Excuses to Meet is an app that makes it an easy and enjoyable experience for like-minded people to meet with one another based on at least one of several common interests. It fills the social void that often comes from living in a place where pigeons are easier to talk to than people. Whether that’s checking out the latest pop-up event, finding compatible flatmates for house-hunting, learning a new language, visiting a new exhibition, or simply finding a wingman/mam to hit the town with, Excuses to Meet can help you lead a more connected life in what often feels like a socially disconnected world.
What's your own career background?
Eduardo holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Penn State University, with a minor in Mandarin Chinese language. He has worked in manufacturing and finance in USA and UK, respectively, while more recently having led various entrepreneurial projects in web and mobile technology.
Ruslan is a Software Developer, he holds two Master's Degrees from the University of St. Petersburg (ITMO), one in Computer Hardware Engineering, the other in Technology Entrepreneurship. He's worked in various tech roles at startup and corporate level in Russia.
Why are you on this journey?
We both have a passion for entrepreneurship and technology. Excuses to Meet started as a skills exchange project. The idea was to create a hub where people could trade skills with others nearby. As we progressed, we came to the realisation that what we had developed would have greater appeal as a service that more broadly helped bring people together, or "break the ice" if you will.
Excuses to Meethas at its heart a philosophy that many people will relate to. We help people, in particular city newcomers such as international students, professionals, and tourists, meet new people and make friends. The aim is to make starting life in a new city easier, something that we know first-hand can be a very daunting experience.
The app helps users identify other people nearby that want to do something similar to them. In total there are 28 ‘excuses’ to choose from, which give people enough options to break the ice, but doesn’t overwhelm them with too many options at the same time.
What problem is it / are you trying to solve?
Relocating can be challenging, no matter what the reason for your move. Large and small cities alike have many things to offer, and have many friendly people in them, and yet, the experience for newcomers is often a lonely one. These are the people we set out to help.
However, we quickly found that the app proved just as popular amongst city veterans as it did newcomers, often with great crossover. There are many people who have lived in London their whole lives, but have barely scratched the surface of everything there is to explore. Some people simply want to explore interests they have not been able to pursue with their existing network of friends, or even just have the chance to make some new friends. Excuses to Meet is attracting a diverse audience, all of who have one thing in common – they want to meet new people and have fun whilst they do it.
What is it's unique selling point?
This is an app that helps generate friendships in a comfortable setting, and almost on demand. We have worked hard to ensure the mobile interface and user experience encourages people looking to meet others based on friendly interests, rather than for the purposes of dating. We will continue to learn from our users, but we will maintain our focus in making this an app that works to build friendships.
What's been the toughest part of the journey so far?
The thing we have found most challenging is understanding how to measure the less tangible metrics and performance of the app. We cannot fully measure the user experience, as it would be intrusive to contact users directly. Even if we did, there would always be discrepancies between what a user consciously perceives as they use the app and other things that they cannot consciously perceive, but that similarly affect their behaviour in the app. So for us, knowing how to listen to our users and automating the way in which we collect certain data is very important, as it will directly impact how we develop the app.
What mistake did you learn the most from?
We previously worked on a mobile app called PicMe. The app allowed users to take a selfie when they were trying on clothes from their favourite stores, and in return we'd mail them gift cards from our partner brands. In time we did the same for our fashion influencers who would blog actively about our app. We went out to speak to consumers on the streets, in shopping centres and schools etc. to get feedback about how they used the app. For the most part the feedback was very positive, however in practice users did not use the app in the same way when we were no longer there. We learnt that face-to-face feedback like this was both time-consuming, but also potentially flawed in its reliability.
For Excuses to Meet we skipped a lot of that early feedback, and instead invested more time in setting up ways in which to "listen" to how our users were actually using the app. This has saved us an enormous amount of time, and the results are much more reliable.
Any accolades / awards we should know about?
Many happy users. We’ve heard first-hand that users have gone to the cinema, or for lunch at a street food market, and they have made genuine lasting friendships. This is the only "accolade" that matters to us at this stage.
