Because building and growing a startup leads you to places and situations where something always catches you off-guard
On its seventh year, e27 hosted Echelon Asia a few weeks ago in Singapore where we welcomed some 4,000 delegates from the world over — tech startups and companies, investors, government agencies and industry leaders, to name a few.
Months of work and preparation culminated in two days. Did things go according to plan? For the most part, yes and we couldn’t be happier with the results. But behind the scenes, the first hour was a mad rush to make-up for lost time from the overflowing registration, some missing exhibitor t-shirts and one case of an undelivered parcel because the courier couldn’t find Singapore EXPO Hall 3A. Classic case of plan first and adjust on game day.
Much like running an event of this scale, building and growing a startup leads you to places and situations where something always catches you off-guard. At best, you can only react with what experience taught you and other times, you take a leap of faith. As the adage goes, “hindsight is 20/20″.
From vision to launch, relationships, funding and hiring, here are some lessons to add into your arsenal from seasoned entrepreneurs and founders who have been there and done all that–and are still at it.
Sell a vision, not a product
A minimum viable product (MVP) is not going to really sell and acquire significant number of users in the early days. focus should be to sell the vision to which the product promises and the vision should inspire its adoption. Your focus should be to sell the vision the product promises. The vision should inspire its adoption. For example, when talking about your product to potential customers, don’t say, “Eliminate web traffic spam on your site” but instead say, “Pre-empt attacks on your site”. Ivan Tay, MalleableByte
Operate by principles
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical.When you are pushing for tech innovation or disruption, regulations are often not yet there to lay things out in black and white – there is a lot of grey. Before its collapse in 2001, One.Tel was set to challenge the telco industry in Australia. Clause 4 in their subscriber contract read, “One.Tel can vary charges at any time without prior notice to the subscriber”. While it may be legal, it certainly was not acceptable nor ethical and the company frequently chose to use it. Leesa Soulodre, Autoscout
Never date a Founder
If you think you will be the sexy power couple the entire neighbourhood envies, think again. Whatever it is you do, your partner will manipulate this to the advantage of the company because everything is a potential opportunity to boost the start-up. But do not listen! As this will only result in you quitting your job and becoming a penniless beggar. On the up-side, being with someone who is building a startup opens your world to an emerging community ; one full of such individuality and creativity that it also inspires the self-belief to venture onto a different path in life. Patt Lee, OhMyGeorge!
Master the pitch deck essentials
A lot of successful entrepreneurs put long hours in creating a pitch deck which covers all essential and relevant parts for potential investors. Essentials in a pitch deck include the: Elevator Pitch, Problem Statement, Business Model, Defensible Technology, Go-To-Market Plan, Competitive Landscape, Team, Financial Projections, Current Status (including accomplishments, fundraising timeline and use of funds). However, bear in mind that the fundraising process takes a lot of time and energy, don’t let this distract you from building a great product or service, because at the end of the day a great product or service with decent market size and traction will get investors attention anyway. Faiz A. Rahman, Convergence Ventures
Master your pitch
So you spend your time building your pitch deck. You investigate, research, and made sure all the reported numbers are just right. And on the day of the pitch, the mic goes off or the deck doesn’t load. Prior to the pitch, you must practice with and without slides. Whether you are a seasoned or a first-time public speaker, your show must keep going. Your pitch is about your and your team’s story, and the journey you had so far. It isn’t about the slides. Juliet Lara, DERIV8
Fundraising is sales
You need to work every stage of your Funding Funnel: prospective investor, qualified investor, contact, interest, meeting. Be extra conservative with your funnel conversion and keep your funnel full. There is no such thing as contacting too many people, especially for your first serious round (post-angel). And it’s totally normal to receive more than a hundred ‘NOs’. Just power on Run through your investor hitlist with someone who raised before in a particular region to get a reality check. It will save you a lot of time and headache. Andries De Vos, Clubvivre
Hiring is as crucial as fundraising for sustainability
While it is important to hire for culture and attitude, for young startups, time is invaluable. If the new employee cannot perform as per startup’s requirements in their first six to 12 months, you or the employee will not benefit from the relationship. Involve more people from the team in the hiring process. This helps in two ways: a) People who’d be working with the new candidate get a say on who is coming onboard and they highlight skills/qualities from multiple angles; b) It allows the candidate to get a peek into the culture of the company. The culture is not about free drinks and unlimited leaves (those are perks), it’s about the people. Rohan Pasari, Cialfo
Do not forget about your team’s health and safety at work
As a startup, health and safety of your employees is something you need to get right in order to stay on the path to success. Not only do you need to stay on the right side of the law, but a work environment that takes great care of its employees is a place where people want to work. For example, employees working while unwell will cost the organisation more in the long term when a greater number of people get infected and have to take sick leave. One solution lies in encouraging people to work from home if they are coming down with something but feel good enough to get work done. Swati Kapoor, Practo
Brexit Special: Lack of clarity is something we face every day
For the British rebels who voted to gamble on the opportunity a Brexit might bring, I am reminded of ‘Friends and Family investors’ prepared to back their loved ones without thinking too much of a potential return. There are also plenty of Angel investors who see potential and are are willing to back the team if not the actual business plan. So even though an exit from EU does not seem like a smart move to the more conventional (or even the better informed), who can truly say that this little Britain startup won’t find it’s niche and succeed? And for all of us small businesses and start-ups, the uncertainty that is the first part of this Brexit adventure will be a familiar one to us. We are all unsure of the future, we are all using our ideas to ride those choppy waves, and we are all optimistic for the rewards this risk will bring. Matthew Morrison, A Space
Hope you enjoyed this list and as always, stay tuned for next month’s instalment. Big thanks to all our guest contributors. If you would also like to contribute, send yours here today! Image from Pixabay.
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