How this business connects people through their shared interests

We spoke to Max Kufner, owner and co-founder of Obby, about setting up an online business that helps to bring hobbies to people offline and help teach real world skills.

Obby is a marketplace to discover, book, and master skills in the real world. The owners describe it as a place for people to find and master the skills they’ve always wanted to learn, whilst helping their partners fill their seats and manage their courses better. From woodworking to floristry or photography – it’s about experiencing life hands on again. All through a handy, online store.

We spoke to Max Kufner, owner and co-founder of Obby, about how he made this idea of connecting people with hobbies and experiences into a successful online business – in just nine months.

“We met a 56-year-old man called David. He had a couple of kids. He was telling us about how he loved photography and had always wanted to learn how to make a frame for a perfect family portrait.” So, when Max found out that David had been searching for for a course for a very long time that allowed him to shoot a picture and make the frame for it, it struck him that there must be other people out there in the same situation. “We wanted to help people like David find things they wanted to learn.”

As with any business, it was important to start with the business plan. Luckily, the three co-founders had worked for a consultancy which evaluated business plans, so they knew how important a strong one was. “One of the first things we did was spend a lot of time on market research,” said Max. “You need to look at how big the market is. If there’s not a large market then no one will buy your product. So, look at who is participating in it. How does it segment?”

From there he recommends focusing on the following points to develop a really detailed plan:

• What do you need to run your business?
• What are the costs?
• How are you going to find your customers?

But also remember that if things don’t immediately go to plan, don’t worry! “Things won’t always work out. But putting the structure and the strategy together is the most important thing to do. Having a target and working toward it is very important.”

As with most entrepreneurs, one of the initial major concerns was office space. Being based in London, real estate is at a premium, so they were each working from home. And due to the cost of local tech talent in the area, they had to look further afield to hire a developer to work remotely.

“As soon as we hired Pedro in Portugal, it underlined the importance of technology in our business from an operational point of view. We now had three guys who were based in London and one person in Portugal. We all had to communicate all day long, non-stop.”

The solution? “Mobile broadband is absolutely crucial, because we use tools like Slack, Skype, emails, shared drives etc. to be in constant communication all day.”

When you run an online business with an international team, you have to get flexible and think outside the more traditional office setup. “We still don’t have an office. We can run this business from wherever, so we work out of various co-working spaces. We’re able to communicate on the go, all the time.”

Ultimately being a digitally connected business lowered barriers to success and made Obby the business it is today. “We wouldn’t have been able to make all the progress we did without mobile broadband. It allowed us to start the business in a way we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Another part of being digitally connected means being able to review and analyse customer behaviour and data. In Obby’s case, they get most of their feedback from ratings and reviews of classes, which they use to feedback and create the best experiences possible. Keeping track of buying cycles and external factors means you can keep track of what is normal and when.

On Black Friday, for example, the Obby team saw a lot of other brands posting promotions and posted their own on social media. “…in that day alone we doubled our entire month of sales in the 9 or 10 hours we were running the promotion.”
 
 
Max’s Top advice for entrepreneurs

1. Don’t listen to everyone’s advice. What’s important is that we had a clear vision of what kind of business we want to be. Filter through the noise and focus on what you’re doing. Stick to your guns.

2. People are initially excited but then they quickly forget [about your launch]. One of the most important things is to stay focused. For example, when you’ve had no customers for a week it’s tempting to try and change everything – but don’t freak out. Stick to your plan.

3. Surround yourself with the best people. The Obby team had all worked together previously and we really took our time making sure that Pedro the developer was the right person to join us.
 
 
And the one bit of tech that Max attributes a lot of Obby’s success to? “This business would not run without a mobile phone. I can run most of the business off my phone. I can talk to my customers, my team and my business partners through it. We don’t need a physical infrastructure. It’s all mobile.”

To see how your business compares in terms of digital readiness to 5,000 other UK businesses, visit our Ready Business Indicator here.

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