Guest post from Joel Selvadurai of Messagr.com:
My name is Joel Selvadurai, a 23 year old Entrepreneur living in London. I graduated with a BSc. in Computer Science from the University of Durham in 2005. I learned to code java at University and worked as a java developer after I graduated for around six months. I’ve always had a passion for creativity and innovation on the web and was fustrated that my job didn’t let me innovate or let me vent my creativity. Eventually, I decided to take a year out and work on my own web projects to see if anything would come of it. I was inspired by the blogs coming out of silicon valley of young entrepreneurs creating new ideas and getting the backing they needed. It was around this time that meebo had set up, I would read their blog everyday, track their progress, see how they raised their first few rounds and go from an idea into one of the most popular sites on the web. I was inspired, so I quit my job in the hope of doing the same, in London.
I spent two months creating the first protoype of messagr.com, an instant chat search engine for people. This was around the time that TechCrunch UK was setting up. Once I had a rough demo ready, I wrote to TechCrunch UK (Sam Sethi) and got a great review. Soon after I attended Second Chance tuesday where I got to speak to some investors and arranged some meetings. At this point I was full of hope but was disappointed when I found that the investors were very critical of my position, not having a team with a track record, not having a track record myself, not having any revenue, not having any significant traction. The world seemed to turn red when one prominent VC said to me “There is no chance that you’ll raise any seed money in the UK, you have a better chance in the US”. I was expecting inspiration, encouragement and perhaps even a little money to take my idea a bit further, but all I got was a feeling that I was crazy for even trying. In addition, my fellow entrepreneurs in the UK felt the same, and were fleeing the US to start their companies. Networking events seemed closed to young entrepreneurs often costing upwards of £50 and being held in swanky private clubs. I even contacted the organisers of such events to persuade them that young entrepreneurs were valuable and that some concessions should be made. Only to be told that “the price was the only way to maintain quality at these events”. It was a stark contrast to the open mindedness I had read about in Silicon Valley.
I felt that the only way to take my idea further was to find the money myself, somehow. A month later, I had a stroke of luck which eared me £10,000 to do some development for Rabble to integrate some of the IM technology I’d created for messagr into their product. This money kept me afloat for a while and gave me some time to develop more ideas. I decided at this point that I needed to create a revenue generating business to fund the further development of messagr which I was still very passionate about. So, I sat in a room for three months and created livechat2im.com in the hope of generating a little cash. It was a great learning experience and got some great reviews in the blogosphere. Despite having over 1300 users, the number of paid users are minimal and I had to resort getting a development job again (this time developing in Adobe Flex).
A year on, although having learned an immense amount and meeting some amazing people, I felt my enthusiasm sapped and my morale low. On reflection, it was a mistake to do it on my own, so I’m currently looking for a co-founder to join me in my Seedcamp application. The ecosystem is starting to change, the best networking events are now free like Opencoffee and young entrepreneurs are being valued. OpenCoffee has been a great way to access some significant investors and pitch to them. I recall one OpenCoffee session that I took my laptop to where I got time with Mattias Ljungman and Nicholas Gilodi-Johnson, both significant investors, and was able to show them my creations and get their feedback. These sort of chance interactions wouldn’t have happened a year ago and is a sure sign that things are changing significantly for the better.
I’m applying to Seedcamp because it has everything that a young entrepreneur needs to take an idea forward. Encouragement, inspiration and a little cash to keep those bills at bay while you develop the next killer app.