Xander’s career started in banking at Barclays Investment Bank followed by a couple of years at Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong. Not satisfied with banking, Xander co-founded a couple of companies but now concentrates on his latest business, Mojo; a sexual wellbeing website and app that helps men overcome psychological erection issues.
What were your first jobs after university?
I had no idea what the real world looked like and no idea what I wanted to do. As a result, I copied what most of my university cohort did, which was banking. During this time business ideas started bouncing around my head, one of which was a flexible car insurance idea with another Old Radleian, Freddy Macnamara.
I was headhunted for a job in Hong Kong, which I took, and during my gardening leave I worked with Freddy mapping out what this flexible insurance idea might look like. We didn’t get it off the ground in such a short period of time, and not wanting to let go of the idea, I ended up spending days working on the trading floor and nights working with Fred on Cuvva.
When did you decide whether or not to pursue Cuvva as a viable full-time option?
It was about a year in. At the time I took the view there would be more opportunity if I continued in Hong Kong, so it made sense for my focus to be there. Fred took the reins and built Cuvva into what it is today. I did a couple more years in Hong Kong, but all the time thinking I wanted to do my own thing as I didn’t find banking particularly rewarding.
Tell me about how you ended up co-founding Hedge Fund?
I returned to the UK with idea of doing a start-up but still wasn’t clear on what format that might take or what niche I might fill. Eventually I teamed up with an old colleague from Barclays. We tried to set up an investment bank; after all, it was what we knew! We had a fun time charging round London; speaking to the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority etc trying to get the building blocks in place to what we thought was a cool banking business.
But we couldn’t get the license we needed, nor raise the capital, it pivoted into an investment fund which we ran for a couple of years. It worked for a while but then our trading strategies stopped working so we wrapped up the business. I started a period of reflection; went travelling, paragliding, and exploring mountain ranges.
When and how did the idea for Mojo come about?
It was during my travels when I had a conversation with my cousin, Angus, sharing our issues about erectile dysfunction. Angus was someone I had known all my life, and yet we still struggled to talk to each other. The fact that we were hesitant in talking made us realise that we could potentially help a lot of people. Here was a start-up that could provide social good.
It was a gradual process, we researched what other companies were doing and it was evident that for female sexual wellbeing lots was happening, but not for men. Many companies sold and distributed Viagra, or Viagra substitutes, which was a good indicator that a solution was needed. Personally, and speaking to others who had the same experience, Viagra is not a good long-term solution.
But we had to come to terms with the fact that we might become the faces of erectile dysfunction (ED).
With the experience of two start-ups behind you, what pitfalls were you able to avoid?
One of the biggest pitfalls I was falling into early on in my entrepreneurial journey was overly focussing on the negatives. I think it’s important to try ideas because you learn so much from failing. My background of banking and trading is about mitigating risks and, having studied maths, everything is about being correct and perfect. There is this push from society that everything must be perfect, and this prevents you from making mistakes. A start-up is all about learning and experimenting with different approaches. A lot of our new growth is the result of trying something, we expect 90% of initiatives to fail. Success is the other 10%.
Do you find it easy to work with family, your cousin Angus?
We spend time working on our relationship, I think I’m lucky as there is an explicit level of trust you might not have if you weren’t working with family, that’s really valuable. The nature of our work is focussed on the psychological side and learning is taken from the psychotherapeutic process. We think about how we are relating to each other, and we have the same coach which helps a lot.
Tell me more about your coach.
Our coach is a business leadership coach who has direct experience of leading businesses. They act as an independent sounding board but brings us together when they feel we’re misaligned. They help me find my own solutions or may have advice for specific for scenarios. This is the first time I’ve used a coach and would recommend having one. Some of my contemporaries use them too.
What was your marketing strategy when Mojo first started up?
In the very early days, we were trying everything from talking to people and putting flyers through doors. While we were building up our therapist base, many of them put the word out to their clients which was great for initial traction.
We learnt a lot from these people without having to spend on digital marketing. As we started to grow, we turned to Google. Guys generally don’t talk to their friends or partners about sexual health issues but will turn to the internet, that supercharged a lot of Mojo’s growth over the first few years.
We have tested social media sites but struggled to make it work. The nature of our ads includes the word sex, so algorithms often shut down the ad before we’ve been able to explain this is not a porn site.
Over the last few months, we’ve made good headway using Facebook and I think it will really push up our growth over the next year.
I believe you now have an app, are you the only app for men’s sexual health issues?
I’m fairly certain there isn’t an app that offers the service we do. I do know of one which focussed on ED but from a medical/physical viewpoint whereas we come from the psychological side. Even if the original cause of ED was a medical/physical issue, you are often left with a psychological one. Traditional institutions such as the NHS don’t offer much help.
Do you think you might one day partner with the NHS in the same way that WeightWatchers do?
Possibly. Lots of our members have been recommended by NHS doctors or private therapists who have heard about us organically. Whether we invest to make an official partnership I don’t know. It might not be worth it as the NHS is a slow-moving beast and represents a small part of our potential market.
Over half our users are in the US, with 20% in the UK, others in Australia, New Zealand. Overall, we have members from 100 countries. The advantage of an online business is we can scale across borders without issues, companies who sell Viagra need a licence in each country plus the logistical operations etc, and we’re not regulated.
What would your advice be to something who wanted to build a business using an app?
Don’t rush into it! For two and half years we operated as a WordPress website which offers about 80% of the functionality of the app in a much easier and cheaper way; for an app you need software engineers to keep it going.
My advice would be to think about how you could solve this problem in another way, prove that your idea works using a simple platform before launching straight from an app.
What’s the 20% benefit that the app brings?
A much better user experience: less clunky, loads more quickly, move between screens smoothly, the icon is on your phone rather than having to go to website and enter passwords. Plus, we are working on message alerts for when it’s time to do exercises.
What’s in the pipeline for Mojo?
This year more effort is being put into the personalisation experience to help those who need a more tailored approach. Also, we’re working out ways of improving our delivering of existing content and how to engage members better. Wellbeing has to be maintained, it’s not something you can fix and then forget about it. On signing up many people have high expectations of how much work and time they are going to put in, but the reality of life gets in the way. Not dissimilar to dieting or a new exercise regime, we all have good intentions at the start.
We’re rethinking the activation journey; deciding the order of the screens when new members join, do they choose or should we choose for them.
I would like to see us covering broader sexual well-being issues, and relationships in general, for women as well as men.
For more information about Mojo, visit their website.