Two years running a startup - our story so far.
The statistics can be daunting for anyone wanting to start their own business. 57.6% of companies that started up in 2013 were gone 5 years later, most fail in the first two years (gulp!). Yet despite a tendency to think start-ups are a hatchery for chaos, there are always success stories and we’re striving to write our own. As Data Duopoly marks the end of its second year (phew!), we’ve taken some time to reflect and celebrate our journey so far, because sometimes, you need to look back to see how far you’ve come.
Imagine going to see the Mona Lisa, a truly iconic work of art, only to have that experience tarnished because of the large jostling crowds. Imagine if that experience was replicated at every famous painting viewed as you moved around the Louvré.
If you’ve ever left an attraction niggled by the crowds or large queues, then you’re not alone. These issues contributed to 66% of 1- and 2-star Tripadvisor reviews for the UK’s number 1 attraction. Frustrations negatively impact the visitor experience, and this is a visitor attraction’s core product. Throw some pandemic anxiety about busy places into the mix and it makes for quite a complicated problem.
We believed we could create a single solution for these complex issues, all whilst improving the visitor experience. It was from this shared vision that Data Duopoly was born.
Data Duopoly’s product, XplorIT, uses downstream satellite data to track where visitors are on site using GPS. Accessing an interactive map of the venue on their phone enables visitors to navigate easily, find exhibits and discover more information. Crucially they can see how busy each area is, allowing them to make informed decisions about where to go, with XplorIT suggesting the best, least congested route.
For the venue, XplorIT hosts a live heatmap of where all visitors are on site. The dashboard facilitates nudge notifications sent to select visitors, such as offers or live event details, incentivising a move to quieter areas and prevent overcrowding. Capacity limits can be set and monitored, with additional analytics gathered about dwell times and revenue uplift from redeemed offers.
We met at the critically acclaimed EU-backed incubator, Launchpad in 2018. Partnered together by our complementary skills (Tanuvi, as a Chartered Accountant, and Erin, as an award-winning film producer) we were approached by top 40 UK attraction the Eden Project to help them discover how visitors used their site. Our ensuing research with other venues at events across the country concluded that many sites:
· Did not understand where their visitors were on site at any given time.
· Did not have an effective way to disperse large crowds.
· Bottlenecks and pinch points were problem areas that negatively affected revenue.
We put our creative and data mindsets together to create XplorIT. Despite having a lack of technical expertise, this in fact became our advantage. Instead of focusing on the easiest tech solution, we concentrated on the best possible outcome for the venue and user experience which we believe is our competitive edge.
We built strong relations with some fantastic advisors, agencies and contractors who understood and believed in our concept, enabling us to build an MVP with a completely manual backend within three months. This was no easy feat and involved working tirelessly at the Eden Project, every weekend and evening testing the product until it was ready for the public. We had no money, no sleep and no social lives, but we had ourselves a pilot!
All that effort paid off, we had run a successful pilot that delivered some impressive results:
33% of visitors using the app responded to monetary offers, showing a potential to shift a third of the visitor population away from busy areas.
90% of surveyed users found the navigational element useful and used it to plan where they would go next.
95% of surveyed users said they would use the app for their next day out at an attraction.
After incorporation, we bootstrapped Data Duopoly ourselves, taking on side hustles (freelance graphic design for Erin and tutoring for Tanuvi) to continue to fund the progress of this shared vision we so passionately believed in. We embarked on multiple away trips (often sleeping on friend’s sofas or questionable Airbnbs) to showcase XplorIT at tech and tourism tradeshows or network at industry events across the country.
Exhibiting on a shoestring budget saw us struggling on to trains with bulky exhibition stands and cumbersome furniture to save on costs (sorry GWR!). Setting up a stand until midnight only to be up at the crack of dawn to exhibit and network was an exhausting but necessary struggle to push the business forward.
We entered every relevant start-up competition and awards programme we could find to leverage awareness from the available platforms they provided, all the time honing our pitch for Data Duopoly. Without the funds needed to enter Pitch to the Primes 2019 at the UK Space Conference, support from Aerospace Cornwall via their R&D grant, meant we not only attended but went on to win. Securing this award not only resulted in crucial recognition for our product but also a valuable relationship with Aerospace Cornwall, a significant turning point in our fundraising journey.
Following an intensive few months of pitching we went on to secure our first chunk of funding from South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN). This meant we could bring in necessary technical expertise in-house to create our first automated product, shortly adopted by the Tin Coast Partnership and National Trust, our first paying client!
Then the world was thrown into turmoil and lockdown as the Coronavirus Pandemic swept across the nation. Whilst this could have easily bought everything we’d worked on crashing to the ground, Data Duopoly proved its resilience by adapting cashflows to become as lean as possible. We quickly pivoted our product having now spotted an additional benefit, and in fact crucial support our technology could provide. Developing the COVID-19 Crowd Tracker and Report function meant we could support post pandemic venue recovery and improve visitor confidence about returning to busy places. This new offering attracted the support of ESA and the UK Space Agency to kick start our seed round. After speaking to over a hundred potential investors, we found 4 to secure the match bid after nearly 6 months of fundraising. Our investors were able to provide us with legal, technical and industry expertise making them a perfect fit for our company.
With just 32.37% of UK businesses owned by women (and a only shocking 4% female founded tech startups) we have often felt the daunting reality of being the only females in a room. But rather than feel intimidated, it’s only strengthened our resolve. The life of a fledgling start-up is rarely glamorous – it involves long hours, grit and yes there have been a few tears. We’ve still got a long way to go, but the journey has been exhilarating. We remain determined to write our success story and know that with the right amount of determination, patience, consistency and focus we will achieve our goal to revolutionise the visitor experience in any venue, worldwide.