Start-up Q&A: Shed Simove, 85by55
By Rebecca Burn-Callander Monday, 26 March 2012
He's the maverick entrepreneur behind Clitoris Allsorts, the Martin Loofah King and the iNotepad. Now, Shed Simove is back with a new - and decidedly grown-up - business. Speed video networking site 85by55.
If these numbers sound familiar, it's because 85mm by 55mm is the measurement for a standard business card. But now this traditional marketing tool is getting a digital makeover: from paper PR to peer-to-peer networking. 85by55 is the lovechild of Chatroulette and LinkedIn, says Simove. MT caught up with him to find out more.
MT: You're the man who changed his name to God, put out his own currency (the Ego, no less) and got a blank book entitled What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex to the top of the Amazon book charts. Is this new business a bit of a gimmick too?
Shed Simove: It's not at all. In fact, my friends, family and colleagues are all shocked. This is a serious, proper business. I'm a CEO now. We had the soft launch (that always sounds a bit pornographic to me) over the weekend, so we're now live. It's really exciting.
MT: Where did the idea come from?
SS: About a year and a half ago, a few of the successful business people I know - Michael Smith from Moshi Monsters, Tom Boardman from Firebox, Malcolm Scovil from LeapCR and Alex Tew of 'Million Dollar Homepage' fame - sat me down and said, 'Shed, you’re a genius but you need to come up with something practical.' I replied, 'Look, not many things turn me on, guys.' It wasn't that I couldn't do a proper business, it was that my ventures are all driven by excitement in the end goal. Without that, I couldn't possibly overcome all the challenges involved in setting up an idea. But when I (and my friend Jack) came up with the initial concept for 85by55, it was both a credible business idea and one that got my juices flowing.
MT: So, what is the concept? And what's so newfangled about it?
SS: Well, I got to thinking about the whole networking thing. On the plus side, when you meet people who are excited about what they do, it can really inspire you, and also bring you new business. But in my experience, it's a flawed model. It always took up my whole evening, it cost, and I never met everyone in the room. Worse, I might meet five accountants, (not that I have anything against accountants per se - my accountants are the wind beneath my financial wings) but that evening, I might be looking for an expert in intellectual property instead.
What I wanted was a hologram above everyone's head that said what they did so I could go across and meet them. But that hasn’t been invented yet. And then there's the chore of putting all the business cards you collect into your black book. Nightmare.
Then, I was out having a Wagamama one night with a clever guy I know and we came up with the idea for a Chatroulette meets LinkedIn network. Something with the unpredictability of Chatroulette but without the occasional masturbating 15-year old. A kind of speed business network that had all the inspirational and business opportunities of networking, but better. And there are no stale canapés with us either. That's the idea behind 85by55.
MT: A lofty aim, indeed. How does it work?
SS: On 85by55, you only get two minutes to network. You can't choose who you connect to, but you can hone in on the randomness - specifying 'female journalist in London', for example. That way, we keep it really thrilling but also really relevant. You fill in lots of information about yourself (as much as you want to give) which appears in the Meet panel when your chat starts, and your mutual interests and things are highlighted green to give you some easy ice breakers.
MT: How will you keep out the spammers, trolls and aforementioned 15-year-olds?
SS: The only way you can sign up is through LinkedIn or by using an email address that is not free. That way, we hope to filter out as many unwanted sign-ups as possible. Plus you can report users.
MT: Any competition in this space?
SS: One big competitior, actually. Sean Fanning and Sean Parker are about to launch Airtime. They have $8m in their marketing budget, we made our site in 10 months for just £8,000. It's a David and Goliath struggle: me and my CTO against these millionaire entrepreneurs. Luckily, Airitme is more about dating and plugs into Facebook, so it's a slightly different market. More 'I'm looking for a blonde girl in Wisconsin' than 'web developer in Hull'.
MT: You're famous for being a marketing supremo. What PR tricks do you have up your sleeve with this one?
SS: See, that's tricky because I can't be too jokey now that I'm the CEO of a proper business. This time around, I'm looking to partner with big companies on a white label basis - we skin the technology with their branding and get a little 85by55 logo on the bottom. I might also license the tech to dating sites. We've also given a massive chunk of equity to a PR company which will kick in soon.
I have created one left-field marketing idea already though. That's my USP - and dearest love - after all. I've registered www.NigeriaGoogle.com, a sort of viral holding page with a simple joke on the front. The links at the top all go to 85by55...
MT: So what's the end game in this business? What's got you so excited that you're willing to settle down and become a regular CEO?
It's the idea that we could use speed video networking to completely revolutionise other industries - like search. Imagine if one day, you typed in 'PR firm, Newcastle', and Google took you to a page that let you talk live to a number of PR bods that were sitting, live in front of their screens. That would really be something.
Picture: Tom Banfield