We talked to Markus Straarup of Friendspire about recommendation discovery during the COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Markus Straarup: We are doing well, although it has certainly been a crazy year. My wife, Beatriz, and I welcomed our baby daughter, Isabel, to the world in February. After that, we decided that urban Miami was not the best place to spend quarantine with an infant, so we escaped for a few months to Virginia. Since then, we have then been in Spain and Denmark to visit with family – all while the pandemic was raging, Izzy was discovering the world, and I was trying to build Friendspire!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Friendspire.
Markus Straarup: I have a background in business and joined Novo Nordisk after I finished university. I worked there for almost 10 years, and I honestly really liked it. It’s not the classic story of just having to get away from my corporate job because I hated it. But I did have an itch. I wanted, maybe needed, to build something on my own. So when the chance came, I jumped at it.
My good friend Morten and I were having a couple of bowls of ramen, and several beers, in Chicago. We were passionately discussing our favorite spots to eat, great new podcasts, or what movies we had watched. The conversation turned to an idea Morten had to create a social tool to share recommendations. How? By making your friends’ recommendations available to you when you need them. A simple, seamless, and easy way to share recommendations with your friends. With this in mind, we set out to create Friendspire.
How does Friendspire innovate?
Markus Straarup: We solve the problem of discovery. Our world has become so overly complex that finding anything has become difficult. People browse fake recommendations on TripAdvisor or scroll endlessly through Netflix. We have created a simple way of finding movies, TV shows, books, podcasts, and food & drinks recommendations fast. Decluttering a very cluttered process – and making it fun.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Markus Straarup: Our entire team is virtual now – like everyone, I guess. Both Morten and I are quite an extrovert, so we really miss the intimacy of the office. But for a fast-growing business that has shaped our entire organization. We used to hire exclusively out of the Miami talent pool, but we have opened up to the best talent across the globe. Today we have team members from Hawaii to both west and east coast of the US, Denmark, and India – or 15 and a half hours of time zones. It’s been really fascinating to build a culture with a team that we have never met – in person.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Markus Straarup: Our business is pretty well poised to work during quarantine; however, one of our focus areas was food & drink. We quickly decided to deprioritize that category and double down on specifically movies and TV shows. We also created an IG account that gave funny advice on what to do during the pandemic, which gained 30k followers in a few days.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Friendspire in the future?
Markus Straarup: Taking my daughter on a long run is the ultimate cure for stress 🙂 In the future, I feel confident that Friendspire will build and dominate the recommendation discovery category.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Markus Straarup: Likewise, The Spoke, TripAdvisor. Our community is everything, so that is what we are focusing on fostering. We are looking for those truly passionate people, which creates a special community with better recommendations. That is what Friendspire is, and therefore what will help us win the category.
Your final thoughts?
Markus Straarup: The Social Dilemma is trending like crazy on Netflix, and people are looking for a better way to use their devices. We think we can help! We really don’t want people to stay on Friendspire forever. We want them to find a great movie or restaurant and then enjoy the real world. Log on, to log off, so to say.