#Asia Things I learned at JFDI Accelerate

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From asking for help to thinking big and more, Play2Lead’s Theresa Lim recounts her experience and takeaways from the intensive 100-day programme

Our gamified and social audience interaction platform Play2Lead already had initial success in the event industry, getting shortlisted for global event tech awards, but the growth wasn’t fast enough and we didn’t think that turning on inbound marketing was the solution. We wanted the time and access to a market bigger than Australia (Asia Pacific) to figure out problem-solution and solution-market fit.

So when Play2Lead started at JFDI’s 100-day programme, we weren’t surprised when we were told that I — Hustler of the Year (2015) at Fishburners, Australia’s largest co-working space — was forbidden to sell.

Luckily for us, we had some key channel partners so there was going to be at least some revenue coming in without trying to do outbound marketing. And yes, it was extremely uncomfortable for both Maxim (our Lead Developer, and me, as we also decided to stop developing anything for the initial part of the programme.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself in these 100 days and about how to grow my business. I’m sharing some of these lessons so that readers can learn from my mistakes (or in some cases almost mistakes).

As we hurl into the final days of our 100-day programme, I take a moment to pause and reflect on what we’ve learnt, as we embrace our latest pivot with gusto :“We help companies deliver excellent service by making training fun, memorable and measurable.”

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1. Don’t ask for money, ask for help

I asked for help at the end of my first pitch on Demo Day 1. I asked for direction from the mentor audience on the specific skills I was looking for in a board adviser. Ours was the only team that asked for suggestions.

One of the mentors then commented that specifically asking for help is the best way to engage the very people who want to help and that includes value-added angel investors.

At the end of Demo Day 1, all the mentors were asked to pretend they had US$10,000 and who they would invest in. We came a close third (we specifically didn’t vote for ourselves so were at a bit of a disadvantage) and I turned to the investor next to me and asked him why he voted for us.

He said it was because out of all the teams, we were the only one who had actual domain expertise, but also because I seemed more coachable.

While looking for potential investors, I always look at their investing patterns to see if they have an existing portfolio that might be a fit. For example, I don’t think an investor that only seems to invest in consumer apps would be interested or likely to value-add to an enterprise software startup. I want investors that can help us grow quickly, not just give us money.

2. Surveys are a bad idea until problem-solution fit is established

Don’t get me wrong, I like polls (we offer gamified polls as a way to hold the audience’s attention, but not as market research), but I knew that it’s quite difficult to get the right enterprise persona to answer the surveys. Also, I knew that it’s quite an art asking the right question, and the point to customer interviews is to listen to the customer’s pain points.

At the time when one of my team members insisted we should do surveys, we hadn’t done enough customer interviews to determine if the particular problem-solution fit was worth investigating. Thankfully, Hugh Mason from JFDI stepped in and explained why surveys are a bad idea so early on in the programme. Not only would the plan have wasted time and some money, it might also have directed us to an area that would have wasted more time.

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3. Just because it’s logical that the potential target buyer should care, doesn’t mean they do

One of the hardest things I’ve found is trying to work out who in the enterprise is the right decision maker versus the decision influencer. Just because someone buys our product a few times, you think they are decision influencer. And then you truly listen to why they do so and you think like I did, “Damn, he sees us as a nice-to-have vitamin.”

You then have to either make your solution truly a painkiller and/or find another person in the organisation that will see it as a painkiller. When we previously positioned our startup as an audience engagement app, we were able to show what each individual user knew and didn’t know based on how they answered questions posed by the brand or event organiser.

The event organiser was able to show the percentage of people that stayed engaged during a conference or training workshop. But in some cases, the event organiser didn’t care about any metric other than that, and audience engagement seemed like it was a vitamin even though it could have been seen as a painkiller.

4. Have the balls to have a big vision

I think I’m terrible at writing mission statements and creating a good product name. I like Guy Kawasaki’s advice that a vision statement needs to be like a mantra, simple enough that your entire organisation can say it in a few words — like for Canva it’s “Democratising Design”.

But as one local angel said to me after I removed what was probably an unbelievable growth chart: “I want to see your forecast and your big vision because I want to see if you have the balls to think big and how you intend to make that happen. And yes, you’re right, investors won’t believe your numbers anyway.”

I may not have the physical attributes per se, but I’m pretty sure our vision for: “A world where everyone continually ups their game in the pursuit of service excellence” is ballsy enough!

5. The power of being vulnerable

I’ve seen so many leaders (both at startups and at enterprises) in my last 20 years’ experience act like they know it all and ‘they have it handled’. The truth is, no one can know it all and it’s lonely and extremely stressful trying to have everything handled.

As a leader, of course, it’s important to know where you need to steer the ship and to have the confidence to inspire your team, while earning your customers’ confidence that you know what you are doing.

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The vulnerability I am talking about is the moments where you have to choose whether to tell an investor, a customer, a colleague, a potential partner about how you feel.

I’m going to share a recent example – Hugh at JFDI and Stuart Smith (Head of Digital Service Innovation & Design at the National University of Singapore) pointed me to Ron Kaufman — the New York Times bestseller of Uplifting Service — as I was exploring the elements of changing the service mindset of organisations.

Although I don’t normally read prefaces, for some reason I read Ron’s… and I cried. I then decided, after finishing the book, to let myself run the risk of being perceived as a silly, emotional, female (yes, I said it), and email Ron that his book moved me because I saw how he wanted to change the world too and I wanted to be part of that change. I already had a meeting scheduled with his core team whilst he was away. Ron immediately wrote back and told me he would see me upon his return and that he was glad “I got it.”

Thank you to the whole team at JFDI, especially Chikai Huang, Meng Wong and Hugh Mason, for supporting Play2Lead and my fellow six startup teams. We were selected because out of 300 applications you believed in our ability to change the world somehow.

We hope we don’t let you down.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co

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