At the age of 15, Reuben Metcalfe ran away from home with $80 in his pocket. The teenager dropped out of school, shared a place with a friend, did odd jobs and eventually moved in with his uncle. By the time he was 18, Reuben had completed his qualification in music performance and had steady work as a lead drummer and vocalist in a local band in New Zealand.
“Had I continued on in that town, I’d probably be married with a couple of kids, working at the local music store,” says Reuben.
The adventurous young man decided to move to London, England where the music scene was better. However, he didn’t have the money to get there, so he sold all of his equipment except for his guitar and his amp. Reuben ended up buying a ticket to Melbourne, Australia first, hoping to save enough money to eventually get to London. “I arrived in Melbourne airport with no job, no house, no friends – just $200 and two changes of clothes,” he recalls.
What followed was a string of sales jobs where Reuben learned how to walk up to strangers’ doors, introduce himself, and communicate how what he was selling would benefit them. “I read Kiyosaki, Covey and Carnegie,” he says. “Most of all I learned how to listen, and how to fail forward.”
Eventually, Reuben ended up back in New Zealand and decided to start his own business. When he visited Work and Income New Zealand about a business grant, Reuben learned that he could take a NFTE entrepreneurship course offered by Ahikaa to pursue his dream of starting his own business. “The best part was the people,” says Reuben. “You’d be hard pressed to find the right mix of interpersonal skills, genuine caring, and entrepreneurial know-how that I found in the teachers of that course.”
The business plan idea that Reuben created for the course was for an alcohol delivery service. “It had all sorts of problems and probably got the worst review of the competition,” he says. But a month later, the aspiring entrepreneur came up with the idea for Free Procurement, a business service brokerage that negotiates lower utility bills for its customers. The 23-year-old entrepreneur brokered utility contracts with suppliers to get the best prices for businesses and non-profits.
Reuben eventually left Free Procurement and did some consulting work for a couple of years in the startup scene. But after taking part in a Startup Weekend entrepreneurship workshop, Reuben started a new project called I Dream of Space, which led him to San Francisco, CA.
IDreamofSpace.com is selling 25,000 posters at $10 apiece which enters customers in a drawing for the chance to ride on a suborbital space vehicle. Reuben and his partners created the website in only three hours and had positive cash flow within the first six hours. “Actual Space-travel has always come with a six-figure price tag or more, and people can’t engage with that... this is an attempt at democratization. The message here is that Space is finally accessible for everyone, and it’s about time, too.”
The company was profiled in WIRED Magazine and grew rapidly. Now with over 500 customers in 24 countries, I Dream of Space is looking to get the first private citizen into space in about 18 months—and the lucky individual will have paid only $10!
In addition to running I Dream of Space, Reuben also helps to manage the Kiwi Landing Pad, an international bridge organization established to help New Zealand tech companies grow their business in the United States.
Reuben underscores the importance of the lean startup principles. “It’s too easy to spend money in development without testing—you’re better to produce something barely functional, and then do iterations based on user feedback,” he recommends. “Be lean in market development. Experiment rather than throw money at things.”
Reuben’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Don’t allow yourself to make excuses to not move things forward. If you’re not embarrassed of your first launch, you’ve launched too late.”