“citibuddies” is a connection platform in cities that presents you the coolest things to do in the urban jungle, connects you to the right people and makes you a local in the global world . For locals and visitors. Virtually and in the real world.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Mehmed’ regarding his online social platform company “citibuddies Inc.”;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “citibuddies Inc.” is all about?
We are creating an online social platform which opens up the ‘doors’ of cities for us, an online social gateway for each city. With this online network we connect people enabling them to re-explore and re-discover their favorite cities online and offline using a different perspective – the local one. No matter where you are located you would know what is fun to do out there in the city you are in or in the one you would like to go to. Thus you not only save time and money, but also you don’t feel awkward or like a foreigner anymore wherever you go.
2. When has “citibuddies Inc.” been founded? And what stage is “citibuddies Inc.” currently at?
citibuddies Inc. officially incorporated in July 2012 in Delaware, USA. Currently we are developing our beta, refining our business and marketing strategy; not to forget we are looking for enthusiastic people to join our team. Very soon we will reveal some very interesting new content which was kept secret for months and we plan to launch the beta in November 2012.
3. What is “citibuddies Inc.”‘s business model and how does it work?
The business model includes online Ads based on your geo-location, premium access (space for promotional content for business partners) and margin-based revenue from our marketplace feature. Once we launch our Mobile Apps for smartphones and tablets, we also plan on penetrating the Mobile Ads market. We strive to deliver not only a unique experience via the online network as a service, but additionally help the user to save money and time while doing it and we help our business partners to reach audiences that they cannot reach via facebook or other social networks yet.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
We met in Groningen, the Netherlands during my Graduate studies there and the Doctoral studies of Darja thanks to fortunate chain of events. I was at the stage when I was seeking the next big thing to work on and fight for and once I heard about the project I was totally up for it. Darja (CEO) is busy with operations, product development and our finances, whereas my focus is marketing, sales and business development. We both try to recruit people constantly and in general, we both do a bit of everything, as a small team in a start-up, you have to. Furthermore we constantly work with volunteers for which we are very grateful for.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
citibuddies provides relevant and timely information about activities/events in cities and connects you to people that might be relevant for whatever you want to do. Each activity, each event offered to you is in line with the user’s tastes and likes. You can easily use the platform to promote you initiatives and gain visibility among communities that are of your interest. Moreover, we are currently based and focused on Latin America, which offers great potential for growth in the social media and travel/leisure segments in the future.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “citibuddies Inc.” achieved so far?
We are in early stages of development (we finalized the structure of the product, got first user feedback and are working on the data architecture and design at the moment). We have developed a multilingual landing page, and our product explanation video is being finalized and is to be revealed soon. We gained 2 investors that funded our product development, gained visibility with 3 features in technical blogs so far, built a growing community around citibuddies on social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest) and gained a trainee and 4 local champions. Furthermore, we’re in discussions with future cooperation partners (student and expat organizations) and working on strategic alliances with them. We are also working on a new design of our blog that is also to be revealed very soon (beginning of September). Last but not least, we are preparing for crowdfunding initiatives and searching for enthusiastic people to support us becoming our local champions in the Latin American area.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “citibuddies Inc.”‘s competitive advantage over them?
