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.
The Problem Is Not Your Website Or Your Product.
I 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.
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Everyone Wants Sales Leads But No One Wants To Sell
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.
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 offer. Even 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.
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