April 10, 2021 3:00PM
Round table for Struggles of starting a business, the risk to be aware of, how to leverage your skills for monetization
<aside> 💡 Replay: https://www.facebook.com/dsccpuph/videos/2654538344843676
<aside> 💡 Recording: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Jg_9ztWYEuK_JksV3pwk8xUTD2zOgSa5/view
Hi how are you today? Thank you so much for inviting me. I am going to share some thoughts and experiences I have had as a former tech-co-founder of 1Export. I hope that by the end of this conversation you can take away something to leverage your skills or test those business ideas you have.
Starting a business
Maybe 2 or 3 decades ago before the Internet was founded, starting a business is incomparably hard vs to what it is now. It is hard to test ideas on scale. Today, you can test your ideas cheap, sometimes almost free and get feedback instantly.
What matters is the execution. I would recommend reading the Radical Focus it's a short read like an hour you could finish it. It's not important to protect an idea. It's important to protect the time it takes to make it real. It's all about how you can test your idea into small, actionable experiments and iterate from it. From 1Export we learned that the pricing model that is most appealing to our customers is around less than a $100 USD and those that are per unit or smaller quantities. We used to have it by wholesale or by the case.
Grab would say and do business by failing fast and cheap and with that they recover fast as well. You can still see Grab do it the startup way by navigating on their app and see some google forms for surveys before they even code it or invest a team to build that service/feature and deploy it on the app.
What risks to be aware of
Having an idea of taking over all the big market share immediately. Start small, have a niche or a specific small percentage first. Talk and know your target audience. We literally interview and record our meetings with our customers to understand them better and it served as our reviews page as well.
There will be people who might copy the idea and that's why you have to execute faster but regardless, sometimes others just try to copy and not succeed because they find out that it is more than just the code it is about the process put in place to execute your idea. Ship faster and learn fast.
Over engineering things. As an engineer I like to build things and as I progressed in the startup ecosystem, it is not just all about coding itself but really working with people, getting feedback from your customers or potential customers. It is way better to have a scrappy code and have customers than a perfect code that would have taken years to ship and burn momentum, burn time and money, not learning anything.
Not sticking to the OKRs(Objective and Key Results) and losing focus. Objective is the one inspirational thing that would make you jump off your bed and the Key result would be something that scares you that you won't achieve it because its hard and it has to be a number. A number that is measurable so that when you look back after a quarter you can clearly see where you are and where you are going.
Leverage your skills for Monetization
On monetization , I'd like to share Taylor Otwell's mantra on it. Ask for payment and people don't pay you or do not ask for payment and of course people don't pay you. Might as well try asking for people to pay you. Learn how to get better at asking for the worth of the product you have been building.
With technology you can easily be up and running by having Paypal integrated instantly or maybe in a day. There will be people who would want to integrate with you immediately but just to set it up, up with the momentum, up with the ease of developer experience integration your best bet is Paypal. If your concern is the transaction fees, learn from it on the next iteration on how you can factor that it but just get started accepting payments already.
If another payment gateway's going to take another 2-3 weeks of integration then I would suggest to push it back a little and prioritize other tasks or experiments because Paypal can support credit cards and paypal balance.
No code & Low code tools
It is no doubt that you can build things but to ship faster and POC that idea, kickstart and validate your experiments without a single line of code
At the first few months in 1Export we used Webflow so we can create and change our landing page faster because back then our developers where not as fluent to css.We used webflow to augment the frontend development to it and in parallel code other backend features.
Google Forms are a classic startup way to validate and filter your audience. Again, you can still see Grab use this to evaluate their ideas if its a go or a no-go. Gives you the ability to fail fast and cheap.
Join the No-code PH facebook community and Webflow PH.
Hire when it hurts already as Engineer hires are expensive and coding takes time. But for long term and for scale having to learn to code opens you to many flexible ways of executing and enhancing problem solving.
With code tools -> you create the tool
Sometimes you will need to create your own tool because of costs or other important factors like speed & quality
Automate your manual workflows.
Example: We needed to seed thousands of SKU listings from a partner ecommerce website that is taking so long to let us use their API. Downloading it by hand could have taken us weeks. Automating it through a python script took us only 4 hours (coding & planning included, download only takes minutes). The value of speed of deploying thousands of SKU on the same day is a win. Now we continue experimenting without blockers for those SKUs.
Script is here: bit.ly/ecommerce-scraper
How to back up when you fail
Depending on your vertical, maybe if it's a health related idea you would probably take more precaution as it might be tied to human lives being at stake. For others, as what would one of 1Export's investors would say, don't assume that your idea would fail immediately if it would, you just need to put in place some processes to recover.
Maybe a refund process if a customer is not satisfied. Maybe a database backup on a daily basis if in case someone by accident deleted your production database. No one is that perfect to catch all mistakes and failures but this is where your team comes in. Ask help or brainstorm on those scenarios during planning.
