Get involved in the startup community. The world of startups is a small community that is full of people who believe in innovation and creating something from nothing. It is hard and there is a sense of shared struggle. Make sure you connect with other founders, they will be more than willing to chat and are an immeasurable asset when it comes to intros to investors, funds and candidates.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angus Barge, co-founder of Mojo.
As a 27-year-old, Angus did an endurance cycling race with friends that changed the course of his life. He left his successful career as a broker and three years after the Mallorca 312km race, he is the co-founder of Mojo — a digital platform focusing on the future of men’s sexual wellbeing. Everyone talks about masculinity being broken and he wants to fix it, holistically.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I arrived at this particular point in my career when I was 27 and started to struggle in the bedroom. One day I just couldn’t perform, seemingly out of the blue. The realization shook me to my core. When the problem persisted I started to believe I might be about to lead a life of sexless bachelorhood.
Actually, I had crushed blood vessels in my perineum which should have taken 6–12 weeks to fix themselves. They didn’t. Subsequently, the seed of doubt had been planted in my mind and performance anxiety plagued me for almost a year.
During this time, my hometown (London) was awash with pastel colored advertisements with handsome young men telling me that erection issues were not just for old guys and that I shouldn’t put up with them. In fact, I owed it to my sexual partners to be ‘the best partner I could be’.
I’m lucky — I knew that taking pills as a crutch for your sex life can exacerbate psychological problems. But, the fact that companies were profiteering from young men’s pain, was infuriating and a personal challenge I had to help combat. I had to do something.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The team you build is everything in the early days of a startup. Unlike in other companies, your early hires will shape the culture, product and ultimate success of the business. The best candidates are competitive and hard to woo. When you do get to the point of courting that talent, losing out to more established firms with bigger budgets is so painful.
This has happened recently to us. We found a very rare candidate for our Head of Growth role. He has been an early joiner in two of London’s best tech success stories. It was crucial to us that he had experience in these companies through their product-market fit and scaling stages, not a late joiner who was looking after an already well-built machine. We lost out here to a better-funded series A fintech startup. Ultimately, this meant the candidate was not bought into the vision of Mojo the way we needed them to be.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
You need to be driven by the mission. A resilient founder who is able to battle through the bad times cannot be solely motivated by making money. The hardest times are when your business is in jeopardy or looks like it could go bust. There has to be something more than money and your livelihood driving you on at that point. At Mojo we know our members’ pain points better than anyone and we know the scale of the problem.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Mojo is flying, we’re averaging a 20% + weekly growth rate for the last 6 months and counting. Xander (my co-founder) and I have built something that had never been built before. It’s something we wished we had had when we were struggling, but ultimately our success has come from listening to our members and building an evangelical base of early adopters. It took unbelievable grit and determination to speak to our first members, not only to overcome our own shame of the sexual issues we had faced but theirs as well. Needless to say, they were not forthcoming and we had to lead by example.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you’re small, you don’t have to grow much each week to hit a two-figure weekly growth rate, so you try things that aren’t scalable. Xander and I would finish work and go flyering, putting Mojo adverts up in bars and restaurant toilets.
Last year in November, we ordered 5,000 flyers and planned to distribute them over the month in support of the Movember Campaign. The day the flyers arrived we were told that London would be going into a Covid lockdown 48 hours later. We dropped everything and hired as many students as we could get our hands on to make sure that the caseloads of glossy think-papered flyers were not wasted.
Lesson learned — even at your busiest, read the local news when you are doing above-the-line advertising.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mojo makes decisions that champion the users — always. Anytime we have strayed away from this core rule, we have known it is incongruous with our values and the business.
Mojo releases content in a structured weekly format. This is because that is the most effective way for our members to digest the content and get the most out of it. However, waiting for future content is not always popular. In February, we gave in and introduced a feature that allowed members to pay to unlock future content immediately. This went against our commitment to be guided by efficacy and professional advice. A week later we retracted the feature feeling we had let out members down.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As early-stage founders, your mind is rarely far from the company. Make sure you set boundaries with your colleagues and co-founders that allow you to get your work-life balance right. It is inevitable that some of the team will want to work long hours or on weekends, but that should not push others to do the same. Xander and I make sure when we work weekends, we do not message each other and instead make notes to discuss on Mondays. It shows we care and respect each other’s time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I told my family I was giving up my successful and stable job in the city, they thought I was having a quarter-life crisis. Maybe they were right, but they did not deter me.
Stepping out into the unknown and trying to build a business that has not been done before is scary for those that care about you, as well. I’m so grateful to my friends and family for biting their lip when they thought what we were doing was crazy and instead believing in our ability to create something valuable that would prove to be life-changing for so many men. From the beginning, the value in our mission was clear, if not it’s potential, and commercial success.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When we need to be reminded why we are doing this, all we have to do is speak to our members (customers). We have had the mothers of 16-year-old boys emailing in and thanking us for helping their sons, through to 70 year-old men who have cried to us in user interviews because they have had the problem for 20 years and have never been able to speak to anyone outside of their romantic relationship. Creating a product that helps these men (as well as their partners) is the most important metric of success we use.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Make sure your co-founder has a complimentary skillset.
Only a fraction of startups succeed and a well-rounded founding team is the key. If you are a bullish optimist, you need a cautious co-founder who will undoubtedly label themselves as a ‘realist’.
In the early days of Mojo I was so precious about any product feature or content we put out. If it was up to me, everything would have been perfect before we would even show it to friends and family. Don’t be — ship it. The earliest, crappiest version of the product needs to be put in front of as many potential users as possible. Endless time, money and belated U-turns will be saved.
Let some fires burn
Your team will start small, they won’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to cover all the company functions you need them to. Rather than burn yourself out trying to do it all, prioritize, make sure you are focusing on the key drivers of product and growth first, and don’t sweat the rest. Some fires will burn and that is ok.
Don’t settle for second best in your early hires
Startups can’t afford the most experienced and best-qualified people in their industry. But don’t settle for any hire that you aren’t super excited to work with. Hire young, intelligent and passionate people that are going to be the next industry stars rather than settling for the experienced 2nd rate dinosaur.
Get involved in the startup community
The world of startups is a small community that is full of people who believe in innovation and creating something from nothing. It is hard and there is a sense of shared struggle. Make sure you connect with other founders, they will be more than willing to chat and are an immeasurable asset when it comes to intros to investors, funds and candidates.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
The highs and lows are inevitable and extreme. You have to create a culture that you and your team want to work in. One that will embrace the highs and make them all the more special while absorbing the lows and learning from them.
Being a founder is a unique and special opportunity to create exactly the kind of environment you want to work in. Don’t lose sight of that or sacrifice it for short-term profitability gains. In the long run, your culture will dictate far greater success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to start a movement that encourages radical openness, a kind that masculinity has never been associated with before. I believe it is that antidote that will change the way we live our romantic lives and improve the sexual and mental health of billions of couples across the planet.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Go to http://mojo.so and follow our social handles in the footer.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!