EPISODE 036
Filmmaker Turned Startup Founder
Listen to this episode with Gabriel Isserlis, a UK-based founder who is revolutionizing access to creative spaces for visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, and theatrical groups. His startup, Tutti, is essentially the Airbnb for creatives and strives to provide affordable workspaces for artists from all walks of life. Listen in as we discuss the highs and lows of a startup lifestyle.
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Host - Monique Mills:

In this episode, I'm speaking with Gabriel Isserlis, and you're going to find the flow of this one to be a little bit different than the other recordings. Gabriel and I met on LinkedIn where after seeing some of my posts on the topic of being an innovator and building something from scratch, he expressed getting some insight and feedback from me about what he was building because from what he could see, it had some of the characteristics of what I've built in the past. So we decided to embark on this conversation on The Unpolished MBA, But of course, after this recording, we went deeper into it. However, I want you all to at least hear some of the beginning thought processes and actions that a founder goes through and how those of us in the innovation and entrepreneurship space, try to share lessons learned from our experience to help them.


Host - Monique Mills:

All right. So, Gabriel, I want to welcome you to the Unpolished MBA. And I'd like to ask you the same two questions that I asked everyone else. Are you a startup founder or a corporate employee? Which we know you're a startup founder right? MBA, no MBA?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

No MBA.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So I'd like to give the audience just a little bit more information about your background and you know, what you're working on right now.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Sure. So my background very much leads into my company. My family have been musicians for generations, and then I broke off from the pack and went and studied film at RIT and then started studying IT as well. So I have both the film and the tech background. I've worked in music. I've worked in photography. I've worked in theater. And after leaving university I was like, what do I want to do with myself? And the logical conclusion out of all of that was creating something that I have a unique perspective on. So across all of those sectors, everyone struggled at finding space and it was what inspired me to build Tutti which is essentially an Airbnb of creative space. I combined music, theater, film, photography, and tech all into one.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So it's a couple of things in there that I'm like, wow. So you said, all right, “when I was done with school and I'm kind of like, so what do I want to do with all of this?” So it's one of those things where, when we go to college, they expect us to know that when we walk into the door, right? So you went through your schooling at RIT, which by the way audience, that's also where I went to for my alma-mater, but way before, way before. So the campus is beautiful. It's an awesome school. But when you were there, and you decided you're going to do film... by the way, I didn't even know they had film there cause I did engineering, so how did you combine that all while still in school?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

I didn't. I was doing two completely unrelated degrees side by side. I did film for the first three and a half years. And then I did IT the second three and a half years I was there, but there was an overlap of a year and a half, where I was doing both degrees at the same time.

Host - Monique Mills:

What made you add IT into that formula there?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

I realized I didn't want to go into the film industry for a number of reasons.

Host - Monique Mills:

Can you share a couple with us? Because that would be interesting.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Um, so I worked on a few film sets and one thing that really stuck out to me was that in film school, as much as I loved it, one of the social aspects was that it was extremely cliquey. So if you weren't in the clique, you weren't accepted by a lot of people. And I had an unfortunate falling out with an ex-girlfriend, which made me not in a clique. And I got shunned by a lot of my fellow classmates.  And then I went off and worked on a professional set and while I didn't have the shunning experience there, I did notice the same exact features or the same things going on, on a professional set. And then I asked around in the industry and people are like yeah, it's really kind of like that across the industry. And I was like, well, I don't really want to do that.

Host - Monique Mills:

Yeah, I can understand that. And that industry is not large enough to be that way, you know? So it's like, you're going to keep running into the same people over and over again, and if that's the way they operate, I don't blame you at all.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

There are plenty of parts of the industry that are not like that and are fantastic, but I just had that first experience. And then I started thinking, what if I, if I don't do film, what do I do? And I was always fascinated by building things. And I've always been fascinated by just coming up with ideas and being able to make them and the newest way of doing that was when I was in university, programming. I loved apps. I wanted to know how to build an app. I love websites. I kind of already knew how to build websites. So I started learning the basics of that stuff. I realized halfway into the degree that I'm really not very good at actually coding. What I have taken away from it is the intimate knowledge of how building blocks of programming knowledge go together. And how to structure things and how things work in that world. So what is really useful is I have the empathetic view of someone who's worked in four different creative industries, but I also have a tech background. So I'm able to merge those really well, see problems in creative industries, and apply a tech solution. And that is how I'm building the company.

