Throughout my digital marketing career, one thing has remained consistent, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of interesting, creative and passionate people from all walks of life operating in start-ups, private and public sector and higher education.
I caught up with Tim Buick, the founder and creator of StreetPin – a vision to connect local communities across the UK through digital and specifically, re-defining the pin-board as a means to become the hub for local communities.
The interview with Tim sheds some fascinating insights into how StreetPin came into being through the initial ideas and the finding of the project after winning TSB Innovation awards. I hope you’ll find this a fascinating insight into launching a start-up.
Background on Tim – who you are, how long you’ve been in Digital
My background was in graphic design, which led me to IBM learning services, where I was able to utilise some perks and get trained up on HTML, Flash etc (Photoshop was already under my belt as my degree ‘focused’ on photography). I spent my evenings teaching myself web design and eventually plucked up the courage to go for a ‘proper web design’ job. This was back in ’98 when the web was still young and I was involved in some pretty cool stuff at Arcadia (Topshop, Burtons etc).
Since then, my time has been firmly within the creative build and delivery of online/mobile projects, interspersed with several startups including a hospitality & software company, an online wedding gift company and an alcoholic fruit juice company (as seen on ITV’s Tycoon).
I created an internal design agency at BT (where I first had the pleasure of meeting Mr Swan), then moved to STA Travel as Global Web Manager. I also spent a year contracting at Land Registry creating/leading social media strategy and moving them over to GOV.uk. I again met up with Mr Swan in our capacities in the public data group.
StreetPin – what is it?
StreetPin is all about using widely available technology to make the most of location, relevance and timing. StreetPin, revives an age-old way of connecting local communities – the ‘pin board’, or ‘notice board’. We bring this concept into the digital age, creating a sales and communication network.
Pin boards come in many forms, shop window, chip shop wall, pub garden, and we believe these are currently one of the greatest community tools – simple, relevant and accessible to everyone in the area. Each enables customers to create local, relevant hubs for venues, organisations, retailers…
Simplicity is key for this audience and each pin board is a quick-to-create, customer-branded mini-site, tailored for web, mobile and tablets. Pin boards can stand alone or bolt on to existing web or mobile sites.
We provide pin board owners with the tool to make these jam-packed with relevant and engaging content. We want to achieve a smooth acceptance and instead of conflicting with existing social media, customers can add existing Facebook and Twitter feeds, add highlights from BBC sports, or their chosen news to attract and retain their ideal audience.
We can’t initially provide a community of thousands of local users, so we provide the tools and support for each community to grow itself. If we did nothing else, we would be selling interactive, SEO-friendly, relevant web sites for just £90p/a on a subscription basis, or just £10p/m for event-based pin boards.
However, we believe networks will soon expand concentrically, where users/creators of one pin board will dip in and out of nearby communities to see what is happening locally. We aim to break down community barriers and prove that each town is greater than the sum of its parts.
Where we really offer value is the town pin board which collates all offers and conversations in the area. These are then filtered according to preference by each viewer, providing a real-time, local sales platform for retailers that want to add last minute deals according to weather, shelf-life or customer traffic. This town pin board will aggregate offers from the market with an excess of bananas today, the restaurant where salmon is going out of date tomorrow, the Zumba class with only half the class booked and ‘Dave’ who is selling his bike.
With town participation we also create a local advertising ecosystem where local money stays local. For example a sports retailer could spend £1 a week advertising on the local running club’s pin board – much better than £1 on a single click on a search engine.
Customers can also create a FREE hub for their Saturday kick-around or parent and toddler meet up – these are just as valued as the paid, organisational versions and each will provide a location and theme-specific community on which relevant sponsorships can appear.
Where Facebook won early traction, we imitate – StreetPin is a platform, which can pull in services and data from all manner of sources e.g. trade recommendation sites providing feeds/adverts for DIY pin boards.
We have 8 core aims:
- Provide a ‘community-in-a-box’and instant deals tool to promote business and organisations locally. We see pin boards as the evolution of web sites.
