10 lessons from a non-techy tech entrepreneur: Charly Harrison

Charly Harrison built her new tech start-up, WHERE app, on a dare, after struggling to find the right venues and events for a great night out. The app lets people see where other people like them are, and what they are doing, she explains. Here's her start-up story.

Charly Harrison had a successful career in the events industry, but her over-riding vision for creating a better and more sociable society prevailed and she followed her dream to create the WHERE app. Growth Business sat down with Charly to ask her about her journey and how WHERE can help transform people’s lives for the better.

WHERE did you get the idea to create this app?

WHERE is my answer to a particular frustration that I experience, and know that many other people experience too. Living in a place like London that offers so many incredible places, activities and people, it was so irritating to go on a night out and end up in a place that didn’t quite have the right location or vibe, or to hear about the fun things that my friends and I ‘should have tried last night!’. It seemed so obvious to me that there was a gap in the market for an app that lets people see where other people like them are, and what they are doing. Sick of hearing me go on about this non-existent app, my friends dared me to create it myself, and I’ve never been one to turn down a challenge.

After having the idea for WHERE, I had so many experiences where I couldn’t help but think how much easier (and more fun) the app would make my life. From volunteering in Tanzania and Kenya with my best friend, to working for my own events company, organising parties and finding the perfect last-minute guests, WHERE would have been a huge help. An app like WHERE could have helped us to raise awareness about the work we were doing at the school we volunteered at, and it certainly would have saved me from having to dash between the bars and pubs of London in my heels in the rain!

I believe that the community and relationships that WHERE has the potential to create could even provide a long-term solution to the problems for which dating apps provide a temporary fix. WHERE makes it easy for you to do the things you love with people like you, and, after all, isn’t that the best way to meet people?

These are the main reasons, but I can think of so many, and so many instances from my own life and lives of people I know, that make an argument for creating WHERE that I really could go on forever!

WHERE is the app catering to in terms of location?

WHERE is for anyone who wants to find or organise something social or active to do near them. Because it effectively works through word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer sharing, and can be used for any kind of event, WHERE has the potential to work anywhere. We are so confident that WHERE could work all over the globe that it is already available to use worldwide – as long as there is internet access!

WHERE did you work before getting the idea to create this app?

Straight out of university, I started out in the corporate world. It paid well, but it was obvious from fairly early on that it just wasn’t for me. In the words of my boss, I had huge potential, but I needed to be ‘a little less pink, and a little more grey.’ There’s no way I was going to spend the rest of my career conforming to boring corporate standards, so I ventured out on my own, despite being very young, and barely able to spell the word ‘entrepreneur’!

I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it had to suit me – I googled ‘pink jobs’ and spent some time working for a small but high-end matchmaking company. Then, inspired by the woman who founded the company, I set up my own events business, Euphoria. I ran Euphoria for four and half years, but realised that, despite it being very successful, it lacked the potential for growth that I aspired to. By this point, the idea for WHERE was already cemented in my mind and I was ready to build it (with a bit of help from people more technologically gifted than myself!)

WHERE do you find the biggest challenges in launching and maintaining an app like this?

The market for apps is pretty saturated, to say the least, so I knew it would be very important to have a unique selling point. This wasn’t too much of a problem, as I was confident that the concept and technology are unique, and that WHERE is genuinely solving a problem faced by many people. The first real issue was generating an initial user base. Naturally, we wanted to make sure that every user has a fantastic first experience on the app, but given the nature of WHERE, it was difficult to deliver on this when there were only a few people using it at any one time. We had to put our faith in WHERE providing an experience that was good enough to keep the user base growing.

This worked because we truly believed in WHERE as a platform that we all wanted to exist and to use ourselves, rather than just hoping it would make us rich. We had to raise money to keep going, and at times it got pretty scary, but our faith in the idea always kept us driven and allowed other people to have faith in it too.

WHERE do you see your business in five years?

In five years I believe WHERE will be the go to app known as the ‘sociable’ choice of social media app. I see it helping hundreds of thousands of people find the best places go to suit their needs and their moods, wherever they are in the world, and whatever it is they feel like doing, in the exact moment they feel like doing it.

I believe it will help huge numbers of people find sports to play, and people to play sport with, in order to keep healthy, mentally and physically, and feel like part of a community. I see WHERE being used by thousands of social, sport and charity event organisers to create awareness of their event and sell more tickets. WHERE will be improving people’s travel experiences, whether they are going far, or looking for experiences on their doorsteps.

When WHERE is used as frequently as any of the current big social media apps, anyone will be able to know where they could and where they should be right now. To me, this is an incredibly exciting prospect.

WHERE did you start when you first had the idea?

I took a slightly unconventional approach – the very first thing I did was register the company. I then created a basic business plan and immediately approached my existing network and LinkedIn to build an ‘advisory board’ of sorts. I asked someone from every relevant genre of business – for example, technology, marketing, finance – to put their name to my business, and set me off in the right direction.

This made it much easier down the line to pitch to investors, as my company was already supported by respected business people. The final thing I did before I got started was to talk people who created failed social apps to find out what went wrong, so at the very least I knew what I should not be doing.

If I could start again, I would have shared the work out sooner by finding a business partner earlier on, and taking more breaks for myself. The process got very intense at times, and it would have been better to have been able to take some pressure off myself.

WHERE should aspiring app developers start?

My advice to aspiring app developers would be to make sure that they are solving a genuine problem, and that there is a large enough market of people who will use your app, before you even begin to think about creating it. It is also important to build the app in a way which is as user-friendly as possible. The best technology in the world is wasted if your users can’t figure out how it is supposed to work!

It may sound cheesy, but the best advice is to believe in what you are doing, and not to listen to those you try to make you doubt yourself or your idea. As long it is something you truly believe in and you have done the work, these people won’t matter. I believe having a business like this should be like having a child – it may cause you serious stress sometimes, but you wouldn’t give it up for the world!

WHERE do you see you want to be within 10 years?

At the moment, I am completely focused on WHERE and absolutely love my job, however, in 10 years I hope to be a wife and a mum to 4 kids, while running ‘mumtrepreneur’ start-up of some description (I already have a few ideas!)

I also dream of becoming an angel investor and advisor to start-ups one day too.

WHERE do you spend your free time?

I am a family person and a networker by nature so I’m happiest when I’m either surrounded by the people I love or while meeting people who have started businesses or who are into the same things as me. I love popping back to my parents place in Surrey for some peace and quiet and some fresh air sans police sirens.

I am the one in my group of friends who is always organising get-togethers. Over the summer we love a picnic, BBQ or pub session. I’ve done a couple of cool, chilled festivals over the past few summers, which were awesome but would’ve been better if WHERE had been live! I am a big fan of cooking, and love to host dinner parties in the winter. I am a keen singer, and love country walks and skiing.

I used to dance and sing in a choir but have had to give both up for the time being; running your own business does take up rather a lot of time! But you won’t find me in East London with all the other trendy tech start-up founders – I’m a West London girl through and through.

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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