INTERVIEW WITH FLICK FOUNDER: why your twenties are the best time to start a business
Quarterlife Editor Joy Molan caught up with Loic Alix-Brown, the 22 year old CEO of social media start-up Flick, to hear how he turned his university side hustle into a full time job.
I first met Loic at a Euros viewing party (I know - still a sore subject). We got chatting over the BBQ and we did the classic intros: “where do you live?” “what do you do?” “is it coming home?” Loic works for himself. He is the Co-Founder of a start-up and set up a social media agency while studying at the famously intense Imperial College. Cut to four years later and he now employs 11 people and is looking to scale the business further. I had a million of questions. “How did you start your own company so young?”, “When did it become your main job?”, “Where did you seek advice?” But rather than corner him for too long (after all, there were lightly chargrilled burgers to eat) he agreed to sit down with me and share his story in an interview.
It’s not news to anyone that many 20-somethings are at a crossroads when it comes to work. Maybe you’ve slogged away in a grad job for a few years and are looking for something more fulfilling, maybe you’ve lost your job due to the pandemic, or maybe you have a burning passion you want to pursue. Whatever position you’re in, you’ve doubtless had a moment where you’ve toyed with the idea of starting your own business.
How do you take the germ of an idea and turn it into a viable company? It’s a big question. So, to kick off, we decided to start our conversation with a more manageable question. Taking it day by day in fact.
Hi Loic, thanks for talking with me today. Hope you’re well. Let’s quick off with a bit of an introduction to you and what your typical day looks like as a company founder.
Thanks for having me! To be honest, my typical day has changed a lot over the last couple of months. The founders - Sam, Andy and I - decided we wanted to scale the team a few months ago. Before, we were executionally driven; I was focused on the product that would be shipped to the user. But now I’ve transitioned from execution to management. We’ve just hit our 11th hire! So now we’re much more focused on hiring the right people and giving them the information to allow them to be autonomous. That means my typical day now looks quite different. Although, I still stay very close to the product. I’ll usually start my day with a quick breakfast - maybe a Huel - then look over the key metrics, see if there’s anything to attend to and check against our objectives. Before we started chatting, I was just looking at which clients were cancelling due to failed payments and resolving those issues. We’re very data driven.
Flick is a social media business you started - quite literally - from your bedroom. Am I right in thinking it all began with you experimenting with Instagram?
Exactly. I grew up with a very academic education. I’m from a multicultural family - my mum is half French and half Mauritian and my dad is English Italian - so I went to French school in London. They have a completely different system; it’s very rigid (not much time for extra-curricular stuff). But the summer before I started uni, I started a new hobby: diving into the social media space and algorithms behind it. I started growing Instagram accounts for people and charging for it. That was the first bit of money I ever earned. At one point I was managing 20-30 Instagram accounts.
When you’re that involved you feel all the problems people have when they’re trying to grow their Instagram accounts. For example, hashtag searches would take a couple of hours a day and there was no solution for it at the time. Frustratingly, I didn’t have the resources to execute on those problems back then.
Then I went to Imperial College, which is very intense. So it wasn’t viable to work for myself like that anymore. I decided to start working part time at a place called Filli Studios. That’s how I met Sam and Andy (my Co-Founders). One of our clients was asking for guidance on hashtags (the same issue I’d found years before) and over the weekend Andy - who worked in the tech department - coded an MVP (minimum viable product). It wasn’t quite usable yet but it was a fun product. When I saw it I said it was something a lot of people could benefit from.
So this weekend of coding is how Flick was born?
Precisely. After a few weeks we developed it further and we sprinted to a version people could use. Then we launched this new product to the Filli agency as Flick. It was a complete side project, just to see how it would work. We had no idea if it would work. At that point, it was very basic software with loads of bugs.
But we started to see our hypothesis be validated. We got our first 200 users in the first couple of months and that’s when we learned we had something. Ever since then we’ve been working on it and releasing improvements every week. That’s the blessing of software - you can keep testing and optimising infinitely. It’s a game of patience and creativity really. It’s important to have time and users to test it on.
While Flick started as a search engine for hashtags to help small business and content creators to reach more of their target audience on Instagram, it’s now transitioning to all in one platform to help you manage your Instagram account. We have all the key metrics, hashtag search tools and we’ll soon be bringing post scheduling. It’s exciting to empower low ticket users - photographers, content creators etc - to completely manage and execute their social strategies.
Tell me more about how you managed your time at uni while working at an agency and starting your own company. How did you manage to create the space for your side project?
As I mentioned before, I’d started my own agency when I was younger, helping people grow their accounts, but I got over-run and couldn’t manage it myself while at uni. So, I worked at Filli Studios part time - two or three days a week - at uni. Uni was really intense, so it was nice to have something to do on the side. My timetable was packed with my studies at Imperial, sports and Filli Studios. At times it was hard to balance but definitely worth it.
I did part time jobs at uni at restaurants - I didn’t realise social media agency jobs were an option.
