Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we get some great founders on the show to help you in your app entrepreneurial journey. If you're listening to this for the first time, there's a whole rich archive of episodes dating back several years, 400+ episodes to get through. You can find those on iTunes. Let me introduce today's guest, who's going to inspire us with his journey. He's got a wonderful, rich history of being involved in lots of different mobile stuff. His name is Rich Pleeth, and he is the founder of Sup, and you can just go to supmenow.com, check it out. Rich is going to talk to us about that app and much more, so Rich, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Rich: Thanks so much. Episode 405, how exciting!
Paul: It is. It's great to get here. We've had lots of amazing chats. In fact, a lot of this stuff you've been involved with. You mentioned GetTaxi in the pre-chat, but you've done stuff... Maybe it's good to start off with a little bit of history about what you've been doing in the app world.
Rich: Sure, so I actually started my career at L'Oreal, which is why I have such great hair, thanks to their wonderful products. I did one of their first digital campaigns using YouTube, and a few weeks after I did that campaign I got a LinkedIn e-mail from a recruiter at Google, asking me if I'd like to come and interview at Google, and I said I'd love to. So I went down to Google and I interviewed there, and after 12 interviews I managed to get an interview at Google, which was great, and I launched Google's first Go Mobile initiative, so it was really encouraging brands to go mobile, if they should go with a mobile web application or they should actually get an app, which was really interesting. I then moved off to go and lead Chrome marketing in the UK, so myself and my team, we managed to get Chrome to be the number one browser in the UK. We then launched Chrome Books, and I was also responsible for doodles in the UK, so how the Google homepage changes with various different things. From there I went to GetTaxi, as their global CMO, so I was leading the expansion across the globe. They're now in about 52 cities including New York, London, Moscow and Tel Aviv. I did 74 flights in 2014, which is a lot of flights. So I was always in a new city, or a new place every day. What I found was I'd always miss my friends, so I'd check in on Facebook, hoping that a friend would say, "Hey, I'm also in Madrid", or "I'm also in JFK. Let's grab a drink!" And it would happen an awful lot, but it would always happen two hours or two days later, and it would never be instant. And people don't use Find My Friends because you can stalk people - and stalking people is really fun, don't get me wrong, but being stalked is not so fun. So we came up with Sup, which is a beautiful, seamless experience to see your friends more, but without the creep factor, because we don't have maps, so you can't actually see someone's exact location, you can just see if they're in your area.
Paul: Rich, I don't even know where to start because you've got such a huge wealth of success that keeps following you around.
Rich: I don't know if it's success, a lot of it is luck.
Paul: Well, I mean, we're all using Chrome thanks to you, perhaps, and our Chrome Books, getting taxis... How do you focus on one thing? It seems like you've moved around quite a bit. Is it hard to stop yourself just falling in love with all these different solutions that you're bringing out?
Rich: So I have a really big weakness, I very much crave a challenge, so I always need to be challenged. And I've had such a fantastic time at Google, but towards my end of my time at Google, Google was a 55,000 person company, up from about 15,000 when I joined, and it had become a little bit political, a little bit bureaucratic, and you couldn't challenge the status quo every day as we had done when I first joined. That's why I decided to move to GetTaxi. It was much smaller, obviously it was very much a startup mentality, and moving on to my own thing is really... That's what it is. I have one thing, that I'm not particularly good at all. Like, lots of people are brilliant, I have lots of people on my team who are brilliant at things, whereas I'm really not brilliant at anything, I am just immensely curious. I like finding problems, I like figuring out how I can solve them, and what I say to my team is that I'm here to make sure that you guys do not have any road bumps, you don't have any barriers, you can just carry on doing what you love doing, what you are brilliant at. And because of that, I tell people I'm not particularly good at anything. I just am hopefully okay at problem-solving, but I am great at picking out great socks, so I will say I'm great at one thing.
Paul: Actually, you've just picked up again on this big running theme that I have throughout the entire history of my show, which is the focus on solving problems in the world. How important do you feel that is in creating an app, or selling up a company?
