Inigo Alegria (IA) and Richard Crosfield (RC) both studied a Full-Time MBA at Cass, graduating in 2014. They have since co-founded Barzlive, a website and app that will help you get the most out of London’s vibrant bar and pub scene.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
[IA] We were both students of the Full Time MBA and I have to say it was really intense, both personally and academically. Actually, we did our thesis together on Barzlive. Doing the MBA was tough but very rewarding. I loved the group courseworks – you got to work with different people from all over the world. At the beginning it was challenging, but at the end you’d learned how to work together. It was interesting to see how leadership roles changed depending on the topic or type of coursework. During the electives period, I focused on finance, which was my background, and what I thought I wanted to do after my MBA. After the core modules I took all finance electives with a view to getting a job in London in a financial role, but it didn’t turn out that way.
[RC] I think the Iceland Consultancy Week is a clear example of a summary of the experience. It’s incredibly intense, doing the MBA squeezed in to one year rather than two, and in that week I felt more stretched than ever before. We flew into Reykjavik over the weekend, met the client and began the project on Monday, presented our results to the client’s board on Friday, before having a drink or two with colleagues, and flew back to London on the weekend. I also remember some classmates revising on the flight back for the exams we had a week later! It was actually a really cool project with a pretty important client, the National Power Company of Iceland, and working through that was the MBA in a microcosm.
[RC] We both started off doing our theses on separate topics [IA] I was covering the Spanish financial crisis [RC] and I was working on M&A of energy and infrastructure companies, which was my background, and then we decided to come up with this idea to do a business plan at the same time as a thesis, so we asked Sionade (Robinson, Associate Dean, MBA Programmes) if we could do our thesis together and she agreed for a one-off. She said she was happy to make an exception and personally took care of us. Our app is based on marketing and she is an expert in this so it was great for her to take us on board and be a true champion rather than just being laissez-faire about it.
[RC] When I started the MBA there wasn’t a football team, and yet we were part of one of the largest cohorts ever, with nearly 100 people, and lots of guys who wanted to play, so I organised two games a week and prepared a team for Cass’ (stellar) debut at Manchester Business School’s MBA Football tournament.
How did you get the idea for Barzlive?
[RC] We were four co-founders initially. One of the co-founders lived in Paris and saw a website listing which pubs were showing what football matches in France, so we thought we could do something similar for Spain. Then we started to think, should it only be for sport and should we really start up in Spain? What about all other events and promotions that go on in bars and pubs in London? Could we set up a platform for bars and pubs to post everything that’s going on at their venues?
[RC] Of those four partners, there are only two left and that’s been difficult. The most challenging thing for us with starting a company, considering we’re at a really early stage, has been building the team, and that is including the founders. Dealing with the exits of two co-founders has been pretty tough emotionally, professionally and financially. We’ve had good times in the past and I’m sure we will do in the future as well but at the moment our relationship has inevitably suffered.
[IA] After the first co-founder left, there were three stakes and with Richard and I in London, most decisions ended up being taken here and then they went over to him as completed. [RC] Because we wanted to launch in London first, all the business development and marketing was going on here. He felt left out even though the plan was to develop it for Spain as well, it was difficult for him.
How did the development go?
[IA] Initially, we outsourced to a Spanish freelance, and worked with him for a year – and that’s another tip for the future – you need a tech guy in the company! There were four of us business guys and it didn’t seem like a proper tech start-up. With the tech guy outsourced not directly involved it was difficult to get someone to jump in wholeheartedly. At the beginning though it was really all about getting a product and now we have a really good tech guy, a new partner in Spain doing all the development.
[RC] Replacing the outsourcing with a tech co-founder was a key turning point for us – he is completely involved and has played a big part since joining us in September 2015.
[AI] Before he arrived the product wasn’t really working, it had constant bugs. So we cut ties with the outsourcing and took to LinkedIn to contact hundreds of developers and managed to get this guy interested.
[RC] We had our official launch about a month ago, and before that we’d had about 10 friends beta-testing it for a couple of months giving us feedback and doing design changes before the official launch.
[RC] We have started to contact all the universities in central London, as our target customers are those who are finishing university and starting their first job here in London, especially foreign students. We started at Uni – we’re a Cass spin-off!
[RC] Now we have to go to the source of the information – the bars and pubs – and from there really do some marketing.
[IA] Students will be doing lots of study from Easter to the summer, so it’s not a good time for students. We need to go to bars and companies and get them to promote the app from the inside, which should be a win-win as we will promote them for free.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
[RC] Building the team and breaking up with the two co-founders.
[IA] One of the biggest challenges we faced was finding our brand identity. We did the logo and website before we started to communicate to the outside world (e.g through social media) and once we began to do so we realised that our image wasn’t clear. We wanted to be fun and creative but our logo and website were elegant and too serious. So we spent a week in a room doing a branding exercise based on different branding events we attended and on specialised books.
[RC] The app space is so competitive, so crowded, that we had to do something bold, and that’s why we went with the space theme. We’re drawing a parallel between life on other planets and events in different pubs – the planets are like the pubs – nobody knows what’s going on in them, while you’re the astronaut who’s trying to find out!
[RC] We also really focused on our target market. We saw other competitors, such as Time Out, as being very institutional, and others as being too young and childish for our target market, so we found a gap in which to position our brand that no other app had taken.
Do you have any advice you would like to go back and give yourselves when you were starting out?
[RC] Make sure you know the motivations of the people with whom you’re going into business, and make sure the founders cover the core skills required for the start up.
[IA] Having a tech founder, definitely. In fact at the beginning we considered it and approached an MBA friend [RC] but he had a good job already and we needed someone full-time. Maybe he will join us in the future!
What’s next for you both?
[IA] The next step is to keep bootstrapping Barzlive and raise seed funding to boost Barzlive’s growth in terms of functionalities, users/customers, team and geography.
[RC] Now that we have a bunch of users, we need to get pubs signed up – users need pubs, but to get pubs signed up you need users. So we’re trying to break this vicious circle and once we’ve got some metrics or analytics and we can show the app is working we’ll be seeking investment so that we can develop many more features, not just events.
Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: [RC] I spoke to my girlfriend about this one, and she said I couldn’t say Hampstead Heath, it makes me sound like a granddad, so Camden! [IA] The Troubadour – it’s a classic pub and the first place Bob Dylan played in Europe!
Favourite holiday destination: [RC] Cuba [IA] Italy!
Must-visit everyday website: [RC] BBC News [IA] Tech.London [Together] El Mundo and Barzlive!
Dream travel destination: [RC] To continue with the space theme, Mars! [IA] Australia and New Zealand
Cheese or chocolate: [In unison] Chocolate!
You can download the Barzlive app on iOS and find it soon on Android.