If you think sites like Second Life and LinkedIn are all the rage -- wait until you see Future Delivery.
We asked Jun Loaqza to share his experiences starting a high tech company.
What is Future Delivery?
Our goal with Future Delivery is to build fun and productive technology for students and young professionals. Our main project is FD World, which is a virtual world that makes this world more productive. Think of it as the fusion between Second Life and LinkedIn. We plan on launching the FD World Beta summer of 09.
We recently launched our website product FD Career. Our goal with FD Career is to make career development fun and easy by turning people's lives into real life role playing games. Every time you gain an internship, get a high GPA, or become the leader of an organization, you gain experience points and level up on the site. As you level up, you gain prestige, get access to new features and abilities, and the ability to recruit with prestigious firms.
When did you start the business?
My partners and I founded Future Delivery July 7, 2007 – shortly after graduating from UCLA. We are currently located in Los Angeles, CA.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I graduated from UCLA in the Summer of 2007, so technically I was still in school when I started the company. Yu-kai Chou (CEO) graduated from UCLA Fall of 2007. Before I fully committed myself to Future Delivery, I was a consultant at an international consulting firm. I stepped aside my corporate job and became full-time at Future Delivery November of 2007.
This is not the first company that we have started. I founded The Veridical Group, a small business consulting firm, as an undergraduate at UCLA. Yu-kai has actually started multiple companies ranging from professional networks, an e-commerce site, and an import business. Future Delivery has been our most ambitious project up to date and we are putting every single ounce of strength, energy, and heart that we have into this company.
Where did you get the startup money?
Each founder put in cash that we pulled out of our savings at the very beginning. There are three founders: Yu-kai Chou (CEO), Jason Wei (CTO), and myself (CMO).
We are currently looking for funding and have managed to reach a point of sustainability by developing websites for clients. We call our cash flow model Site Vitamin, and have been able to achieve a steady flow of clients that helps us pay our employees, the founders, and all of our technical needs.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our main competitors for FD World are:
Second Life is about immersing the user in a fantasy world where the user can live out any dream that he or she wants. It is pure escapism from reality.
FD World will compete against Second Life by offering users a platform that compliments their lives and helps them become more productive. Instead of meeting fake people and engaging in activities that do not progress your real life, FD World allows you to meet real, authentic people and engage in activities that will benefit your real life. FD World is productivity with a gaming touch.
Unisfair offers users and companies a platform to engage in virtual conferences. Users use a flash based application that allows them to chat or audio people in the virtual conference.
FD World will compete against Unisfair by offering a virtual world platform rather than a virtual event conference. FD World is has a continuing timeline and never ends; you can constantly meet people online at anytime that you want. On the other hand, Unisfair is bound by the rules of the event. Once the event is over, people can no longer engage each other virtually. FD World also adds a gaming and fun touch to professional development because you are controlling your own avatar. Studies have shown that when your avatar meets another person's avatar, it is the equivalent of meeting them face to face.
Our main competitors for FD Career are:
Vault is THE resource for company profiles and information. They write many Vault Guides where they teach students and professionals about different industries, interviewing tips and strategies, and rank companies against one another.
FD Career will compete against Vault by providing a platform for user-generated content about company profiles and information. Think of it as the ratemyprofessor.com for companies. More importantly, we have conducted numerous 1st-hand research about Vault's website usability and students have unanimously found it extremely difficult to use, crowded, and a majority said that they would not pay for the information on the site. We have made it our goal to provide users with a user-friendly site that provides free content for everyone.
Monster is the leader in job postings and applications. They provide their users with an enormous database of job openings that their users can apply to.
FD Career will compete against Monster by providing the platform that makes career development fun and easy. While Monster focuses on job applications, we focus on helping people become better candidates for their dream job. We accomplish this through our FD RPG and Quests that users can take to develop themselves personally and professionally.
For example, a user that is interested in Management Consulting can take the Rock Harder Quest (a business analysis quest). He or she will be challenged to solve a business problem and provide their solutions at the end of the quest. When they complete the quest, they earn experience points and level up on the site.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
It is A LOT harder than I expected. I founded Bruin Consulting and the Undergraduate Case Competition at UCLA and thought that I was a hot shot after these two succeeded. I honestly told Yu-kai one day, "We succeeded in building an organization and event at UCLA. Starting and running a company should be a piece of cake."
Boy was I wrong.
