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3 Important Lessons I Learned From Working in a Digital Startup

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digital startup

It’s been just over 2 years.  I must admit it definitely feels longer than that. So much has happened within that timeframe, in an environment where a day feels like a month. I mean, what could possibly make someone want to leave a safe, stable job building teams and solutions within the Enterprise to start from scratch?  Glad you asked.

The glory certainly exists in start-up land and the feeling of contribution is immense when things are going well. The highs are superb. But with the highs come the ‘waking up at 3am in a cold sweat’, the ‘constant obsession to make things better’ and the ‘all rational thought would indicate this should work well, but analytics is clearly telling a different story’ moments, which can test even the strongest of characters.

As CTO of an automotive start-up, Autoguru, I thought I’d share some key learnings at which the experienced amongst us can have a laugh and say “I’ve been there before!” And to those (less?) fortunate newcomers to the startup world, hopefully you’ll learn a little something from these words of wisdom.

Here are 3 things I learned from working in a Digital Startup:

Lesson 1: Don’t build what’s already been built

Need a way to track customers effectively and ensure the right offers are sent to them at the right time? Don’t build it.  There are countless CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems out there you can integrate with.

Does your solution need to scale massively, have millisecond response times and be fault tolerant down to a micro-service level with monitoring to the nth degree?  Again, there are a myriad of options available in AWS, Azure and Google Cloud that will provide these features without your development teams ever having to break into a sweat.

Do you have an existing product that’s inflexible and refuses to play nicely with other systems?  Ok, so this is where you should consider other options, and if there’s no ‘off the shelf’ product available it’s time to consider an API platform or custom build.  

This was precisely the scenario with our call centre application at AutoGuru, and by replacing it with the Twilio platform we were able to tightly integrate all our communication touch points into back end systems and create a framework where we control the roadmap for improved customer interaction.

The key point is we’ve never been in such a fortunate position where AI, Chatbots, advanced analytics, CRM, CMS, (the list goes on), are all available and at our fingertips for a fraction of the cost compared to just a few years ago.

Development teams should be intent on building your product.  That thing that differentiates you from your competitors. Your secret sauce. Your delighter. That’s where your focus should be.

You can save a lot of time and effort in finding the right products, so if you want to check out what other successful tech companies are using, check out StackShare.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

Lesson 2: You don’t have 6 months, see what you can build in 2

Your product is new, unproven and there are a thousand ideas floating around to improve it and make it better, faster, more user friendly. When it comes to larger ideas that perhaps take your company in a new direction or into a completely new marketplace or partnership, it can be easy to sink a lot of resources and time into these kinds of initiatives.

Time is something you don’t have.  And if you do, you’re amongst a tiny percentage of very lucky startups! Smart people possess an uncanny ability to look into the future and foresee every variation and edge case for what may or may not happen when a feature or product is built.

The difficult part is rationalising the probability of these various outcomes eventuating, so you’re essentially not wasting energy (in many cases) on improbable events.

If you give a product team 6 months to build a product they will take 6 months as they fill time with small probability edge cases – the ‘what if’s’ for want of a better term.  

Taking the same product and seeing what can be built in 2 months will focus everyone’s energy on the core of what’s being built and how it can best serve a customer. The edge cases will most likely come, but at least you’ll already have a product in market!

Lesson 3: Shortcuts will come back to bite you…eventually

It may seem contradictory to Lesson 2, but there are some shortcuts you will most certainly come to regret in the long run.  Here are a few standouts I think it’s only right to mention:

  • Failing to have effective analytics
    Analytics is sometimes the poor cousin of a feature but if you can’t measure you can’t learn.
  • Automation is key
    Code deployments?  – Automate
    Server environments? – Automate
    Unit/Integration test? –  Automate
    Ok, you get the picture.  It may take longer initially but you’ll save time in the future by making these investments.
  • Failing to Prioritise
    All team members are super busy and working hard.  Congratulations!  However, by not investing the time in continual, harsh, cold blooded prioritisation using methods such as MoSCoW or ICE it could all be in vain.  A handy comparison of prioritisation methods is available here.

