Paul Nolan, CEO of 360job.
As a startup the road is bumpy, full of stop signs and traps. In the idea phase you're blind to these which might be for the better as too much knowledge of the challenges ahead can kill the creative spark where you have to have faith that everything is possible.
It's been about two years since we were in the creative idea phase where the trees grew into the sky. We have reached a point where we've launched version 2.0. I wish you let you in on some of the challenges and learnings we've had on our way.
🙋 Finding the right team
As creators you are filled with enthusiasm and energy but how do you find the right team to carry on this enthusiasm and energy working alongside your colleagues and clients? We realized how important it is to find people with the right values to fit in to our small company. People can be very different as a type, but with the same set of values, everything works much better. A lot of the disagreements that we've had, have been healthy discussions although from the outside they may have seemed like negative conflicts. But diversity creates conflicts and we should appreciate these conflicts. Having these conflicts we have different perspectives on the same matter, which helps us to making far better decisions on a more informed foundation. This is one of the greater strenghts of diversity.
💡Is it the best idea?
What we thought was the IDEA at the beginning, turned out not to be our future focus. We stumbled upon the term "Kill your darlings", meaning that what you might see as the central, most valuable part of your product or service is not necessarily what the market needs. So your idea don't have to be good - there also needs to be a problem you can help your clients solve. We viewed our culture tool as the most central feature of our system. Everyone thought it was brilliant but... People didn't seem to have the need for that when they were recruiting. This feature has now become an ad-on product because we had to realize which problem we're helping the client solve and not only what we thought was cool.
🛠️Product development - when is it enough?
The creative phase needs to have an end. We found ourselves in a situation where we kept developing the product which automatically ment we were postponing the launch and postponing the day where we would start making money. Without money not even the best product will survive. It's been important for us to draw a line and say: enough is enough. Now the product is functional and can do what it needs to; now we can launch. We've chosen to do a development plan to ensure a continous development, where the development is systemized and prioritized. It gives us the advantage of continously giving our clients updates and better features to also make them feel like our product is alive and developing for the better. Another problem was that we focused on developing ALL the ideas we received from our clients. That meant spending time and ressources on developing a feature only one client could use. We should've been better at saying no to (very good) ideas that could only benefit one client and focus on the majority of our clients.
🔎 Focus on competition - when is it enough?
When we had the idea for 360job we thought we were the only ones with this amazing idea. It turned out that we weren't. We had, and still have, features that our competition don't but it's wihtin the same area and we are definitely fighting for the clients. It's extremely important to know your competition: who are they, how big are they, who are their clients etc. Where it started to be too much was when we started getting impressed by good looking websites with nice headlines etc. There's no problem with being inspired by what the competition can do (we know that one of are features, which we are the only one to offer, will be found with our competition within the next year). The problem is when you start to believe that our product has to do the same as all our competition combined. Then we're back to constantly developing without end.
It's not enough putting down a simple budget, looking through the crystal to come up with a relevant guess as to how much you're going to sell. Even if you have an idea of when you'll break even, it dosn't necessarily mean that the company will survive the following months. The key is to make more business cases: A Best case scenario, a Most likely case scenario and a Worst case scenario. It's the most likely scenario with a little twist of pessimism that's going to be your economical guideline. Any justment of the business means justment of your business case. So if a launch is postponed for 2-3 months, which economical issues will that bring to the company?
It's quite normal to look for investors and of course we've also done it. But how do you find investors that are actually interested? How much should they get? How much is your company really worth? Which role should they play? And are we looking for investors with skills we don't have ourselves? We prepared for an investors meeting by doing a pitch-deck where it's beneficial to answer questions like "which problem does the product solve?", "who is our competition?", "how do we see the market?" and "what are our plans for the future?". It turned out to be a good exercise for us as there were many of those questions we've talked about when we started developing the product, but there were still a lot of things that had changed compared to our current situation.