Some of our competitors are websites such as triptrotting.com; tripl.com; gidsy.com and other Mobile Apps like roamz.com, triposo.com. In comparison to most of them we don’t focus only on the travel aspect, we make an offer for locals (events and activities in a city and people that visit the city and have relevant and interesting info for oneself), as well as for visitors (local activities, access to locals and their expertise in specific areas). We’re not building solely a “booking” platform, we are building a community instead. Furthermore, focusing on Latin America, a market which just started to get discovered by investors and entrepreneurs, we tap into a market where the demand for online and mobile solutions to organize your leisure activities and getting access to subcultures in a city, is still so much higher than the offer.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
We face challenges every day, like any other start-up, and we love them, because we believe they help us grow and become more mature in our journey of creating a sustainable company. The biggest challenge (next to working virtually together, when I was still in EU and Darja already in Buenos Aires) was the switch to another tech provider in the middle of development. We didn’t speak the same language and couldn’t agree on following the lean methodology with the old provider (which we prefer), so we had to cancel the collaboration and find a new one, which slowed us down, but now is for the better. Every time things were going different than expected we stayed flexible and persistent to make sure that the task gets done and never lost hope.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Outsiders usually tend to underestimate the potential and development of the Latin American market. People here have 1,5 phones per person and the percentage of smart phones seems to grow from day to day. Furthermore, people here use social media differently, they communicate through different social media channels at the same time and are very open towards it (6 out of facebook’s top 15 markets lie in South America). We have to argue that over and over again, if we talk to investors from non-emerging markets. Furthermore, outsiders (and insiders sometimes) tend to underestimate the development towards mobile. We had to find a tech partner that is able to develop a mobile friendly site for instance for no additional charge and that was not that easy, we noticed that there are players in the field that are very open and ambitious to combine web and mobile, but there are also (the majority) that is still locked in the online world.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We believe the key to our success is that we have lived the problem we are solving with the start-up many times. Besides of that we are very passionate about the idea, the product and our future users. As a team we compliment each other in many ways, Darja is a more creative person, keeping the helicopter view and constantly developing ideas for future features and products, and being able to juggle 15 tasks at the same time. I myself am a person that is strongly focused on timely execution, have a very analytical and structured approach, very good attention to details and am a very, very fast learner. In general, we are perfectly clear what we want to achieve and how, what we want to create and why. Keeping this in mind help us not to get distracted and waste valuable time and money on unproductive activities.
11. If “citibuddies Inc.” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
First of all we plan on expanding into more cities (the product is global), we will decide depending on the indicated user interest, in which regions that is going to be, but most probably we will add more Latin American cities first, before we continue with other emerging market cities and then go to more mature markets. In terms of products, we will learn with our users of course, but in general we’re thinking that our product will offer many options to innovate further in the areas of marketing and mobile advertising (find more ways to reduce all non-relevant ads and only display ads that will lead to a buy-decision in more than 80% of the cases). Furthermore, we think that we can combine the online and offline world further, by not only having an online presence but grow our community further with offline activities in the diff. areas that our users are interested in (in forms of events, engaging activities, etc.).
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “citibuddies Inc.” based on?
The decision came from the fact that we both (me and Darja) are very international and have lived in different cities and travelled quite a lot. While moving back and forward between countries and continents we both came to the conclusion that each time we received the most useful information not from Google, but from people we know or we have met. We also realized that in each place we have been and visited there are things which only few people know about. So at the end we decided to create citibuddies in order to give solutions to problems which we encountered in the past, and to allow each person to enrich himself/herself with memorable and shared experiences wherever he/she is.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
One thing that we learned is that learning by doing is a great way to gain experience in anything you do. Especially after studying business & management and psychology we both knew a lot of things about business and user behavior in theory, but building a company yourself for the first time makes you understand all those theoretical models and processes. We really have these “aha” moments quite a lot along the way. We also learned to be very careful in taking advices from people. Whereas feedback is always valuable you have to treat it with respect and care. Along the way hundreds of times you will be approached by people telling you what to put in your idea, what sucks about it, why it’s not going to work out or why it is so cool etc. It is important not to let yourself down and lose faith, but try to filter the information provided and use it accordingly.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Trying to identify clearly a potential problem 6 months from now is difficult, especially in a start-up environment. However to give an answer to your question, probably gaining the critical mass on time might (and reaching our targets in terms of traffic and traction) is the biggest challenge, therefore we plan our launch and post launch accordingly to reach and keep reaching our goals.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Never get bored. Always know what is going on around, who is doing what, what else is fun to do in the city. All this put together in a cool, user friendly design. Able to interact with people who you have something in common with for real and additionally meet them in person if you like. Check out what is fun to do in other cities all around the world even if you are not there, get inspiration to go and prepare your next trip. Last but not least, chance to get only information you want and require – no unnecessary stuff.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