Rich: I think that's just so crucial, because my job... I'm a total generalist, okay? I'm not particularly focused on anything. I am a generalist, and my whole thing is I have a brilliant CTO, I have brilliant iOS developers, I have a brilliant UX designer and I have a brilliant head of growth. But when they have a problem, or they can't get through to something, or they need something, that's when my job kicks in; I can make sure that I can help them with the problem myself, within our weekly one to one or just in an informal catch-up, or whatever it may be. The number one thing I think that makes a very strong leader, opposed to a boss, is that they're problem-solving, they're worrying every day about how you can get to the next level. Our developers, for example - we didn't have fast enough internet this morning; it's just a very small problem that we had, and I have to go figure that out, how we're going to get faster internet in the next 10 minutes, to make sure these guys can do it. You know, little problems like that, and then you have the bigger problems, which is we need to get another hundred thousand users in the next two weeks, how do we actually solve that? So I think that a really big part of it, especially now that there are so many startups around, you need to be nimble, you need to be able to move extremely quickly, and you need to be able to problem-solve.
Paul: Rich, one of the things that I'm picking up on is that you've been successful in... You've mentioned L'Oreal and Google, and the actual campaign there for Chrome, and all these things that you've been involved with. App discovery is one of the biggest challenges that I'm often asked. Any advice on how you actually get your app discovered, downloaded and used?
Rich: This is the thing. Everyone's talking at the moment about how do you discover apps, because there are so many startups out there, there are so many apps that are launching, and the App Store has probably over a million or a few million apps and more are launching every week. So how do you get out above that noise and actually make people want to download your app, and the first thing is to create... I look at it like SEO. Everyone, when I was at Google, would say, "How do I make sure that people are finding my website?" And the number one thing is to make a brilliant website. So for me the advice is, with an app, if you're trying to get above the noise, create a brilliant app that's solving a problem, that people are going to actually want to use. If you can do that, you can get press out of it, you can get investment out of it, and hopefully you will get Apple to feature you, as well. And then there's also obviously all the paid channels you can go through, but growth hacking is something we spend a tremendous amount of our time on. It's really exciting because you can figure... You know, you probably do 500 growth hacks every few months, and probably 499 or even 500 of those will fail, but you're going to find out one, maybe it's your 1500th growth hack, and that could work and that could suddenly get you a million users. So it's just trial and error, and trial and error, and figuring out what works, what doesn't work. You have to make sure you're having a lot of fun along the way, because if you're not enjoying it then there's not much point in doing it.
Paul: Yes, I actually agree with you, Rich, because I've spent the last year... Persistence, it really does pay off in all the apps I've been involved with. It's amazing when you appear as a best new app, and you kind of realize what got you there and you start using that technique. So in terms of actually starting your company, you've gone from the safety net of being employed to now running your own thing. How did you overcome that fear of making that change and just committing yourself to your own startup?
Rich: So I've always had that fear, I have to say, because I've always wanted to do my own startup. When I was at Google I was thinking, "Do I go do my own startup now, or do I go to another startup?" And I went to another startup because I wanted to learn, and I think learning is so important. And do I regret not doing it sooner? Maybe, but I've learned so much and I've met so many people that I felt it was a really good time to do it. When I quit my job I had to give my laptop in, I had to give my phone in, and I'd never owned my own laptop because my company had always given it to me; I'd never had to pay my own phone bill because they'd always given me a phone. I'd never had to get health insurance, or get travel insurance because that's already being provided for me. And suddenly you're out on your own, I was like "It's Monday morning, what do I do?" I had to go to the Apple Store and buy myself a new phone, buy myself a new Mac, and then my calendar has gone from a beautiful, colored rainbow of many meetings in there to nothing. I now need to start my own things, and I probably had a 20-minute panic attack every day that I was unemployed, and I was like "What do I do now?" I'm literally no better now that I'm just sitting around not doing anything, and it was like, "You've got to get out there." So I got business cards printed, which I think is brilliant because then you're like, "I'm a professional now." So I got my own business cards printed, and then it's really a matter of hustling, you know? I went out and I went to every single networking event I could possibly go to, every single founder event or founders group I could get into. And some of them are great, you meet fantastic people, but some of them are rubbish, and you meet one person or you meet nobody, and you're like "Well, this was a waste of an evening." And you have to fully immerse yourself, get out there and meet as many people as you possibly can, because you never know when that person might be like, "Oh, my friend is investing in startups. You should meet him.", or "You can help that person out." I think that's the nicest thing about the startup industry: no one is there to take, everyone is there to give and help, and so many people I've met I've managed to help out, get investment or get a good lawyer, or get a good accountant, or introduce to some graphic designers, or help them get other people. And as long as you're willing to give, people are willing to give to you, and I think that's the great thing about startup culture: everybody wants to help everyone out.
Paul: I love that, I really do. I mean, it's what we live by here. In terms of actually getting the funding, did you have some prior connections that helped with that process? I'm assuming that you started this as a funded startup and not bootstrapped.