📞Selling the product
Many of us have had the world's greatest idea but haven't been able to sell it. This is where the most important effort is due. Most startups don't have the economy to do great marketing campaigns - neither do we. We've been forced to pull up our sleeves and reach out to clients from the beginning. Of course we did a sales strategy and have to realize that when you are completely unknown, as a startup is, it's challenging to get the clients to use their time on someone they've never heard of before. Here it's all about not giving up. Our experience is that you need to pick up the phone, call people and be honest about your business. You need to be prepared for a lot of no's. That's probably what it's like for most people. Even the best salesmen have more no's than yes'. (And it's only the few who are lucky enough to get TV exposure in prime time, as in "Løvens Hule" where they'll be run over by interested clients 😊)
So, if sale's not your thing, you gotta go find them! And you don't just need good salesmen, they have to believe in the product and fit into your team. Finding the right salesman is one of the largest investments you make, so make sure that your recruitment process is spot on! Otherwise it can be quite an expensive procedure.
🗝️Clients' access to the product
We've focused a lot on how our clients would have access to our product. From the very beginning we deciced to have a user-friendly platform. Not only did our product have to be user-friendly - it should also be easily accessed... And to leave. If clients want to use our system, they should be able to get started straight away - also without talking to us first. When making a decision like this it requieres a lot regarding design, easiness and transperancy (which is one of our values which we came up with before it became super popular to say "Transparent"😊) This means that it has to be crystal clear how much the product costs and what you'll get for the money. We also chose to leave out the sign-up fee and commitment based on the saying: It shouldn't cost you anything to step into our business, and if you don't like it you can always leave - without paying in the long run where you don't wish to use the system.
We believe this is one of the things separating us from our dear competition.
💻Communication of the product
Continuing the above, we created complex product solutions in the beginning, which were so hard for us to communicate in a simple way, although we believe the product was (and still is) very simple. Wanting our product to be easily accessible we also needed it to be easily explained. We had to rethink our product presentation to emphasize on the user experience - it needed to be so easy to understand that you should be able to make an immediate decision.
📢From creative idea developer to manager/administrator
At first, we were only the founders which made it fairly easy to control the small company. Since then we have become bigger and that makes administration and managing an important part. There are tasks far away from the creative idea development meetings. As the tasks piled up and took away our focus from developing the business and product, we realized we had to hire someone who could handle daily management and keep us focues, as we trapped in the "our system needs to do this one thing too" trap. With this profile we experienced more structure which is a central element when running a company. Where are we going? How do we get there? Which tasks need to be prioritized? Who should do them? We have control of every aspect of every process in the company and made plans for the further development of the system. To get an idea into the plan, we'll discuss it and if it makes sense we'll figure out how higly we need to prioritize it.
✔️Culture and values
The culture decides how the employees and managers behave in different situations. They are the customs, rituals and agreements, also the unwritten ones: do we all go in the same direction? This is crucial for success or failure and will affect every action and decision. The corporate culture can help hold on to the employees but also the opposite. That's why it's been important to us that we focused on the culture from the very beginning. There will always be a culture. The question is if it'll be a strong or weak culture and whether it's positive or negative. What we did was to take a test on our own culture, using the tool Competing Values Framework (The famous culture tool i referred to earlier). If i have to describe the test, it's a kind of personality test on the organization and compares to a lot of the personality tests we know today (DISC, Garuda, Wholebrain, EASI etc.) It helped us figuring out where we are today and where we need to work for a proper balance. It also helped us to match employees with our culture and in that way secure the better match. Culture plays an important part -maybe especially for a startup.
I need to say that we are still at the startup front as we have not yet powered through, being able to sit by the phone and take orders. It's amazing to be in a place where you've given it your all and where everyone is in it to make the project succeed. It creates a special mentality and it's far from easy, but it's the largest, most interesting and learning work related challenge I've personally faced and I wouldn't have been without it - whether we succeed or not!🚀
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