Fortunately, I learnt some of these lessons prior to working at AutoGuru, however, in a startup environment it’s wise to keep referring back to base principles, as every day counts.

What are your experiences in Digital Startups? Please leave your thoughts below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

Barry Pryce is a technology leader with experience in enabling Digital Transformation across several industry sectors including banking, telecommunications and media. A specialist in Agile, cloud computing and customer centric application delivery, Barry is currently focused on bringing best of breed digital experiences to the Automotive industry, as CTO at AutoGuru. In previous roles, Barry has helped with the digital transformation of RACQ and achieved Australian digital media firsts including MasterChef and Formula 1 Live Streaming. Barry loves surfing (ex Interceltic games – Scottish Surf Squad), fishing, and obsessing over his veggie patch. But that’s another story.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Max Kelly

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Really nice information! Keep up the good work

  2. cartoon hd

    Jul 21, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Its really nice

  3. narutoget

    Jul 3, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Thank you barry, Really appreciate for your amazing article. Keep going on, good stuff. Thank you for this valuable information.

  4. Tutu Helper

    May 8, 2017 at 8:59 am

    This was very inspirational Barry. I really needed this today.

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Startups

How to Create a Winning Startup Culture

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Some time back, in my infographic on 51 Business Mistakes that most Entrepreneurs Make, I had outlined that one of the biggest mistakes is that you do not give any thought as to what you consider would be a great startup culture. And, without good policies or HR to keep things in check, the startup begins to develop a toxic business culture. (more…)

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51 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Dream Startup

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So you’ve got an idea. You know it will work. And, it means the world to you.

You are an entrepreneur and you think you can rock the world with this one idea that matters to you the most. And, you set out to form the idea into a startup that you are going to nurture and develop into a blooming business in the upcoming years.

However, I don’t want to throw water over your dreams but, I do need to bring this “optimist” you into the hard and cold reality…….. the reality which says that 90% of all startups fail.

Of course, this can bring a great deal of uncertainty into your life and you got to be prepared to deal with it. You are also going to face a ton of challenges in your life which will force you to grow as an entrepreneur. But, the important thing is that you stick with it.

Of course, as Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s friend) once said, “All I Want to Know is Where I’m Going to Die So I’ll Never Go There”. No entrepreneurs want their startups to fail after putting in days and weeks of effort into it.

So, a lot of research has been put forward into knowing what does actually sabotage a startup?

Fortune reported that the single biggest reason startups fail was because they do not identify what the market wants before setting up their startup.

However, it isn’t as simple as that. An entrepreneur needs to perform a comprehensive business plan before he sets out with his business idea. Also, you have to know whether your business idea actually suits you or not. If it doesn’t then, you either you need to fine-tune yourself with your business idea or you need to change the business plan so that it suits you.

And, it is only after that, should you venture upon your startup.
Now, is that all? Of course not. The problem most entrepreneurs face when they first begin their entrepreneurial journey is that they don’t know what they don’t know.

That’s where they tend to make a series of mistakes that may cause great harm to their startup.

That’s why I scoured for successful entrepreneurs to provide me with information on what they think were the most common mistakes that startups do. Plus, I also got tips on how to avoid these mistakes.

You can check out the original article here: 70 Mistakes Startups Make And Tips On How You Can Avoid Them

Now, it’s your turn to do some work. Let me know what you thought of these mistakes and tips that entrepreneurs commit. Do you know of any other mistakes that entrepreneurs do? Comment below!

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8 Key Factors That Discourage Investors From Putting Money Into Your Startup

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Today’s ideas are tomorrow’s winning businesses. Ideas executed brilliantly and with proper investment bring your business success. That is how the world of business got the likes of Apple, Google, McDonald’s, Amazon and so on.

But why in spite of the brilliant and promising ideas at the core of their business, many startups fail to attract investors? Why do investors hesitate to put their money into some startups? Well, investors have reasons and only by deciphering these reasons we could get hold of some deterrent factors that hold them back.

