James Downing – Co-founder of JellyChip

Establishing a customer feedback loop where possible has helped us in overcoming this sense of change so that it can be organised and cultivated through as many filters as possible. This allows us to use feedback as a way to enhance our network in line with the best wishes of the people using the site.

James Downing is a people smart visionary who wants to see JellyChip in every hand around the world. James has a vision to see JellyChip change the world. He believes that JellyChip offers an unprecedented opportunity to create deeper connections between people online. He is a people-smart entrepreneur with the drive to bring a new product to a growing market opportunity.

Where did the idea for JellyChip come from?

JellyChip arose from a burning desire to use the internet to solve some of the world’s biggest problems today. Over the past couple of years social networks have taken on a life of their own and have become staples of the internet diet for millions of users. Social media generates massive traffic, engagement and buzz but it seemed to us as if that engagement goes nowhere. We believe the internet was designed to truly connect people on a life-changing level and that just doesn’t happen with existing platforms.

It appears to us that people are inherently looking for something else. Whilst jumping from platform to platform has been wonderful for millions we think people are looking for the next big social thing to connect.

The current transition has been from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat, and we think the next leap will be JellyChip.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Creating a startup with investment has taught me one hundred things in the last 18 months. Most importantly has been the need to manage competing interests. In a startup environment it is not possible to silo yourself into responsibilities that are independent of your co-workers. I have found that my agenda for the day is often turned upside down by the many new considerations that appear as we work through planning projects or activities. These often have to be dealt with first and push back your other agenda until the evening or the next day.

A truly successful startup is one where that level of integration between your co-workers is at its highest. You are all separate parts of the same organism. And it’s that ability to “let go” and work for the great cause together that truly allows your project to be filled with that ineffable magic. In short, to make my typical day productive I have to let go and support our team.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We have the most ambitious minds in the business and the willpower to execute our plans! But seriously, we bring ideas to life by completing our work together as a tight team. Whiteboarding together, working at tables together and having lunch together, there is this level of intense interconnectivity that you have to accept when creating a new product. And one that we relish in.

As we have remained longer in the same group, the needs and skills of our group members has become evident, and it has been a very special time for my team to discover who we are as a group. Our identity has been formed through our struggles together. It has been learning to work with each other, and sometimes at close proximity for extended periods of time, which has taught us the value of teamwork. And from that we bring our ideas to life.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One trend really excites me – the rise of social entrepreneurship. The fact is, people are less charitable now. After the post global financial crisis, it has become evident that charity participation has dropped considerably. Australian giving trends are “stuck on the plateau” and global non-for-profits have been under financial stress from lower returns on investments and less funding from trusts, major donors and community giving. This may be due to tightening budgets, changing ways people support charity, or the scepticism people have towards charitable organisations today and realised impact on ground.

I developed an app that helped solve chronic hunger in Nigeria in 2013. The idea arose from the previous two dilemmas. I studied how other universities have tackled such issues and found Stanford University’s distributed computing project called “Folding@home” that sought to solve Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s through people using their unused computer power to crunch some numbers. It worked.

I designed and programmed the app in two months and published the app at the three month mark. Pocket Rice sought to allow people to help solve hunger by awarding people rice for playing trivia.

To date Pocket Rice has fed 7,614 refugee children across Nigeria and Uganda, and users have earned over 148 million grains of rice. Users are currently earning feeding than 1,100 children per month so the app has been a huge success. People truly want to do “good” in a fun way.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The second lesson I have learned is communication. It is essential to have open dialog with your co-workers, your investors, your users and your clients. This has been a lesson I have had to learn over the past 18 months and one I continue to learn to date.

Gone are the days when responses we expected within hours or by day’s end. We live in a supercharged digital world now where connectivity is everywhere and the expectation is to answer queries in a prompt and relevant manner.

In a sense, people expect rapid responses now and any form of delay is seen as a deliberate intent to sideline that individual communication until a later time.

I’m absolutely fine with this expectation and I agree that delays in response are no good for anyone. For our users, for example, it’s not always an expectation to be informed about every small detail – they just have a burning desire to know what’s happening at JellyChip. They want to find out what we’re working on, on a daily basis, and give their support through our social media channels or via email when they find out. So we respond within the hour to all queries. For the European investors they expect evening correspondence in line with their daytime. The manner of communication here now changes to a more formal and transactional dialog, but it just has to be done.

