Ruairidh Wynne-McHardy admits that being a qualified lawyer who is also a self-taught programmer is a strange mix but the two skills combined perfectly for the launch of his tech startup, BrandFox.
Ruairidh lived in France for several years before attending Edinburgh University to attain his law degree. He left his promising legal career to work on his own startup ideas full-time.
BrandFox connects users of Instagram with brands who are looking for more authentic images to use in their marketing campaigns, editorials and social media content. Brands buy the photos for $10 and the photo creator gets $5 of this.
We talked to Ruairidh about taking the startup plunge.
So why did you want to learn programming when you could have developed a successful legal career?
I learned programming as a teenager, so the legal career came afterwards. I saw a lot of similarities between the two, both are a way of expressing logic and achieving a goal. I really enjoyed studying law, and learned a lot from my traineeship but I knew that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial.
Can you tell us how BrandFox was born?
BrandFox was scratching my own itch. I had combed through websites for stock photography for other projects and found that they were too expensive, low-quality, or too staged. Think people in suits cycling along a road. It's ridiculous! Instagram is where people my age create and share content, it made sense to use it for commercial projects as well.
What process did you go through in order to scratch that itch?
I initially undertook research and established that whilst there are a few companies doing something similar, it proves there is a market. I optimised pricing to undercut them and started to develop the website.
This involved a few weeks of coding, gaining approval from Instagram to use their API and to do a small amount of awareness building. So far I've asked a few friends to beta test the site, and picked up some traffic from Hacker News.
So you basically had the idea and set about validating the idea and checking there was a business opportunity there?
That's correct. Once I'd settled on the idea, I started planning the execution. Normally when I start a new project, I find that it's better to sit and sketch out the interface and some of the application logic. That way if you find out that something isn't going to work, you don't need to delete code.
Can you go into a bit more detail about how you started to develop the website and how you went about doing the coding? I think a lot of people get ideas for a site then get scared about having to code. What language, tools did you use to actually create the site?
It's very normal for people to feel uncomfortable about diving into code but it's actually pretty straightforward once you're used to it. There's never been a better time to learn via YouTube tutorials, various dedicated websites, and now the coding bootcamps that we're increasingly seeing. I'm actually pretty envious as I mostly taught myself from books and old website tutorials.
What stage are you at now?
We're currently in beta testing with a few selected users. This has gone really well and so BrandFox will launch fully in early 2017.
So what comes next for you?
As to what comes next, the first step will be to start advertising the platform to users and brands. Given that it's free to use, I anticipate that the sign up rate will be quite high, particularly for Instagram users as they only need to click a button to connect their account and add images. I'll then be targeting brands, initially in the Edinburgh area who may benefit from advertising material sourced from their followers. Ideally I'd like to see BrandFox used in several markets, but it depends how it's picked up by the usual launch platforms such as Product Hunt, Hacker News, etc.
Are you self funded so far? For future growth will you be seeking outside funding?
Yes, BrandFox is entirely self-funded. As our operating costs are extremely low, we're not in a rush for investment, though would be open to talking to some angels for an initial marketing push.
Is Edinburgh a good place to start a tech startup? Does it have the right infrastructure? Which organisations have you found useful?
Yes! Edinburgh is a great place for a startup. It has a highly educated population, there's a great energy about the city, and the presence of unicorns has helped attract more outside interest. The infrastructure is definitely maturing, initiatives like Codebase and now Accelerated Digital Ventures, along with the presence of a great angel network have made operating here as a startup very helpful.
I've found that StartEdin has been a great support, along with Entrepreneurial Scotland and Invest Edinburgh. There's also a great network of individuals who are happy to offer advice, mentoring and seed funding.
What challenges have you faced?
Apart from convincing Instagram to let me use the comments permission on their API, managing the ups and downs of startup life can be difficult. It's cliche but sometimes you wake up ready to go and get everything done, other days it can feel like nothing is going right. Having an understanding partner and supportive friends makes a huge difference. Edinburgh is also great in that there are lots of other entrepreneurs in the same boat who really understand what you're going through.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about a tech startup?
Don't overthink it. If you feel the urge to do it then give it a go. You will probably get a lot wrong, are likely to end up living off pasta and beans, and your friends and family will think you're crazy but it's a great experience. Oh, and get your product right before going for investment. Lots of people do that the other way round.