Tech entrepreneurs Ed Woodcock, Rob Hartley and Ben Wilks share their advice on the do’s and don’ts for budding entrepreneurs.
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Having raised $1.2 million in seed funding, and built a rising insurtech business, Dinghy, they give an insight into what does and does not work when starting out.
1. Build what your customers want - not what you think they want. An easy way to do so is simply by asking a group of your target customers to explain how they fix the problem you are trying to solve today (you may even find they don’t see a problem at all, at which point it is probably time to go back to the drawing board).
Or, go one step further, and become your target customer. At Dinghy we were all freelancers before we built our freelancer insurance platform, so understood exactly the needs of our customer base and how we could solve them.
2. Involve your customers - in the building of the business as early as possible. Before you’ve written a single line of code, you want to be recruiting highly engaged customers on your journey, who are equally passionate about seeing the problem getting solved.
For example, entrepreneur Peter Levels live-streamed himself writing his now-bestselling book MAKE using a public Google Doc, which engaged clientele joined to help him write the book.
3. Have a great story to tell - before even considering raising money. The story may be one or more of the founder’s backgrounds, the idea itself or some established success of the product already.
A great story will help customers pick your business over a competitor and will help investors to understand that you are the right team to be delivering this.
For example, the founders of Dinghy met at Simply Business where they quickly realised that changing the world of insurance from within was going to be impossible.
They would have to build a brand-new tech-led company to revolutionise business insurance. Which is the genesis of a story that led to raising investment and launching the product.
4. Start as ‘low-fi’ as possible for testing - for instance use a wireframe for customer testing before you build a live solution. Following this, continually engage your customers to find out how your tech is fixing their problem (or not).
5. Check if your product passes the “mum test” - this is where you try to understand the true viability and value of your idea without any of the bias that can come from say, asking your highly-devoted, encouraging mother.
Ask questions in a way that gleans insight into the true viability of something and removes bias. This is vital when engaging with potential customers and gaining early feedback.
6. Consider hiring talent from around the world - beyond just local talent. There’s some outstanding talent on platforms like Upwork and People Per Hour, and you get a wider mix of views, backgrounds and skill sets for creating solutions to problems.
At Dinghy we outsource development work to dev’s in the Ukraine utilising Upwork, receiving world class work in return. It is also important to get your team together as soon as possible; investors love a solid team.
Make sure you are not the smartest person in the room and hire those who ask questions, not yes men. And if necessary, fire fast.
7. Look after yourself - you will be expected to lead a team and report to investors, so it’s imperative to look after your mind and body. Work smart; many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of thinking hours on the clock mean you are doing all you can.
Often you would be better advised to take a step back, and the ideas will start to flow again. Sleep well, for everything else will suffer without this, and carve out family/friend time.
1. Assume that “if you build it, they will come” - there is a lot of noise today, with advertisements, social media and so many marketing channels.
Make sure you know people are interested before you start. And do not keep going on an idea if the feedback is not positive – if user testing shows problems, change the solution.
2. Consider ‘launching’ an end goal - launching is neither the beginning nor the end; it’s simply a checkpoint item on the journey much like incorporating the company.
By the time you officially ‘launch’ – you should already have an engaged customer-base, many of whom are already using some variant of the product. A well-executed product-market-fit is what will bring sustainable growth to your business.
3. Hinder yourself by spending any time in ‘stealth mode’ - there are a few very rare times it’s valid to be in stealth mode, but the majority of the time it just means you are not involving enough customers, nor marketing your business appropriately.
4. Build something that you don’t need - there will always be extra features you can add to your product.
By focusing on solving what’s in front of you right now, rather than thinking, ‘in three months we’re going to want that, so I’ll spend two weeks building it now’, you will only build something when there is a demand for it.
With your first minimum viable product, pick the technology stack you are most comfortable moving fast with. This is the time to be learning about your customers and the problem space, not the latest shiny technology.
5. Pivot too soon - just because one customer doesn’t like a feature, doesn’t mean everyone will. Test the negative responses and work out what needs changing incrementally.
6. Worry about rejection - you will inevitably receive rejection from investors, potential customers and others. Ask for feedback, adjust, and go again. It is important not only to be resilient, but also to let go of your ego.
Don’t overtly defend your decisions, listen to feedback, advice and requests and then make an informed decision based on everything you have in front of you.