Exist founders Josh and Belle started the company in June 2013 and launched to the public in May 2014. To this date, the company is still run solely by the two co-founders. We spoke to Josh to find out more about the business.
“Exist is a personal analytics platform” Josh explained, “We pull in data about your life and your habits – things like activity trackers, productivity trackers, social media, and even the weather.” But what’s the reason for analysing these forms of information? “By analysing this data as a whole we can find patterns and correlations in the different aspects of your life.” Josh described that the benefit of this, would allow users to stop tracking numbers and to start seeing “actionable insights that actually make sense with what you’re doing.”
Fascinated by the concept behind this company, we wanted to find out where the idea for Exist came from. Josh explained, “My co-founder Belle had been trying out an activity tracker while holidaying in Paris, diligently tracking her steps and the places she went.” However, as Josh made clear, Belle soon lost motivation from following a single number of steps. “We’d been in the early steps of building a different startup idea, and were losing interest.” After a conversation with Belle about the future of the “Quantified Self” movement, excitement started to build around an idea to build a service that would “aggregate various quantified data sources and tell you in plain English how you’re doing.”
How much time passed between the initial idea and the business launch?
With this excitement, we wondered how much time passed between the business idea and the business launch. “A long time!” was Josh’s response. “We started working on our MVP in June 2013, and by about August I had a prototype that we were testing in private beta with some interested friends.” Working on this venture part time, meant that the rate of progress was quite slow. In addition to this, Josh and Belle applied to various incubators, hoping that extra money and the intensive work period might help to hasten the launch.
However, they were turned down from all of the incubators they applied to. After this, Josh explained that they carried on working hard, “We kept working on our private beta right up until May 2014, when we launched to the public.”
Having been turned down following the applications to various incubators, we asked Josh what the hardest thing had been. One of the greatest challenges, Josh explained, is “constantly second-guessing yourself, and having the confidence to stay the course.” With multiple rejections from incubators and investors, Josh explained that “It’s very hard to stick to your guns when the people with money are telling you, ‘you’re working on the wrong idea. There’s no business in this’.” However, relief from this comes in the form of the current and growing loyal group of users who love Exist. “That helps us keep on track” Josh confirmed.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you could go back in time?
Noticeably there have been some struggles throughout the course of Exist’s lifetime. However, whilst the glamour of startup life often implies niche products or services which appear overnight and become the next Facebook, Whatsapp or Snapchat, the reality is that lots of rejection and hard work is the truth behind nearly every startup.
With this in mind, we asked Josh if would do anything differently if he could go back in time. At this, Josh told us the story the early attention Exist received, “We got a lot of press before we even launched (we landed in GQ’s ‘100 best things in the world’ sheesh), which made us feel successful and gave us the confidence to approach investors looking for seed funding.” However this early attention wasn’t enough to encourage investment, what the investors needed to see was larger numbers indicating traction.
Josh also added that he would change something else, “I would try harder to find the right beta testers.” Josh went on to say, “Friends and social media acquaintances are a low-effort way of getting users, but if you’re building something specific, they’re mostly going to be useless.” Josh detailed the difficulty he discovered with testers, “We had real trouble getting anybody to use Exist regularly, and their feedback was almost non-existent, because they didn’t get it.” Josh clarified that this wasn’t his tester’s fault, but instead they simply hadn’t found testers who were looking for what Exist would become.
How do you define success?
Knowing that steps like sourcing the right testers could lead to smoother success, we asked Josh how he defines success. “Success is a sliding scale – as soon as you hit one definition, you keep redefining it and pushing it back.” Josh added, “Exist is still a way off paying for Belle and I to work on it full-time, so when we cross that line and can give up our contracting work, I’ll be ready to unfurl that ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner and pop the champagne.”
With this definition of success established, naturally we were curious to find out what Josh’s biggest goal for Exist might be. “Long-term, we’d like to be the sort of personal assistant that absolutely everyone has on their phone. Everybody can benefit from their phone understanding their routines and what they’re doing right now.”
Finally, we wanted to find out what the immediate future holds for Exist. “Short-term, we’re working on launching our mobile apps. Belle has learnt to code from scratch to build our iOS app, which is fantastic, and doubles our developer count.” However, aside from this Josh would like to see the uptake of users grow, in addition he’d like to see “a whole lot of happy users.” Sounds good to us!