In the first year of being an entrepreneur and deciding to go and do your own startup, you are going to uncover multiple challenges along the way. To help you with this journey, I recently interviewed David Henderson (CEO) and Dana Blouin (Chief Data Scientist) of the first year startup Drvr.
Drvr is a combination of a device and a sleek piece of software that allows companies to capture data on their fleet of vehicles and then use their platform to analyse the data to assist in optimising driver behaviour, vehicle safety, and resource management.
Thailand is rated the second worst country in the world for road accidents with almost 30,000 people dying on the roads last year. This alarming statistic is partly what makes Drvr’s business concept so compelling outside of the obvious data insights.
Throughout the interview, it was clear that David and Dana were creating something much bigger than fleet management, but more a change in society and a vision of something bigger. David was a wealth of knowledge and took me back to what it’s like to be in year one of a brand new startup.
Dana, on the other hand, is clearly a thought leader in the tech space and has a very impressive career background. His expertise in “The Internet Of Things,” came across loud and clear, and is obviously a key motivation for him joining Drvr. He regularly speaks at technology conferences, is studying a Ph.D. and has an audience of 53K worth of Twitter followers.
What makes Drvr unique, as a startup is that it started in Australia and then moved to Bangkok in the first year to be closer to the most under-utilised customer-base. While the challenges exist, many of the lessons David & Dana taught me had some unique insight because of the change of locations.
Below are the nine strategies they gave me that you can use in year one of your own startup.
1. Frustration in the corporate world is useful in the startup world
If you are just beginning your first startup, then there is a high chance that you have probably left a corporate job of some form to follow your passion. Now in the first year it’s going to be very hard so you will need some pretty strong motivation.
David told me his own corporate story, which was the seed for starting Drvr. While working a corporate job in Australia, he was always getting enquiries from Asian companies trying to solve traffic and fuel stealing issues.
On a number of occasions he took a proposal to the board of his company and recommended that they expand into the region. On many occasions, he was consistently rejected (a key ingredient in successful startups).
He puts the rejection down to the fact that corporates can often be too conservative and even worried about things in a new market such as political risk, lack of understanding of the market, underdevelopment of the country and even corruption.
“Unless we take a few risks as entrepreneurs we won’t be able to succeed in business” – David Henderson
Dana puts the issue down to the suggestion that size can hamper mobility of a company and the bigger they are, the harder it is to pivot and make adjustments. He says, “it’s not that large business is not interested in innovation it’s just that they can’t move quick enough to take advantage of it.”
So David used his frustration in the corporate world as his strategy to join forces and form a startup with his colleagues Damien Williams and Eugene Peresada. So if you were previously working a day job and being told you couldn’t do something, then that’s your motivation for the first year of your startup.
Do you want to go back to being told you can’t do something every day? If not, continue with your startup and keep pivoting your idea until you find a revenue generating market.
2. Validate your idea with pilots
The first step to validation is to get feedback from industry professionals about your product or service. Assuming the feedback is good, you can then get your sales people (or you if you don’t have any) to offer pilots to prospective customers
If the customer feedback is positive, then your sales people should then get the clients to sign a contract for your product or service. Once you have customers with recurring revenue each month, then you have essentially proven your concept.
This is the exact strategy Drvr used to prove their startup concept and direction.
3. Make tough money decisions
As a startup founder, every day you have to make decisions about things you would like to do but can’t afford to do. In Drvr’s case, they were forced to make decisions like whether to spend money on going to conference, or whether to rent a new office.
Get used to making these tough decisions because the first year will require you only to fund the essential strategies of your startup.
4. Sales people are more powerful than marketing
If there was one strategy that came out loud and clear from Dana & David, it was that in the first year of a startup, unless you are focused on the consumer market, marketing should be a low priority. The best strategy that both of them continually recommended was to get sales people that have existing networks to customers you want to do business with.
Drvr has been successful because they have hired great sales people, focused on one clearly defined region to begin with and sold their service – simple. In places like Asia, more so than anywhere else, email is looked at as spam, cold calling doesn’t work and businesses don’t tend to look at Facebook or Newspapers to find services.
Leverage your business development efforts with existing networks before spending any money on marketing to make sales.
5. Time your first capital raise
Don’t raise funds immediately. You need to validate your idea first because most startups tend to pivot at least once. For Drvr, they pivoted within the first few months of their launch. If they hadn’t done the pivot, then they would have burnt through their cash.
The initial idea for Drvr was a user behaviour insurance that monitored driver behaviour and sent the data back to the insurance company and the driver. While this feature is still part of the product, it’s not their core offering.
