The team have found success after being accepted into Microsoft’s accelerator programme and the app was successfully launched at the start of 2014.
But the team’s foundation for success came much earlier, while they were studying at Imperial in 2012-2013.
The team is made up of Philip Linnemann, Ben Mallett, Alvaro Sabido and Si Dhanak. The four students met while on the MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management programme.
Ben explains, “We came together over a mutual love of tech, and the ideas just started to flow during post-lecture drinks in the Students’ Union.”
They came up with Caribu when they had to pitch an idea quickly in class one day. “We scrambled to come up with something, and before we knew it our time was up and we were about to pitch our new idea – video calling for kids.”
The team was inspired by a viral photo of a soldier awkwardly holding a book up so he could read to his child over Skype.
While they realised that they had the potential for a great product, the challenge and opportunities presented by the MSc programme allowed the team to develop and refine the idea. It’s something that Ben is well aware of: “The initial idea was very broad, and ended up becoming extremely over complex”.
“The entrepreneurial journey you go on during the course is heavily dependent on going out and talking to customers to make sure you understand exactly what they want and how this needs to be delivered. This empirical learning naturally refines your business and makes it lean.”
“That is a valuable skill to learn, and one that changed our business for the better.”
After several months of working on their idea, and encouraged by the faculty, they decided to enter the School’s annual Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design competition – normally won by teams of MBA students. Caribu came second, winning £2,000 towards getting the app started.
It was a turning point for the team. “We were quite nervous, but at the same time we were really excited. On top of winning and going up against the MBA students, we had been given such a boost from all the feedback on our idea. It was at this point that we started taking the start-up really seriously.”
For Ben, his experiences at Imperial shaped his future. “Of course, the Imperial experience gave me the education I had come for. However, the true value in studying at the School is the network you have around you, and the peers you work with. The network is still paying dividends to us. For example, our Programme Director has introduced me to a number of contacts. If it wasn’t for Imperial I wouldn’t have met my fellow founders, and the diverse group of individuals I studied with.”
Ben has some advice for students considering a Master’s programme at Imperial. “Look at where you want to be in a year, and ask yourself, ‘what do I need to get to where I want to be?’ I’m pretty confident the answer will be education, network and money. Imperial can give you the first two things; it’s up to you to convert that into the third.
“I chose the programme because it focuses on teamwork, introduces you to a wide range of options and develops a modern approach to business – all of these were traits I was looking for in a course.”
Programme Director Marco Mongiello is proud of the team; “Caribu is an example of how our students are able to put their creativity and innovative ideas into practice. The Caribu team has leveraged the diversity of cultural and academic backgrounds and used this diversity as their most effective resource for their success.”
The next step
As the year-long programme came to an end, Ben, Si, Phillip and Alvaro had to make some decisions about what was to come next, and whether they should take their idea forward.
“We decided to take a few weeks of holiday to refresh, and then meet at my place for our first day’s work. It was an exciting and scary time, and the months that followed were a roller-coaster for us all.”
Things moved very quickly. The team applied to take part in the brand new Microsoft Ventures accelerator programme. They quickly realised that having the serious support of a giant like Microsoft would bring serious value to the fledgling company.
After a hectic few months, the team launched Caribu on the app market, and received positive reviews and press. The team will stay at Microsoft for the next few months, where Ben says they plan to become “the best product development start up in London”. They will then join another accelerator, The Bakery, and continue to develop the app while working on their marketing and PR.
But the team are still holding on to the lessons learned at Imperial. Ben says, “At the same time as we develop, we’re staying true to the agile roots instilled in us by IEM, and challenging every assumption we make.”