Four years ago, Darren Tonkin came to the realisation that the market needed a shakeup when it came to travel-specific social media. This is when the idea for Storyboard Social started to come to life.
Why create Storyboard Social?
Darren knew Facebook was messy – you could flick from one photo in Brazil to another in Germany with no context in between. He also found that Instagram and Snapchat focused purely on the one “perfect” photo instead of an intriguing gallery. So he decided to shake up the game with Storyboard Social.
Storyboard Social follows and showcases your journey by plotting photos out on an interactive, digital map. This allows travellers to get an accurate, geo-specific idea of an area they want to visit. Alternatively, your over-protective family members can see where your journey is taking you and what each destination looks like.
Since its inception, Darren has seen huge success: he’s cold-pitched his idea to Virgin and received a stellar response, won the prestigious Creative3 pitch and represented Australia at the Creative Business Cup in Denmark, landing 13th in the entire world.
Darren’s journey was tough and insightful, so we roped him in to talk about the struggles his Storyboard Social app faced.
STEP 1: BE BRUTALLY HONEST – IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
The idea for Storyboard Social came to Darren over four years ago. However, he quickly realised that he wasn’t ready for the app and neither was the market – a smart decision that entrepreneurs everywhere should take into consideration.
“It wasn’t me consciously saying ‘I’m not ready’,” says Darren. “But I think it was just the mindset where I understood I wasn’t ready to chase this and the market wasn’t ready for something so detailed,”
When it came to the market, Darren was spot on.
“We share a lot of details about location now, but people were quite scared of sharing that stuff a few years ago,” he says.
Unlike other social media apps (we’re looking at your creepy new location feature, Snapchat), Storyboard Social shares location retrospectively. This means you still have privacy when using it.
STEP 2: JUMP OUT OF THE COMFORTABLE RUT AND MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
By the time Darren realised that he was ready for the “hard entrepreneurial slog”, he was stuck grinding away for someone else’s dream. He said this is when the “this is it” moment struck him.
“I ended up doing massively insane hours, I had a lot of responsibility and I realised I could take these insane hours and responsibility and build something that I love,” he says.
Darren also did what a lot of entrepreneurs or business owners hate – he made himself accountable for his actions.
“I always believe that when you go public and you tell people that you’re doing this, then you have accountability. Accountability is the number one thing people hate because they think people are going to judge them if people don’t go for it – and it’s true. So I told my family I wanted to start this and I told my friends. And that helped keep me going,” he says.
STEP 3: DON’T BE ANOTHER BASIC BOSS
It sounds obvious – but don’t be a lazy entrepreneur (those are our words, Darren is far too nice to say that).
“When I started this, I got out there and I networked and I taught myself the skills. I started looking up and reading documentation, marketing – everything. I said to myself, I’m going to be a jack-of-all-trades and started teaching myself a lot of aspects while building and growing a team,” he says.
STEP 4: YOUR MATES MIGHT NOT HELP YOU
How many times have your friends sounded enthusiastic about your idea, but suddenly ghosted when it came to supporting the project? People in Canada could be supporting your app, but Jack, your best mate from Grade 4 hasn’t even downloaded it yet. This is a reality that most entrepreneurs will have to face.
“Australians are quite risk adverse and I think that comes down to a few things,” Darren says. “People are scared of failing and that goes down all the way to the school age. If you go to America and ask school kids what they want to be, they say President of the United States or the next Mark Zuckerberg and they are inspired and taught from a young age that they can be anything. In Australia, if you did the same experiment, you’d get a lot more of: I want to be a doctor or a fireman, I want to be a nurse or an engineer. From day one we’re not aiming for the top. We settle more than lead.”
“I think Australians also have the mateship aspect. People prefer not to give their friends money to start their business, because if their friend failed and lost their money then they couldn’t be mates anymore. So they prefer mateship over money, which is a good thing, but then you have to think about how that carries on over to investment and growing,”
There’s also the invisible entrepreneurial struggles, which certainly exist, but aren’t as obvious to those outside the industry.
“Every day there’s some massive major milestone that our business is struggling to overcome but we just don’t see entrepreneurial hardship as much because it’s not in everyone’s face,” says Darren.
“Supporting [us] is big,” he continues, as he talks about how people (not just friends and family) downloading and using the app is one of the biggest motivators for him and his team.
STEP 5: HOUSTON, WE HAVE MULTIPLE PROBLEMS
For a long time, Darren thought starting the business was the hard part – but he was quickly proved wrong.
“People look at me and think I’m successful and say I’m doing well but they don’t see the massive challenges. Apps crash, the whole back end falls down,” says Darren, as he recalls some of his most trying moments. “Now the biggest challenge on a broad spectrum is knowing what to do on a daily basis. We have a team, we have good user numbers, but how do I know as a 25-year-old how to utilise reach, get more customers and retain my current customers?”
“Every day it feels like we’re staying above the water and that’s what it really is. We’re doing amazingly well, but doing amazingly well in the tech market is just staying above the water,”
STEP 6: COMPETITIONS COULD PUT YOU AHEAD OF THE …WELL, COMPETITION
Entering and winning first place in the Creative3 (C3) Pitch competition, which is run by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia, shot Darren and Storyboard Social into the spotlight and resulted in international recognition. But Darren says it pays to be selective when it comes to entering competitions.
“C3 was honestly a massive changing point in Storyboard’s life. The rewards and outcomes from it have been pivotal in Storyboard’s success and I 100% encourage entrepreneurs to enter competitions, but I think they need to be very selective about what they do enter,” says Darren, noting how much preparation it takes to enter them.
Thanks to his win, Darren was selected to represent Australia at the Creative Business Cup in Denmark, which he says is like “the Eurovision of start-ups”.
“The Creative Business Cup is 65 different countries, all pitching and slowly being knocked out. We were versing start-ups with $20million dollars worth of funding and universities backing them and yet we’ve done this all out of our own back pocket,” Darren says proudly. “We were the highest finishing startup that hadn’t raised over a million dollars. So it was amazing, but it was scary and at the same time we learnt a lot,”
STEP 7: WHO DOES YOUR BUSINESS BENEFIT?
You’ve built an app or a program and people are using it – that’s fantastic! But who else can benefit from your hard slog up the entrepreneurial trail? Darren had this exact thought, which is how he ended up cold-pitching to Virgin Australia.
“We went in cold to pitch to them, told them what we could do and outlined our vision and Virgin just said yes we love this, so they invited us over to the Virgin Bootcamp. We were the first ever Australian startup to be invited!” says Darren happily, as he laughs about the story and my jaw hits the ground because of his courage. “It’s an amazing highlight when you get one of the most entrepreneurial companies in the world agreeing with what you’re doing and jumping on board one hundred percent.”
You’ll no doubt be seeing or hearing about Storyboard Social as it gains more traction in the Social Media world as well, so if you’d like to keep up to date with their journey, jump onto the Storyboard Facebook page, website or download the app below before all the good usernames get snapped up.
There’s no doubt that every start up story and path to success is different, but what doesn’t change is the fundamental stepping-stones that push each business forward. What do you think of Darren’s journey? Let us know by leaving a comment on our Facebook page or have a chat with us through Twitter.
Alternatively, check out other local apps that are doing incredibly well.