Question 1: When you look at massive successes such as Airbnb, UBER, Google, Netflix, I think most people in tech feel like the biggest challenge is to come up with the next bright idea. What are your thoughts on this trend?
First lesson, the common point between those “new” giants is the maturity of the markets they are involved in. They all managed to do it faster, better and/or cheaper. While doing so they also brought back a lot of new consumers to these markets by creating a new experience (youngsters were not taking a taxi that often in urban areas before, almost nobody was renting his flat when leaving on weekends before).
Second lesson: this trend is the result of two factors:
– Observation from entrepreneurs: any daily usage can be optimized, entrepreneurs are the ones who observe the friction points and build the solutions to remove those friction points.
– Optimization of resources: for example by reducing the cost of your flat by “airbnbing” it when you’re away.
Third lesson: ideas don’t matter, only execution matters. The fear of getting an idea stolen is actually preventing you from testing your concept on the ground, with potential stakeholders. A founder should pitch as much as possible, to gather feedback & improve the concept.
Finally: All those founders are unconventional, a very common trait among founders. They go against the flow, getting involved in a mature market, inventing radical solutions, like hiring thousands of independent with their own cars all over the world instead of regular employees, leading to new terms like “Uberisation”.
Question 2: How challenging was it to onboard your technical co-founder? And how was your relationship with your tech team(s)?
First of all the art of convincing people to join you is key to your success. This is actually the first step for any founder and the key to their success: if you cannot onboard a team, how to convince all future stakeholders?
However entrepreneurs cannot be good at everything. Finding your weak spots is key to onboard the right co-founder(s). There are even AI technologies to help you figure out the best team member profiles to build your team around your weaknesses. Indeed two very similar co-founders will have troubles defining each other role.
The same challenge exists for technical founding teams. They may fall in love with their product features. A business side is required to make sure the concept is actually built upon market feedbacks and not only on what engineers would love to create.
However the things each individual loves doing is key in defining the right roles & profiles to gather in a new company.
Question 3: How would you rate your experience with raising funds (not exclusively in Switzeland) ?
Given the size of the country, there are a lot of Business Angels in Switzerland. However the risk-adverse culture prevents very early stage companies from getting investment, until they reach real traction (a point at which they don’t need seed investment anymore).
Besides two groups of business angels, seed money is very institutionalized and highly linked to universities. There is more money available to help students launch their startup than seasoned executives, even if the chances of success are not in favor of the former. Incubators are too numerous and money is split between many stakeholders of the very same ecosystem.
A second gap exists at growth stage, with very few funds or institutions able to provide several million swiss francs. For growth money, going abroad is quite necessary (to London especially).
However the investment bubble that has been reported many times in the US, is almost non existing in Switzerland. Indeed almost no investor in Switzerland will put CHF 4M on the table solely based on an idea or a track record.
Few tips to get seed investment when you are a startup in Switzerland:
- Don’t forget that you’ll need 9 months on average to close your investment round. Multiply by 3 all your expectations.
- You’ll need hell of a nerve to start a conversation with potential investors. Get them where they are (cocktails, conferences, media events). After all you are the face of the company, nobody will do it better than you
- Use Linkedin, list potential business angels related to your industry and ask your connections to make an introduction.
- Leverage somebody in your network who has this quality
- Use interviews to put a foot in the door with some knowledgeable industry leaders.
Question 4: What advice did you wish you had receive before you launched your first startup ?
Get a mentor. It may seem nothing but building a company is a long roller-coaster. You’ll need somebody who is not involved in your daily business, with a serious experience, to help you take a step back regularly. This kind of relationship with a mentor requires to build trust on the long run, better start sooner than later.
Everything will take three-times longer than expected. Keep this rule and multiply by three any project schedule you create.
Creating a company is a marathon, not a sprint. Onboard your team with that kind of mindset. To remain healthy and focus over the long run, practice sport regularly, even if your schedule is overwhelming.
Your lifestyle defines you, not only your company. Become the person you want to be, the company will follow. You can use entrepreneurs’ routines to build long lasting habits.
Question 5: Do you have any tools and methods to bring ideas into execution within your companies ?
Keep creativity flowing, especially when the team has its nose deep in execution, by scheduling regular brainstorming that will feed a backlog of ideas.
Follow weekly (or monthly, depending on your product) sprints. This agile method will help the team to focus, and the role of a CEO is to manage the buffer zone between last minute requests and the team.
Everything you discuss in meeting and emails should be actionable. Never finish a meeting without putting all next steps in a To Do List with only ONE assignee and deadline. I personally use Sendtask.io, which enables me to organize multiple projects across different teams, even if they don’t have an account.
I’ll try to write more take-away summaries of conferences I’m giving or attending in the future. Until next time.