Yalim's Lodge

Startups and The Balance of Love

At Seedcamp there were several startups, that target other startups as their potential customers. This is not unusual. There are many people out there giving professional help to startups in many different ways. However, this got me thinking about questions I asked a little late in my life.

Do you like to interact with your customers?

One of the facts in life I realized a little late is that you get to hang out with your customers a lot. You talk to them all day. You exchange emails. You attend their meetings. You pitch to them. You explain your product. You teach how to use your product. You listen to their feedback. You listen to their complaints. You answer their stupid questions. You patiently wait until their rant is over. All this requires a lot of, A LOT OF interaction. Actual human talking and conversation.

As far as the startups I’ve met at Seedcamp Ljubljana; Entrio founders will hang out with event organizers, bar, concert hall owners and agents, who don’t really understand iPhone, Android and how GPS devices work. The great entrepreneurs of Farmeron will spend a good deal of their time talking to farmers who may not be accustomed to using a web based software. The Labels founder will have to deal with headhunters. Now, these are three completely different kind of groups of people. I wonder if the founders realize that they will spend the next five six years of their lives hanging out with these groups.

I know this problem all too well first hand. Several years ago, I created a website for realtors. After my first meeting with a realtor, it became crystal clear to me that there is no way I could do that for another five years let alone five minutes. The project died there and then. I strongly recommend you to avoid the mistake I made and ensure that you can connect with the people you are going to work with for the foreseeable future.

However, this is not all to it. There is another side to the coin as well.

Do you fear rejection?

The buzz at a startup event can be quite addictive. Young, brilliant people, doing young brilliant things. Obviously, they all get along very well. They speak the same language. Who wouldn’t wanna hangout with these guys all the time? I worry that this accommodating feeling of acceptance among their peers makes some entrepreneurs lose their focus on finding their most promising customers. This happens subconsciously. Your mind finds justifications why it is better talking to startups than enterprises. You create imaginary proof that focusing on startups is the right way to go. You spend more time in the startup community (reading, preparing, meeting, traveling etc…), than on your actual work. You find yourself complaining that big business don’t get you or your ways. When you ever bring yourself to pitch to a bunch of suits, you subconsciously undercut yourself and look like an idiot.

At Seedcamp, I’ve met with at least two companies who viewed startups as their first and foremost important customers. Both of these companies had one client only and it wasn’t a startup.

Humans are prone to choosing comfort over challenge. Most people prefer failing comfortably to succeeding painfully. We don’t want to set sail to the cold dark seas and conquer our fears. We want to lay on the beach and enjoy our mojito. Unfortunately, everything significant in life is done by conquering inner fears. The art in entrepreneurship is how much of your inner fears you conquer. Choosing startups as your customers may be the result of an inner fear of rejection.

Inner fears are cunning and sly. They disguise themselves as being smart, prudent and fun. They have to be that way because in reality they are incredibly weak. One proof to the contrary and poof! they are gone. They are walls of cardboard.

If your inner fear of rejection prevents you from talking to people, I have good news for you. Having a meeting with a stranger is a matter of course in business life. You are the only one feeling uncomfortable about it. When you make your first attempt, you will be welcomed. Oh my God, they will even take you seriously. They will show up, willing and eager to give you an hour of their life and listen to what you have to offer. Do you know why? Because they will view you as someone who may help them. If it is a good fit, cool. You can move to the next step in the sales funnel. If it is not, it is not the end of the world. You try to learn from the experience as much as possible. Ask questions, figure out what went wrong. They will cooperate with you.

Do some fact checking. Get out of your head, go to the real world and find the right segment of customers with real tangible evidence: By trial and error, by learning from experience. To do that you need to talk to startups, small businesses, mid size companies, large enterprises or whatever segment you can think of. Then you should look at the progress you made with each segment and focus your efforts to the one that is most promising. If that segment turns out to be other startups indeed, cool. Congratulations, you get to hang out with your buddies. If it turns out to be realtors…Hey…Maybe it was me.

Find the people who need your help the most. Ask yourself if you like them. If you do, go on. If you don’t, don’t start up.

Yalım K. Gerger (@yalimgerger)

  • http://twitter.com/matijakopic Matija Kopić

    Hello Yalim, just a few thoughts of my own. You’re absolutely right when saying that large number of startup founders enjoys spending time with fellow entrepreneurs (it’s true in my case).

