From dating to weddings and every startup in between, Matt Jones has found his Minimum Viable Product stride and leaves a wake of successful startups to prove it. His approach is unique and proven to work. Today, he is sharing with us a little bit about his journey.
You’ve got a growing roster of successful startups. How did you get started with all of this?
Well, I guess I’ll go way back.
I went to Northeastern University and kind of kept my head down there — working and studying. A couple years after college though, I was working a steady job but felt the urge to take the leap and step out on my own. I quit my job with literally nothing lined up. Through some early on networking I met Casey Gibbons, who is still my business partner today. He was an associate at a VC firm at the time and had an idea of how to revolutionize online dating. They were already working with a college student on the project but I said I wanted to help. So, my first real entrepreneurial gig was basically Tinder, before Tinder existed.
Nice. That’s quite a romantic start to your startup relationship.
Ha! It was playful and different back then. Online dating was still new and kind of taboo. We ended up raising money and moving to NYC along with Casey’s wife and future business partner, Marissa Gibbons. She went to Harvard Business School so… yea. She’s smart and is now an essential part of our team.
After moving to New York, the company gradually petered out. Casey and I looked at each other and thought “What now?” But when people heard that we were both back on the market, startups began to court us. It was then that we made the decision to sell ourselves as a package deal. We worked on a couple of contracts and waited until our next bright idea came along…
And it sounds like they came. What was your next startup?
We essentially stumbled into where we are today. During that phase of contracting out our time, Casey and I decided that our sweet spot was helping people get their ideas off the ground.
We had developed an approach or a method by which we could strategically build an MVP (minimal viable product). That’s where Maki Fund started.
Maki Fund is the vehicle that allows us to exercise that approach. Anyone can come to us with an idea and we’ll help them flush it out, determine what the MVP is and then provide development and engineering strategy & implementation.
We like to view ourselves as co-founders with our clients – they often hear us say “this shouldn’t take as long as you thought and you should pay us less.”
That’s fantastic. So is Maki Fund your main focus today?
Not exactly. One of the businesses that was born out of Maki Fund is Riley & Grey. As our friends were getting married off, we started noticing that a lot of the then available wedding website sites were outdated, all feminine and flowery. The modern couple is edgier. So in the true Maki Fund spirit we worked nights and weekends in order to incubate our own idea. That was August of 2013 and now, Riley & Grey continues to grow as the premiere destination for modern wedding websites.
As growth hackers ourselves, we’re always so curious as to what tools other entrepreneurs are using to stay efficient. What do you have in your bag?
Lately we use a lot of slack – even when we are in the same office. We aren’t always there so slack is the glue that holds us together with a lot of our projects.
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of tricks up my sleeves in this way but I will say that we definitely consider Acuity one of our “can’t live without it” tools.
In the early days of Maki Fund, we were literally doing everything. I was the bookkeeper – operating Quickbooks for Mac, balancing statements and trying to reconcile our billing without any experience or know-how. Eventually we reached a point where time was limited and we needed to focus on our core business. We searched around and eventually landed on Acuity because they really got our business.
They’ve been nothing integral in scaling both Maki Fund and Riley & Grey. They really are more than just bookkeeping to us, helping with all of our projects, strategy and trend forecasting. We also try to automate as much as we can and they’ve made that process very easy.
Do you have any wise advice on how to keep a healthy work/life balance?
Ha – if you ask my business partners, I am probably the worst at this. My first piece of advice would be “everything is about the team.” Even if you have the best idea in the world, finding the right team makes all the difference. I truly believe we have the best balance of different perspectives, approaches to our personal lives and even to business. This is essential to a healthy work and life balance.
Other than that… We are pretty laid back with our schedules and try to incorporate relaxation into our working hours. Every other Wednesday we do massages in house and we are starting to implement once a month meditation classes.
At the end of the day to tomorrow, there will always be more work to do so you have to accept that some things just won’t get done. I am preaching to the choir right now though…
Alright – last one. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life or career?
I feel like my life is pretty much one big string of mini risks all day, every day. Momentous risks were definitely meeting up with Casey and deciding to dive into startup world. Raising money from investors was a huge risk. Going all in and moving to NYC – that might be the biggest risk I’ve taken and although it didn’t work out, I think that in the end I’m better off because of it and I’ve learned a lot from that process.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. We have to fail to move forward. If you don’t give up then I truly believe one day you will have success… though that’s easy to say now, because I know it all works out.