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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.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

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 have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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