"Putting together the right team is one of the hardest things to do" ... Rebekah Campbell.

"Putting together the right team is one of the hardest things to do" ... Rebekah Campbell.

When Rebekah Campbell first thought of the idea for her start-up Posse.com, she was saving up a deposit for a house. She was so convinced about her new idea that she sunk her $28,000 deposit into buying the domain name.

"My mother was upset with me about that," says Campbell. "She had found me a house to buy and I told her: 'I can't buy it. I just bought a domain name.'"

"Don't wait around for years trying to figure out what the perfect product is going to be," she says. "It's important to start testing so that you know if you have a viable model. Then tweak it from there." 

The domain name, normally a very cheap purchase, was already owned by somebody else which made it much more expensive.

Her mother simply asked: "Can you live in a domain name?"

That was three years ago. While Campbell, now 35, still hasn't bought her house, her start-up journey with Posse.com has seen highs, lows and - more recently - a fundamental pivot in its offering.

In start-up jargon, "pivoting" is when you start down one path, figure out that it's not getting the traction you need (that is, not enough users or customers), then use some of the technology you've already developed to move into a new direction.

For example, today's version of Twitter started off as a podcasting company. Suzuki was known for making weaving looms before moving into the manufacture of cars and motor cycles.

The term "pivot" has been popularised by Eric Ries in his book The Lean start-up. Often web-based or tech-related start-ups are based on new ideas, so there is no benchmark or historical data on which to predict success. The only way to find out if your start-up is going to work is to launch - and learn. And that's what happened to Campbell.

How it all started

Back in 2009, Campbell was a band manager for groups like Evermore. After experiencing lacklustre sales for a concert, she decided to harness the band's fan base, using commissions, backstage passes and other incentives to generate sales.

The approach was a success and it was this experience that inspired Campbell to create a web-based tool to allow bands to harness the power of their fan base to sell tickets.

After buying the domain name, she wrote her business plan and engaged the services of a lawyer and accountant, but soon realised that she had to raise money in order to build the site.

"I put in another $100,000 of my own and convinced a few friends to invest $50,000 each," Campbell says.

Her investors included the band Evermore and two friends – one who worked for MTV and one for Sony.

She engaged Sydney-based start-up incubator Pollenizer to build the first version of the site but soon had to raise $1.5 million in order to continue growing. It took a year of knocking on doors and looking for investors before she secured the funding from 21 investors.

"When I closed the round [of investment], I was really excited for about 10 seconds," she says. "Then I realised, well, I've got to make this work. It's really stressful. The hardest thing is the pressure of knowing that you're responsible for all these people's money."

Expand and evolve

Using these funds, Campbell was able to build the site to enhance its functionality.

While the site sold more than $2 million worth of tickets in 16 months, Campbell realised that it wasn't going to grow into a truly big business, in her own words she wanted to build "a billion dollar company". That's when she expanded her thinking to include nightclubs, restaurants, beauty salons and retail stores.

However, Campbell knew that she would have to raise more funds if she wanted to expand the scope of Posse.com. This meant finding new investors.

Campbell went straight to Silicon Valley and raised $1.2 million in four months. This round of investment, which closed in February, included Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai (Twitter, Tango and Scribd), Wotif CEO Robbie Cooke and Ebay Motors founder Simon Rothman.

In March this year, with money in hand and over 40 investors, she shut down her site to focus on a new direction.

The result is the second iteration of Posse.com which launched six weeks ago. The focus is now on "social search" - a way for you to search your friends' favourite places, typically stores, restaurants and service providers.

How does it work?

Upon signing up to Posse.com, users create a "street" on which they feature five of their favourite real world places or stores.

"You can add anywhere in the world and you can say why you love that store," explains Campbell.

Users can see the "streets" of their Facebook friends and search by category, location, friends, and friends of friends. Stores can reward customers with special deals.

According to Campbell, there are already more than 3000 stores listed from all over the world, a number growing by 250 each day. With most stores are currently from Australia, Campbell has big plans - including a US launch in October.

Posse.com's new offering is vastly different from it's original one. But Campbell believes this pivot in her company's direction is the right one.

"We could have easily stayed in the music business but we would have never grown into a big business," she says. "We figured out the problem and then had to have the courage to change."

It's been an expensive learning exercise, not only in the time Campbell has invested but also in the millions she's had to find in order to continue her start-up journey.

With every new investor, her share in the company diminishes. She now owns 20 per cent of the company she started. However, Campbell says if she had her time again, she wouldn't do anything differently.

"I've learnt so much," she says. "This has paid for my education. The most important thing for me is to build something great that works."

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Campbell's tips are:

1. Write a plan

"Define your vision for the company and timeline it. Figure out where you want to be in five years," she says. "It might all change but you need to be clear on where you're going if you want people to come along with you."

2. Credible collaborators or investors

Campbell's legion of investors aren't her mum, dad and cousins. They are heavy-hitters in the venture capital or technology space.

3. Get a prototype out - fast

"Don't wait around for years trying to figure out what the perfect product is going to be," she says. "It's important to start testing so that you know if you have a viable model. Then tweak it from there."

4. Get the right team on board

Campbell now has a staff of 13 people. "Putting together the right team is one of the hardest things to do," she says. "It takes a certain type of person to work at a start-up. You want people who can get over challenges, are really ambitious and are prepared to make the start-up their priority."

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