Host - Monique Mills:

Fantastic. So tell me a little bit more about Tutti, is it  an app?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Right now it’s a website.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. It's a website. Okay. How does it work?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

So we do call it Airbnb for creative spaces for a reason. It is a marketplace. Very similar to Airbnb. The interface is you go onto it, it says, what do you need space for?  Where do you need space? People enter that and it comes up with a list of options. When you click one, you get a lot more information and then you can message the owner of that space directly, or send an inquiry. And we're not an agency or a tech platform. So we don't receive those messages. Those messages go straight to the owner or the manager of the space. And our system helps facilitate direct messaging and make sure that the request very easily gets to the right person. And then people can negotiate prices. There's a lot of negotiation that goes on on the platform where it's different from Airbnb. It's like if people can't quite afford the budgets to list it, they'll say I'm happy to promote you on social media once we release the creative product and people are open to negotiation with that. And then once they've agreed on a price and a day, they pay from our platform.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So I don't want to go into my consulting mode because I'm ready to dig into your business model. We can be here for hours with that. I actually had a business that started out similar to that, different industry as far as who we were serving, but that was our go-to-market strategy to get inside of these spaces and kind of figure out where they needed help. Right? And so. It's a pretty tricky business model because it's double-sided right? So you got users and you got, you know, real customers. So I'm guessing the spaces are the people who pay you. Right? Consumers can just use it, so, yeah. So we'll talk, I want to talk to you more about that offline and tell you not just my experiences, but also I had several advisors who had done something similar and, you know, they found out what I was doing, or I found them. I stalked to find anybody who has done this before and tell me every reason why this is going to fail and why I should not have left my six-figure job to do this. Like, that was the mission I was on. And the great thing about it is that that was just my go-to-market strategy. But I learned things really, really quickly because you have to iterate really fast before you run out of time, money, everything, right? So right now, your, in what year, two or three of this business?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

The beginning of 2019 is when we officially started.

Host - Monique Mills:

Oh my gosh. Okay. So the pandemic has affected it. So how have you been able to weather the storm of the pandemic being that you're completely out of control at that point?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

So, yeah, beginning of 2019, technically end of 2018, but the beginning of 2019, we launched our first MVP , which was built on a no-code platform called Share Tribe and they're great because literally if you want to build a marketplace, you can do so on Share Tribe with a hundred pounds in four hours.

Host - Monique Mills:

So you just said a hundred pounds and then hold on a second. I want to just tell everybody, just listen to his accent. He's not in the US, right? You're in the UK. So we didn't bring that part up. So you came to RIT for college, but you're actually from the UK. And so once you graduated, you went back to the UK, hence that explains your accent. And also you explaining the currency exchange in pounds? So I just wanted to clarify that for the audience. So can you continue explaining that more?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Yeah. So Share Tribe it's a fantastic site. It gives you all of the systems for a marketplace so that all you have to do is bring customers and branding. So we set it up in four hours. We had our first supply of spaces listed within 24 hours. And first booking within a week.

Host - Monique Mills:

So hold on, hold on now, because that is incredible. First of all, it's really smart to use a no-code solution to quickly whip up the MVP and see if people are going to adopt what you have out there.  But secondly, how, which channels did you use in order for people to find out you existed? Did you have a community? Did you start telling people about it before it was built? Like what'd you do?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

We did start telling people about it before it was built, not really intentionally. So going back a bit, before we launched Share Tribe, we had the idea, we knew the marketplace. We knew a few of our customers. We knew a few of our suppliers and demand before the product was built. But for about a year, we tried building versions of the product with like off-the-shelf code with completely custom code, all sorts of things. And it never really worked very well. And we didn't properly put it out there. And then one day a friend of mine that I hadn't talked to in a year messaged me and was like, Hey, have you thought of Share Tribe? I was like, no, what's that? Looked it up. And literally, five hours later, we were like, yeah. So I wish I'd heard about Share Tribe a year previously, but anyway, during that time, this was the end of 2018, I went through Founder Institute, which is an incubator program that, you know, it's basically a program that helps young founders figure out how to build their first product, their first MVP, and how to pitch to investors. And it just helps young founders, which ours very much was at the time, to figure out how to get started. So I went through that program.

Host - Monique Mills:

So one second, let me, let me ask you real quickly, did you do Founder Institute because it is in over 200 cities globally? Where did you do it?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

In London.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So you did the London cohort. Okay. So when, when did you do that? Was it before you got started?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

In beginning of 2018

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. All right.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

I had ideas before then, but I spent more than a year trying to figure out how to start a startup and was doing pretty much… not much with my life. One of the biggest challenges for me was how to build a good work ethic. When I came out of university while I was good in university, or I was decent in university, I did not have a good work ethic. I would work two, three hours a day because I could work on quickly and then just not do anything the rest of the day.

Host - Monique Mills:

Oh, that's not startup life! No way!

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

So, um That's about as much as I worked was about two hours a day on startup stuff. And it took me a long time, but, well, it took me a couple of years to get from that to going through Founder Institute, which really pushed me to work a lot harder. And now I work a lot.