You can reach us very easily. Our presence in all major social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc. gave and still is giving us some boost. We are also constantly promoting our idea to our friends and acquaintances. In addition, we regularly post on our Blog: blog.citibuddies.com on what is going on around the development, the team and all that behind the scenes info. Of course we also plan a lot of classic online and offline marketing initiatives around the launch, e.g. launch events, publishing in blogs, having competitions for engaged bloggers etc.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
The project has a wide scope and can be useful to customers from all kinds of backgrounds and profiles. Despite that as a starting point our targeted users are students and young professionals at the age of 18 to 35. Proactive, socially oriented people who like to explore, discover and experience new things in their home cities or in other ones. Those who like to interact with people from different countries and cultures. In the final stage we want to include more demographics, after we reached an initial critical mass.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Basically the answer is the same as above, mainly social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and referrals later on we will also include other marketing channels, such as events, strategic partnerships with organizations and universities. New customers/users want to try is because of pure interest. They are excited to know what is coming up next.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Each time we ask a user who signs for our future Beta or likes our page on Facebook or follows us on Twitter, we get a positive reply, sometimes with constructive feedback. And when we make user tests we usually get the same kind of response, if there is critique, then its always constructive people try to make us better, instead of questioning us in general. They are all curious what exactly citibuddies is, how it is going to look like and more importantly when it is going to be ready so that they can start trying it out. They just cannot wait to see it live which makes us very happy and keeps us going forward on delivering the first Beta as soon as we can.
20. How are you going to scale?
By approaching local communities, organizations and businesses in respective cities we are planning gradually to increase our scale. Furthermore, we will further use online marketing (esp. content marketing, social media and SEO) in order to reach more users in diff. geographical regions and then launch in one city after another. Initially we plan to start with three cities: Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. This lets us to stay focused and organized and gradually scale up our business.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Since we’re pre-beta, mainly future users keep asking for the launch of the Beta. As soon as they understand what the project is about, they are eager to know more about it – its development, how it will look like, when they can start using it, how it will work, what will it include etc. To fulfill this desire we will provide access to the website to all those who sign up to get a sneak preview of the Beta (go check out our landing page and leave your email at www.citibuddies.com). Thus we will build citibuddies together with our users.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes, going international is definitely part of our plan. We are planning to do so by taking a stepwise approach that is focusing our initiatives and operations city by city starting with Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. We’re currently operating from Buenos Aires and are working with a network of local champions that are our right hands and reach out for us in the respective cities. Once we step on a solid ground there we will convey an analysis and decide where to make our next move in terms of opening further branches.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We are confident that with the right approach and enough resources we can turn global. The reason is that in today’s fast developing world people are very mobile, they are on the move all the time and have less time to waste in thinking on things like: what should I do now? What is cool to do in that city? How do I get that expert information from a relevant source? I am tired of everyday life, what different can I do? Most of the world population lives in urban melting pots. With everyday stress reaching unbearable levels, it is time to change that and make it a less stressful environment where you can get energized rather than drained. We want to contribute to this goal by reducing the time and frustration that is associated with finding the right information at the right time in cities.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Yes we are searching for the talent that is out there! Currently we are looking for a CTO/co-founder and more trainees in the areas of design and community management. You can reach us at email@example.com so feel free to drop us an email to know more. Besides of that we’re always looking for cooperation partner and local citi champions that help us to make citibuddies grow in your city. If you liked the project and would love to help us in a different way, do not hesitate and just send us an email. We would love to hear from you!
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Yes would love to talk about potential partnership opportunities as well as funding opportunities from seed investors, business angels or VCs. We are reachable at all major social media channels. Also feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We will get straight back to you in no time.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Listen to your instincts. Many people will tell you are crazy and few will support you. However, trust and believe in your team and yourself. Surround yourself with people that believe in your idea. Stay persistent, don’t lose focus, create and pursue the opportunities ahead of you!