AtÂ geeknâ€™rolla,Â Heidi and I highjacked two men to take us out to dinner: Tom and Dan ofÂ Yearbook Machine â€“ basically itâ€™s a startup that turns your social network into a book.
Anyway I talked to Tom about the story behind yearbook machine and he wrote it down for me (and for you guys out there). One of the things I really like to cover on this blog is the ideas and stories of the startups I meet â€“ not from a â€œhow much funding are you looking for/did you getâ€ angle, but the inspiration there, which lies in building something from scratch.
Anyway the rest of this blogpost is written by Tom=)
“Yearbook Machine was formed as a response to our own experience as part of a yearbook committee, tasked with making a yearbook for our friends when we left school in 2007. My co-founder at Yearbook Machine, Dan, was charged with coordinating the book. He searched and analysed the existing companies but all of the solutions appeared over priced with no appreciation for design. What we wanted to do was to make something that our friends would be proud of, so we collected information on the school network, designed the book ourselves, and had it printed in China. The finished result left everybody happy and that was that, we still had no intention of starting a business.
In the summer of 2008 our old school approached Dan to make the book again, and he happily obliged. Having made this second book we thought how hard could it be to make an online system that did it all for you, and so we decided to establish Yearbook Machine. It was, however, still a side-project to our university studies. In the summer of 2009 four local schools conducted a private test of version 1 of the system, and the feedback was very positive. We then made some alterations to the system for 2010 and version 2 of the system was born. At this point we were restricted by continuous development and the fact that it was a part time venture, but nevertheless eight schools enjoyed our service.
At this point in time something had to change, it was apparent that making the perfect online system was not as simple as first thought. The business then moved out of our bedrooms and into East London, Dan finished at Cambridge, and we begin to build a team for the first time. Since the summer of 2010 itâ€™s been all go. Weâ€™ve completely overhauled the online system, creating version 3, and weâ€™re confident that things are moving in the right direction. In the coming weeks we will print thousands of yearbooks including those of twenty Oxford/Cambridge Colleges.
So where are we at ?
There seems to be countless tasks to do right now, and I donâ€™t see the situation changing anytime soon. The business has matured, and weâ€™re no longer a startup that concentrates purely on product development. Naturally that is incredibly important, but now we also need to also think very hard about the business side of things. With the added pressure of deadlines our time seems to just vanish, and sometimes itâ€™s a struggle just to deal with the essentials. (Iâ€™m currently writing this message on a flight to Poland to save time!)
We have thousands of customers online at the moment, which is simply too much work for just two of us. So weâ€™ve started to build a team, and the real challenge appears to be getting the balance right. We need talented people, happy to undertake a variety of tasks, who can fit into the culture of a fast paced startup. They need to be ambitious, driven, and able to detect and solve challenges on their own. Becoming the third, forth, or fifth member of our team is very different to joining a big corporate and becoming just another cog in a giant machine, so itâ€™s very important that everybody works well on a personal level. With this in mind our employees start on a casual or freelance basis.Â Obviously weâ€™re restricted by budget, so itâ€™s also a challenge to evaluate where we are most stretched; Design? Customer support? Software engineers?
One of the other great challenges is planning months and not weeks ahead. I need to know how much money we need in April 2012, and not just when our next invoice is due. This means that the financing and forecasting of the business has a very different feeling. We need to consider how the business is financed twelve months in advance because we are currently depended on the school year, meaning that income is cyclical. Going forward we can address this, but at the moment it has implications for our cash flow. Our expenditure is kept to a minimum, which really helps things. However, there are some costs that canâ€™t be avoided such as lawyers. They seem ever so expensive for startups like us, but with our volume of custom, which will only increase, there is a pressure to make sure that the legal framework is in place.
We are looking forwards to the next academic year when we will begin to promote our service more explicitly and to a wider audience. Weâ€™ve previously purposely restricted the number of customers using our service because weâ€™ve wanted to ensure that the quality to remains consistent whilst we scale upwards. We know now that we can produce thousands of high quality books at no extra cost, which means that the months ahead promises to be very exciting!Â ”
Co-founder Yearbook Machine.