- Help local businesses to promote themselves to those here & now – Local knows Local.
- Point-and-click deal creation– bringing mobile marketing to the masses and making it simple and affordable for everyone to benefit from digital solutions.
- Break down barriers and encourage interaction between communities.
- Create local jobsand work experience with transferable skills – hiring local interns.
- Connect local pin boards to form a network of instant, interactive communities for retailers/organisations and make them accessible on mobile, web, tablets & apps.
- Combat ‘the Amazon effect’ where home shopping has contributed to 14% vacancy rates in High Streets – StreetPin will offer real-time deals, using technology to drive offline sales.
- Aggregate data and other business content to produce relevant, local hubs – this could include latest news and existing social media.
What is StreetPin there to provide a solution to/for?
It’s no secret; high streets around the country are being squeezed by online sites and superstores delivering shopping to the door, making it simple and affordable to order from your armchair. This ‘Amazon effect’ has dramatically impacted the state of the high street, with 14% vacancy rates and an influx of pound, betting and charity shops. Once started, this is a vicious circle that is very hard to reverse – retailers are replaced by short-term, reduced-rent occupants such as charity shops,
We have also witnessed an ever-increasing gulf in local marketing activity, designed to combat reducing footfall. On one hand there are leaflets, posters, directories and circulars, and on the other there are pay-per-click and deal aggregators. Few of these options, however, effectively engages the potential customer here and now, and none give the freedom to actually promote a deal for a local Zumba class as no-one has booked today.
StreetPin aims to connect people right where they are, or in places of interest on the other side of the world. Our platform champions the ‘big society’ ethos where neighbours and visitors will have the opportunity to get involved with what’s happening on their doorstep, via their local, interactive directory. With an increasingly insular society, we seek to provide a tool where it’s acceptable to introduce yourself and interact with those around you, whether they are in ‘your network’ or not. Local and lonely in a thriving community, is still lonely.
How have you financed the project so far?
The world’s largest student travel agent paid for our initial app-based prototypes and beta back-end, with a view to creating a global network of travel-related hubs. They have no equity in StreetPin, but some exclusivity in travel and a small, reciprocal revenue split. There has been a large staff turnover here but we hopeful to re-engage with our new and improved, launch version
We also won a TSB innovation voucher to engage a market research company, and a 3 month group research project from UCL which provided extensive research and support for our concept.
There has been approx £15k of pre-launch expenses covered by the team.
It seems the Local community is going to be a key focus for StreetPin – are you already working with any communities yet?
Absolutely. We spent 8 months full time testing in Orpington with schools, churches, pubs, butchers, hairdressers, newsagents, parks, village communities, sports clubs, scouts, restaurants etc in order to really understand how users wanted to engage with their community/customers. Our ‘soft launch’ was opened by Jo Johnson MP.
I then needed to kickstart my bank account and took a contract in Croydon, working on the digital strategy and social media upgrade of Land Registry. Whilst there I was focusing on a large scale proof of concept. I’ve spent considerable time immersed in Croydon’s rich and diverse communities and have initial supporters including Croydon Council, Croydon Tech City, Croydon Chamber of Commerce, Inside Croydon, All about Croydon, Lives not Knives and will be interviewed on Croydon Radio. We are ensuring that we can get our message out effectively as well as providing a service that we are confident will be accepted and used by those in the area.
Are you providing opportunities for local residents/businesses to get involved with StreetPin?
Essentially, everything we do is exactly for this purpose. There are paid/branded pin boards, but also free versions where you can create a pin board in your local park to organise football matches or find dog walking partners. These can only be created within 500m of your current location to ensure relevance, and can be categorised to your specification. If you go to www.streetpin.com/here, you can create pin board right now 😉
We also want to prove how employing local people to address local businesses is a sustainable and scalable concept. We will initially aim to employ apprentices, interns and those looking to get back in to the work force. Yes, we will need to keep our costs low initially, and we will commit to providing solid training in transferable digital skills and marketing in return.