All of you are startup founders, growing up was that something you aspired to be?
No it wasn't. I just wanted to be a software engineer. Being a software engineer alone as a goal itself is hard because it's a lifelong learning journey but it became a key skill for me to try joining startups.
What led to the 'click'? How did your journey start?
My first job was on an enterprise setting and I heard about startups and so I moved to joining one to learn more about it. I feel all of the founders here with us now would agree that in a startup you have to be the marketing team, you have to be the product team and the whole IT team and I did all of that because it is needed in a startup and I had learned a ton.
What skills did you start with?
I started as an engineer, so I just really code first. To be honest, I am not a 10x Engineer out of the box coder but with the help of my different mentors and friends I picked up faster. Code does not have to be perfect especially for an early stage startup because you are up against time and you don't really have much budget to hire a senior dev. That is why most tech companies are founded by engineers themselves because it is expensive to hire another dev to help you or to fit with you.
What skills did you pick up along the way?
As I progress, there is a need to do product roles because I realized, technology itself will not sell the product. It needs a strong iterative process with your target customers.
Now that we're a bit more familiar with your journey and what that entailed, it seems fair to ask about the ideation process. What did the ideation process of your current startup look like?
On 1Export, we launched the MVP called Caravan around May and aggressively tested it. At first we just mainly brainstormed the first landing page and it was a simple one. We had 2 early customers which were Mel's friends. I think that is just how it is the first few customers belong to F&F (Friends & Family). It was not just all about the website but also the human processes behind the website that got ideation process because the client side should be aligned to the backend side. But I learned from the Iterative accelerator, it is okay to test ideas and just see how it would work with the customers. Just make sure that you are not going out blind, meaning you have analytics in place. We had to setup mixpanel. Mixpanel is an analytics tool to capture user behaviour somewhat Google Analytics for user behaviour. to see customer acquisition funneling. Where do users enter and where do they drop off, build a hypothesis, adjust the website and gain insight again from there.
Did it involve going back and forth to the drawing board, and if so, how much?
On 1Export, we joined an accelerator where in we iterate literally every week and we ship new changes almost every day depending on our investors with the help of our marketing team on ui/ux design so across the teams we do our brainstorm. Literally drawing on Jamboard Gmeets if you are familiar its an online tool where you can asynchronously draw things remotely.
Can you give us a glimpse of the effort that took your startup from concept to reality?
It was hard but worth it especially when you see customers trickle in paying on the platform. Day-in, Day-out me and my team would code or hack our way in. We would meet different people cross teams and even with our customers just to understand what their problems is. Active listening is a trait I have learned. Listening to understand and not just listening to reply. Listen to your customers and collect their feedback.
Earlier in Miss Karen’s talk she mentioned not trying to be the next Amazon or next big thing essentially overnight but - correct me if I’m wrong - we all get inspiration from somewhere. With that said, what were your inspirations?
I have heard one talk about "Crossing the Chasm". It said there that think of the market share as a big log. and you would want to burn it. Burning it is owning the market share. So first, forge your way on how to burn it with your current resources with the factors: cost, speed, quality. If you want to burn the whole log immediately, it will cost you maybe a fee for the gasoline, additional man power, dryer and so on. But you only have a lighter. Strategize where can you start? Start small. Maybe you can start on the side with a little help of papers and that would maybe the accelerators, f&f who can spark the flame. That way you are not going to spend all your money in one go and having a smaller market share first gives you enough space for mistakes and learn on that cohort. Also, if you think about it let's say the whole market share is $100M, just getting the 1% of it which is $10K is not bad at all. It can be realistic. Set realistic goals.It's a good read.
At any point in your journey, did you encounter feelings of self-doubt?
Oh I think most often times. I believe this keeps me on my toes and be humble. There are times that if say, I'd like to join a conference for women, I just think through my head that whatever the result is, I will try. And the possibilities can be pass or fail. You will never know unless you try. And also I just think of it this way: This is not just for me, but those next to me.
How did you overcome it?
I just think that it is about the process. A learning process.
What did it teach you?
Just be professional. Show up everyday even though it's hard. And it's going to be hard.
What would your advice be to people hoping to start their journey or people going through the same thing be?
Just do your best by showing up everyday and do your part in learning new things. Getting the hang of learning new things and getting out of your comfort zone takes practice. Try to surround yourself with the right culture and people to reinforce your strengths and weaknesses. It's going to be hard to find that right fit company but as you look for it you also learn more about yourself as I learned as well. I learned just to give my best and try to look at the horizon, look back and see did I move a little further from where I am yesterday? If not, its okay, try again tomorrow. It's not only about the spikes its about consistent small growths. There will be deeps and spikes just keep moving forward and if you need to pause and take a break, please do. It helps boost creativity and of course we are all just humans, we get tired.