James Downing – founder of JellyChip

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James is a people-smart visionary who wants to see his social network, JellyChip, in every hand around the world, and he has the vision to see JellyChip change the world. He believes that JellyChip offers an unprecedented opportunity to create deeper connections between people online.

James is also an entrepreneur with the drive to bring a new product to a growing market opportunity. He leads operations and strategic direction for the company, with full responsibility for bottom-line factors, including long-range planning, product management, and software development processes.

Our identity has been formed through our struggles together. It has been learning to work with each other, and sometimes at close proximity for extended periods of time, which has taught us the value of teamwork. And from that we bring our ideas to life. 

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

JellyChip rose from a burning desire to use the internet to solve some of the world’s biggest problems today. It is a social platform that allows you to earn points by completing surveys and activities, which can then be redeemed for social good products and causes.

Over the past couple of years, social networks have taken on a life of their own and have become staples of the internet diet for millions of users. Social media generates massive traffic, engagement and buzz but it seemed to us as if that engagement goes nowhere. We believe the internet was designed to truly connect people on a life-changing level and that just doesn’t happen with existing platforms.

It also appears to us that people are inherently looking for something else. Whilst jumping from platform to platform has been wonderful for millions we think people are looking for the next big social thing to connect. The current transition has been from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat, and we think the next leap will be JellyChip.

I quit my job as a graduate for Ernst & Young to pursue JellyChip and seek investment. As soon as I quit I had the impetus and burden of seeking that investment since I was technically unemployed with a dream. I contacted venture capital across the world and was identified by two European investors as a perfect fit for their current portfolio. To be frank, this was highly unexpected by me as the conditions I had set for investment were quite high.

However an open invitation was offered to me and I was certain to make available of the opportunity and seize it.

Could you please explain your business model?

JellyChip generates revenue from market research surveys found at www.jellychip.com/survey. JellyChip Surveys are a way for users to get points on the JellyChip social network by answering questions.  Surveys and opinions are often referred to as ‘market research’. Market research is especially important for businesses looking to understand what people want.

Surveys are also great for researchers who want feedback on specific questions about a particular topic.

JellyChip surveys are open to everyone, from fun topic-makers to serious research professionals. Our state-of-the-art survey system caters for everyone.

The surveys are for all types of users, and are a quick and easy way to ask simple questions and get quick answers. We give users 3 questions, and up to 100 responses for each question – all for FREE. There are no strings attached, and no hidden plans to activate payment after a trial ends. In this way we don’t ask you for payment details. Free surveys are there for you to ask questions openly on the JellyChip network.

PRO surveys are for people who want to use our survey system without any of the limitations. Each survey costs 30c USD per response. That’s it. We don’t like the idea of lengthy plans, locked in contracts, hidden ‘administrative’ and ‘setup’ fees and we know that users don’t like them either.

PRO surveys provide a lot more functionality and audience targeting compared with FREE surveys. With a PRO survey, you can specify how many responses you’d like, and whether you’d like to target a specific gender, demographic, age group, and more. 

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

Right now we’re working on creating an app for the JellyChip website. This app will be the very cool version of the desktop site and allow users to play with JellyChip on the go. By doing this, we can allow people to make a difference throughout the day – not just when they can find a moment to grab a chair at their PC.

How do you make ideas happen?

We have the most ambitious minds in the business and the willpower to execute our plans! But seriously, we bring ideas to life by completing our work together as a tight team. Whiteboarding together, working at tables together and having lunch together, there is this level of intense interconnectivity that you have to accept when creating a new product. And one that we relish in.

As we have remained longer in the same group, the needs and skills of our group members has become evident, and it has been a very special time for my team to discover who we are as a group. Our identity has been formed through our struggles together. It has been learning to work with each other, and sometimes at close proximity for extended periods of time, which has taught us the value of teamwork. And from that we bring our ideas to life. 

What role have mentors played in your business life? 

It has been very important to have advice from a range of influential people on how to create not just a social network, but a company. This is why leaders in all organisations, even those such as the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, surround themselves with the best advice and leadership team.