Rich: So we started it in March when I quit my job, and we had no money, we had no leads, or who could give us money or anything. I'd been helping raise money for GetTaxi, but we raised 150 million dollars, so we raised a lot of money. And so when I finished at GetTaxi I contacted some of the people I'd managed to meet, and a lot of that was because I was very interested in that... People who I'd been talking to of funds and introduced me to other funds, and their friends, and stuff, so I had a very small network there, and it was really just going out, building a great pitch deck and getting out and hustling. We had our first break with JamJar, who are the co-founders of Innocent Drinks, and I messaged Richard Reed who I'd happened to do a little bit of work with at Google, and I said, "Hey man, I haven't spoken to you in probably 3 years, since the very early days when I was at Google. I've just quit my job, I'm doing this startup..." and I went over to him and presented him the deck and he loved it. I was just really lucky that we got that stamp of approval from a very major VC that's very well respected, and it made it significantly easier to go raise. But until you get that full amount you are hustling every single day. I probably did like 300 meetings with people, and some of them just have no interest, they think your idea is horrible, and you just walk out of the room, you feel a bit terrible about it, and then you have to go to your next meeting and be super positive and super enthusiastic, "This is the best idea ever!" even though someone's just told you that this is never going to work and you should go get another job. I've even had e-mails from people that they've accidently CC'ed me on, saying that this is such a rubbish idea, the founder should just go and get a job, but he was a nice guy. And you're just like, "Oh, hi guys. I think I was actually CC'ed on this." But then you've got to pull yourself together in the next 10 minutes and go to a meeting and pitch like your life depended on that, and you didn't hear any of these negative comments. What I always say is people are going to hate your idea, no matter what, even if it's the best idea. People would have hated Google, people hated Airbnb, and you can see some of the e-mails that the founder got there, about how much people hated it and were like, "This guy is going to fail." You just have to believe in your idea so much, and no one is ever going to believe in your idea as much as you do. If you look at Larry Page and Sergey, no one believes in Google as much as they do, and no one ever will. No one believes in Sup as much as I do, no matter what they say. I talk about Sup all the time, I dream about it, I talk about it with my friends, with my parents, with everybody, and no one is going to believe in it as much as I do. And if you believe in the idea and you think it's fantastic, and that it's going to change the world, that's how you can go and change the world.
Paul: Rich, this is just such a fantastic chat. You're covering all these big themes that often come up. I mean, you also mentioned the importance of networking, and also believing in your own idea, which I feel like a lot of us maybe do get lost in trying to chase what's successful. Let's talk about Sup because we haven't really spent a lot of time talking about the app, and I'd love to give people an idea of what it is doing. So could you give a real case scenario of how someone would actually use Sup?
Rich: Sure, so first of all you should go download Sup. You can just type in Sup into the App Store and you can download it, or go to supmenow.com and get the app. It's a beautiful, seamless experience. We've gone with pink because why not, because it's in your face, it's really nice and bright, and it's a really beautiful design. If you ever play with it you can see how close some of your friends are to you just by pulling your finger down the screen and people fly in and out in a very beautiful way. The real idea was that I wanted to see my friends more. I was always in new cities and I have a lot of friends on Facebook who I have no idea if they were in the city I was in at the same time. Sup lets you safely see if someone is in your area without stalking them. You can't see their exact location on the map. I was in New York two weeks ago fundraising and I got a notification that one of my friends, James, who's actually an investor at Bulletin, he was in New York at the same time as me. He was 400 meters away from me. Now, we haven't managed to see each other in the last six months, because we've both been immensely busy, but because we were 400 meters away from each other in New York we managed to go grab a beer. So how great is that? I would have never known that James was in New York. We both got a notification, we were less than 500 meters away from each other and we just walked two blocks and managed to grab a beer together, which was awesome. And now what we're seeing is time and time again people are sending us Instagram posts or tweeting us that because of Sup they've managed to see their friends more, and they've managed to have some time offline. Instead of just messaging people on WhatsApp saying, "Hey, is anyone around? I'm in central London." or "I'm in the West end, anyone around?" you can now go on Sup and you can see if anyone is within your 2000 meter radius, which is less than 20 minutes walk, or within 20 meters, which could be in the room with you. Even this weekend I was in a bar, we were actually watching American football with one of my house mates, and we went on Sup - because he's also an investor - and we saw that both of us were obviously sitting in the room, but we saw someone else was in the room, as well, that we didn't know, and it was one of our friends who was also watching American football in the same room as us. So these magic moments happen when people come together, and Sup lets people come together and makes sure that you don't miss out on those moments. We know that missing out obviously sucks and that people hate planning; you love being spontaneous and saying, "Oh yes, let's grab a drink because you're around the corner", and Sup lets you do that more.
