Sunday, 3 February 2013

What does it take to start a startup?



When Taavet Hinrikus, moved from Estonia to London, he was shocked at the bank rates he had to pay to send money back to his hometown. Then, a friend and fellow Estonian faced the same problem and talking about it, they came up with an idea to beat the system. 

Taavet transferred the money in Estonian currency to his friend’s account in the home country; his friend reciprocated by returning the money in pounds in the UK. Over the period of a year they saved several thousands of pounds in transfer fees.

Many of us immigrants—perhaps its time we called ourselves expats?—have faced the same problem. What we did perhaps, was to grit our teeth, curse, bear it, and move on. Taavet and his friend (now co-founder) did something more. They set up a service to provide an online money transfer service which charges a fraction of the banks. “When within a few minutes of setting up the business we found that a consumer had transferred a few thousand pounds then we knew that we had to make it into a business” he told me with a still-dazed look in his eyes. 

Thus was founded TransferWise, a peer-to-peer international money transfer business. We help people save a lot of money says Taavet on his LinkedIn profile, and having often being at the receiving end of heavy transfer fees, I cannot but chuckle at the accuracy of his tagline.


Cut to a few days later, when I met Abhishek Garodia. Seems when he first arrived in London from Asia, he could not find any concise information in one place of all available gym classes in his neighbourhood and so was born the idea of playenable.com. It is a platform, which goes across all the fitness and facilities classes in the neighbourhood. 


You can schedule, book and pay through this site. Best of all it feels really suited to the needs of the many mind-body-spirit professionals I know who run their own studio. They wouldn’t need to spend to build their own websites—for playenable.com would provide them with their own microsite too. Abhishek is the quintessential ADD entrepreneur; he’s just got his first seed funding—its tiny he assures me—and is working day and night to raise the critical second round.


So there you are then—two very different kinds of start-ups in the Silicon Roundabout, yet both born from gaps related to personal needs, spotted in the market by these entrepreneurs. (Incidentally both founders are not of British origin but have chosen to make the UK their home.)

Perhaps that is what marks them apart from the rest. They see the need, but instead of settling for a second-hand solution, they do something about it, and actually develop a product to bridge the gap, and make it into a business.

What do you think? Do you have any more insights into what marks out an entreprenuer? Do write in and let me know.