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3 Assumptions We Got Wrong With Our Startup

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I’ve been speaking a lot at events, in articles and in conversations about customer validation. The point of customer validation is to understand exactly who your customers are, and what they want your product to do and achieve for them.

So it’s fairly ironic that I did close to zero customer validation with my own recent startup, the employee six question pulse survey system, called 6Q.

In my defense, we were building it for ourselves first, with the hope that someone else may want to use it. The very first vision was pretty well just that; built something we would use and find useful, and maybe others will dig it too.

Hence the lack of customer validation.

Sure, I asked a few other business owners I knew if they would use it, and sure enough, they all said yes. That’s all I needed to do, right?

Well, it turns out there were a number of assumptions I made, which turned out to be totally wrong. That’s the fun thing with tech startups; changing the product, or pivoting entirely if you have to.

So, rather than another article on the web about some great idea and then sudden fame and fortune, I want to share with you a few of our failings, to drive home the need for customer validation no matter what you’re building.

Where 6Q came from

First, let me paint a picture for you. The main business I’m in as a digital agency based in Perth. I founded Bam Creative back in 2002 with a napkin sized business plan. It pretty well said;

  1. Have work/life balance
  2. Make money
  3. If you hire, be a good boss

So, in keeping with point three, I’ve spent the last 14 years building the right kind of culture with the team. We’re 14 people in an open plan office, who are professional yet transparent with each other and our clients.

So transparent, in fact, that I often get given feedback that I should be unhappy about. I’m not though; it’s important to know how the team are feeling, so we can address it.

One of the things we do is have a weekly face to face individually. The managers (two of us) meet each team member, and find out what’s going on with them; how their productivity is, what their happiness is like and how we can help them hit their goals.

So this is where 6Q is borne from; the idea of scaling a weekly face to face with a team of dozens makes this an impossible feat; perhaps a survey tool could emulate much of this (it’s impossible to replace the body language, etc with a survey though).

So, knowing all this, and assuming this was typical in most Australian businesses, we set out to build 6Q. There were three assumptions out of the many we made, that totally didn’t hit the mark. On reflection, we should have known, but our lack of customer development meant we believed these to be true;

  1. We assume our main customer base will be small to medium companies
  2. We expect most customers to be Australian
  3. We assume most employees will be happy to complete non-anonymous pulse surveys

So, how are they wrong? Let’s look at each of these assumptions, and show what was wrong about them, and what we’ve done to adapt.

Assumption 1: We assume our main customer base will be small to medium companies.

Small to medium organisations care more about their employee happiness and feedback, right? The big companies already have their enterprise 100 question heavyweight survey systems, and don’t need ours.

Turns out that’s wrong. Whilst SME’s do care about employees, the big guys do as equally. In fact, the majority of signups for 6Q have been in the hundreds or thousands of employees, and they see 6Q as a compliment to their other surveys.

How we fixed this

Our original plans and pricing page, had various plans running from 20 employees to 200. We quickly adapted, by changing the ‘Enterprise’ plan name to company, and adding plans for 500 – 3,000 employees, and a message if you have more employees, contact us for custom pricing.

We never had any form of team segmentation; the system just showed all employees. That’s great up to 50, however more than that, it became burdensome. We since launched segments, so they can break organisations down to location or teams, and added employee search and pagination, so you see 20 employees per screen.

We expect most customers to be Australian

We have contacts and clients mostly in Australia, so why would someone on the other side of the world be interested in our humble startup? Wrong.

We did a soft launch to gather some customers in small amounts, before opening to a wider audience. The first 100 customers rolled in within a fortnight, and represented 25 countries. In fact, Australia came in as fifth most common place.

How we fixed this

We made sure we tweaked the messages throughout the UI and emails, to not include Australian slang or local terms, and we did a lot of navel gazing if we should change our system and blog from British English to American English (British English eventually won, because we’re proud to be based in Australia).

We also more recently added the ability to use other languages. Turns out, English of any variant, is only the third most popular language, with 5.52% of the globe speaking it natively. Mandarin (14.1% of global population) and Spanish (5.85%) are much bigger.