Host - Monique Mills:

Right. Right. So, yeah. So just for the audience who isn't aware, I am associated with Founder Institute as well, which I didn't know that Gabriel was at first. Then I took a look at his LinkedIn profile, which of course I meet most of these fantastic people on LinkedIn. And so I realized that, oh, he's been through Founder Institute. He means business. That's a pretty tough program to make it through and, and for you to be taken seriously. So congratulations to you on completing that.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Thank you to give a quick sense of how tough it is to go through, my cohorts in London, the one that was when I went through started with 22 people, and I think across some 21 or 20 companies, and we graduated with seven people with four companies.

Host - Monique Mills:

That's completely normal. When I helped them, I was a director for Founder Institute here in Atlanta to help them relaunch their Atlanta location. And so I was just involved in helping that relaunched cohort. We started out with 22 companies and we graduated five. So it's pretty intense, but the thing is, if you can't commit to that programming, that accelerator, you know, that commitment that's required for the business and startup life is not for everybody, you know, but that is when you learn whether or not you really want to do this or not because it requires a commitment. So once you did that, they, they beat you up, don't they? Right? We beat you up, we beat you up and tell you how that's dumb. This is not gonna work. This is what you have to like, have you thought about this and this, this, and that. So how'd you handle that?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

One of my directors was ex-military.

Host - Monique Mills:

So he really dragged you through the ringer.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Uh, but no, I handled it okay. And I realized that startup life really was for me because it was so motivating having like all of these mentors, all of these amazing people around me telling me your ideas are great and you just need to like, do this, you need to figure this out. And then I also spent, well, at least in London, we, we would have classes in person and then we'd go for drinks around the corner. And it was so nice to talk to other founders because I hadn't really got a network at that point. I was just building it in my bedroom by myself.

Host - Monique Mills:

Do you have a co-founder now?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

No, but I do have teammates now. But having people around me that I could bounce ideas off that I could talk to about things I was struggling with was so important.

Host - Monique Mills:

Yes, it's extremely important. Startup life… being a founder is very isolating. It's not too many people that understand what we're doing, why we're doing it, what we're going through, and it can be very isolating. So having that network is very important. But more important is the Founder Institute network. And, uh, I mean, I'm not just saying this because I, you know, I've been associated with them for a while. I know a Dale I've been, you know, I’ve gone out to Palo Alto. I've been to the headquarters, we've partied with them. So, you know, just a great group of people, and that network is international. Yeah. So if you need something in, you know, Ohio, like, oh, okay, we got somebody there, here, let me just, you know, connect you, you need something in Atlanta, you need something in LA like there are people all over the world that you get access to from that network. And so that's incredible. Yeah. How are you doing now? Like how are things doing for the business now? And you even as an individual, have you kind of caught your stride here?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

I believe I have. There's a lot of buzzwords and terms that get thrown around like product-market fit.

Host - Monique Mills:

That's right, that’s kind of standard terminology in the startup world. Yeah.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Yeah. I don't believe we've hit product-market fit yet, but we are all very, very close and we're just hearing great things about the business from everyone who uses it, which is very exciting, but it's not flying off the shelves yet without marketing. Uh, at the same time, we're in the middle of a pandemic. So I can’t be too hard on myself

Host - Monique Mills:

Right.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

So going back to the story, really quickly, from earlier, so building the no-code platform in 2019. The way that we dealt with a pandemic is we used the time of the pandemic to build on the lessons of the no-code platform. So the no-code platform lost us till March 2020, and then in April of 202. We tried a little pivot, decided it wasn't for us, and decided to focus on software for live in-person events. And of course, a couple people said we were insane and we're like, well, we know it's going to come back at some point. So let's prepare for when it does. And from April 2020 to March 2021, we were essentially in stealth mode. We did almost no marketing. And I had a team of two or three developers who worked with me throughout the pandemic full-time on building the tech in-house. So we built a completely custom platform from the ground up using the lessons of the no-code platform in 2019. And it was awesome. And now in March of this year, we’ve turned marketing back on and we've grown about five banks since then.

Host - Monique Mills:

That's fantastic. So are you only doing spaces in the UK?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Only in London right now.

Host - Monique Mills:

Only in London, which London… I've been there before. It's Beautiful. So how many locations do you have?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

We have a thousand listings.

Host - Monique Mills:

That is incredible. Oh my gosh. Wow.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

And there are a lot more as well. We had seven new ones today and we're due to have another 20 tomorrow.

Host - Monique Mills:

So, so is this product lead? And what I mean by that is, are space owners able to just find your website, register their space, and do all that on their own without speaking to anyone?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Yeah. Completely self-service. Most listings still take a bit of support from me. But, If people want to, and they have done, they can list in about 20 to 30 minutes, it's free to list. And then we immediately publish them, once we've done a little check and they're ready to accept bookings immediately.

