BGV Q&A series: Flooting
When husband and wife team Sarah Gargett and Mark Hardwick moved their family to Andorra they tried to give away their unwanted household items on eBay and Freecycle, but they found it impossible. They became so disheartened by all the waste that they started to build a new online solution to give away stuff, called Flooting. They’re so passionate about it that they’ve left the mountains and the children behind (thanks to a very understanding sister) to join the Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator. At the end of week four, I caught up with both of them to chat about their experience so far .
What is the problem you’re trying to solve and why is this important to you?
Sarah: The problem is about the underutilisation of goods. People buy so much stuff and they never use it all. It sits in closets, gathering dust, not doing anything. We want to get people to offer all this unused stuff for reuse.
Mark: This comes from personal experience. We’ve moved twice in recent years, once from London to Essex, and then from the UK to Andorra. When we moved to Essex we had so much stuff that we just left in storage in the garage. So when we moved abroad we thought right, we need to deal with this.
Sarah: We tried using eBay and Freecycle to sell and give away our things, but it was just a nightmare.
Mark: We spoke with a lot of friends and they had a similar experience. We could see where the holes were in this process and we came up with an idea around that.
Ok, so what is the solution?
Mark: The solution needs to be easy from start to end, not just at the listing stage. The person listing needs to be confident that it will go, that when someone wants the items they will turn up and collect it. That’s actually the biggest problem and a hard one to solve.
Sarah: We’re creating a simple game for the whole process, separating us from the auction style places. It’s very easy to use. It’s rewarding so the person listing something has their generosity recognised, and it encourages the people who have won the item put some value in it, so they collect it. And importantly, we want to make it a bit more fun.
Mark: Flooting is live now, we launched in August last year. It’s available everywhere but we’re focusing on Hackney first. We have about a thousand users already, and before starting BGV it was quite active.
What are your backgrounds? How did you meet?
Sarah: We met at university in Perth, and we’ve been married for 12 years.
Mark: I’ve done startups before and we’ve worked together for a long time. Our last company was Ymogen, which we ran for nine years. We were working with broadcasters to build a platform for collaborative storytelling. It was a great idea but there were focus issues. None the less we made money out of it, and at the height of it we had eighteen employees.
Sarah: We were doing all sorts of boring work around mobile marketing to bring in a revenue stream, but what we really wanted to do was the collaborative content side of things. Around the time of the credit crunch we lost a big contract and that was enough.
Mark: I’d decided I was going to have a break, but then we hit this problem and we thought, ‘go on, we’ll give it a go!’ Flooting will either work or it will fail fast. One of the most important things I’ve learnt in my life is to fail fast. But I do think this can really work.
Why did you choose to enter BGV?
Sarah: Our previous business was B2B, we’ve never built something where you’re trying to get end users signed up. We felt we could use some help to grow our user base.
Mark: There was also the social enterprise stamp of approval. We want to partner with all sorts of organisations and being part of a something like this is great, there’s credibility in it and their network is so strong.
It’s also about access to grants and funding. In our previous business we’d raised £0.5m before; it took three years and was a long, nasty, arduous job. I felt that working with BGV we could change that by being able to apply for grants more credibly and then go for funding once we’re more than ready.
How has BGV been so far?
Sarah: It’s been pretty much what we expected. We knew it would be manic. There’s been lots of useful input, discussions and conversations.
Mark: When we came here the game was live and we thought we were ready to grow and scale. But we were persuaded early on to spend some more time on the site before pushing through with our growth plan.
Sarah: We’ve had to take a step back to look at how we can improve the user experience. It turns out the execution of our game was not quite there yet.
Mark: So we’ve been holding game reviews and site reviews with mentors and existing users, and now we’re putting all of that excellent advice into practice.
Mark: At the end of the day we want BGV’s mentors and partners to feel excited about talking about Flooting. If they log into it and they don’t go ‘WOW’, then that’s not going to happen. We’re very close to that point, we’ll do a few weeks work and it will look a thousand times better – in fact it already does.
What do you want to achieve by the end of BGV?
Mark: We’re hopeful by the end of our time here we’ll have done the design work and shored up our supply of stuff for the site. We want to partner with local authorities, housing associations, retailers or charity shops, and work with them to spread the word about Flooting and the make sure there is a strong stream of stuff entering it. Ideally we'll work to make sure everything finds a home somewhere. I believe that's critical but will take time.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
Mark: Getting stuff on the site is going to be the biggest challenge, and growth. If we can find a constant stream of suppliers then I know we can grow. If we don’t then we need to grow organically, we can do that, but it will be slower. When we start injecting things in the site then we start growing really rapidly. Eventually we’ll reach a steady state – this could be 10,000 users, it could be 100,000, we don’t really know yet.
Sarah: There’s going to be some interesting things to learn along the way. Our approach has been to focus on a local neighbourhood. But what level of activity within that can be sustained? And at what level does that plateau off? We’ll find out as we go along.
If you weren’t doing BGV, what would you be doing now?
Sarah: We would have tried for another accelerator. We applied to a few different accelerators and we were asked to interview for a programme in Amsterdam, but we already had a place on BGV. If we weren’t on an accelerator we’d be in a less formal environment, looking for mentors and people who could help.
Mark: Yeah we’d be cracking on. We’d be banging our head a bit more because we wouldn’t have come to the realisation that we needed to do more on site design so quickly.
What companies inspire you?
Sarah: Airbnb did an amazing job. I loved that when they got started they were out there on the ground, hand holding people to get things going. Streetlife are also doing really excellent job. And just today I’ve discovered Yeah Hackney.
Mark: I love everything Elon Musk touches. Except from Paypal! He’s an amazing mover.
Call to action:
Sarah: We’re keen to find partners to help us grow and get stuff on the site – this could be moving firms, housing associations, retailers... we offer a really good CSR story and Flooting can be seen as way of carbon offsetting. And we can help encourage Facebook likes, Twitter follows, and footfall to websites or retail outlets. Of course we really want to chat to anyone who needs to find new homes for their stuff. If they contact us, we'll be there to help in any way we can.