How a fit blonde girl sparked a £200k idea
14 January 2011 12:48am
OH MY God, have you seen that gorgeous guy in the library? The one that’s always on the third floor, you must have seen him.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If not, it’s probably because you weren’t at university recently and have forgotten the bizarre methods of procrastination students devise to keep them from their books.
But this sort of admiration from afar took off in a big way at universities last year, encouraged in no small part by a new technology that swept across campuses called Fitfinder. It was a website that allowed users to anonymously post flirty messages and descriptions of “fit” people they have seen in the library, using geo-location technology to map the “hotties” on site. For students last year, it was a phenomenon of near-Facebook proportions.
The founder Rich Martell, a computer science student at University College London (UCL), came up with the idea because he wanted to find out the name of a particularly good-looking blonde woman he kept seeing in the library. Martell explains: “It’s kind of like Valentine’s cards; not everyone wants to give their name to the person they fancy straightaway.”
“I created the site as a joke between my friends, but the next day, I went into the library and I could see people I’d never met before with it up on their computer screens. All of a sudden it was everywhere. The internet service provider contacted me to find out why there was so much traffic coming to the site.” Not surprising when in a matter of weeks it spread to 52 universities with 25,000 people logging on.
But Martell soon became mired in controversy. The UCL authorities stepped in and forced him to shut it down. “I was given a £300 fine for bringing the university into disrepute. The underwear bomber from UCL didn’t even get that charge – well I suppose he got bigger charges – but you know what I mean.”
Under the threat of having his degree withheld, Martell took the site down two days before his finals. He had a job lined up in the City as an equities trader, so he imagined that both the fun of Fitfinder and his student days had come to an end.
But the news reached Doug Richard, former Dragon’s Den investor, who was shocked that no one had invested in the idea since it had already proved itself an enormous success. Using Twitter, Richard tracked down Martell, and alongside heavyweight US investor, Kevin Wall, offered Martell a £200,000 investment in Fitfinder.
Richard explains that the idea had “delivered something special: proof. This is an incredibly uncommon thing. Rich had proved market demand before the business even started.” After a bit of re-branding and the creation of an iPhone app, the site was soft-launched this week as Floxx.com. Day one attracted 6,000 users.
“The plan is to get people using it everywhere,” Martell says, “not just in universities. We’re launching worldwide – that’s part of the reason we changed the name; “Fit” doesn’t mean good-looking in America.”
Martell says he hopes that Floxx will get complete strangers sharing two-for-one coffees and falling in love. And you never know, maybe one day, he’ll find out who the fit blonde lady was.
CV | RICH MARTELL, FLOXX.COM
Investment raised: £200, 000
Job title: CEO of Floxx.com
Born: Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Studied: Computer Science at University College London
Motto: “Winning is everything”
First ambition: To be an F1 race engineer
Talents: The ability to recite the entire prologue of Romeo and Juliet
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