I have a theory that people love structure with the illusion of freedom. They love to know exactly what they must do at work, but at the same time, want to be given the illusion that they are choosing their own projects and method of accomplishing their tasks. This is why a lot of corporate firms will tell you that they have an "entrepreneurial culture."
Entrepreneurship is the COMPLETE freedom with NO structure. I have never had to wear so many different hats at work: I am the designer, marketer, recruiter, social media expert, blogger, PR lead, camera man, and face of the company. As the CMO, I expected to be only involved with the marketing and PR efforts of Future Delivery. Now I understand that I am not only the CMO, but am every single part of the company from the programming all the way to the design.
A second misconception was that I did not think finding funding was as hard as it actually is. I read about companies getting funding all the time on TechCrunch and Mashable. I check out these companies and most of the time think that they're no big deal. "If this company can get funding, then surely we can get funding as well." We have not yet received outside investment from an investor; however, we have built many relationships and feel that we are very close to receiving funding. Hopefully in the coming month our leads will go through and we'll have our first round of seed funding!
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
To be perfectly honest, I would not change any part of my experience so far. I have learned so much and grown so much in just 1 year as a full-time entrepreneur; I am so excited to see what I will learn this coming year. I am a firm believer that if you constantly devote yourself to personal development, you will reach a point where you are developing exponentially. I hope to hit that point this year.
I have made many mistakes as a young entrepreneur, but I am glad that I have made them because I only become stronger from it.
A great example is our marketing and PR internship. We started the program March of 07 and gained a solid team of about 20 campus CMOs across the nation. By the end of the summer, many had burnt out and lost interest in the company because the internship program was just too long. We lost them right before we needed them the most during this fall recruitment season. We still have a solid base of 10 campus CMOs. The positive outcome is that these 10 campus CMOs are the most productive and are the most committed to the company; so we were able to weed out the less valuable people on the team.
I learned that most people only have an attention span of about 8 weeks for an internship. Any longer than that and the Gen Y tend to lose interest and develop a want to look for other opportunities. Next time, our internship program will be 8 weeks of intense marketing and PR training.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
As the CMO, it is my core responsibility to grow the business. This is what I have been mainly focusing on:
Blogging community: I actively participate in the blogging community to generate buzz for Future Delivery and introduce bloggers to our site. If the blogger loves our site, then we have a high chance of being featured on their blog. This means more exposure for us and their readers have a possibility of clicking through to our site.
Living the Startup Life Video Documentary: I thought about what kind of videos we can make go viral, and at the same time, brand Future Delivery as a fun career development company. I came up with creating a video documentary about our startup experiences. I walk around with a camera all day and tape our lives as we work together, go to meetings, attend events, and pitch to clients. We have some episodes up right now on Youtube and Facebook and more will be coming out shortly.
Campus CMO program: I currently lead a team of 10 campus CMOs across the nation. They work for us for free because I teach them everything that I know about business, entrepreneurship, marketing, PR, and social media. Their responsibilities include branding FD on their campus, building relationships with career center and student organization, and driving traffic from their university to our website. The people that I have met through this program are very wonderful and motivated people and it is my goal to make them as successful as they can be.
Company Partnerships: I have been contacting companies to tell them about Future Delivery and how we can help the brand themselves and recruit top talents more efficiently. I have had great success so far with companies and we have 2 official companies so far partnered with FD Career. We look to add 10 more companies within the coming months.
Site Vitamin Clients: It is my responsibility to make sure that we always have Site Vitamin clients for short-term cash generation. I constantly am attending events and networking to find a client that needs website development and consulting. So far, we have successfully achieved a steady stream of clients that are paying for all of the expenses for the company.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
The team is the absolute most important part of the equation. My team is full of people that I love working with, who are self-motivated, and who love the Future Delivery vision.
When starting a high-tech company, having an in-house development team is crucial for the success of your company. There are just too many things that are involved with developing the company to have an outsourced programming team. Your lead developers must have the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to add their own opinions and ideas to the product that you are developing.
I would also like to advice every student to start a company as an undergrad. As a student, you have so many tools at your disposal: professors, organizations, peers, counselors, TAs, and mentors. If you fail, you have the safety net of your university to catch you. Take the chance to start your own company early so that you know if this is the path that you want to take.
Jun, that was great! I'm sure there are many young entrepreneurs out there who will really benefit from you experiences. Thank you!