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From Flickr to Findery: Tech entrepreneur Caterina Fake’s latest venture

Yolanda Redrup /

Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake has launched her latest online venture in Australia, a social media platform which allows users to “annotate the world”.

Findery, Fake’s latest creation, is a free app (currently available through the Apple app store) which lets people leave digital notes anywhere in the world and then users are able to search for locations and find information and unexpected stories about the world around them.

Effectively a new way to document history (past and present), Findery is about annotating the globe “from Adelaide to Austin”, says Fake.

Fake told SmartCompany she came up with the idea on a camping trip with her daughter.

“We were camping in Northern California and she was three at the time, we fell asleep inside a circle of Redwood trees and I had the thought that I wanted to be able to preserve the memory forever,” she says.

“I started thinking about how I could do that, I wasn’t about to carve my initials into the bark of the tree, but being a tech entrepreneur the obvious answer was to create the technology to do it.”

Fake says she discussed the idea with Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, who turned out to have had a similar idea in 2005, but at the time no technology existed to make the idea feasible.

Prior to launching the new social platform, Fake worked on making sure content was available around the world for users to engage with.

“We’re excited to see it being in the users’ hands for the first time. It’s exciting for us to see its adoption and help people discover things they didn’t know about the world around them and encourage them to contribute their own stories,” she says.

SmartCompany was given a preview of the new app and already users are able to read up on historically significant locations around them.

A picture of people dancing in the street in celebration of the end of World War II adorns 350 Bourke Street’s geographical mark, Sydney’s Circular Quay has a description attached of when a fleet of 16 United States ships arrived on August 20, 1908, and at Woody Point Jetty in Queensland there is a photo of two fisherman and their human-sized catch from 1913.

Fake hopes that users will start posting notes with information about what is going to happen in the future too.

“Say for example someone is walking through the streets of San Francisco and they see a big hole in the ground, I want them to be able to click on the site using Findery and read people’s notes about what’s going on there and if it’s going to be turned into an apartment block.”

Even when Fake created Flickr, she’d always had a desire to help build connections and communities of people.

“This is what I care most about. The internet is great for people to interact and everything I’ve built has some element of an investigatory nature,” she says.

“On Flickr people would have conversations about what they were experiencing, and Findery is very similar to that.”

Fake’s experiences starting Flickr and then Hunch (a platform which aims to personalise the internet), have influenced the way she’s approaching Findery.

“As entrepreneurs we all have the experience of some kind of catastrophic failure, it’s the nature of start-ups. One of the hardest things is raising capital and financing,” she says.

“A lot find their way by boot-strapping, although now it’s easier for tech entrepreneurs because the software and technology is cheaper, but there are always things you can do better.”

Fake says one of the biggest lessons she’s learnt is how to hire staff.

“The most important thing is building a great team, everyone has to be excellent at what they do. You need to have really high standards, but a lot of start-ups have difficulty taking the time to find the best people,” she says.

“Everybody can have a great idea, but fail to execute it because the team members can’t make it happen. The main thing is to start off with a standard of excellence and don’t ever compromise.”

Fake says with Flickr she was so desperate at times that she hired the wrong people, but now realises it was a mistake.

“Starting Findery was a very slow process, we’d get resumes and just say ‘not awesome, not awesome, not awesome’,” she says.

“Starting out you don’t necessarily have any idea what awesome looks like, but you need to have a really good idea of the benchmark.”

Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005 for a reported $35 million. Following the acquisition Fake started work at Yahoo! until she left in 2009.

“I tried to take as much as I could from a start-up with me in terms of our product development and agile nature and bring it into the environment at Yahoo! … I called it ‘Yahoo University’, I knew there were certain things I could learn there I couldn’t at other companies.”

Fake spent most of her time at Yahoo! in the search department and she took the lessons she learnt there with her when she started Hunch and now Findery.

“I really do think that when Findery becomes a rich environment you’ll be able to go to San Francisco and take a tour just of the Victorian age or the summer of love in the 1960s,” she says.

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