Hameed Bello and Marlon Taylor met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where they were classmates and fraternity brothers. With a similar “get-it-done” work ethic and itch for entrepreneurism, they co-founded Frntal, an app for users to lease and rent items in a peer-to-peer marketplace. Anything from books, to landscaping equipment, to a parking spot can be rented from Frntal, allowing lessors to earn money on unused items and lessees to save money instead of purchasing. Frntal launched in February of 2017 and has 500 active users since its inception.
In this Fireside Chat, we learned about the opportunities and challenges of founding a tech startup, and most importantly, how to make and save money using Frntal.
Where did you get the idea for Frntal?
Frntal was conceived in two parts. Firstly, as the typical “broke college student,” there were often times that we needed things that we couldn’t purchase. This problem sparked the question, “what if I could just borrow this from a friend or from someone who I don’t know if my friend doesn’t have the things that I need?” However, the reality is that no stranger will just lend you their belongings without getting anything in return. Frntal allows that stranger to get paid in return.
Secondly, we owned too many things that we didn’t use all the time, which sparked the same perspective. The idea is that you can make money off of the things you have and save money by renting the things you need from other people.
What’s the most challenging aspect of developing an app?
It’s difficult because you don’t really know how much it will actually take when you get started. It’s one thing to build an app, and a completely different thing to build a company. Right now we’re focused on building a stronger marketing presence. It’s challenging to work in a two-sided market because we have to appeal to renters and to people willing to lease their items. Most applications are one-sided. We’re actively looking for marketing experts to join the team to help us with this [see contact info below if interested].
What do you enjoy most about branching out on your own?
Marlon: What I enjoy most is creating and building. Everything I do is about developing ideas and transforming them into actual products and things that actually work. For me that was the allure of doing Frntal—just having an idea and really trying to solve a problem. It’s also gratifying when people tell us that our concept meets their needs.
Additionally, developing a start-up allows you to meet lots of new people. Since building a startup was something we had never done before, we relied on a lot of different people and resources in the beginning. Chicago is a growing tech ecosystem, and you have to network. As a result, we meet new friends and make tons of new connections. It’s really awesome to see how many people are doing great work building their brands.
Hameed: Building an app was a learning experience. I was really interested in learning new things, and that’s why I was open to the idea of developing an app and doing market research. Doing all this gave me a different perspective of the world. When you have a business you begin to see everything through a different lens and begin to look for ways to incorporate your experiences into your platform.
How do you juggle Frntal with your full-time work responsibilities?
Hameed: You know what needs to get done, and you just go and do it. Building a company is not something that I thought I would be doing, especially not as I was working full-time. It’s not necessarily a burden, it’s a learning experience. For me, it’s not difficult.
Marlon: The most difficult part is prioritizing, but working in project management has taught me to do that. Balancing a full-time job and a start-up has really pushed me to think about my priorities, and once you understand them, it becomes a lot easier. When we first started, I felt as though everything was a priority, but you come to realize that you can’t run a company that way.
How has being a minority shaped your experience as young business owners?
It’s not necessarily an issue but is something that you are always aware of, especially in relation to networking and trying to find resources. We gravitate towards the black tech ecosystem within Chicago, however, being a minority is not something that we see as a handicap. You do need to be aware of how people may perceive you based on your physical appearance, but at the end of the day, it’s about your attitude and how you approach things.
What resources would you recommend to others in the tech industry?
There are three podcasts that have been really helpful:
How I Built This. It’s very raw and has a lot of information about how companies are started.
Tech in Chicago. It’s nice to hear success stories of people from Chicago; it’s motivating.
Being black founders, we want to hear the success stories of people like us.
Where do you see Frntal in five years?
The goal is to be a one-stop shop for rentals. We hope that when people find a need for something, they turn to our app. We want to be the primary mobile platform for renting in Chicago. Hopefully this happens a lot sooner than five years. We would also like to branch out to other cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Any final words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid. People don’t do a lot of things because they aren’t sure of themselves or don’t feel that they have access to the tools they need to get it done. That mentality hinders us. If you have an idea that you think can provide value to someone else, there is no reason why you shouldn’t just try it.
Do as much up-front homework as possible. You want to do as much as you can before actually making a step towards building a brand. Hone in on the problem you are solving and the value it will bring to others, determine whether someone would pay for it, and test the market to validate your idea. At the end of the day, if you are creating a business, that is the question that must be answered.
Be resilient. There are so many up and downs you will face with a startup that you will definitely have to think back to your early values.