    Yes, we enjoy attending startup events, but free beer is not the reason :) I think this is a necessity in the phases of raising capital because it’s the only true way to expose your vision properly and to the right audience (mentors, advisers and investors). Simply, these events allow you to “feel and touch” people’s opinions on your business. You get to talk with number 5 employee from Google. Or number 3 from Facebook. Or with some super-cool VC with billions of $ in his pocket. It’s a life experience and opportunity. So don’t blame us for attending these events ;) It’s all about finding the right measure after all.

    Preparing for events can be time consuming and expensive. Period. That’s the hard truth for every startup I know! As a CEO myself, I admit preparing is a problem. It binds me to deal with practicing pitches and doing travel arrangements, and leaves me with so little time to dive into my product or to meet my new customers. Guess it’s the natural way of startup evolution..?

    I think it’s the ability to quickly refocus back to your product and customers (after raising money) is of crucial importance here.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Matija,

    You are absolutely right. What you do is part of the game. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons and don’t lose focus. Your customers are not startups but farmers. So this is much less of a concern for you. I fear that the line gets blurred if a startup targets other startups as its first customers.

    When we talked at the event, I had the impression that you really know the domain you are in and really truly enjoy the business you are in. So I think you are one of the good examples who made the right choices. In other words, this post isn’t about you. :-)

    By the way, during a conversation with another mentor and a startup CEO, about who impressed us most at the Seedcamp event, all three of us chose Farmeron. Just thought I mention it. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/matijakopic Matija Kopić

    Yalim,

    thanks for the encouragement. To be honest with you, I think a lot about these focus-related problems (from my inner company perspective). Some things which were so natural for me in the beginning of our startup adventure – like DB design and programming – seems so far away now. Focuses change. It’s inevitable.

    And it looks like CEOs should train this change-a-focus powers really hard.

    Regarding startups having another startups for customers, it doesn’t have to be a bad business idea, but I can’t help wondering how big this market truly is..

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Matija,

    I can relate to the transition you’ve been going through. I’ve gone through a similar transition myself. It is a strange feeling. At first, I felt guilty as if I am not doing real work. Now I realize how important and critical the tasks I am focusing are.

    I wish I was able to comment specifically on the issues you are having but Farmeron wasn’t in the list of startups I’ve met at the Seedcamp event. You and I only got to talk for 5-10 minutes after the day. I’d be happy to do a skype or whatever whenever you feel like it.

    Regarding startups working for startups. I fear that sometimes (only sometimes) startups make the decision to go after other startups not because the idea was tried and validated in the market but because it is a comfortable and easy one make. That’s all I am saying. :-)

    I think startups should try different customer segments (small, mid size, big…or segmentation can be done by another metric) and make an informed decision to focus on which segment first.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post, Yalim, and also a nice followup discussion. Matija, just for the record I also think you have a great project – now go kick ass in London!

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Thank you Ivo. I wonder if Farmeron was invited to London after the event in Ljubljana. They impressed a lot of people there.

  • Anonymous

    In fact there are two Seedcamp events in London. One is Mini Seedcamp London which is next week and for which, yes, Farmeron is going to be one of 20 teams presenting: http://www.seedcamp.com/2011/08/breaking-news-not-all-of-london-on-holidays-in-august.html

    The other event is the “main” event, Seedcamp Week, which afaik is invitation-only, remains to be seen who will be there but I wouldn’t be surprised if Farmeron would go there as well. Totally rooting for them :-) )

  • http://www.facebook.com/maximgurvits Maxim Gurvits

    Great post Yalim! It got me thinking so much, that I decided to extend the thoughts beyond the balance of love, and actually make the point why it is important to keep focus on the startup community! It’s all here:

    http://www.socialeast.eu/on-love-startup-ecosystems-level-playing-fiel

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Thank you Maxim. As you mention in your blog post, the startup community itself can indeed be a very powerful launchpad for startups. From what I can tell south east Europe scene is getting better every day.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Thank you Maxim. As you mention in your blog post, the startup community itself can indeed be a very powerful launchpad for startups. From what I can tell south east Europe scene is getting better every day.

  • http://twitter.com/matijakopic Matija Kopić

    Thanks for the support guys! We’ll be in touch and keep you all posted about our London adventures :)