Chored: Oliver Southern
The former Telefonica employee shares why starting a business is a dream come true and how overcoming challenges is all about having the right team…
Name: Oliver Southern
Company Name: Chored
Location: Greater London
Date Launched: 23/09/15
No. of employees: 2
Tell us what your business does:
Chored is an app for house shares. It lets users split and pay bills (including rent and utilities) directly to the company via the app.
As the name suggests, Chored also allows housemates to assign and track household chores. In addition, the app includes group chat and a “who’s home” feature which uses geolocation so you can see who’s in and who’s not. It’s helpful if you forget to push the button on your load of washing – just simply access the app, see who’s home and ask them to push the button for you!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Like most students, I lived in a shared house during university. For the most part, it was a lot of fun but we did have some arguments such as who had left out week-old dirty dishes (usually me). When I moved into a shared property after university, I noticed that arguments over chores and bills worsened.
The thing that struck me was the imbalanced ‘responsibility quota’ – one person was always left to manage all the bills and left to chase people for owed money (this was me, if you hadn’t guessed!). I realised that the relationship between housemates and the way household bills were managed was very dysfunctional, and I started thinking about different ways to solve this.
The first lightbulb moment I had was to create a living and cleaning rota in an app format – as a lot of arguments were over minor or trivial chores and cleaning issues. I then thought of integrating a payment platform, so there would be no more disagreements over payments not being made on time, or people being owed money from housemates. The idea of Chored was born!
How did you know there was a market for it?
I was confident in my idea but I commissioned research to see if this was a real pain point for house sharers. I wanted to know what things annoyed house sharers, what they argued about most, and how frequently they would argue. The research revealed that while housemates were lots of fun to live with, they were a cause of contention for many arguments – with chores and bills being the main concern.
What were you doing before starting up?
After graduating with a degree in law from the University of Leicester, I started my career at tech giant Yahoo, beginning as an intern and making my way up to – brace yourself for the jargon – business partner to the commercial director of the expansion markets (essentially I forecast ad spend in developing countries).
I then went on to work for Telefonica, where my experience in digital and mobile technology, specifically developing the communication app ‘TU Go’, gave me the inspiration and knowledge to create my own mobile app.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
It has always been a dream of mine. One of my favourite aspects about running my own business is the autonomy of it; I know exactly what I’m doing and am involved in all the detail. Working in a large company, you can feel like you are a small part in a massive machine. Running a start-up is the complete opposite – everything that happens is because of something you did, or didn’t do. Suddenly you’re the machine.
It means that you can take credit for the good decisions, and shoulder responsibility for the bad ones. So far, I’d say the good are outweighing the bad.
How did you raise the money?
To date, the business has secured £150,000 in funding to launch the product, achieved by crowdfunding, angel investors and the Startup Funding Club. We have a wealth of advisory talent which has been built up through networking in the right places. Surrounding ourselves with good generals has enabled us to find solutions to challenges quickly and prepared us for what lies ahead.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
With Chored, each housemate has the individual responsibility to pay their share of the gas/electricity/water themselves, directly to the utility in question – all with the swipe of a finger. Currently, we charge a nominal amount per transaction processed through the app, much like a booking fee, which our users are more than happy to pay to avoid falling out with each other!
That said, our immediate focus is to raise awareness about the app and drive engagement. We want to give people the best user experience.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We know that 90% of start-ups fail within the first year. A lot of people may think that failure is because of the strength, or lack of strength in the idea. I think that no matter how strong the business idea is, you have to have the right people behind it. Our team’s tenacity, perseverance and ability to deal with challenges is definitely a contributing factor to Chored’s success.
I remember one challenge in particular: On the day that I left Telefonica, our backend developer told me that he was quitting the business to go travelling, leaving me with just three days to find another developer. A lot of stress and phone calls later, I met with our now current developer and worked with him for 24 hours straight to bring him up to speed. He single-handedly designed the backend solution and in app payments “direct to utility” was born.
What was your first big breakthrough?
The initial idea of Chored was definitely one of the biggest milestones. Similarly, when you first see your idea turn into something tangible, that is pretty special too. One of our most recent breakthroughs was the release of the iOS app in September meaning that Chored is now available on both Android and iOS.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I’ve learnt so much over the last two years. For budding entrepreneurs, the learning curve is steep and you really need to be hungry to learn, as well as fail fast. If something isn’t working, move on. Anyone coming into this game believing that they know everything is going to be in for a big surprise – or a very short career.
In practical terms, play to your strengths, and by doing so identify where you need help. This will enable you to prioritise what additional resource you will need to find (read – where to spend money), and which things you can do yourself. For example, I’ve always loved app design but didn’t have the budget to hire a designer at first. The solution? I downloaded Balsamiq and taught myself, creating some mock-ups in the initial stages of the business. Fast forward two years and I’m wholly responsible for our app design on both iOS and Android. Not bad for an ex-lawyer turned excel monkey. I’m still learning, and I hope that never ends.
Oh and never walk away from a meeting without getting something out of it. Maybe it’s another contact, maybe a follow-up meeting or just some advice. Credit on that goes to Robyn Exton.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’d like to be where I am now – except with an IPO’d company under me, rather than a start-up, and of course I’d like that company to be Chored. I’ve met a number of entrepreneurs who are simply in it for the exit. They have passion, but it starts and ends in dollar signs.
I truly believe in my company, and the market we serve. House prices aren’t going any direction but one, and the recent trend towards more people sharing houses or flats isn’t going to dissipate. Right now, our focus is on building a great user experience – whether it’s chore rotation or bill payments. We’ve got a few ideas on how we can evolve the app which are in development at the moment. I’d love for Chored to be front and centre in the house share market, with me alongside it.