Let us explain some of the vital factors that prevent investors from putting their money in the startups below:

1. Inefficiency or Absence of Leadership Qualities

Inefficiency is the most significant deterrent factor for pulling the success of most startups. This can also be referred to as the lack of leadership qualities. Investors always want to make sure that they don’t lose their money through a company that has an extraordinary business model but no efficient and skilled business leader to make it successful. When fetching investment from investors, you need to offer a clear prospect and detailed plan of how you are going to achieve the goals.

2. Lack of Trustworthiness

An investor puts his money on a venture purely on the basis of the credibility and trustworthiness of the business. This is why besides having a sound business plan with clear objectives, you need to establish the integrity in terms of the security of the investor’s money and how the fund is going to be invested to give results as per business plan.

If an investor has a feeling that the startup may not have enough customers to fulfil its financial liabilities or if it finds that the business is hiding some information, it may further push the trust of the investors down. Total transparency and establishing the faith of the business brand are crucial for finding investors in favor.

3. Lacking Experience in Business Management

You have a great business idea backed up by a sound business plan and solid trustworthiness based on your background, but you have zero experience in managing a business. This is a serious reason for an investor to deny making any investment in your business. An investor cannot put his money just to allow you trying and learning your management skills the harder and riskier way. Uncertainty is the single biggest turn-off factor for any investor and lack of managerial experience is synonymous to that.

4. Business Model is Not Sound Enough

You have a business idea, some efficient, competent and experienced professionals as leaders, the great stamp of trust and pretty much everything that make a company look promising. But what about your business strategy and business model? Are they sound enough to take on the market competition and challenges for business growth? Well, this is what investors are most interested in.

In most cases, a business model is what makes an investor think twice and even take a backward step from investing in a startup. After all, your business model and strategy will decide how your business and products will be able to withstand competition and become victorious.

5. Taking Investors for Granted

This is a big mistake on the part of many startups. Just by becoming confident in the potential and the soundness of the business model and prospect, a business can consider getting investors on board requires just a little effort and time. But in reality, getting investors on board is the toughest thing a business can think of.

This is why without proper and meticulous preparation, it would be foolish to approach investors for your business. Most investors receive hundreds of such emails and a similar number of approaches through other means and they coldly just let them pass. This is why you need to send them very detailed proposals backed by strong recommendations and referrals.

6. Targeting the Wrong Investor

Every business has a target customer base, right? Not all customers are interested in every product in the market. Similarly, not all investors are interested in your business. Investors based on their prior experience and industry exposure, put their money in businesses that they know like their own palm of their hand.

So, targeting an investor who has no interest in your business will only drain your energy and bring you unnecessary frustration. When you are seeking investors for your software startup, don’t approach someone investing in real estate business.

7. Non-Realistic Proposal for Funds

Investors normally come with huge experience of your industry and so they have a clear idea about the fund requirements for your business startup. Moreover, they already have invested in other ventures or have gone through many proposals. Naturally, they have every bit of estimate already in their mind. So, any proposal claiming a lofty and unrealistic amount will only face rejection.

This is why it would be wise to become meticulous about your estimation of the required fund and calculation of various cost factors. Have meticulous details about every facet of investment backed up by breakup of the costs. Only when you can convince them with correct estimation, investors can take interest in discussing the matter further.

8. Make Sure Your Product Solves a Customer Problem

Will any investor put money in building a simple calendar app now? No, simply because such an app idea has no value for the end users now. Will an investor put money in a product that has already been outdated and has no use? No, no investor has to even go through such a proposal for dismissing them.

Well, to fetch investment, your product must be thoroughly customer-centric. It not only has to solve a problem but has to deliver some competitive value in comparison to similar products in the market.

Obviously, finding an investor for a new business is not an easy task, considering the huge competition that businesses need to deal with. But, if your business idea is unique and you fill all those requirements correctly as mentioned above, finding investors may not be as tough as it sounds.

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5 Must Have Branding Tools for Your Startup

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Your brand is more than just the colors on your website. And for startups, it’s important to create a strong and memorable brand from the beginning if you want to stand out from the competition, scale your company, and find your ideal customers faster.

