Like any story worth telling, Conchu begins with a head-splitting, soaking-in-a-hot-tub-at-10-am-on-a-Sunday hangover. Here is graphic testimony of said moment:
This was the moment when, in the midst of an irrational cognitive process, the idea of Conchu came to me.
I researched dating apps some months prior, when my publisher commissioned a new book. The target audience? Latin American men in their 40s once again in the singles market. You can read the introduction here.
Up to that point, I thought dating apps were just a secondary option for relating to the opposite sex. I had to study them in detail, even though I used two and felt the experience was unpleasant.
It’s ironic that I had my own dating site in 2005: a Spanish clone of the then-known HotorNot.com. Nothing new. I called it PonmeNota.com (no longer online) and I had about 4,500 registered users in Chile alone. A few people contacted me to tell me they had a good time thanks to the site, and some even got married. I never thought that 14 years later life would take me to Conchu.
Now back to the Jacuzzi… I started wondering how users could know exactly who would date them.
What if there was a mechanism to “apply” to go out with someone? Sounds crazy, I know.
Then it hit me: expanded profiles. But not to the degree of apps and sites to find stable partners (whose level of refinement is extreme). However, it wasn’t enough.
I needed to add something and the hangover in that hot tub cleared my mind.
What was missing was the “date” element. And more than that: a clearly defined date. So I visualized the project as a public dating marketplace, in which people can post dates when and where they want. Then I went one step further: they can choose who pays for the date (i.e., it doesn’t matter if the user posts a date, they can still propose the other party pays) and the level of spending (economic, moderate or V.I.P.) Finally, the person who posted the date can choose from users who “applied” to the date in question.
I started the mobile project in March, after beginning early development I came up with the idea of private dates or 1-to-1s and counter-dates.
When you’re coming up with a name for an app you can’t just choose the one you like. That’s why even the most famous apps and sites have stupid or meaningless names.
It needs to be short and there can’t be another app with the same name. Hopefully the .com domain is available and ideally there aren’t any companies with the same name (just think about it). The name can’t be registered in your country of operations (in our case the United States) either.
I spent days looking but couldn’t find a name that made sense to me and met all the requirements.
But one day in March, in a restaurant with my family, I looked at my sister Consuelo, who we nicknamed “Conchu”. Right away I searched the databases. Everything was available (.com website address, app name, company name, trademark and others), which is nothing short of a miracle.
I soaked the idea and basic concepts and made the first functional web app.
Little by little Conchu took shape and what was once only an idea became the center of my activities.
Here are some photos of the initial web app and the wireframe design of what would become the mobile app…
Shortly after I decided to go all-in with Conchu and knew that a website would not be enough. I analyzed the option of making the Android and iOS (iPhone) apps myself. I soon realized technology had left me behind. It was more convenient to pay a colleague with up-to-date coding skills. While programming is not my forte, I’m pretty decent on the web but as I said that wasn’t enough.
I created a job offer document, set up the company in LinkedIn and published the position. Compensation was on par with the market. I wasn’t surprised that no one who applied for the LinkedIn ad bothered to read the job offer. Even nurses and graphic designers did. In short: no one with the qualifications that I had described as excluding.
I took another route and found a Facebook group of Chilean developers. This group posts job offers and I put my ad there. Actually my brother’s friend did it because I had to be a member and they didn’t accept me.
On a side note, my brother (@ministro in Conchu) told me that, according to his friend, several people criticized the ad. They even insulted the technologies I needed candidates to be proficient in. This wasn’t surprising either. Many of my colleagues are very brave behind a keyboard.
Four days later I received an application in my e-mail. I read the applicant’s CV and, at least on paper, he looked like someone capable of doing the job.
That’s how I met @felipe on Friday, March 22, 2019. It was strange to settle for the only applicant, but the future would prove there was nothing to regret. Quite the contrary: I am convinced I could not have had better luck.
On Monday, March 25 we started work. I told him a little about the project and we started testing the backend server (this is the computer on the Internet where Conchu’s data and images are stored and processed). Right away I felt comfortable working with @felipe. After three hours of work we talked about life for a long time, shared our stormy biographies and wrapped the first day.
It’s hard to tell this story without telling mine. What followed to get to today was 8 months of very hard work every day from 6 pm to about 11:30 pm. Sometimes @felipe and/or I worked until dawn.
He had another full-time job and I ran my other businesses. So we also worked Sundays and holidays (Saturday was always free).
Pressure during development was enormous, at least for me.
I was investing 70% of my time in directing the project and supporting it with some programming tasks. Money-wise the investment wasn’t peanuts either. I paid @felipe’s fees, infrastructure costs and services used by the application out of my pocket.
Other costs included legal coordination with lawyers and accountants, trademark registrations in the U.S. and Chile, and a considerable sum in advance payments for advertising commitments in Chile, my country of origin. I intended to run ROI tests locally before launching globally.
The pressure was so high I gave into excesses of various kinds. A few examples: a few drinks in the middle of the weekday and costly celebrations with @felipe every time we achieved an important milestone. This could happen any day at any time we achieved things we thought we couldn’t do. In fact, Conchu brought out (and I hope it continues to) the best and worst in me. I especially remember the night when we went out to celebrate because we finally made the in-app image processing routine.
Bizarre events also took place. We were contacted by supposed investors and agents interested in participating financially in the project. I must mention that two of them were men who didn’t have a digital identity. This means if you Google or look them up on social networks there is absolutely nothing about them, as if someone had deleted their profiles.
I also don’t know how they found out about the project or how they got my phone number. When they called me the ID was blocked.
I never received an e-mail. It was all over the phone (with the exception of one executive from startups.com). I agreed to meet with two: one in the United States and one in Colombia.
The latter flew me to Bogota –business class– to a very good hotel and gave me a glamorous surprise birthday celebration –the kind you leave your cell phone at the door.
Both, however, were what we entrepreneurs call sharks, which means that they wanted a large part (at least 70%) of the profits and stake in the company, which at that time was already Conchu LLC in the United States.
After this it became clear I had to launch Conchu as soon as possible or run the risk of being copied. I was absolutely certain that Conchu had real potential.
Finally we had Conchu’s Android and iPhone apps working as an MPV (minimum viable product). We were ready to launch Chile in mid-October. And then Chile exploded in a social crisis with economic and political repercussions in almost every dimension. This made Conchu non-viable in the context of things. I felt awful and decided to wait another week for things to calm down. But things never calmed down, at least until today, November 30.
I assumed all the money invested in influencers, local TV celebs and other expenses for Chile could go waste. The emotional and financial impact was tremendous. As looting and protests raged on, some of my customers and people who owe me money stopped paying.
So at the end of October I recomposed myself after a short but very necessary trip to the north of Peru and decided that the test had to be in another country. This meant I needed to improve the app in large part because we had to include everything necessary for Conchu to operate in any city in the world and in multiple languages, which took us almost 3 months to develop.
While we waited for Apple’s approval for iPhone I had the legitimate idea to try Conchu with a beta-tester, a lovely woman I know and care very much for.
That’s how Conchu’s first real date took place in Santiago de Chile, on December 5 at 22:00 at Moloko bar in Tobalaba street.
I should note @naty did not accept the first date and sent me a counter-date proposing 50/50 bill split.