Through their experience of attempting a seed round capital raise, David strongly believes you need to have some traction; otherwise it can become an impossibility to raise money. Now that Drvr has that traction, they are very likely to raise their seed round in the coming months.
6. Social enterprise elements drive culture and engagement
A trend that I see more and more, which I also saw with Drvr, is startups having almost a side business in some form of social enterprise. To drive great team culture, Drvr has a major goal of working on projects that have a benefit to the overall society that they serve.
Recently Drvr partnered with another Thai startup to help an off grid school with some much-needed school supplies and help to assess future needs for the school. This gets the Drvr team really excited and gives them a social enterprise element to their business.
How can your startup make an impact and change socially with your community?
If a startup team member’s primary motivation is to make money, then they are in the wrong place at a startup. David says they are better off working in a large organisation where over a five-year period they will probably earn more money.
Using the social enterprise aspect to Drvr, David gets his team to stay engaged by getting them to think of the opportunities they are going to have in advancing their career, being able to make a difference, having a large amount of responsibility and getting to work on some cool projects.
7. Develop a new kind of customer service strategy
By being a Thai startup, Drvr learnt that the expectation of customer service in Asia is much higher than other parts of the world. Asian business expects a startup to not only provide a service but to participate actively in their business. This creates an opportunity for a startup to win a client for the long term.
Asian business taught Drvr that you have to provide them with training and be the one that answers their questions when they need it. These businesses don’t expect to ring a call centre and talk to someone reading off a script.
“This strategy for customer service that Drvr learnt in Asia not only applies to the Asian market,” Dana told me, “it will be the differentiator between successful startups and the ones that fall by the wayside by using call centres and scripts.”
8. Attract talent and engage them
Drvr hired one of the first iOS developers in Myanmar Arkar Min Aung who has become a bit of a tech celebrity in the region for his work. What attracted him the most was the opportunity to work with a quality software development team and the chance to learn from Drvr’s co-founder Eugene, who is a very talented back end programmer.
So the lesson we can get from Drvr here is that money is not the only motivation to attract talent. When people get the chance to work with someone they can learn from and whom they respect, this will often outweigh the bias that money can have on attracting talent.
The same advice should be said for you as the startup founder. Using your own capital to bootstrap a startup means that the only way you will stay motivated in the first year and not second-guess yourself is to have no backup plan. You must lead the team by example.
David & Dana told me that once you attract good talent, there are a number of ways to keep them engaged but that most of all you need to make your startup a place where people want to work.
In the first year, you really need to focus on measuring results and not the hours people work. Your motto should be “there are projects and we need them done, not how many hours did someone work.”
An easy way that Drvr found to attract talent and keep them engaged is to give each team member equity in the business (even if it’s only small), which helps give team members skin in the game. Combine this element with a social enterprise model, and you have a recipe for startup success.
9. Outsource basic functions
In year one for Drvr, they have remained very lean and outsourced most of the non-core roles. It’s no secret that being lean in year of your startup will set you up for success. Have all your information stored in the cloud using something easy like Google Apps For Business so you can add new users easily to your startup and allows users to work from anywhere.
For graphic design, try marketplaces like Design Crowd or Fiverr to find freelancers to outsource quickly too – Drvr found someone on Fiverr that ended up becoming their main graphics person. Outsource all your bookkeeping and ideally have someone local review the outsourced work regularly.
Regarding office space, start in a co-working space and scale out until it becomes more cost effective to get your own startup office space. These few little tips will help you stay lean in your first year and ensure you’re in business for year two.
***Entrepreneur Quick Tips***
Dana – Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing and drives a lot of the innovation and creativity that we see in society. It’s not for everyone because it can be stressful and demanding. If you want to take the journey of entrepreneurship, the benefits far outweigh the challenges if you are ready for it.
Flush out your idea first, and validate it. Check if it’s feasible, something the market wants and something that’s economical. If you can answer yes to these things, then there is nothing stopping you from moving forward and making your own success.
David – Entrepreneurship is not an individual endeavour. You can’t do this as a one-man band. Every successful startup is built around a great team of people. Work with people you can trust and rely on and don’t put everything on your own shoulders.
Dana’s Favourite Book’s – “The Hundred Dollar Startup” and “Where Good Ideas Come From”
David’s Favourite Book – The Lean Startup
Visit Drvr’s Website for more information about their company or follow them on Twitter @Drvrapp.
5 Ways to Deal With Startup Uncertainty
Starting your own company may sound like a dream come true in your mind, on social media, and to all the people looking on in envy from their office jobs. But when the fantasy fades, you realize how much uncertainty you now have in your life. The inherent risk in any startup is that you are trading the certainty of a normal job for real growth and freedom. What people get from office jobs is much more than a steady pay check and free coffee. It’s a sense of certainty that their lives, work, and finances are in order.
