The founder of location-based social network Floxx, says social media has been key to gaining customer feedback and spreading the word about his latest business venture
Last year, as a distraction from studying for his finals, 22-year-old Rich Martell created his first website, FitFinder, designed to share the whereabouts of attractive students. The site enabled undergraduates to post messages about good-looking people they had spotted in certain locations, such as the university library. It went viral from day one, attracting 250,000 users within four weeks. "The site wasn't intended to be used by more than 10 people but it quickly spread around Facebook and Twitter. Whether I liked it or not, social media was integral in terms of how many people used the site," says Martell.
He was forced to take the controversial site down by his university (UCL). But Martell had already seen the potential for the idea, as had former BBC Dragon Doug Richard, and he vowed to restart the site after finishing his degree.
In January this year, with investment from Richard, Martell re-launched the site as Floxx. But since he's graduated and "matured", Floxx has become less about posting the whereabouts of an attractive 'someone' and more about a 'something'. In a nutshell, Floxx is a location-based social network that allows people to share and discover what's going on around them. "FitFinder was a really good idea but it wasn't sustainable – students are a very fickle market. But it had lots of positives that we could take away, for example allowing users to share the real world based on location and time," says Martell.
Like many other technology start-ups Floxx is reliant on investment to grow. It has so far received £320,000 of funding from Richard (also Floxx's chairman), Silicon Valley investor Kevin Wall, and friends and family.
"We are purely focused on growing our user base and producing excellent products. We will probably start generating revenue when we have around one million users which will hopefully be in the next couple of years," says Martell.
Once again the power of social media has seen user numbers grow quickly - to around 80,000 a month. "When Floxx launched word naturally spread on Facebook and Twitter that FitFinder was back in a new form," explains Martell. "We have also recruited a number of Floxx reps who have helped spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. After one particularly big push our Facebook fan page increased by 1,000 likes in just a few days," he says.
The company recently recruited a technical director and head of communications through LinkedIn. Martell also uses social media to connect with users and gather feedback. "Social media is useful to gain a sentiment of what people think about your product. For example, we recently launched MapChat, an instant messaging app that connects you with people based on location. The other day we saw people using the app and chatting about it in Latvia. Social media gives us intelligence about who's using our products and where and what they are saying about it."
Martell is not worried about transparency. In fact he thinks it's useful to find out what people think of your business and your products. "You get people giving their honest opinion and whether you like it or not you can learn from what people are saying," he says.
Social media is also a cheap way to market your business and manage customer relationships says Martell. "After face-to-face contact, social media is the second best way of building relationships with your customers. For small businesses marketing and relationship management can be expensive. Doing it on social media can give people an insight into what your company culture is about and the latest deals they can get. It gives people an inside scoop and the feeling they are part of what you are doing," he says.