My business startup story: joining the family dots with famdots.com
Every business idea has its eureka moment. For Alexia Hanson, co-founder of famdots.com, a busy weekend ‘parenting’ her sister’s young children was all the inspiration she needed.
I had ‘volunteered’ to look after my young nephews for a weekend while my sister and her husband took a well-earned break. Despite the hurried instructions as my sister fled out of the door and reassurance that ‘the kids know what to do’, it quickly became apparent having delivered my nephew to his football match without his right sports kit, that there were lots of things we didn’t know. Their meal schedules for a start; what they liked to eat (and what they should eat); what TV they were allowed to watch; bedtimes; homework; in fact, all the minutia of their daily lives.
Which got my partner David and I thinking; what if we could come up with a hub of online tools to help families and their relatives and other childcare help, organise themselves and manage their day to day lives?
The answer we came up with is famdots.com. It’s a website that helps to organise the family schedule, childcare, household administration and special events, plus share family developments and news. There’s no advertising, information remains completely private, and it also provides a safe social networking site for children.
It started as a hobby
The decision to develop FamDots after that hectic weekend with my nephews was more about finding a hobby that David and I could work on together as opposed to a full-blown business proposal. Gradually, however, we realised that if we were going to be serious about the idea, we would need to spend more time and money on developing the concept.
David, who is an expert at the IT side, took the plunge and left his job in 2012 to work full time on FamDots, while I have a background in marketing and have been freelancing for the last few years, which has given me the flexibility to work on FamDots when necessary. My freelancing has effectively been funding our tilt at becoming entrepreneurs.
You can’t be a jack of all trades.
We were lucky in that we both have complementary skills, but even then, we quickly realised that you can’t be an expert in everything. Once you start creating a website that stores customer details, there is the Data Protection Act to navigate; dealing with the legal terms and conditions; business insurance; and issues like trademarking.
Where possible, we’ve tapped into our network of family and friends for the skills we need, which has kept costs down but as things have developed there are inevitable costs such as the use of IT servers and legal work.
We have set up FamDots from home, and cabin fever can strike when we’re both working so closely together. You certainly find out things about each other. It turns out that David is a micro-manager (he’ll hate me for saying that), so I’ve had to make it quite clear what I think about being micro-managed! He is also the eternal optimist, while I, having always considered myself a glass-half-full sort of person, now seem to be continually looking for the next hurdle to trip us up.
It is all-consuming working for yourself and usually means goodbye to the 9 to 5 and hello to the 24/7. Having said that, the pluses of discussing our business plan in our local cafe over a lovely breakfast and the conviction that what we’re doing could make a real difference to people’s lives makes it worth it.
My tips for a business start-up:
- you can’t be an expert in everything (use your network of friends and family)
- you don’t learn what to do by reading books, but they will at least tell you what you need to find out about
- be realistic about the challenge – it will be harder than you think (but much more satisfying than doing it for someone else)
- make time for yourself away from the business.