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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

The Problem Is Not Your Website Or Your Product.

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spend a lot of my time talking to business owners. They focus on their product, their marketing channels and trying to make more profit.

I met one such business owner who was in the plastic surgery business. Their product (boob jobs and nose jobs) was not working. Their website sucked and people clicked off as soon as they visited it.

People would call their office, get put on hold, listen to the on hold message and hang up.

This business didn’t seem all that special. I’ve talked to many businesses and didn’t think for a microsecond that a plastic surgery clinic could ever teach me anything valuable.

I’ve been to Hollywood on holidays and the issues of body image are all too apparent to me. Anyway, this post is not about body image.

I ended up losing this business as a customer — not that I would ever have sold anything to them if it were up to me. I sat down one afternoon and thought about why we no longer did business with them.

That’s when I realized it’s not about your product or your website. All the issues with this plastic surgery clinic and a lot of other businesses I’ve dealt with stem from one thing. Let me explain in more detail.


Your Google Reviews say you’re an piece of work.

I looked up their Google Reviews and their customers said they were assholes.

They spoke down to clients, they didn’t deliver their clients what they wanted, they argued with their staff in front of customers and they treated people like they were nothing more than a dollar sign.

All I had to do was read their Google reviews to see that the problem wasn’t their product or their website.


Your clients tell you every day that you suck.

I asked the plastic surgery what their clients said.

Many of their clients told them that their services sucked and they would prefer to go to places like Thailand where they could get a better product at a much lower price.

The business owner made the mistake of thinking it was their product that was the problem and that a new website will tell clients a different message.

That wasn’t it.


You abuse your staff and they consistently leave.

I spoke with many staff that worked for this business.

Every single one of them hated the company and were not afraid to say what they thought of the business owner.

The business owner would sit outside on a nice sunny day and look across the street at all the yachts and the people boarding them.

They’d sit there and think that every lead they got was going to take them one step closer to owning their very own yacht.

“If only I could deliver more boob jobs, maybe I could have one of those,” they thought quietly to themselves hoping that no one else could hear how ridiculous this sounded.

I can remember multiple times being on the phone to the business owner and having one of their staff burst into tears halfway through the call.

The first time it happened I didn’t think much. After the third time, I got the message. During the short time I dealt with this business, people consistently left. If you made it to the six-month mark, you were some sort of hero and would probably be given a free surgery to say thank you for your work and make you feel worse about your own body at the same time.

It was free noses and boobs in return for daily abuse.

The problem still wasn’t the website all the product.


You don’t solve real problems; you solve your own problem.

A good business solves a problem.

That problem typically affects human beings and solving it is how you make money in business. Solving problems can start out with a problem that affects you, but at some point, you’ve got to start solving that same problem for other people/businesses.

This owner of this plastic surgery clinic was only trying to solve their own problem which was making more money to buy fancy items like yachts.

Only solving your own problem is not just selfish but bad business.

Good business is solving a big problem or lots of small problems for entire strangers who you don’t know thus doing something valuable for the human race.

Solving only your problem will make you poor.

The problem still wasn’t their website or product.


Creating more problems.

Everything this business owner sold created more problems.

They’d film videos to purposely make people feel like their body wasn’t perfect.

They’d write articles suggesting that everyone needs botox to feel young.

They’d take photos of men and women who were supposed to be perfect so that young people would dream of looking like them.

Not only was their business not solving a real problem; it was also creating more problems every day that it existed.

If your business creates more problems than it solves, you’re in real trouble.You need to take a long hard look at the business and become obsessed with doing everything you can to change it — and do so damn fast to limit the whirlwind of problems you’re creating behind you.


The heart of the problem.

It’s the business owner.

The business I mentioned will fail. That part is certain. The problem with the business is not the website or the product.

The problem is the business has no heart because the business owner has no heart.

You cannot focus on your own selfish desires, create really bad problems in the world, treat other human beings like garbage and expect to go buy a yacht and live happily ever after. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Whether you are a plastic surgery clinic like the one I described or a solo entrepreneur, the problem with your business is you.

Fix the problem of YOU. You can’t get away with being horrible forever.
Being horrible is bad business.

Being respectful, kind and valuable is the final answer to the problem with your business.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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Entrepreneurs

18 Must Read Business Books for Emerging Entrepreneurs and Startups

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business books

Reading is both relaxation and training for the mind. Who reads, dives into another world. Learning, entertaining and breaking out of everyday life for a short moment. One could go even so far as to say reading is the second most beautiful thing in the world! Whether it is non-fiction or a novel of all the world’s man has created, the book is the most powerful tool. That is also, why we wanted to find out which business book you should undertake in the new year. (more…)

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Startups

Everyone Wants Sales Leads But No One Wants To Sell

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Sales leads are the lifeblood of any business.

Without leads, your business doesn’t make money. That’s why many businesses treat leads like the most valuable resource in existence. Leads are a topic that never goes away and you can never have enough.

Sales leads are the cause of so many disputes in business.

We have it all wrong, though.

Having something to sell is the real answer.


Knowing what you’re selling.

Many companies don’t know what they are selling.

