co-founder: they will make the work less lonely and the journey more fun. Learn how to code and watch the ‘how to start a startup’ series. Choose your product based on your comparative advantage and how you think the world is changing. How can your product help businesses or people adapt to these changes? Find your target audience and speak to them face-to-face. Have a short feedback loop: Release your product early, even if it’s still flawed. You’ll receive the advice needed to know whether it is worth spending the next 8 months perfecting it. Talk to your customers obsessively. Speak to other founders and Read SEC filings.”

On a final note, Gabriel laments the high standard of emotional satisfaction to which entrepreneurs are held. The glamour associated with them, particularly ones in their twenties, is a myth Mark Zuckerberg (and his fictionalised double in The Social Network) helped perpetuate.

His interview with the Y Combinator remains the most glamorous experience Gabriel has had as an entrepreneur. Yet the most satisfying experience is simply that of seeing results after hard work. What most satisfies Gabriel is “gaining confidence that this could be a large sustainable company… that is an exciting prospect.”

  • For coding, Gabriel recommends Code Academy. If you’re female, Code First: Girls runs workshops in London. Gabriel also recommends Paul Graham’s essays and ‘the Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries

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