What stage are you at in developing / launching your startup / project?
The app is available for free download on iPhone and Android devices. Our largest user base is in London at this time, but we've also had some unexpected, organic growth, taking place in other cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, NYC, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and Amsterdam.
What piece of advice would you pass on to other Startacus members?
Talk to a lot of start-ups before you launch.Try to learn about why others have failed or succeeded, and bounce ideas around. The more you do this, the more you will understand what's ahead and you'll be better prepared when your time comes. More often than not you will also find people who have done exactly what you are trying to do or a version of it, and who could - given the right relationship - be very helpful and supportive.
Attend social and professional networking events. It’s fun and extremely smart to surround yourself with a strong network of people. Many times the benefits of cultivating these networks can come in very useful in the most unexpected of ways down the road.
Try and fail, try and fail, and try and fail again. If something isn’t going to work, it is best to figure it out quickly. You can make it easier to detect these signs by developing in small increments and constantly testing that your hypothesis remains valid. That way, if your project is going to fail (and many will!) you will identify it early on, which is often the best-case scenario, and will ultimately save you a lot of time so that you can pivot the project in a new direction or re-start as a completely new project.
Keep your head up. Failure is extremely important for you, and also in the eyes of investors looking at your experience. It’s a very normal and accepted part of the start-up world, and it often signals to potential backers that you have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly which is important to become successful in the future. At the same time make sure that you enjoy the experience – the start-up world is all about passion and we shouldn’t forget that.
Gain experience. Make sure that the experience you are gaining in the start-up is developing you in parallel to what the “real world” would require from you, if you ever had to make the jump back into a full-time job. Knowing that the skills you are picking up now are just as important in a full-time job, will enable you to hedge your opportunities for professional growth no matter what path you take after your current project.
What inspired this startup?
This project started as a skills exchange where people could trade useful skills with others nearby, for example, teaching someone how to cook, in exchange for learning how to use Excel. With time we found that our technology would be more suited for a concept with broader appeal, and so was born the Excuses to Meet app that exists today! As both Ruslan and myself had recently migrated to London, we understood first-hand the need for this service and decided to dive in.
How are you planning on funding your startup? Crowdfunding, Investors, etc?
The Excuses to Meet app, now 5 months old, continues to be seed funded, but have been holding private discussions for a larger next round. We cannot disclose much more at present.
Are there any particular skill sets you need /need to hire in order to be able to advance your startup?
What kind of marketing have you been doing? Any interesting campaigns?
We are opting not to share our marketing strategies publicly.
What is your long term goal? World domination or simply completion and distribution?
Our long-term goal is to make it easier for people to meet each other, giving people of all walks of life the right "excuses to meet" so that they can break the ice faster and meet new people with greater ease.
Once we have fine-tuned and are comfortable with the service we are providing to our early users, we plan to scale the project out to other cities and eventually develop the concept of "communities" within the app. For now, this is as much as we can tell you about that initiative.
If any other collaborators wanted to lend a hand in your startup, how would they do so? Contact info? Actions?
If you could achieve any one thing from the startup what would it be?
To make people happy by providing an app that makes it easy for users to meet with one another based on carefully selected "excuses" to meet.
What edge do you have over your competitors?
The timing of our launch is key. Before now, many others have approached the market with similar apps, but until recently the general public was adverse to the idea of putting their profile publicly out there for neighbours to see. Thanks to apps like Tinder, people are now less risk averse, regardless of it being an app for dating, for friendship or for business networking. Whilst we know we have competitors in the “friendship” space, we also believe that we've learned from them and launched an app that today's mobile user will welcome more freely. At the very least, our fast growth following our 23rd September iPhone launch suggests this to be the case!
And with that, we wish Eduardo and the Excuses to Meet team well!
Mi-IDEA Manchester Networking Event
27th Sep 2016
The teams from CISCO and Manchester Science Partnerships have teamed up to create Mi-IDEA, a post-accelerator designed to foster and nurture digital innovation in the North West of England.