What types of Business opportunities do you see StreetPin moving into?
Although StreetPin could be applied to a vast number of sectors, we are looking to initially prove our concept in the rapidly changing High Street arena.
There are approximately 11,000 High Streets in the UK, with an average of approximately 250 retailers and organisations, meaning a potential market of 2,750,000 shops, services and organisations in the UK.
Croydon provides a potential business-to-business audience of approximately 350 retailers and organisations. We then aim to also prove how we can provide temporary web and sales presence for pop-up shops, markets and events.
With the accumulated feedback, analytics and traction gained in Croydon we would be able to formulate a robust roll-out plan for High Streets across the UK, then internationally.
Once the town-centre community model is established, we will be enhancing future products for small businesses, retailers, national shopping chains, hospitality, residential etc.
We will then produce our subsequent models – managed service, online sales, partner resale, freemium and events. This will enable us to act on informed, tested revenue models.
If I was working for another business – what type of opportunity may there be to be working with StreetPin?
Right now, we’re looking for demonstrations, testers and feedback in all shapes and sizes. We really hope that you will consider one of our rewards on our crowdfunding site in order to really help us get to launch and demonstrate the power of ‘local’.
We are also starting discussions with potential reseller partners. For example Sooqini.com, the local task sourcing site. What better way to create awareness of local community-based technology, than to have the local community approach retailers and organisers saying that they are interested in their news and products? We are looking to fine tune this approach and the great guys at Sooqini are helping us establish the best commission strategy going forwards. We would of course like to talk to other businesses or individuals that would be able to approach niche or localised audiences.
We’d also be really keen to talk to web agencies and designers. StreetPin pin boards can be designed and set up for clients in minutes and can offer real value-add to any web package, particularly if you are offering multi-venue solutions which can be centrally managed and locally tailored.
Have you had any press/coverage for StreetPin?
We’ve been popping up here and there, for example:
Thank you for your time! Any support you can offer would be much appreciated and we hope you’ll be able to pioneer some really useful kit.
Try the beta version
- Visit StreetPin.com/hereto investigate your area or add your free pin board.
- Visit http://streetpin.com/here/#boardscreen?id=543 to see an example pin board.
NB beta won’t work as intended on Internet Explorer or in ‘private browsing mode’.
We’d love to hear from you
Each pin board is a mini web site with an open community forum, based on a common theme and location. If you have your own venue or meeting point, create a hub where customers old and new can interact with each other, and you.
You don’t need thousands of people visiting your site, you need the right ones, and StreetPin helps you to engage with your community, who could be there for a minute or a lifetime
Pin board ads
You can brand your own pin board and add limitless, instant deals, offers or promotions for your latest product or service, based on the traffic, weather, stock levels etc. Pin boards can be created for established retailers, but also for market stalls and social clubs who traditionally rely on physical presence or emails.
Local, instant advertising
We aim to bring mobile marketing to the masses, putting the power of Groupon and pay per click into the hands of the community
No need to sign up weeks in advance with 70% discounts, have 1000s of products or spend hours bidding on keywords – simple and effective are at heart of all we do
Organising an event? Our short-term pin boards help you create an instant web site where you and your guests can interact before, during and after. While you’re at it – I bet 100 people in a certain location with a common theme will be an interesting sponsor opportunity to someone! We make this easy to do via your own contacts or our network
The best technology in the world won’t help if you don’t get discovered. From window stickers, to downloadable posters and advice for creating your community – we’ll help you get on your way
Uniquely, StreetPin also provides Town pin boards which collate offers from all pin boards within a mile to generate a real-time directory of offers, events and community conversations.
We aim to eliminate the noise of generalised social media – create or join communities that have both interest and location in common. Worried that it’s just one more site to update? StreetPin can pull in your Facebook, Twitter and even relevant sports or news feeds to kickstart conversations.
Our beta tests with organisations such as community centres and churches, also strongly indicate the need for modern technologies to engage with a younger population. Our unique, venue based social media has the potential to bridge the age gap in a number of scenarios and communities.