3 Day Startup explores the journey of student entrepreneurs from all over the world in the ongoing blog series Born in Dorms. Universities are ripe for more innovation: the combination of bright students, open information, and more accessible tech creates an environment where student companies can flourish better than ever before. These highly motivated and driven students share their successes, failures, and everything in between as they navigate the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship in their local communities. Read more about each student’s unique perspective on building a viable company in and around campus.
Calum Leslie was a law student at the University of Edinburgh when came up with the social travel app, iSpye. Leslie is obsessed with the concept of entrepreneurship, citing “Screw it Lets Do it!”, the Autobiography by Richard Branson, as a key source of inspiration. Throughout his time as a student and founding multiple startups, Leslie has won various UK wide competitions, including Young Consumer of the Year 2008 and Young Enterprise 2009.
While Leslie was participating in a study abroad program at The University of Texas in Austin, he felt there was an opportunity to build on the international exchange platform, especially for college students. He first struggled when he arrived in Austin, and realized other students arriving in their exchange destination would want to instantly connect with others to integrate fully into the local community. As Leslie states, “To many students, travel can be both a daunting and intimidating experience, and a solution had to be found to help create a new home from home.”
It soon became apparent to Leslie that the appeal and use of such a solution was for anybody that travels, not just for exchange students. And thus iSpye, a social travel app that allows users to connect with like-minded people and find places of interest around them, was born. The company created a social application to allow users to communicate with each other, build cross-cultural relationships, and share useful travel information to current and future students informing each other of the best places to go and see in a host city.
Leslie notes, “iSpye runs on both iOS and Android platforms and is a social network primarily for travelers looking to find out the best things to do and see during their journey.” The iSpye network is a collaboration of location-based information. Content is created when pins are dropped on a map and other users choose to add information. Features include: mapping, checking-in, adding pictures, instant messaging, creating travel timelines, and building virtual postcards. To date, the company has built a prototype for iOS and Android, secured Series A funding, and passed UK, USA, and CTM trade marks. His goal is to reach a $1 million valuation and deliver clear, financial results for him and his investors. “Achieving this milestone would give all of us great confidence to move to the next stage of the company’s growth,” he says. iSpye is also aggressively trying to reach a 25,000 active user base in Europe, the US, and Asia.
When looking back, Leslie identifies three key resources for developing his start-up: mentors and capital, an entrepreneurial environment, and networks. He explains, “a combination of capital, experience and contacts has helped my startup grow very quickly.” He credits learning invaluable information and reducing numerous mistakes from investors and mentors. Those contacts also opened doors to individuals and organizations (like Phi Delta Theta) that Leslie sees as extremely helpful in bringing a fresh perspective. For example, upon delivering the keynote address at The Scottish Parliament in 2011, Scottish Entrepreneur John McGlynn offered to mentor Calum. McGlynn, a well-regarded Scottish entrepreneur, is now co-founder, mentor and an investor in iSpye. And finally Leslie says he is “fortunate enough to be located in a great location where the people around me are smart, energetic and enthusiastic.”
Advice for others just starting out? He believes that idea formation is critical but the difference is leveraging the capital and experience of others and applying those learnings to the idea and business. Leslie elaborates, “That’s what makes the difference and that’s what makes it work. Focus on finding and developing that killer idea. Think through all the pro’s and con’s as if you were a Shark on Shark Tank! Only then approach mentors and investors to help you bring the dream idea to market, delivering dividends and success for you and your team.”
About 3 Day Startup
3 Day Startup (3DS) teaches entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme hands-on environment. In addition to supporting budding entrepreneurs, 3DS programs cultivate entrepreneurial communities that contribute to the growth of entrepreneurship ecosystems in the regions surrounding these university programs. This proven program provides students the tools they need to start successful companies. To date, more than 41 companies have come out of 3DS to collectively raise $14.5 million in investor capital and more than a dozen have been accepted to prestigious incubators and accelerators such as Y Combinator and TechStars.