Paul: I'm already in love with the idea as well. How does it pull your contacts?
Rich: Sure, so you log in via Facebook and what it does at the moment is you can then invite friends - so I'd urge you all to invite friends because you get a better experience if you have friends on it - but then it goes on and at the moment you can see everyone on the app, but then you can press one button and it will show your friends only, so then it will show your Facebook contacts on there. I have around 164 of my friends who actually use the app, so I have a great experience. One of the key metrics we're working towards is making sure that everybody on the app has five or more friends on the app, so we're really encouraging people to invite their friends to use the app, as well. If you think about it, when WhatsApp launched not many people had WhatsApp, and WhatsApp is totally useless if none of your friends have it; and WhatsApp slowly built it up that some of your friends got it and then some more and more, and now all of your friends have it. And with Sup, some of your friends have it now, but it's just going to take a little bit of time to get all of your friends on it, and then it's going to be a beautiful experience. And one of the exciting things we're doing is we're going to be adding lenses, so just as you'd put sunglasses on if you're going out in the sun, you'll be able to put a lens on. It could be your friends lens, it could be your professional lens, it could be maybe a dating lens, or it could be people who are ex-Google lens. And that's really exciting, because one of the big problems that LinkedIn have, for example, is that you connect with people all the time when you go to events, or you meet them wherever you may be, but then you never see them again. What we're trying to do is we want to bring LinkedIn offline, so people can see their friends and their connections more, but actually in real life, rather than just seeing random updates on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Paul: Yes, and actually I think one of the big challenges as well is how to use Facebook in a business sense, because it is primarily more friends and family. A lot of business people, I don't actually use Facebook, that's LinkedIn, and I can imagine that that dynamic is something you're trying to overcome by having Sup.
Rich: Yes, and it is really interesting, because LinkedIn have this tremendous problem that it's becoming a little bit more spammy, you get recruiters and stuff on there, whereas I'd love to see some of my LinkedIn connections, but we just never communicate and it would be a bit weird just sending them a message, whereas if, say, the CMO of TopShop was having a coffee near my office in Finsbury Square and I got an alert saying, "Hey, the CMO of TopShop's nearby", I can send him a message and say "Hey dude, do you want to grab a coffee quickly?" he may say "Yes, let's do it." Or he can totally ignore it, it doesn't matter, but at least we've had that connection, and then maybe I can e-mail him the next day and say, "Hey, sorry we didn't manage to meet up. It would be great to catch up some time." And magic happens when these connections come together. The whole reason why we've raised money is because I networked. I went out and I hustled for three months to go and meet as many people as possible. And I think with this new LinkedIn integration you'll be able to see your context more and hopefully progress your career better or progress your organization better.
Paul: This is a wonderful chat. So there are two more things which we'd like to do before we say goodbye. One is that we do get a whole bunch of makers, creators, app developers on this show and we often like to look for trends or new ideas, and I wondered, as an entrepreneur, are there any trends that you're seeing in the marketplace that you perhaps can talk to? Anything that we could maybe flesh out an idea for an app?
Rich: Yes, so I think one of the really interesting trends... We were just talking a little bit earlier about financing - the most interesting trend I see at the moment is that if I put in front of you a portfolio of companies and I said, "Hey, you can invest in Microsoft as one company, or you can invest in 20 of the hottest startups, including Uber, Airbnb, DropBox, WeChat... Which one would you rather invest in?" And I think everyone there would choose 20 new startups that could all become a juggernaut and really may be the next huge thing. The trend here is we're seeing that the older companies are becoming slower and less agile to iterate, and Facebook has done incredibly well here, and I think their stock is hugely undervalued, because if you look at the top apps downloaded in the world, Facebook is in the top four. They own Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It's just absolutely incredible how they've managed to consolidate that top position there. What we see there, obviously they tried to buy Snapchat and I think that probably Mark is really regretting the option of only offering 3,5 billion dollars and not offering them 20 billion to start with and buying SnapChat because then they'd have 5 of the most popular apps in the world. So I think we're going to see that a spread out of new mobile-first companies come about that will be changing the way that we interact with people. Instagram, for example - fastest growing social network. SnapChat has a hundred million daily active users, and I think that as that progresses we're going to see that these smaller players become more and more important. Obviously, in the last year we've seen Apple and Google both grow in dominance while Microsoft has decreased in dominance, and I think that they're both winners - Apple and Google - and Google is going to continue to win in new markets while Apple is going to continue to win in the Apple ecosystem where it's people with higher wealth and disposable income, and it's really exciting to see where we're going to be in the next few years with apps. And I think that the big trend is... You know, can you imagine a future where you don't know if any of your friends are around you? That's what we're solving here with Sup. If you can imagine a future where you just don't know that your friends are also in Hawaii when you're in Hawaii, then that's just crazy. And I think that that's where the excitement for us comes, that hyper-local is just taking off, and I think that Sup is going to be really interesting in terms of the mobile web in the future, and looking at how apps evolve and how we want to see our friends more.