Here are 5 simple tools that will help your company avoid branding mistakes, take charge of your visual identity, and set a solid foundation for future growth:

1. Graphic Design Software

The word “design” doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Before deciding on your startup’s logo, colors, designs, and overall tone, consider working with a brand strategist who can translate the core ingredients of your startup into a visual identity that speaks to your target market.

Brand strategists have expertise in the psychology of colors, shapes, textures, and words, and they will work with you to make sure that your branding appeals to your target audience. Once you have those basics of your brand established, there are several tools that can help your company refresh and maintain your visual identity.

The absolute best graphic design tool for non-designers is Canva. While the free version has a lot of functionality, the paid plans offer more customization such as the ability to import your exact brand fonts and colors.

But if your company handles all of your design in-house, you will need something more advanced than Canva. In that situation, I would recommend Adobe Creative Cloud to startups who work on their designs in-house, as it includes top-notch design software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, and more.

“Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room – Jeff Bezos

2. Visuals & Creative Imagery

Have you ever wondered where your competitors get those beautiful branded photographs that end up on their website? While it’s possible that they worked with a photographer, it’s also likely that much of their imagery comes from stock photos.

Here are my recommendations on the exact places to purchase stock imagery to improve your company’s branding:

  • Creative Market – A treasure trove of quality visual imagery where you can buy anything from stock photos, to branding mockups, to social media templates (Facebook cover photo, anyone?), to custom fonts… the options are nearly endless.
  • Adobe Stock – Beloved by designers, and the platform offers tiered pricing plans based on your image needs and download quantity.
  • Pixels – If you’re on a tight budget and just need to grab an image or two for a blog post, you may be able to find what you need on Pixels – which is great because all of the photos and videos on Pixels are free!

3. Social Media Scheduler

You’re a leader. You’re an entrepreneur. Your staff, board, funders, and admirers depend on you to make big decisions, lead the ship, and plot the vision towards your company’s future. You don’t have time to stare at a blank screen every day wondering what to post on Facebook.

By using a social media scheduling tool, you can sit down for a few hours, schedule batches of content, and schedule the dates and times when it will post to your accounts over the next couple of months. Then, once the content is posted, you only need to worry about responding to comments and engaging with your customers. 21st century efficiency at its finest.

Popular social media schedulers include Buffer and Hootsuite, both of which include free and paid plans. Not sure what exactly to post? Check out these social media ideas from influential businesses. And if the idea of writing and planning months of content still overwhelms you, our next tool will help you stay organized and on-brand.

4. Editorial Calendar

When it comes to your content, it’s time to step it up a notch and start thinking like a media outlet. Every piece of content that you put out as a company, whether it’s an e-mail blast, blog post, social media post, podcast, or video, needs to be aligned with your brand.

Each major magazine maintains an editorial calendar which outlines the overarching theme for each of the upcoming 12+ months. By establishing a monthly content theme in advance, they create a framework to generate and organize their ideas.

Consider creating an internal editorial calendar that will guide your startup’s content over the next 6-12 months. The software tool you use to maintain your editorial calendar isn’t that important — I like to use Trello, but you can also create a simple numbered list in Google Docs or Microsoft Excel. You may be surprised at how quickly the creative juices flow once you have an editorial calendar in place.

“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” – Paul Rand

5. In-Person Networking

Offline efforts count towards your branding too! And if you run your entire startup from behind your laptop screen, you miss out on ample opportunities to build your business offline and gain local referral partners.

If you’re new to in-person networking, start by visiting Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com where you can browse for events in your area. Think outside the box when it comes to selecting events to attend. For example: If you’re a chiropractor, it makes sense to attend local holistic health meetups. But you could also attend a travel event and meet digital nomads who don’t yet realize that a chiropractor can help them recover after long plane rides.

Remember that you’re not at the networking event to make instant sales, you’re looking for referral partners and connections. Don’t be the person who tries to shove your sales pitch down everyone’s throat upon meeting them.

As you can see, there are many simple online and offline resources that can help you spruce up your branding, reach new customers, and pique the interest of your target market. If you take branding one step at a time and start with the tools above, you will be well on your way to creating a brand that your customers will cherish and remember.

Have you used any of these branding tools before? Are there any additional tools that have helped your startup’s branding shine? Share your thoughts below!

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