Intense month. I could barely find time to write. Nevertheless, I have never felt ever more productive in the past month. Off many exciting that I have been up to, I would like to share a bit about my Business Development (BD) learnings in the recent month in two startups that I am more involved in.

Pre-seed stage:

A mobile-driven community app idea that I have been tinkering with two other friends, both coders. Like any early stage startups, you have the builder and the seller – naturally, I play the seller given that I can’t code. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything. Product development has been the core focus in the past – I do the legwork to talk to people and my two other friends focussed mostly on the building the product based on our tested and untested assumptions. We should be ready to sell in 2 months. Until we can find a paying customer, we are going to resist the temptation of calling ourselves founders/entrepreneur. Until then, we are just three kids trying to solve a problem that we think are worth solving!

At such a stage of product building, a few key things I have learnt:

  1. Go out and speak to your potential customer.
    • Your product is only as good as your assumptions. If you have a problem that you think is worth solving, go speak to your potential customers. It might be hard work, but it will save you a lot of time later on and avoid building something that nobody wants.
  2. Build for functionality, seek feedback and keep on improving the design. Iterate… (i.e. the Lean Startup Methodology)
    • Don’t worry too much about how your product looks first, focus on getting the core feature up and start honing in the design when your product is ready to sell. There is no point having an Apple-grade design but no one pays for your product. Just build as fast as you can and start selling it. Of course, this is given that your product works and solve a problem.
  3. Develop a business strategy and start executing as soon as you can.
    • Yeah, stop dreaming and chatting about your idea. While your team is building a plan, start prospecting for potential customers. Build up a sales pipeline and start understanding what’s the best way to approach them. There is not one-size-fits-all sales solution, every industry/market is different – you’ll need to tailor your approach.

A super dynamic and open-minded team is really important as well – at this stage, everyone has to be very open to challenging our own assumptions, ensuring decisions are made with tested assumptions. I have been very fortunate to be working this incredibly smart and critical team.

Post-Seed stage:

I do some consultation/advisory work for startups on their BD strategy from time to time. A London-based mobile app analytics startup, I spend 50 hours a month on their BD work, more specifically on lead generation. The startup has spent 2.5 years building the product, raised a few angel/FF rounds and ready to sell now with two people doing the sales work. The advisory work evolved from content marketing to a full-fledged growth marketing role – I am responsible for devising a marketing strategy to attract developers and publishers to our platform. But again, many works that I do is rather reactive, because like most startups, everyone has to do a bit of everything to keep the metrics ticking.

It’s a very dynamic environment in which things change quickly. Every execution is an experiment – there are a set of metrics that we are aiming to hit and a set of assumptions that we want to test within a fixed time range. We need to be very discipline to experiment on which marketing/distribution channels work the best and scrap the ones that don’t work because like many other tech startups, we operate with a limited runway. However, we do need to be very clever in our decision-making timing so that we don’t give up too quickly because some strategies take a longer time to show positive results.

At such this post-seed stage, the biggest challenge is to find enough paying customers to prove that the business is worth pursuing. Without sales, there is no business. Simple as that. There are times we need to tweak the product development focus because we realised we have been spending too much time beautifying a feature that doesn’t really add many values to our customers. There are times we realised we need to dive into a new feature and change our scrum midway because there are many customers/partners that demand a certain feature. These are all part of being a post-seed startup – get the revenue meter ticking and we are good to go!

Though time has been tough to manage, but I have been very fortunate to be able to struggle and learn from two very different, yet exciting early stage startup experiences. Learning is a lifelong journey. Hopefully, we get a tad bit better at what we do along the way!

Like my brother like to say, time to keep the books and start acting on your ideas!