You will have to give up certainty to fully take on the risks of this lifestyle. It will be roller-coaster and something you need to prepare for. Logically, it’s easy to know that. But emotionally, there are so many ups and downs in an entrepreneur’s life. Stress, frustration, and decreased motivation are inevitable.
Here are 5 ways you can deal with startup uncertainty:
1. Stick to a morning routine
There’s many ways to start a morning routine. What’s important is to have a stable, predictable routine. This centers your mind and gives you some order to your day. You manage your business and you can do whatever you want. No boss and no one telling you what to do, it can be mix of productive to outright messy days. By giving yourself some stability, you start the day off in a predictable way so that you can jump into work each day.
It’s as easy as taking your dog to the park, having a cup of coffee, and listening to a motivating audiobook for 20 minutes. You may need meditation to get into the state. Whatever it is that you need to get from a sleepy/hungover mindset to that of taking on the day.
“If you win the morning, you win the day.” – Tim Ferriss
2. Make time for high performance books
Speaking of audiobooks, everyone – especially entrepreneurs, need motivation. Get a few motivating books from other business leaders. This will do incredible things for your mindset and the way you think. Most of them help by keeping you excited for bigger goals. Look for classics from Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins. Or the newer motivational personalities like David Goggins and Rachel Hollis. You’ll be surprised at how much hearing someone’s hardships on their journey will help you on your own.
It’s easy to get a packed calendar working an office job. Everyone else in the company seems to be demanding your time for one meeting or another. Pointless meetings are even the reason some people leave their jobs in the first place. The issue with having your own startup is that while the pointless meetings are gone, so too is any semblance of structure from a filled up calendar.
Spend one evening and fill the upcoming week as much as possible. I recommend Sunday afternoons to think about your goals. Plan big tasks every day throughout the week. That way you always know what you should be working on and stay on track.
4. Hit the gym
This one is actually part of my morning routine and it’s benefits can’t be overstated. Exercise helps fight off anxiety and stress. There’s no better way to funnel your business frustrations more than into the weights. By the time you’re done, your body and mind will be much more relaxed. A necessity when it comes to the tension of being an entrepreneur. Whether that’s staring at your laptop or making sales calls.
“Daily exercise is an insurance policy for future illness.” – Robin Sharma
5. Be grateful
Gratitude was one of the feel good things that I always used to skip whenever it was mentioned. I wanted cold, calculated strategy or tools I could use to build a business as fast as possible. Many brilliant minds in not only self help but also in business, speak about the need for gratitude.
Here’s why it helps me when the business is going through growing pains or everything seems like it is going wrong. I get filled with doubt and uncertainty and gratitude is the quickest way to relief.
Yes, starting your own business is a massive effort, but there is always some job out there. You decided to launch something of your own because you don’t want a baseline existence. You want to grow and build with the freedom someone can only give themselves.
That alone is enough to be grateful. But if you need more, how about that most people are too scared to do what you’re doing. Or that you are taking the time to believe in yourself and live a life of taking chances.
That speaks to your character and self-worth. Much more than the life of quiet misery so many people in the world allow to decide their entire lifestyle. Be grateful you have this opportunity and make the most of it.
The Best Side Hustle You Can Start Today In Just 15 Minutes
The best side hustle you can start in 15 minutes is blogging.
It can be writing, making videos or speaking about topics you love through a regular podcast show. All of these acts are a form of blogging.
15 minutes is not long
That’s why blogging is a good choice.
A video that’s less than 15 minutes is easy to make and will work well.
A short piece of writing can be written in under 15 minutes.
A 10-minute audio conversation on one single question will give people heaps of value and detail in one particular area.
Starting is not where the power lies. Doing this side hustle every single day is how you get what you’re really looking for.
Many successful people are doing this
Whether it’s Hollywood actors like Will Smith or writers like Tim Ferriss or musicians like Ariana Grande — everyone is doing it.
Why is everyone doing the side hustle of blogging?
- It’s how we connect with each other.
- It actually works.
- It’s a way to create an audience which can become a business.
I didn’t invent this side hustle
I just tried it for myself and saw how powerful it was.
It got me:
- New clients for my 9–5
- A new 4 day a week day job
- Clients to coach via Skype
- Features in major publications like CNBC
- The opportunity to meet amazing human beings like LinkedIn influencer Michael Chapman
The side hustle of blogging gave me meaning for my life
Before this side hustle, I was washed up, uninspired, negative and pissed off with the world.
