In the midst of the change in the political landscape, I too need to change my ways. Should no longer make promises I can’t keep. To those of you who have been sending me voice messages of my last blog post when I said I’ll blog about London next week (which then turned out to be close to two months ago), please stop. I got the message.
Anyway, as per my chapati-ed promise, let me tell you about my trip to London. It was a good trip but I supposed timing wasn’t quite right. It was crunch time for us at pod.
So, I went there to meet the team at Open Data Institute that worked on the Open Banking Framework for the UK and went home with a heart filled with excitement (and maybe a little envy). Wish SEA adopted such policy too. I took the opportunity to also meet a couple of investors and fellow fintech startups. Sure did learn a lot so being the sweetheart that I am (and also very sorry for the delay), I’ll share with you some learning points I took with me from my trip:
- Build a business not a startup
We were really focused on fundraising when we first started and kept busy working and reworking the deck. We have a business plan but figured, of course, we couldn’t be making money from day one to sustain the product development right? Wrong. One of the key success factors for a business is revenue and that should be focused on since day one. Since our users are not our customers (ie: as they use the app for free), we need to be finding some entities who are willing to pay for the product. Afzal from Endeavor explained this exceptionally well in this blogpost .
We would still need to fundraise for without it we can’t finish product development but at the same time, we will also be seeking for potential clients to prove our revenue tracks. Of course, for the most b2b2c platform, we have to manage the chicken and egg situation between seeking clients and growing users but this dilemma needs to be tackled.
2. Find the Avengers
The secret sauce is a killer team. Build a strong and credible team because managing a lousy one is a big battle. You need the team that is able to sell the vision equally well as you’d have and even without you physically be there, things get done and they get done well. Make sure your team is like the Avengers; varying superpowers, great on their own, great as a team and they look like Chris Hemsworth. Kidding! They should look like Robert Downey Jr.
Having a good team is also important to define your company’s culture. There’s no right or wrong for this but have predefined values that anchor your company and get people who share those values. For pod (and I believe most tech companies), finding tech talents is already very hard so even if they don’t fit your company culture, there’s a strong urge to take them in anyways hoping that those “cultural dust” will rub on them and eventually they’ll turn into one of your own. Honestly, it’ll be hard. It is easier to teach hard skills than to change their values.
3. Fail fast
You hear this mantra being chanted across startup communities and spray painted across coworking spaces’ walls but what does it really mean? It means to be objective when something is not working out, have the guts to scrape it out and move on.
Sometimes we get caught up thinking that users want a particular feature and we built assumptions around that feature (we were guilty of this too at pod). When the responses were less than overwhelming we insisted that this is the way to go, completely ignoring the people who matter; our users.
So it is important to start with a clear way to measure success (eg: no of clicks on the feature, users positive feedback, dropout rate, etc) and set hard rules. If it doesn’t hit the success matrix, guess what; it failed. Wrap it up, bury it, call your team to gather, have a small funeral and move on.
4. Be a local champion first
Yes, we all want to take over the world and imagine to be the next Uber or Google but start small. Think big, but do small. Make sure you’re progressing everyday. Don’t scale without having a proven business model. Afzal quoted this in the blogpost I mentioned earlier too so if you cheated and skipped it, go back. Go on, I’ll wait on you.
Okay, as I was saying scaling. I guess it’s quite difficult to completely forget about scaling when most VCs in town place that as one of the most important metrics of success. And we’ve also learnt that sometimes companies move to different markets not necessarily to scale but due to a more accommodating regulatory environment (yeap, we’re all thinking of that startup which rhymes with “slab”).
One of the startup founders who created a SAAS company in the Netherlands also reiterated this point: to really build the niche in their home country first before expanding across Europe. And they’re now raking in a couple of millions a month in revenue.
5. Stay focused
It is so easy to get distracted from the feedback and opinions of others and deciding who to listen to is not easy either. I personally am still learning this. In the world filled with “noises” from people, corporations, media, etc; it can be quite a challenge to stay focus on one thing before deciding “oooh, that’s so cool, let’s do it on top of the thousand and one shizz we currently have on our plate!” We found this to be so true when we’re fundraising. We met many many many potential investors who told us this and that. Should we listen to them (I mean, they’re the one with tons of experience evaluating successful businesses and more importantly, they have the $$$)?
Yes and no.
What the team and I did was to always digest the concerns and suggestions that they have and like people who hate vege when they eat Maggie goreng (yes, I am looking at you, Vivy); we pick them all out one by one. We objectively pick the ones we believe to have merits and toss some that we think will get us off tangent from our core vision.
At the end of the day, you should know your business well. If you’ve done enough research, talked to enough experts; have faith and just go. But having said that, don’t be blindly stubborn to protect your ego. Be objective. Always put what’s best for your company forward.
Okay, the end. Hope those tips were helpful.