They think they’re selling products or services that magically turn into revenue and light up your accounting software with lots of green, shiny graphs.

Until you know what you’re selling, sales leads won’t help. Getting more sales leads, increasing your Adwords spend, buying more Facebook ads, doing more networking events, printing more t-shirts and producing more ‘content’ for your blog will not help.

You’re not getting enough leads or closing the leads you have because you’re not sure what you’re selling.


Are you selling to humans?

Go and Google ten company websites. Pick any ten.

You’ll notice one thing: more than half the websites don’t sound like they are selling to humans.

There’s no human language, very little content created by the people that work at the company, zero compassion and not a lot of humility.

Most websites are designed to sell to robots that can’t stop looking at their smartphone. That’s not us. We’re human despite our phones changing the way we live.

Humans look for thoughtful businesses.
Humans look for solutions to problems that are not being solved.
Humans like a business to stand for something human.


How you sell matters.

Selling like you’re in the office with The Wolf Of Wall Street Jordan Belfort will not help you sell.

How you sell matters just as much as what you sell.

The process you put a client through has to be simple, thoughtful and in their best interests (not yours).

That last point is crucial. Many businesses exist to serve the board or shareholders, but they do very little to help people like you and I live a better life and do our best work.

The values of your company and what you stand for effect the leads. Before anyone ever becomes a lead in your sales funnel they are a person or a group of persons (a business) with a problem.

Many people never make it into your sales funnel because how you sell what you do is wrong.

Paying for more leads is not nearly as powerful as changing how you sell to the leads you have.


Loving the people who do the selling.

Leads are only half the puzzle.

The bigger question is who is selling to the leads? Does your business treat those people who call your leads well? Do the people who call your leads even care or are they after nothing more than a pay cheque?

These are the unanswered questions that get lost in conversations about why your business needs more leads.

More leads won’t help if your salespeople burn them or don’t know how to convert each lead into a customer that becomes a raving fan and introduces more people (leads) for free.


Treat one lead really well.

I had a sales guy that used to work for me. He treated one lead in Queensland, Australia really well. He spoke to him every day. He knew a lot about the persons family. He even went to the leads barbecue.

That lead was so impressed that he referred several hundred (that we could track) leads to our business. Treating one lead really well is far more powerful than buying more leads who don’t care about what you do.

Digital marketing has become a drug that every business thinks they need.

If only the business world knew the power of one lead.


The good cause factor.

Your business may do something simple like mow lawns.

That may not sound like a life-changing business that can take this lead advice I’m giving onboard. “My business is simple,” you say to me.

Well, I’d challenge that. Any business can have what I call the ‘Good Cause Factor.”

Let be give you an example. The local butcher down the road from me has a BBQ every Saturday afternoon where they invite the community to come and eat some food for free. Everyone is welcome including the few homeless people in the area that never buy any meat from their business.

People stand out the front of that butcher and talk about things that are happening in the community. This Saturday ritual has become a place where business ideas have flourished, homeless issues have been discussed and people who were lonely and possibly suicidal, decided to live for a bit longer.

The last part is the most interesting. In my community here in suburban Melbourne, there is a large group of people that suffer from mental illness. When I went through my own battle with mental illness, I went to the local town hall where people gathered who suffered from the same condition.

It was that event every Wednesday that helped me become a different person.The loneliness and the isolation I felt were cured by the simple act of connecting with other people and having the guts to talk about the demons I was facing.

These same people go to our local butcher on Saturday and eat at the free BBQ. The butcher is thoughtful and they know that they are doing something far more important than selling meat; they’re selling connection to the community, and a possible solution for isolation and loneliness that leads to mental illness.

So back to the point of this post, the community butcher is selling a good cause — an X Factor as some people would call it.

What your business does with its resources to help a worthy cause that affects humans like you and I is just as important as sales funnels, lead generation and your product roadmap.

Link your business to a worthy cause no matter how simple it is.


Lead quality.

I lose my mind when people talk about lead quality.

The quality of leads comes down to the quality of people talking to those leads and what you have to offerEven the coldest lead can buy from you if you know how to find their problem — which they may not know they have — and use your product or service to enhance their life.

Quality of leads is a myth. All leads are equal.

No matter what stage of the sales funnel someone is in, they can be converted by the right business, with the right message and the right intentions to serve rather than take.


More leads are not the answer.

I know you want more leads. We all do.

I’m telling you to think much wider and deeper than that. If all we had to do was get more leads and we’d become the next Bill Gates, we’d be all billionaires.

I could go and set up a business that does nothing more than generate leads and call my business the ‘Billionaire Factory.’ One, two, lead, wham, bam and now you’re rich.

Refine your business down to helping one lead.
Make that lead believe in you.

Rinse, repeat.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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Startups

5 Digital Marketing Habits Geared for Success in 2019

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digital marketing

The digital marketing landscape is in constant flux. New social platforms are born daily, while others fizzle out, and search engine algorithms are updated hundreds of times a year. What worked last year may not work this year. The reasons you need a digital marketing strategy remain similar each year, but to be successful in 2019, you should practice the 5 digital marketing habits below. (more…)

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