2 months ago by Mike Pye

From Tech Agency Owner to Building a Life Saving App

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It’s one thing to succeed as a tech agency entrepreneur. But coming up with a feasible idea for a life saving app? That’s an enormous feat of courage and genius. 

This is why Matt Farrar, Founder of LovedBy, is extraordinary in our eyes. So, when he agreed to join us for our podcast (well ... he couldn’t really say no after we recruited a first-rate data scientist for his team), we were beyond thrilled.  

Discover Matt’s story in this blog, as he talks to us about his turbulent career in technology and how he turned an inconceivably difficult challenge into a life saving app. You can also listen to his incredible career journey in our podcast.  

A lucky break  

Matt loved design from an early age and took his passion to Staffordshire University, majoring in design technology in 1995. Shortly after, Matt was picked to attend a designers show in London owing to his superior performance at uni.  

It was there that he met Andrew Biggs. As luck would have it, Andrew was searching for graduates to work on a program within the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent (Matt’s home turf).  

Matt joined the program which included a 10 week business course. It was a momentous opportunity - he was introduced to some phenomenal mentors who helped him launch his freelance career.  

The unpredictable and volatile world of business   

Matt ran his freelance business for eight years, developing a CMS application which was bought by several powerhouse clients, such as Yamaha Motor and NEC Europe. 

Matt and his team of talented electronic media graduates believed they were “going to be millionaires”. They raised over half a million via an angel investor for a new piece of software and were considering raising further money through private equity and the OFEX market. 

But the bubble well and truly burst in 2001 owing to the dot.com crash. They had to pull all future investment and make 15 members of their staff redundant.  

New beginnings  

In 2003, Matt wanted a fresh start. He moved his entire family to Manchester following the birth of his first son.  

His next business venture was with a company called Lightmaker, founded by Rob Noble and Adrian Barrett. They collaborated on early web work, using a program called FutureSplash Animator (which is now known as Adobe Flash).  

The team proceeded to work on rich internet applications for websites (most notably JK Rowling’s official site!). Matt shared the franchise agreement with Rob and Adrian for over four years, and he single handedly grew his team in Manchester to 24 people.  

New Trials  

In 2008, the UK experienced the biggest recession since 1930. Like many businesses (including We Are Adam), Lightmaker took a big hit. Cash disappeared overnight as clients went out of business.  

Matt and his team were staring down the barrel of bankruptcy. But Peter Gabriel (yes, THE Peter Gabriel) came to the rescue. Lightmaker was building exciting tech for him, and when he saw that the business was in trouble he wanted to help.   

Ten stressful weeks later, Matt, Peter, Rob and Adrian launched Great Fridays, a global product and service design agency.  

Adapting to new ways of thinking  

Great Fridays was much more customer-centric than Matt’s previous businesses. This was in response to the growing importance of UX-centred design.  

Over eight years, Good Fridays grew to 70 people, with offices in Manchester, London, San Francisco and New York. The business also had huge clients under its wing, from Vodafone to Mastercard.  

In 2013, disaster struck again. Pearson, one of their biggest clients, announced a restructure and informed Good Fridays that the business had 30 days notice before they pulled out. The following Friday, they got the same message from Paypal. That was half their revenue gone. 

Focusing on being a dad  

After a long hard year of keeping the business afloat, Great Friday’s was sold to EPAM, a software engineering company. 

Matt was the Vice President of EPAM for three years. In 2017, he decided that a career break was due so he could spend quality time with his family. He worked on building a new house and travelled around the world with his wife and four sons. It was during this time that the family went through a terrifying ordeal.  

A devastating diagnosis  

Matt’s son, Jacob, became gravely ill while the family was visiting Australia. He was taken to hospital critically ill as his organs were shutting down. Thankfully, Jacob’s doctors were quick to diagnose and treat him.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]Jacob had Type 1 diabetes, an incurable autoimmune condition that requires daily management. Matt and his wife had to spend three days in hospital learning how to manage his condition.  

When Jacob was discharged, it was “like bringing home a newborn”. They had to make critical life adjustments to ensure Jacob avoided irreversible damage to his body.  

“How can I give my son a better quality of life?” 

This question was the catalyst for Matt’s next business venture. He was desperate to help make Type 1 diabetes more manageable for Jacob and all the other teenagers who had this condition (there are around 40,000 children in the UK with Type 1 diabetes).  

From this desire, LovedBy was born. Matt combined his unique skills as a tech entrepreneur with his innate understanding of humans to develop a life-saving app for families in the same predicament.  

He wanted his product to: 

  1. Advise Type 1 patients on their blood sugar level, the things that affect their blood sugar and how much insulin is needed to stay out of danger 

  2. Provide information on nutrition so patients had the intelligence to administer the right levels of insulin.  

The second function was particularly difficult to achieve. To understand exactly what nutrition Type 1 patients require to maintain safe insulin levels, an individual's unique biometrics is needed (since everyone breaks down sugars like fructose at different paces).     

But Matt was up for the challenge. He was driven by his passion to give people like Jacob the education needed to help them stay healthy.  

Developing the application  

Matt gathered a group of thought-leaders globally to validate his proposition. Included in the group was Paul Lindey, the award-winning British entrepreneur and Founder of Ella's Kitchen, in addition to Isaac Taylor, COO of Google X.  

Their feedback: “Great vision but your hardware needs work”. This was the message Matt needed to make real progress. He began thinking about the intelligence layer and sought out additional revenue sources to fund his efforts.  

Common Good, a strategic design agency in Manchester, helped Matt fund the project in exchange for his expertise. A new model was put together, and Matt spent the first three months of 2019 building a digital platform. 

Fantastic progress  

Today, the product has been validated in the UK and US. Matt also has a dedicated team of experts to help him refine the product, including a data scientist we recruited. The proposition and business model is currently finely tuned and the product is being tested by a group of 40 adolescents who have Type 1 diabetes.  

There’s still a way to go before the product is ready for market. Matt wants to make sure it’s thoroughly tested and optimised for its intended users. But he does have an end date in mind: the year Jacob starts university. He wants to make sure his son can easily manage his condition away from home. 

Fuelled by Purpose  

Matt finally feels like he’s making a positive impact on a cause he cares deeply about.  

But, as he emphasised in our podcast, he wasn’t alone on this journey. His family, friends and colleagues have given him invaluable support. Thanks to them he has been able to move forward with the best ideas, overcome huge challenges and push through his darkest periods.  

And that is Matt’s biggest piece of parting wisdom for like minded entrepreneurs: 

“Share as much as you possibly can and be very open about what your challenges are. That is how you’ll get the support you need to make the best decisions.” 

Loved Matt’s Story?  

There’s plenty more where that came from. Head over to our blog for our other inspirational business stories. Also, incase you missed Matt’s podcast, you can listen to it here