Time and time again you see that successful individuals surround themselves with smart advice to balance their own thoughts on company direction. This is essential to allow the company not just to be run by one person, but by consensus. It is important to be able to take on advice, and sometimes criticism, and process it into something that can be useful. It’s not always the case that advice received from your mentor, or investor, can be used instantly or even at all. However, it is important to have that sounding board so that you don’t think your thoughts and ideas are always unique to you.

Of course mentorship is selective – in other words you want to be mentored by one to three individuals who align with your vision for the company and product.

And this is why it is important to be clear about your intent about mentorship when looking for a mentor. It is this intent that will make clear the right mentor for you as you start your entrepreneurship together.

I have found that mentorship is important for the tough days and for the good days. In fact my best mentorship has taken place during the tough days where options can be discussed and the next course of action can be taken. Here mentors become like friends that you realise are with you through the entire journey that is your startup.

Whether that mentorship takes the form of a formal relationship like an investor or a casual point of contact, it is important to surround yourselves with strong and independent people.

What does your typical day look like?

Creating a startup with investment has taught me one hundred things in the last 18 months. Most importantly has been the need to manage competing interests. In a startup environment it is not possible to silo yourself into responsibilities that are independent of your co-workers. I have found that my agenda for the day is often turned upside down by the many new considerations that appear as we work through planning projects or activities. These often have to be dealt with first and push back your other agenda until the evening or the next day. This is frustrating sometimes but has been a revelation I have come to accept in a startup.

In the same way, work is often completed together with your co-workers with some considerable overlap. It is often like participating in a student group project except this is the daily routine for us.

We are bound by the same idea, and we often joke that JellyChip is a lifestyle but it is completely true. I know for my Co-founder and myself, there has been a lot of soul-searching as we work daily to create JellyChip and bring it to market. There has been a lot of introspection about the type of company we want to create, the type of company and brand we want to create, and the type of product we want to create for the world.

A truly successful startup is one where that level of integration between your co-workers is at its highest. You are all separate parts of the same organism. And it’s that ability to “let go” and work for the great cause together that truly allows your project to be filled with that ineffable magic.

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

We haven’t really found any challenges starting a business in Australia since we’re a website that could technically be anywhere in the world. I think the only consideration we’ve had to make is hiring programmers and developers for the site from overseas. We started off developing our prototype version of JellyChip with a team of Australian developers but quickly found that the costs were exorbitant. This was a deal-breaker for us given that we were a startup on a tight budget.

At the end of the day, and unfortunately, we have to simply go where things are the most affordable.

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

Create an online image site like Instagram where celebrities can take pictures of themselves using a camera or mobile phone. The pictures should be an interesting, self-edited snapshot of how stars would like to be seen, rather than how photographers see them. 

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

I think Thankyou Group are a prime example of an organisation that does really cool stuff in Australia. Their primary question is “where does the money go” and that’s the question we should all be asking. And Thankyou is going to great lengths to answer that.

I love the tracking of the gift that allows a user to track the impact of their Thankyou purchase through a unique code on each of their products. The fact this provides details on the exact project, its location in the world, and how it has been progressing is awesome. People want it and Thankyou are delivering on it. 

What about internationally?

Internationally you have to look no further than Charity: Water. This organisation is a one stop shop for innovation. Their innovative approach to raising money to provide safe, clean drinking water for people in developing nations is second to none. This proves that we are part of a generation of young people working creatively to make this a better world. 

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

All businesses have the opportunity to make a difference – it is just their level of capacity and their level of commitment. From brand-related social ventures to more philanthropic charitable giving, every organisation on the planet can do its bit to make the world a better place.

Whether they choose to is up to that organisation.

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

World Vision is one of our major partners at JellyChip and we would love if you could support them. They’re a charity that just “gets” giving. I think that their gift store is superb and their annual reports are positive. We look at charities that make the most impact with the least funds – and we believe World Vision are there.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

JellyChip (shameless plug!)

Charity: Water


Can you name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?

ABS Census – the best

TheKouk – smart guy

kmac – smart lady 

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

Absolutely – if you’re interested in building the future of social networking we’d love to talk to you. We’re looking for all people who love the internet as much as we do.

We’re looking for coding gurus, incredible marketers, creative geniuses and brilliant business minds!

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 are your top 3 tips for starting a business?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant? 

Three Bags Full in Abbotsford, VIC.


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