We just have to keep on our toes to ensure all parties involved in JellyChip get the attention they deserve to allow JellyChip to function like it should. Communication is key and it is one of the most important ingredients of a successful startup.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Probably working within one of the “Big 4” accounting firms. I found that the lack of proper management, personal accountability or quality training was tantamount to making it a difficult time of my working career.

When I left the graduate program after only 2 months, 3 out of the 4 graduates also left which indicated to me that my thoughts were shared! Whilst it was interesting to gain some perspective on a large organisation that stretched across the globe, I learned over these two months that my life couldn’t be defined by my position at a large firm. My biggest revelation was to be defiant in what I wanted to become, not succumb to a world view of a job that was wonderful on paper.

It takes boldness to leave such a job but somebody has to do it!

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I were to start JellyChip again I would make an app first. It would be easier to develop an iOS and Android app, but also would attract a market that is growing at a rapid rate, and where the buzz is. I think it was also important to create a desktop version of the JellyChip site to “anchor” JellyChip to the idea that we’re a platform, not just an app – but if I was looking to score quick wins (and a heap of users) then an app is the way to go.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I would actually recommend that everyone just let go. I do it all the time but not in the irresponsible way you may think. Let me explain.

The lesson I have learned is that JellyChip will change. In this way I mean that the company will evolve over time thanks to new ideas, changing industries, and the general evolution of the product that is beyond my control. And I have to be accepting of that.

What initially started as an idea I pitched to investors and then developers has transformed into a product that, even in its early days, is being moulded and transformed by the users that use the network daily.

I’ve had to overcome some control anxiety to ensure that JellyChip can be changed by key stakeholders, my Co-founder included, who want to provide their imprint on how the website should grow and adapt to market need.

Establishing a customer feedback loop where possible has helped us in overcoming this sense of change so that it can be organised and cultivated through as many filters as possible. This allows us to use feedback as a way to enhance our network in line with the best wishes of the people using the site.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We’re still a very early startup so we can’t provide the 100% definitive strategy in growing a business, but for us I get the feeling that it’s the technique of pure “growth hacking” that will explode JellyChip. This means putting the self-marketability of a product into the product, and have the users do the heavy lifting for you.

We are currently developing a number of ways for this to happen in the user’s journey, including a fluid invite system, a reward system and a social sharing system. These are the sort of things that are scalable which we believe allow JellyChip to grow rapidly and organically.

Now if I take the opposite point of view then I would say that right now, we find that personal contacts are helping to spread the news of our new site. It’s the one-on-one meetings that we’re having right now with friends, family and industry that are boosting our user base but also providing insight into what to improve, what features to add and the direction JellyChip should head. This is essential and an important ingredient of the “growing the business” that we have adopted at this current stage of the JellyChip journey.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I have had is co-founders! A number of times I have had people want to start a business with yet couldn’t commit to the actual project at hand. It would often take days or months to reveal itself but I would soon find out that their true intentions would be to treat the startup like a job, or a lifestyle business. No, a startup is a lifestyle! It requires dedication, perseverance and commitment. I find that the best people are willing to commit no matter the costs, and they’re the people I want to be working with as a co-founder.

How I overcame this conundrum was by asking one simple question – do you agree with my direction of the company? I’ve now asked this at the beginning of starting a company. Ensuring that I’m lined up with the other co-founders before I jump into the deep end is essential. In my previous roles, too often did people have different ideas on how and where they saw the trajectory of the company headed. If we’re not on the same page now, it might not end as well as I had hoped!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Create an online image site like Instagram where celebrities can take pictures of themselves using a camera or mobile phone. The pictures should be an interesting, self-edited snapshot of how stars would like to be seen, rather than how photographers see them.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently spent $100 on three business shirts for a work trip I’m making in two days and they are awesome! European cut, nice fit. I don’t normally spent money on clothing but these were necessary in order for me to look half decent and they fit!

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Illustrator, Office, Inkscape, Canva, Hootsuite and social media. I love simplicity and things that just work. I’m not too fussed if it takes a while to get used to a service or platform just so long as they work when I understand them. Quick to boot up, quick to achieve the task, quick to save the task somewhere (an important one!)

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

You should read “How Countries Compete” by Richard Vietor. It’s an amazing book about world globalisation and how countries compete for the markets, technologies and skills they need to raise their standard of living. It’s one of those large scale futuristic “global business” books that I love to read – sometimes I like having my mind blown by the greater systems at play!

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Two people really – Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs. I know these inspirations have both passed in recent years but they are my two influences. One for being a pioneering creative genius with a kind heart. And one for being a technologist and innovator with pinpoint accuracy and a focus on relentless simplicity.


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