Yes, most people don’t. It really depends on the type of agency. Maybe it would be harder to do what I did at a well-established agency that might not be so flexible. It’s easier at a smaller agency, because they’re just looking for good talent and you just need to communicate when you’re available. Doing work at an agency part time (or an organisation in your area of interest) can also help you figure out if it’s right for you before you dive in.
So when did you know you were ready to start your own company?
Well it sort of just happened out of necessity. Flick started going really well and we got to 800 users who were paying. Meanwhile the Filli agency was struggling - the proposition and services hadn’t been figured out. It came down to a financial decision - the agency was struggling and Flick was growing month by month. At that point, I’d stopped working on the agency side of things at Filli Studios but was doing Flick in my spare time. Sam and Andy were doing Flick part time while still working at the agency. So it was none of our full time jobs.
But then I decided to take that leap of faith. We re-split the equity and I became a Co-Founder of Flick, they put the agency to bed and we’ve enjoyed growth year on year.
It’s interesting you describe starting a company as a leap of faith. Where did you look for advice? How did you find your feet?
I’d split the advice I sought into two categories. There’s the advice on trying to manage uni life and running a start-up. On the other side, there’s the advice on running a business. I do product management, so I’d never done that before. I had no idea if I’d have success with it.
With the first one, it was about support systems and communication. I became a Co-Founder in the last 18 months of uni. We only had three people running it. I had to execute on things. What helped was that my Co-Founders, Sam and Andy, were very open about everything. We know that if we have something else going on in life that we need to put above the business, it’s not because we don’t care; we’ll be less productive with the business if we can’t deal with that thing.
I was also lucky enough to be friends with the top guy in my year at uni who helped me with uni work. Plus my girlfriend was very understanding in the last few years at uni. She understood I didn’t have much time because I was working on something I was really passionate about. We did a lot of coursework together.
You can’t do it yourself and you need to open up and be aware it’s ok to accept help from other people. That’s how I got through it. I also said to myself there’s no point trying to go for a First in my degree at Imperial. It’s a very tough course and I’d have to be working all the hours. So I said I’d settled for a 2:1 and even a low 2:1. When I got a good grade I’d think “I could have spent more time on Flick”. You have to concede you’ll pull back somewhere so as not to burn out. For me it was uni, so I could focus on Flick.
On the other side (how to run I company), it was reading lots. It’s funny because as I kid I never read much, but I later realised it’s because I’m not that into fiction (and you’re not exactly reading business books as a child). So as Flick became my main thing, I started reading business books. I started reading 20-30 books a year. I never realised I’d enjoy it so much.
The first one I read was ‘The Lean Start-Up’ by Eric Ries. It tells you about frameworks to help you move your product forward and how you shouldn’t assume what your consumers want, but create hypotheses to test - it’ll save you time. So, we made sure everything we built had a high impact for users (because the team was spread so thin). For example, we had an icon that looked like it was a new feature, but actually it wasn’t ready yet. So we used that to measure interest in a potential new feature. I also met with clients regularly to understand what problems we needed to solve for them.
Recently, I’ve been reading biographies of start ups - not the founders - but the businesses. For example, I’m reading about the history of Amazon and how it became the business it is today.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own company
The main reason people don’t set up their own companies is because they think “oh I’ll do it when I’m more financially secure”. The issue is, when you take that nice corporate job that pays you a very good salary, it’s much harder to leave and do your own thing. You’ve got used to a nice cushy job that pays well and the 9 to 5. And as you grow, you take on more responsibilities; maybe you have a family, maybe you take a promotion.
The best time to start a business is at university. You’ve got nothing to lose. If it’s something you’re passionate about, all you’re doing is maybe sacrificing a couple of points of your degree. The rest you can throw at the business. You only really have to be responsible for yourself. You’re not weighing it up against the corporate job. There’s always spare time at uni too. Most unis allow for a lot of personal time to do extra curricular activities.
The best time is now - if you’ve got a good idea, the only criteria is “can I keep myself afloat for a set amount of time?”. If you’re worried, “time box” it. Give yourself a year. If it works out, you can continue. If it doesn’t you’ll have learnt a lot and you can take that with you. I’ve learnt so much more doing this than I would have in a corporate job. I would urge people to try if their financial position allows.
Finally, what are you looking forward to in future?
I’m obviously excited about what the future holds for Flick. In the last few months, we’ve turned this from a lifestyle business to a business we want to scale to eight figures. Those challenges will be different from the challenges we’ve had so far.
Initially, my question was “what should I be doing as a Founder?”. But to be honest this question remains, because your role always changes. And I’m excited to see where that goes.
I guess I just love start-ups and the tech/software space. There’s so much room to innovate quickly. I’d love to use some of Flick’s budget to seed other start-ups; to be involved in the early stages of other companies and wake up every day to help a new business to launch their first product and get to profitability would be amazing. I’d love that.
To find out more about Flick check out their Instagram and Website.
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