Paul: Just listening to you on Facebook, it is pretty amazing. As someone who's had some apps hit the top charts, it's... They seem to come and go, but the top chart seems to be still dominated by those apps. Can we compete with the dominance of the big players?
Rich: Yes. It's really interesting... Can you compete? Well, we're looking now... WhatsApp was competing and they went and bought them for 21 billion dollars. Let's be honest, I'd be very happy with 21 billion dollars in my bank account. I think I could pretty much go and do anything, I'd have a great summer in 2016 with a yacht somewhere. But I think you can compete. And how you compete is that as a startup app you are far more agile. You can pivot, and pivoting is a really big thing. We want to see what works, what doesn't work with the app, and we can kill stuff immediately. Whereas with Google, if they're trying to do something with Google+ for example, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on launching, hundreds of millions of dollars on the team and getting it ready, and it just doesn't work. Whereas startups can go and they can create a new platform, they can see if it works. If it does work, they can invest in it, they can pivot, they can see how it goes. I think there's always an opportunity to be more innovative and more exciting and faster. And it's all about speed. If you can do something that is brilliant, that people love, that people want to use, and people are going to use it twice a day, then you are on to a winner and you should definitely just go and pursue that.
Paul: Rich, we're in danger of you going through every single big theme of this show, because you mentioned pivot, and that's another big one. So it's almost like a quiz show here...
Rich: I'm getting the right answers.
Paul: You are. The final thing is, I often ask about a tip for an app, but I actually think... You've mentioned that you're in a lot of networking groups as well, and I'm guessing that you also use Slack, which I know has been mentioned quite a lot. Do you have any virtual networking groups that you could recommend to us?
Rich: Yes, I think some of the good ones on Facebook that I'm part of are London Startup Events, which is great, I'm also a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Network, which is based actually in New York, but it's really very active in Europe, as well. Then on Slack, which is a product that we run a lot of stuff off... I'm a member of Tech London, which is very good and you have a load of stuff on there, which is awesome: you can do introductions, you can do marketing, skills, whatever that you may do. Another one is Nomads, which is about $70 to join, but it's really good. It's called Nomads, but it's digital nomads, and you can go in there, you can chat to people if you need advice... I often will post on Facebook if I need advice, or in digital Nomads or in Tech London, and usually someone will message me and say, "Hey, I've had this problem before. Do you want to have a Skype call about it?" As I said, if you are willing to give... And whenever anyone asks for advice I'm always one of the first people to say, "Yes, sure. Send me an e-mail." And I want to say to your listeners, if anyone has any questions or anything about this talk, or they want to just bounce an idea off me, you can always e-mail me. My e-mail is Rich@supmenow.com, and I always reply, and I will always get back to people. Or just send me a tweet @richpleeth, and I'm always super happy to help people out because I know that the startup ecosystem is all about giving and not about taking. So I'm super happy to help people; never be afraid to ask, because people have been through the problem you're having before and I have problems every day. I'd love to talk to you about how you got your apps to the top of the AppStore, and sharing ideas is how you learn. And if you stop learning you're going to fail, because you just need to be learning every single day, and I make sure I'm learning every single day from my team, from VC's that I'm meeting, from mentors that I'm chatting with... And you just have to make sure that you keep doing that.
Paul: Wonderful. Rich, all this stuff is going to be also on theappguy.co, just search for Rich Pleeth, episode 405. It's been a wonderful chat, I've really, honestly enjoyed it and it just sets up for an excellent 2016 for this show. Thanks for being an awesome guest, Rich, and all the best with the growth of the app.
Rich: Thank you so much, it's been really lovely to talk to you. Thanks!