We assume most employees will be happy to complete non-anonymous pulse surveys

This was the biggest assumption of ours, which drove the product. I enjoy an open honest workplace, so surely everyone else does too, right? It’s just common sense.

I was very, very wrong.

Sure, managers and leaders in every country believe their employees will speak up, because they asked them to. It’s far from it though; without the right culture, employees are reluctant to speak openly. Our culture works, many others don’t.

How we fixed this

We added an option within days of launching last March, to choose between individually identifiable responses, and anonymous. To further the aim of protecting employees, we also added a message on the first screen of the survey, to highlight if the survey is anonymous or individual, and we won’t share any identifiable information, should the survey be set to anonymous.

Conclusion

No matter how many assumptions you make, do your best to test them all in your customer validation stage. Ask prospective customers exactly what features they want, and explain how you imagine your product working, and ask for brutal feedback.

Be prepared to shift with the customer needs. If we hadn’t done the changes required, to overturn my idealistic assumptions above, we would have had a tough time selling our product to anyone.

Most of all, learn from your lessons, and share them with others. This is what I’m doing in this article – I would be keen to see your mistakes and lessons learned as well, as I’m sure many other founders would be.

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About the Author

This article was written by Miles Burke of IdeaHoist, a website with the aim of building a community that can learn from each other’s experiences and promote each other’s ideas. Miles is the Co-founder and Managing Director at 6Q – a Perth based startup creating tools to empower organisations across the globe to improve communications across their team and their team culture through simple 6 question polls.

Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam

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Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened http://AdvertisingVietnam.com – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of BrandsVietnam.com. We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business:
AdvertisingVietnam.com is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, https://www.facebook.com/agencylife is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trungnx26
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trungnx26/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures. Kickstart is an investment firm that funds early-stage digital startups, providing capital, incubation and mentoring, and market access.  Minette has held CEO/COO positions in various industries, ranging from Philippine startups to iconic multinationals.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m keenly interested in innovation and ecosystem development, and committed to contributing to nation-building. I love that my job combines all of that, and allows me to leverage all my past experiences into a new role that creates value for founders and fund-providers alike.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Counter-intuitively! I don’t have a background in tech; nor do I have a long history of venture investing. My skill sets are in strategy, general management, and marketing; and my experience has largely been in innovation and business turnaround. But I have a broad range of work experience (FMCG, apparel, property, and online game publishing in a startup), and that has helped inform my views. More than anything, though, Kickstart has made this progress because of the trust of our principals, and the initiative of a wonderful team. Truly, people make the difference.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
All throughout my career, I’ve only taken on difficult roles. There’s little growth in a role that is easy; and the challenges are what makes a role worth doing.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I’ve had the benefit of a number of good mentors through my career.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
First off: I have had both male and female mentors. Generally, I’ve met mentors in work situations: i.e. they started out being an immediate superior, or being on my Board of Directors. The close work association evolved as both sides found the experience productive, intellectually satisfying, and fun.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Mostly through the same process: nothing compares to actually working together. That said, with more and more experience, I think people develop a sharper instinct about talent, and the potential for development. It’s also important to build the relationship over time, and to invest in actively supporting talent by both seeing things through their eyes as well as helping them find other lenses with which to view the situation they find themselves in.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Yes, we care about diversity, although the primary filter for Kickstart is always ability and performance. Many studies have shown that diverse teams are closely correlated to better results; and given the kind of work we do, it’s important that we all sharpen our ability to deal with varied types of people and situations.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
It’s important to be trustworthy, especially given that venture investing deals with the highest-risk asset class. Trust is earned through competence, diligence, honesty, clarity, and courage.

Advice for others?
I say this a lot: Build strong foundations. Be clear about your values, principles, and priorities. Volunteer for the toughest jobs. Do the unsexy stuff. And work with conviction, commitment, courage, and honour. None of this is particularly glamorous, and they don’t deliver instantaneous results, but the value-creation is real, authentic, and sustainable over a longer period.


If you’d like to get in touch with Minette Navarrete, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/minettenavarrete/

To learn more about Kickstart Ventures , please click here.

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