Rich Martell: London's Zuckerberg?


This 22 year old tech whizz gained 15,000 users over one weekend for his first website FitFinder. Can he do it again?

“I went home on a Thursday evening and built the website in eight hours,” recalls Rich Martell. “I thought of a name, FitFinder, not the most PC of titles I realise, and set it live at 9am of Friday. By the end of the day it had 2,000 users – it was only designed for ten!”

Martell, the 22 year old founder of Floxx (formerly FitFinder) is recalling that fateful night back in April 2010 when he inadvertently launched his social media enterprise. To date, his company Floxx has received $500,000 in investment and has backing from Ex-Dragon Doug Richard and bigwig US investor Kevin Hall and is about to launch it’s biggest app yet.

That said, Martell is the first to admit that it wasn’t planned; he had a job lined up as a trader in an investment bank.

“We were studying for our finals, bored out of our minds in the library. My friends and I would often text each other when we saw someone attractive, it was just a bit of light relief from the tedium of exams. I decided to build a site for us to use, just the ten of us – no-one else was supposed to find out!”

From zero to 15,000 users over one weekend

But they did find out. On that Friday evening the server started to “melt”, on Saturday Martell had an influx of emails from students at other universities wanting to join so he built sites for Imperial College and LSE. On Sunday he took a light break to run the London marathon before coming home and building sites for Oxford, Cambridge and King’s College. By Monday morning they had 15,000 users.

The story might ring a bell; it has spooky similarities to that of Mark Zuckerberg and his first bounding steps into social media stardom.

“I read The Accidental Billionaires (the book on which the Oscar-winning The Social Network is based), and realised it was very familiar. But Facemash was about getting revenge on Zuckerberg’s ex, FitFinder was about trying not to go stir crazy while revising.”

What followed was a game of push and pull between FitFinder fans, Martell and the University boards. The National University Network blocked the site and then promptly unblocked it following a huge petition. The site reached a peak of 250,000 users in one day just before Martell decided to pull the plug.

“I had been fined £300 and the senior management at UCL were going to call a hearing which may have ended up with my expulsion. I still had every intention of taking the trading job and I really didn’t want to screw it up over FitFinder.”

Oh the irony. In the days following the shutdown Martell found himself reading an email from Doug Richard. He entered into talks with the Ex-Dragon and FitFinder began to evolve (all while training a trader), “I’d worked pretty hard to get that position and a lot of my friends were struggling to get jobs so I did both for five months.”

Floxx logo

Eventually Floxx was born. A play on the word flocks, the new name moves away from the dating and flirting concept.

“We had two options with the site, the dating route and the location-based-social-network route,” explains the 22 year old. “Dating sites are everywhere but location based social networks like Foursquare are just taking off and I don’t think they’ve cracked it yet.”

Floxx Media Group is now the parent company from which Martell and his staff of six will be launching a range of new apps. The first, MapChat was launched at the end of August. It is an instant messaging service that allows users to find other people in the same area that want to chat.

Already the app has almost 10,000 users and has just reached the 500,000 message mark. But Martell admits it’s their guinea pig application to see how well the server holds up before the role out their main product.

Martell’s new project

Launching in October, Spottd is the app that Martell is pushing hard for, and he’s pretty excited about the project.

“It’s going to be a discovery tool, what’s cool and what’s going on where you are. It will be like a real-life location-based Digg (the site that lets you share interesting content you come across on the web).”

The app will allow users to share the things they discover in a certain area on the app, through Twitter and through Facebook. Good restaurants, deals, street art – you’ll be able to log on and see what’s been discovered around you. “If you wanted to go out and visit all of the Banksys in your area you could, or just search and see what interesting things come up.”

Spottd will be launched as an iPhone app to begin with, and as feedback rolls in Floxx will “iron out” the app and launch for android. It all seems very well thought out and is poised to do very well but Martell is not worried about profits just yet: “The company is still in the development stage and it is focusing on growing its user base before generating revenue. We will be experimenting with revenue models in 2012 but are planning on raising more investment this year.”

Silicon scene

With an office on City Road the Floxx team are well and truly part of “the silicon roundabout” tech-proliferation and Rich is clearly happy to be part of the set.

“Floxx is made up of six people, we share an office with Spoonfed and Enternships. Every Thursday we all have cake out in the yard. We often go down and join the “Silicon Drinkabout”. The roundabout itself has very little to do with the scene, it’s about the cluster. It’s good to share advice and tips – we’re all pretty young and generally go through the same problems.”

From discovering babes in the English Lit aisle of UCL library to sharing entrepreneurial tips in the capital’s biggest cluster of tech-talent. Martell has come a long way in a year and a half. Not bad for someone who “just wanted to get a normal job”.