Joanna Socha, editor-in-chief of W Insight: How did you come up with the idea of building the app called Spontime?
Karolina Demianczuk: I thought there was no good application available that would enable meeting new people. I had been traveling for a while and up until then I used to have popular apps like Meetup, Eventbrite or Tinder. However, all of them offered a limited type of relation. Meetup is very impersonal, Tinder, on the other hand, has one unambiguous association. What I wanted was to have lunch with someone or just talk casually. The day I got inspired, I was at the Warsaw School of Economics. My classes were canceled and I had two hours to kill. I headed for the student café and started calling my university friends. After a while, it turned out that most of them were either not even on the premises or were busy. I was disappointed. I looked around and saw there were many more people around me sitting alone with their noses glued to their phones. I thought it would be brilliant if there were an app that would help people meet up for a specific reason – for instance, to drink a coffee between classes. The app itself would help make the first move, namely, break the ice and talk to a stranger. This is how I got inspired. I logged onto Facebook and posted the following in the Warsaw programmers’ Facebook group: ‘Hi, I have a concept for a social application for spontaneous meetings. Anyone interested, let me know’. In a few hours, I got over 100 responses. I picked a few people and we started working on the project now called “Spontime.”
Weren’t you afraid someone might steal your idea?
Not at all. I think this is the silliest fear I could have had. I bet there are hundreds of people working on a similar application at the moment. I doubt I am super original. Though I am certain that if I hadn’t posted this sentence on Facebook, I wouldn’t have gotten so much positive energy. Getting people involved in the very beginning of the project motivated me to actually start doing things. I firmly believe one should act on an impulse. You have an idea – you just do it. Some start from the other angle – they want to set up a business, get people around the table and debate ideas. I think that is somehow constraining. I believe in spontaneous ideas and not postponing things. In my case, everything started from a post on Facebook: investors, the USA, prototype, testing etc.
Exactly, your project attracted investors from Silicon Valley, and the media were writing at length about a student who started a 3 million dollar startup. There are so many social media on the market – why did Spontime draw so much attention both in the media and among potential investors?
I think it is because people just need such an app. Human beings are very social, so every application that brings people together is attractive. I am not a 50-year-old man who builds technology for big enterprises that people do not understand. What I do, though, is create an app thanks to which people will be spending more time together – most importantly – they will be doing it offline. Spontime is not for people who want to chat online forever. Instead, the app gives them up to 3 hours to meet up face to face. Back in 2016 when we released the prototype for testing purposes, we received a lot of feedback. The initial idea was to allow meet ups only with one’s own friends – for instance university friends. The new version will enable meetings with new people, as I think this is something we still need.
Why did it take so long to launch the app?
Because we changed the concept and iterated many times. We want the app to be fully interactive, intuitive and safe. It may appear that there are only a few screens, but the best apps are psychologically driven. Let’s say you want to go for a coffee. You will not send a public message informing you want to go to an x place for a coffee. Firstly, because everyone can see it and message you back, so that instead of a meet up you will be snowed with messages. Secondly, you do not want the entire world to know where you are now – for safety reasons.
Building a good social app takes some time. Nothing happens overnight. Instagram needed 3 years, Snapchat launched the app not much sooner. Spontime should be launched by the end of summer 2018*.
You have been working on this start-up full-time for the past two years. How do you earn a living?
I am very lucky to have supportive parents. I was also not in a rush to move out of the house like most of my friends; that allowed me to save a lot of money. I live with parents and I live an economical lifestyle. Also, I get involved in some additional projects that I get paid for. For example, I just attended the Women Startup Lab in California.
Are you happy with the lifestyle you have – meaning that you have to deny yourself quite a lot of things now?
I think that in order to achieve something you have to make sacrifices. Of course, I could have decided to work in a corporation and have a stable income. Maybe that would be easier. Life would be easier if I would just go to work, get back in the evening, party with my friends and wouldn’t need to worry so much about my own business and responsibilities towards my team and investors. If I did so, I would not be able to work on Spontime though. Starting your own business is full of challenges, most of which you might have not even realized – for example the amount of time you spend on your own. It was a great challenge for me – I am a very open and outgoing person. I need people around me. In a corporation, I used to spend 8 to 12 hours daily with them. In a start-up, things are different. In Spontime the team of five are located in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Warsaw.
Despite these challenges, working on Spontime enabled me to cooperate with business leaders in the USA and in Poland, traveling and broadening my horizons. Start-up life is not easy but the wonderful moments you have make up for it. I can honestly say that we are doing very well and looking back, I have developed incredibly in the past two years.
What would you tell people who are considering starting their own business?
To not give up easily and not to resign from what they have planned. Some time ago I came up with another idea of an app using VR (virtual reality). I shared this idea with one of my mentors who was amazed by it and told me he was going to invest in it. There was one condition though, I had to give up work on Spontime – as I could not have other irons in the fire. It was a tough nut to crack, the temptation was huge, there was big money offered for developing the app with a huge potential, but I knew I couldn’t give up on Spontime.
I believe that the best start-ups are the most persistent ones. It is easy to have another wonderful idea and give up on the current one, but in the long run, it does not pay off.
So how did you get your first investors?
I was lucky as I was never actively looking for investors or applying for financing. After the media spread the news, the investors were interested in the idea itself and started approaching me. Therefore, I guess the key to success is a good and appealing idea.
What would be your advice to women who would like to have a presence in Silicon Valley?
When I attended the Women’s Startup Lab I heard a few interesting remarks from amazing Christine Herron, a co-director of Intel Capital Diversity Fund, who shared how much time she wasted on unproductive meetings with investors. It turned out that many of them wanted to meet up with her socially and they were not interested in her start-up at all. So her advice was to meet up with the investors only during the day. If they want to meet you as a potential partner, they should invite you for lunch or coffee. Sometimes they invite you for dinner, which is risky for women because with alcohol being involved, a business meeting may evolve into a date…Christina advised to be careful and selective: if the investor is used to injecting money in biotech start-ups, why would he invest in a mobile app now? Also, it is worth realizing that it is difficult for women to stand out from the crowd in the area. The investors usually picture a stereotypical nerd. There is one recipe: you have to be well prepared for the meeting, know what you are talking about and consistently work on your personal brand.
Edited by: Aga Kopec, Phyllis Budka
*Spontime is going to be launched by the end of summer 2018