After establishing online furniture site Zanui in Australia, founder Dean Kelly one day realised that his bustling startup was no more. It had matured into one of those regular companies which was growing steadily.
“You get to a point when it becomes less about that fast scale up, early growth and it becomes more about that steady growth and that startup experience is over,” Kelly told Business Insider.
It was this realisation which landed him in San Francisco, pitching investors for more funding to expand the site. That was when Kelly met his future business partner, Justin Parfitt, who had just sold his dating company Fast Impressions to Plenty of Fish.
One of the most important elements of long term, stable growth is knowing when to get out of the way.
It’s something Campaign Monitor founders Ben Richardson and Dave Greiner did when they brought on $250 million in funding and hired CEO Alex Bard to take the company to the next level. Kelly did a similar thing at Zanui, albeit on a much smaller scale. Kelly still has shares in Zanui.
“Once I felt the company was on the right trajectory I was happy to leave for the next opportunity,” he said.
“Since I’ve left it has grown four-fold so maybe I should’ve left earlier.
“I think as an entrepreneur you know what you’re best at, you know what you’re passionate about.
“I still check the website everyday, I still get frustrated.”
After leaving Zanui, Parfitt and Kelly launched HeyLets after they wondered why they were reading negative reviews about experiences from people they had nothing in common with.
“Selling furniture online is difficult, we were doing it well, but the opportunity for HeyLets to be a massive company globally is probably more real than selling furniture,” Kelly said.
“I truly believed it was a product that every single person could have on their phone one day.”
The founders recently closed $1.65 million in seed funding from Blue Sky Venture Capital and a handful of angel investors. Launching the app in Australia, Kelly said it was a solid test market to iterate and “make all our mistakes there before we launched globally”. With eight employees now working on the app the startup is aiming to raise its series A round in the next three to six months.
“Once we made some changes to the product we really started to get some traction over there,” he said, adding there have been more than 100,000 downloads to date and an Android version is on the way.
“We launched in Australia and only six months ago we launched globally and since then we’ve had hundreds of thousands of experiences added in more than 100 countries.”
Built for mobile, users upload a photo and 200 characters about an experience they enjoyed, rather than a review of a place so it focuses on recommendations — short and sweet.
HeyLets is now honing in on personalisation so each user’s feed will feature relevant experiences based on their interests. Kelly describes it as “a list of inspiration”.
“Because of the personalisation on your interests and demographic profile, you’re only going to be seeing things that answer the question of what you should be doing this weekend,” Kelly said.
Both founders have had experience building businesses using strategic partnerships. Kelly said HeyLets will start to use hotel booking companies and real estate sites as partners to build up experiences in various cities.
“There are a lot of apps out there that review places and there hasn’t been a break out product challenging TripAdvisor and they feel very old to us,” he said.
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