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Why People are So Important
Chris Smith is the CEO of Area360, a company that develops mobile location technology that companies use to improve the visitor experience with contextual content delivered at the right time to a smartphone. In 2011, Chris launched his first startup, Dash Tickets, which quickly became one of the largest ticketing companies in New Zealand. In 2012, he founded STQRY, an interactive mobile storytelling platform that is now used at over 400 culture and arts organizations internationally. Here he shares what he wished he knew when he started his businesses.
Our business goals have totally changed since we launched STQRY in 2012.
We started out as an alternative for museum audio guides, essentially. Focusing on one space helped us prove our product, and then we found all these other industries that were interested. Since then, our goals have drastically changed, but the passion of the team to deliver exceptional experiences through mobile hasn't changed. You can always go back to your core and find out what everyone is passionate about. It's important to always chase goals no matter how massive the pivot.
Fundraising in a New Space
In this industry, there's not a lot of competition, but there's also not a lot of funding going on. So we got our start by reaching out to friends and family — people we knew who already trusted us. We just finished our Series A round of funding, but it's still a difficult stage to be in because you're challenged with not having a reputation or a lot of revenue. Any VC you work with at this stage needs to have that confidence that no matter what pivot you take, you'll be there. VCs are so much more than people who put money in your bank account. Just as much as they're interviewing you, you should be asking if they're the right partner to help you on your journey. That relationship and passion are so important.
Focus on People
If I could change one thing about my entrepreneurial journey, it would be to focus on who I hire from the beginning. It's a lonely path full of failure, challenges and excitement, but the people around you will either boost you when you have success or bring you down. You want the people you deal with, clients, employees, partners, to help you through the challenges. It pays to be diligent about who you work with.
Sometimes you panic because you're about to launch an update or deliver on a project, and you need a developer, so you hire the next person who walks into your door. It can be totally debilitating if you hire the wrong person. Bringing in the passion is so important and critical for the long run. The wrong person can destroy a team and it's important to teach high standards. As a founder, you need to embody the same respect that you want to see from your employees.
It has helped our team to stay unified by seeing the product implemented. Make sure your developers get to go out and see what they're working on. In fact, make sure the whole team gets that opportunity.
Our initial brand, STQRY, was hard to spell. People were confused by the “Q" and it made initial pitches and conversations more difficult. We rebranded, looking for something just as catchy but also clear and memorable. That went into logo creation, vision statement, and everything that we created for the brand. Brand development highly depends on the business. Consumer product? Brand is critical. Word of mouth is critical. Service-based companies or behind the scenes products often have more important things to focus on from day one. If you're relying on word of mouth, though, brand is key.
Dealing with Failure
As a startup founder, expect failure all the time. You just can't be discouraged by it. You have to use it and drive forward. Your team will constantly fail, and you don't want to be demotivated. I've gone through moments as an entrepreneur feeling doubt and depression, and it's a horrible feeling. You have to learn to channel that loneliness or depression into new insights. If I fail now, I know I end up doing better. My body craves challenges, and there's no way you succeed at challenges every time. I seek out things that are difficult so that I can fail, because when I do succeed it will be a massive success.
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Chris Smith is the founder and CEO of Area360.