Spending 15 minutes to start the habit of blogging got me out of my head. It forced me to search all over the internet and find things to talk about. Pretty soon I was spending 2+ hours a night researching personal development and figuring out what I wanted to blog about.
Blogging led me to want to help the homeless, share my very private battle with mental illness, come to grips with my startup failures and share the lessons, and even overcome my fear of public speaking in the process.
Now I have a meaning for my life thanks to the side hustle of blogging. I reckon it can do the same to help you grow and get you to the next level. You can blog about whatever you want and then watch it grow from there.
Why is blogging the best side hustle?
It’s how you be creative.
It’s how you express yourself.
It’s how you grow.
It’s how you attract the right people into your life.
There are many side hustles you could choose. Blogging is one of many. In my opinion and based on my experience, it’s the best. There are so many avenues you can go down.
“Attracting what you want in your life has a lot to do with what you’re putting out into the world”
Blogging is a fantastic way to put out more of what’s important to you, into the world. Like a magnet, blogging attracts more of what you put out into your life.
Oh and don’t forget the income
Investing, giving back and making an income are all possible through blogging too. Part of my monthly income comes from blogging.
This allows me to back causes that help those in need, invest in stocks that provide me with a passive income and have money to spend on the occasional treat such as dinner dates and drinks with my co-workers.
That money comes from:
- Ghostwriting for other people
- Posting on Medium.com
- Coaching clients via Skype
- Consulting to businesses on how they can create content that aligns with their brand
There aren’t too many side hustles that can do that for you
Seriously, blogging is a game-changer. It’s a habit you can start in 15 minutes and repeat daily without much effort. Choose your poison — writing, video or audio — and then get started.
Do it for around twelve months and then send me an email with what you experience. I already know, having challenged lots of people already to start this side hustle, that it will work. It just requires patience and the habit of doing it daily.
15 minutes to start today.
And then 15 minutes every day for the rest of your life.
You Are The Problem With Your Business
A great way to screw up your company is to get into the habit of blaming your suppliers, the market, your staff or your product for your failures.
I recently heard a story of a business that had set up a website. They sold various products and services focusing on helping people with psychological issues. The business owner was smart. The product solved a problem.
Unfortunately, the company was making almost no money. They’d hired someone to help them with their digital marketing and it wasn’t working.
Plenty of traffic was coming to the site, users were having a look around and then not buying a single thing. Who’s fault was this?
Well, according to the business owner it was the person running their digital marketing. As a result, they wasted approximately eight months marketing a website that couldn’t make any sales. The reason the business was failing according to the owner was because of the keywords that were being targeted in the marketing campaign. This is a horrible excuse.
The reason your business fails is because you’re blaming someone other than yourself. It’s the quickest way to bankruptcy. Don’t do that.
Your company is a reflection of you.
It took me a long time to figure out that a company is a reflection of its founder.
One of the businesses I had, had a toxic culture and a bunch of people that were rude to customers, arrogant and not nice people. That was a reflection of exactly who I was at the time.
The company was reflecting the flaws of my own life and what I refused to admit.
In the case of the business owner above, what was obvious is that they were good at telling lies to themselves. It was easy not to change as a business owner and insist that the change needed was nothing to do with their vision.
The issue of their company was not the digital marketing strategy but their lack of understanding around what their customer wanted.
The thought that their products were too complicated, not solving a real problem or priced incorrectly was an admission of guilt they wanted no part in. Hence the eventual demise of their company.
Take responsibility and it will change.
When you own the business, everything is your fault.
You have the power to solve any problem you choose. It starts with you being brave enough to admit that there’s a problem, and then secondly, being bold enough to insist it’s your fault and that you can change it.
The problems in your business can all be solved. That’s what it took me a very long time to understand. When I changed as a person and faced up to my hidden battle with mental illness that I didn’t want to talk about, the odds turned in my favor.
Had I have not taken responsibility for my mental illness, I would have never become a leader in a business or started another side hustle. I would have been crippled by the big, bad world that I thought I could control.
Control came from responsibility, and responsibility solved the major problem in my business: me.
Change is a must.
Not with your digital marketing strategy.
Not with hiring new people.
Not with developing a new product.
“Changing yourself is the *must* because YOU attract the problems and the solutions into your business”
You can’t find the solutions or stop the never-ending problems until you stop the cause of it all: you. You’re the problem with your business. The good news is that it’s entirely within your control to fix.
Not the business.
