Dan Skill – founder of Life Social

Dan Skill is an IT Engineer with over 18 years experience with computers ranging from hardware to software, CRM, HRIS, Telephony and Networks. Starting at the age of 5 on a VIC20 when games were far and few between, Dan decided to try and understand the programming code BASIC. From there he was hooked and spent most of his time on a computer. By the age of 10 he had almost rewritten the QBASIC game “Gorilla” and had written a few instructional games.

At the age of 15 Dan started a business selling computers that he assembled by himself and had released his first graphics viewer and editor software. By the age of 22 he had merged with a computer store on the north shore and helped build this business up the business still exists today, although Dan is no longer involved).

Dan then spent a few years as a Business Analyst, working in the Process Automation field where UML became his new language, learning about software development from the ground up, PHP, SQL and cloud hosting. He often also helped out with CSS, HTML and graphics on the project.

Over the years, Dan has made an impact in his field working for some of the top tech companies, but his outlook changed when he joined a startup company 4 years ago; he loved the culture and freedom of how things were done. Taking inspiration from David Vitek of hipages and Richard Branson, he decided he wanted to do something that he was passionate about, to solve a problem that bothered him personally.

LifeSocial was born mid 2013. Dan personally designed and built the platform, the processes and coded the first 80%. A year into the project, he employed a senior developer to rapidly finish off outstanding areas ready for launch. Skill specifically wanted a female touch to the site and gave his new employee freedom to change things and develop good ideas.

A mobile app is currently being developed, but the focus has been on Teams where a company can sign up and engage all employees. Employees are able to share rides amongst their company members exclusively, opt to share with other teams, or make their rides public for everyone to see. Other features being developed will put LifeSocial in competition with Yammer.

LifeSocial is currently running in free mode. People who join during free mode will enjoy access free for life.

Ideas quickly go from notes to “is it feasible?”, to design, code and implementation; we have a short turn around on delivering new features.

lifesocial.com.au @LifeSocialCar

 

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

The idea occurred to me a few years ago after travelling around Australia and having to rely on Taxi services and other public transport methods. I quickly learned how uneconomical the use of Taxi services are for anything other than a short distance trip. (Apparently I can fly to Bali these days for a similar price to what it would cost a Taxi to drive someone from the Central Coast to Bathurst – approx. $800)

Buses and Trains have always had the inconvenience of having to stick to their route and network, so there are many locations that are out of reach to people, while they both lack the flexibility of allowing people to cart a large amount of luggage with them. When you think of these options and add backpackers into the equation you can easily see why hiring vans is so popular within the backpacker community.

In prior years I had been a road warrior, driving some serious km/s between Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong, and it seemed almost every car I passed was a single occupant vehicle. This I questioned, as most of these vehicles were actually going in a similar direction.

Please explain your business model

Our business model is subscription based, and allows access to feature-rich tools to better find and connect with other people in the LifeSocial Network. We have a Trip Centre that helps manage the trip from start to finish, and a rating system that helps all users on the LifeSocial Network.

We are not interested in taking a fee from each trip, as we operate under the premise that Carpooling / Ride-Sharing is about cost-sharing and lowering costs, not profiting and making people think that anyone can be a Taxi driver. We are not a Taxi service and don’t pretend to be, but if we disrupt an industry and help bring about change – that’s great!

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

We currently have a drive to get more people on board the service and increase the amount of consumers utilising the service more frequently.

  • The LifeSocial Mobile App will be available mid June 2014
  • Our payments service will be available shortly after (this allows ride sharing users to pay through LifeSocial)
  • We will be opening part of our database through an API for other developers
  • We will be introducing a new feature called Teams. This will allow employees of an organisation to connect together and only share rides amongst the Team if they wish to.
  • There are plans to introduce an itinerary planner

How do you make ideas happen?

I’m constantly thinking about how we can make things easier and simpler for people, I often run through the process of finding and booking a trip and look for holes where things could go wrong and how people may benefit from more communication from the system.

Ideas quickly go from notes to “is it feasible?”, to design, code and implementation; we have a short turn around on delivering new features.

What does your typical day look like?

I don’t have a typical day as such, it depends on what cycle we are on.

If we are in a cycle of creating and releasing new features I would be hands on designing the new features and documenting functional requests. I then run the programming team through what needs to be done; I often find myself reviewing the code and testing around midnight.

The following morning at 6am I’m documenting issues and realigning the days efforts, this is necessary to keep things on track and help deliver on time.

Otherwise I’m connecting with people, looking for the next opportunities, and designing new products, as well as meeting with external companies who may benefit us.

IMAG0135

 

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business in Australia?

One of the biggest challenges as a start up has been funding and resourcing. It held us back from launching earlier this year. However we are on a good path now.

The next challenge we faced was smaller hosting companies not being able to deliver reliable services to us, so we felt outages and slow site response. After we took over the management of hosting our sites as well, we have never been happier. We have had a fantastic 100% uptime over the last 5 months since moving.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

I feel that there is a lack of connected home appliances being invented by Australians. Australian innovators need to tap into this market before it becomes dominated by the mainstream consumer brands.

I kind of feel an app and device that tells consumers what’s in my fridge and cupboards, how much is left and if it is about to expire would not be a bad idea. The items running out or about to perish could add themselves to a shopping list. The consumer could check this and replenish on the way home or simply checkout and have these items delivered from your local supermarket.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

In Australia Uber have disrupted the industry and given the Government something to think about. I don’t necessarily agree with Uber’s approach, but the transport industry was looking a bit stale before this.

What about internationally?

carpooling.co.uk have been running their service for a while and this service is the largest in Europe. They are always innovating and building a better product.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Business can be quite influential.

Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like to support?

I’d like to support Beyond Blue.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

Name 2 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Chris Iona

Adrian White

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Yes there are opportunities to get involved in LifeSocial, I’m still looking for a Business partner actually – someone who can contribute to the business in a non-monetary way. I would also be interested in hearing from people who can offer marketing assistance.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

What other monetisation models or ideas do people have if we wish to exclude ad based monetisation such as Google Adsense? Ads are relatively annoying to users and we would love to keep our interface ad-free.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Reef Restaurant, Terrigal.

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