Sunday, 5 June 2011

Start-up Spotlight: Interview with Josh Liu co-founder of Minutebox

Your background in a few words... and why Minutebox? I was in advertising, working at Ogilvy Taipei. But you know, it is frustrating, working in an agency. All the time you spend serving your idea and the clients don’t buy it for the silliest reasons. So I wanted to be an entrepreneur and nurture my own ideas. That is why I came to London and pursued an MBA at Imperial. But right after my MBA, I did not have a solid business idea to go for. So after too much consultancy and job hunting, I realized there was no easy way to monetize my expertise, which would be valuable to someone somewhere. And this very insight became my business idea.

How would you describe Minutebox? Expert advice made social. We are a social way to buy and sell expertise online.

Easy! Surely there is a back-story to it? It was a long journey. Initially we wanted to build a destination site, a marketplace. But it is not easy to get people coming to you. I think we had a pivot during Seedcamp in January. We got really tough questions and good advice. We actually decided, rather than bringing people to our site, we would go out and reach out to them in multiple social contact points. Plus, doing this, we avoided the scalability issue of selecting a niche target. So that changed our model and made us much more flexible as well.

What happened to the initial website? We had to totally rebuild it, and it was a tough decision. But we are very happy and positive about our new approach. As entrepreneurs, we have to believe in what we do, and take the right decision. It’s all about speed and you just can’t distract yourself.

Who advised you along the way? Many people, but advice can be tricky. You need to listen but you also need to filter, and make it constructive. Filter acutely to distinguish the signals from noise. The most valuable advise I find has been from our users.

You had big PR very early, how do you feel about this? We learned along the way. There is no rush for PR. Polish your product before presenting it to a TechCrunch or a Mashable. Just start with your early users. Then get small PR from tech blogs. Update the big ones but do not rush, they will know when it's the right time to write about you.

And your advice to entrepreneurs? Don’t give up! A lot of people give up too soon. “Fail fast” doesn’t mean “definitely fail”, it is a test and if you don’t succeed this time, it will make you a better entrepreneur anyway. And another would be “Be positive”. An entrepreneur has to be optimistic, because there can be a lot of uncertainties.

A few words about fundraising and bootstrapping? You need to show investors your traction, so get an MVP go to market. Keep investors in the loop, they will give you some comments. And when you feel you are ready, do a proper pitch.

Any resource or website apps online you would recommend for entrepreneurs? I would recommend two blogs: A VC blog and Both Sides of the Table. In regard to tools, we use Unfuddle, Skype, GetSatisfaction, and SendGrid often. But we are a small team, so we try to avoid collaboration tools; it is just easier to communicate.

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