The Different Ways of Measuring the Success of Your Start-Up
You’ve probably heard people use the term “unicorn” in a business context. This means a privately held start-up whose value has grown to at least one billion American dollars. Think Airbnb, Uber, and so forth. There is no doubt that some start-ups have been major financial successes. And many smaller-scale start-ups are doing great as well, working hard and turning a steady profit. But that begs the question of whether finances are the only way to measure the success of a start-up. As it turns out, they might not be. At least, not always and not on their own.
How to Evaluate Success
As anyone who’s been involved with start-ups knows, you need a fair amount of flexibility to do well in this environment. Take the division of labour for example – rather than strict roles, you’ll often see everyone do a bit of everything. The same principle extends to measuring success. It can be vague and mean different things to different people, and it can change over time.
But amongst all that vagueness, one thing has become clear. Predicting the success of a start-up is very difficult for external observers. As a matter of fact, it’s often impossible. Therefore, in order to evaluate how successful a start-up has truly been, we need to know the goals of its founder(s).
“Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” – Marianne Williamson
When people think about business, it’s common to boil matters down to the finances. And it certainly is possible to use numbers to measure and predict the performance of a start-up business. Net worth, gross margin, customer acquisition cost – these can all be indicators of success. But, a start-up can post impressive numbers for a while, perhaps even attract large investors, and still shut down in the end. So does this make it a failure?
The answer to this depends. If the founders wanted to start a lasting business, then yes, they failed to meet their goal. However, that isn’t always the case. If they were looking for a short-term solution and came out with more money than they had coming in, a closed-down start-up needn’t be unsuccessful. It can actually be the opposite of that.
So, looking at the figures isn’t enough, and there are different perspectives to consider. When they start planning their business venture, start-up founders may not have any particular numbers in mind when it comes to profit. Instead, they can judge their success according to some of the following criteria.
1. Happy Customers and Solving Problems
The story of a start-up often begins with a problem. The desire to help people overcome a specific issue can be the spark which ignites the creation of an entire business. And in the end, that may be all that matters to the founders.
This is closely connected to the happiness of the customers. If the resulting product or service has made people happy by helping them solve a problem, that is all that may be required for a start-up to be a success. Now, no business wants unsatisfied customers. But in cases like this, happy customers aren’t the way toward the ultimate goal – they are that goal.
In other words, some start-up founders don’t just use financial reports to measure how much they’ve achieved. To them, the one metric which stands above all others is the quantity of positive feedback they’ve received. The main area of focus is customers who use the start-up’s products or services to solve a problem they were having.
Every start-up founder likes doing well in terms of revenue. But for some of these entrepreneurs, the profit is merely a side effect of what they actually set out to do – impact the world in a positive manner. You can see an example of this line of thought with Elon Musk. He said that back in college, he had wanted to be a part of things that could end up changing the world. The continuation of this philosophy is evident in his electric cars (which aim to reduce pollution) and the SpaceX program (which strives to break down some of the barriers of space exploration).
In both cases, the furthering of mankind is the ultimate goal. Many other start-up founders feel the same, even if they have smaller goals in mind. To these people, there is no greater proof of success than if their company has had a positive impact on society or even a small segment of it. In their view, to make a difference is to succeed.
“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” – Tony Robbins
For some, starting up their own business is less about getting rich and more about gaining the freedom to conduct their business the way they want to. In this case, financial success is just a means to an end. The endgame is to be your own boss.
The fact is, some people don’t do well when they’re constantly receiving orders. They are simply hardwired to be free thinkers and they require an environment that allows them to do things in their own way.
Being in a position where you hold all the cards can be exhilarating. The knowledge that your decisions are final is very empowering, and many strive for such freedom. If a start-up can allow such people to go from being a regular employee to being in charge of making all the decisions, then it has already achieved all the success that it needs to.
4. Time for Friends and Family
As many people know all too well, a job can easily turn into the focal point of your daily life. Instead of being a way to support your lifestyle, your work dominates your time. And when that happens, the time you have to dedicate to your loved ones becomes scarce. Combating this is precisely what some have in mind when they decide to take the leap and start their own business.
Now, running your own company is no mean feat and it will require a lot of effort. But the beginning is the most time-consuming part of the process. Later on, it can be possible to create a system which leaves you with a lot more time on your hands. You can spend this time with your significant other, your children, or your friends. A start-up which gives you this opportunity is perhaps the greatest success of all.
A start-up is an extension of its founders and so are that company’s goals. Some entrepreneurs are in it for the profit, but not all of them. In the end, there is no single way to measure the success of a start-up. It all comes down to the specific aims of those who established it. But if the founders can end their day on a happy note, then the venture is a success even if it doesn’t fit some standard definition of the term.
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