Geomium: Michael Ferguson and Ben Dowling

The founders of the 'local' social platform on becoming the next big thing in the mobile sector

Name:Michael Ferguson and Ben Dowling
Staff numbers:
Company description:

Company name: Geomium Founders: Michael Ferguson and Ben Dowling Age: 29 and 27 Based: London, UK Staff Numbers: 2 full time Date started: October 2009 (launched September 2010)

Tell us what your business doesGeomium is a location-based service that combines real time functionality with unrivalled local content. Users connect with friends, meet new people and see all the latest bars, restaurants, events and money-saving deals on a map of their local area. For example, if you get off the tube at Oxford Circus, you can see which of your friends are in Soho and which bars have 2-for-1 deals that night.

Where did the idea for your business come from? We knew that location-based services were going to be the next big thing in the mobile sector. Analysts have predicted great things for location – $14bn revenues by 2014 – and the smart phone market keeps growing, with 12.8 million smart phones sold in the UK. But the services out there were too niche, targeting a tech-only audience, so we came up with the idea of taking location-based services to the mainstream. We really feel that with Geomium, we’ve created something with true mass market appeal.

How did you know there was a market for it? How will you differentiate yourself from the competition? We knew there was a market because we’d seen how well other companies had done that just didn’t have our broad consumer appeal. Ours is the only local social platform that combines the best and most robust local content with killer social features, including real time location, in an interface that is simple and easy to use.

What were you doing before starting up? Michael’s last job was for JPMorgan. Recently he completed an MBA at the Said Business School at Oxford University. The course fostered a real entrepreneurial spirit and he knew that creating a start-up was going to be his next move.

Have you always wanted to run your own business? We have always been entrepreneurial. It was just a matter of discovering the right business. When we had the idea for Geomium, we knew it was right and got straight to work on it.

What planning did you do before you started up? What advice did you seek? Of course – preparation is the most time-consuming and often the least interesting part of setting up a business. But it is also the most important, so we undertook extensive research and spoke to as many people as possible to get advice.

How did you raise the money? We’ve raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from angel investors in London and are currently in the process of raising series A funding. It certainly takes a lot of hard work to meet the right investors.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?It’s really hard to say what our biggest challenge is, as we face them everyday and they change constantly. We just need to stay agile and continue to grow as a company.

How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won’t you do again?So far we’ve used PR, event sponsorship, social media and a variety of online activities. They’ve all been successful in their own way. We are willing to try anything that raises awareness of Geomium and drive people to the site or to download the app. 

How much do you charge? How did you decide this?Geomium is free, whether used as a web service or as an iPhone app. We wanted to make it as accessible as possible and making it free was a key part of that.

What has your growth been like? We only launched at the end of September so we aren’t profitable just yet. But progress has been excellent. We’ve seen more than 100,000 downloads of our iPhone app so far and we reached the dizzy heights of #3 in the iTunes social networking app store, beating twitter, Skype, Foursquare and Gowalla, to name a few. We would like to be profitable within 12 months.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?Starting a business is pretty all-consuming, so there has been a massive impact. But that said, I’ve managed to move to London since we launched and Ben got married earlier in the year. Apart from that though, our focus has been purely on making Geomium a success.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up? We face new challenges everyday. They are all so different, and I can’t say that there is one single greatest challenge.

What was your first big breakthrough?Completing the beta version of the Geomium web application. We finally had something that people could actually touch!

What would you do differently and what have you learnt?We are happy with all of the decisions we have made. If something needs to change, we change it. It is important to stay agile.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?It’s all about execution. Just do it!

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan? We are focused on meeting our initial goal, which is to connect people with the people and places around them, creating a social awareness that does not currently exist. I want Geomium to be the one mobile application that everybody uses and can’t live without.



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