No one likes rejection, but how you bounce back from it can give a good insight into someones character. In the case of Sam Marley, rejection from investors wasn’t enough to crush his spirit and the experience led to the forming of his company, event photo-sharing app Blurr. As Sam points out, no matter what gets thrown at you “you’ve just got to keep swinging the bat and eventually you’ll hit something”. We spoke to Sam to find out more about Blurr’s inception and their journey to date.
Can you give us an overview of your background and what led you to form Blurr?
My background wasn’t in startups or tech in the slightest before starting Blurr. I was a UK native studying in the US after coming here to play College Varsity Football ‘Soccer’. With myself and three co-founders we saw an inherent issue at getting easy access to memorable pictures taken around us during college parties etc and wanted to solve the problem. So we built a location based photo sharing app, solved our own problem, and Blurr was born!
Can you briefly describe Blurr and the company’s journey so far?
Blurr was founded by myself and three other co-founders. We met playing Varsity Football (soccer) at Northeastern University in Boston and of four co-founders we come from 4 different continents and speak a combined 7 languages. Your classic dorm room startup with an international twist! We launched Blurr as a location-based photo sharing app for college students. We connect people in the same location and allow them to share pictures, in real-time, that they’re free to download, share permanently. After scaling Blurr to 60+ colleges in the US, we really saw our product was a pure utility – not a social product. So we raised a $200K seed round, moved the company to LA (from Boston) and started shifting into the B2B space by offering a photo-sharing solution for a variety of events including Weddings, Conferences & Festivals. We saw the unique opportunity to utilise and amplify the User Generated Content created at these events by users for Brands in particular, and have since shifted to working with Brands (alcohol, fashion etc) to leverage our technology and software to create UGC solutions for their events and physical locations. Its been an incredible journey with pivots and expansions, which I think really adhere’s to our knowledge and insight of the industry. We always knew what our company started as would never be how it finishes, and I think having that awareness and willingness to change is imperative for growth and sustainability.
You had some setbacks on the fundraising front, how did you feel when the funding didn’t materialise, and what was your reaction to it?
To us, we never thought of our initial funding (seed round) not materialising – just it took us time to find the right people who were going to say yes. We were raising a round for a consumer app in a traditionally not consumer market (Boston), so it was tougher – but in the long run a great process for us to go through. The angels who invested truly wanted to invest and thats an incredible feeling. Once you find the right individuals they inherently believe in the team and vision, and are willing to give you the money to make it happen. What we learnt is there is always enough like-minded people out there (investors, partners etc) its just a case of knocking on enough doors until you find them.
Do you feel early stage companies become too obsessed with investment, and being “VC backed”?
In short, yes. Companies become fixated on hitting milestones and KPI’s that they know VC’s like, and will allow them to raise the next round. There’s definitely a disconnect between the KPI’s VC’s look at for ‘success’ and what actually leads to a profitable company. Capital & cash is a companies oxygen and is incredibly important, of course, but I think large venture backed companies can sometimes be put on this ‘ticking time bomb’ where they’re forced to build a 5 year vision in 12 months. Sometimes it works, but often the market and customers aren’t ready for what they’re building and they burn through cash and die.
What does the future hold for Blurr, will you look for funding again?
We couldn’t be more excited about the future. Experiential marketing, UGC, and technologies that combine the physical and digital world are coming to fruition on a massive scale. These types of conversations are happening in boardrooms across the world and our team, experience and technology is at the forefront of all three. Going from the consumer to business space gives us unique insights not many people hold – plus the fact at 22, we couldn’t be more connected to the millennial/gen Z generations. Another raise is on the cards for us, as well as a number of other opportunities that can not just bring us capital, but strategic opportunities to grow the business.
Sam was speaking as part of a campaign by Watch Hut called Success Stories, sharing his business knowledge with others. To read more on this campaign go to http://www.thewatchhut.co.uk/blog/buying-advice/success-stories-living-the-dream-watch-hut.html