Host - Monique Mills:

Can I tell you what I ran into and other folks that had done a similar business model? We ran into the space owners negotiating with the users, customers that wanted to use their space, and then they will take it offline. Meaning that they wouldn't complete the transaction through the platform and therefore we didn't get paid. And the interesting part about that is that when I first started and, and that first happened, I was surprised because I can't say I didn't anticipate it. But the person involved was someone that I knew, like, and that's how that's the only reason I found out. My platform didn't have a way to say, I mean, what can you do when people are negotiating offline outside of the platform so that they don't have to pay that commission? How do you plan to handle that?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

So, building a software solution to try and support that and to try and not really block it from happening, but just make it so that we don't mind if that happens.

Host - Monique Mills:

Yeah, so right. I couldn't get over that. I changed my business model, as I mentioned, I thought initially that was one of the tests that we did. I could not find a solution to that. And I found that even with the Airbnb model. So I'll use this as an example with Airbnb, people are renting out a space that costs them a hundred thousand plus, right? Like my house, if I'm renting out a rental property or something like that. That space is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? And so with Airbnb providing insurance, to make sure that a hundred thousand dollars space is protected it’s worth it to me to keep it on the platform. Right. So this is how I tried to describe it to my investors when I was changing my business model and all the folks I had around me. So I'm like, first of all, that was just the go-to-market strategy. So I wasn't planning to continue with that, but that's number one because it's not worth it to go outside of the Airbnb platform and be unprotected. Yeah. In the case of something happening. So, you know, of course, people throw out ideas, Hey, you could offer insurance. I don't know. They have their own issues. Do you know what I'm saying? So I never quite figured that part out, but I didn't really want to need to, because I wasn't planning to stick with that. It's something that does linger in the back of my mind, like the best way to come back to that because ultimately I think that's what I learned, how people will be really dishonest to save a few bucks. Like even if you bring them business.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

There's a lot of people who do, and there's a lot of people who don't.  So we actually have something on all backend that anytime that we notice people go off-platform to negotiate and then come back and pay through the platform, they get mocked as a trustworthy host. And that is taken into account in our algorithm for searching. So trustworthy hosts will be pushed up a tiny bit higher. So that's one way that we all slightly combating it.

Host - Monique Mills:

I got to give it to you. That's very clever.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Thank you. There’s a bunch of little things that we're trying to do. And just one of the issues with a lot of tech companies, they're just out there in general, is that faceless tech companies. Yeah, because all of our locations are in our same city. We are trying to meet most of our hosts either online or in person. And develop relationships with them. And it's not scalable when we get to multiple cities probably, but it's definitely doable in London. And if we can figure out what works for the posts in London and then build products for that, the idea is that we, we build amazing products and then we go outside London and figure out what works outside the, but yeah.

Host - Monique Mills:

With no MBA, where do you get your business sense from?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

One thing that I do is I, I think very logically, well, I think I have a fairly good, strong sense of logic. I approach things kind of, I wouldn't say sequentially, but definitely, with a, does this help push the business? Does this not from a monetary sense, but does this, does this help us in the key things that we are trying to get right now, we're trying to build trust with our users because that's the hardest thing in the marketplace. So most of my decisions are, does this help build trust?

Host - Monique Mills:

 That's smart. That's a good way to look at it.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Yeah. Um, I guess everything kind of business-related and Tutti related is does this build trust and, uh, what is the logic behind us? I guess that that's kind of how I make my decisions. It's not really MBA-related, but yeah.

Host - Monique Mills:

Yeah. So I always tell innovators that I work with when they first approached me about like, particularly working with them, or just want to tell me about their business. And the number one question I asked is how do we make money. How do we make money? Because without that income, right, it ends up being a hobby. It's not a business. And so, you know, focusing on you can earn the money when you have the trust. And so it's very clever of you to have that rationale and sort it out as you seek your way to product-market fit. So what's next for Tutti what’s happening right now?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Right now I'm getting ready for Christmas and a break for the first time in ages. And that's nice, but we will be raising our first round of funding and then we will be building out well, right now I said, it's a website. So we are planning on building iOS and Android applications. And also the software that I mentioned, we will be focusing on that in 2022.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So where can people learn more about you?

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Well, our website is www.tutti.space. And my email I'm very happy to give is Gabriel@tutti.space and on our website, if you scroll down to the bottom, you've got all of our socials, right there, so you can click on any of them and follow us there.

Host - Monique Mills:

So I want to thank you for spending time with us today and sharing a bit more about your story, your journey, and your startup. And for those of you who may want to learn more about Tutti or be involved in learning more about their fundraising efforts, go ahead and take a look at the website and Gabriel. I wish you all the best. Thank you for sharing with our audience today.

Guest - Gabriel Isserlis:

Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.


Thank you for listening to the Unpolished MBA podcast to hear more episodes or to request to become a guest please visit unpolishedmba.com. 
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