100 sign-ups in 90 days: Who knew failure could be so good

Despite failing to reach his initial target, tech start-up founder Benjamin Akil explains why pivoting was the best thing his business did

My name is @akilbenjamin, 90 days ago I set myself a challenge to get 100 customers by February 20, 2015 and unless there is a piece of unforeseen viral magic I have failed. But failure has never felt so good.

Realising our product wasn’t getting required traction and that the previous business model wasn’t robust enough to withstand investor scrutiny we decided to stop playing crazy and make a change. And it was the best thing we did.

After working as an innovation house for nine months and building everything from unified communication tools to virtual phone exchanges for small business we noticed we had developed a technology stack which could really attack one huge problem we face today, digitalising healthcare.

This came with great timing especially with the publishing of the government’s Five years Forward healthcare initiative, validating to us that healthcare is an industry that really needs disrupting.

Understanding your industry

Having an idea is one thing, making an MVP (minimum viable product) is another, and making a product that really addresses a problem is a completely different ball game.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that the saying “build it and they will come” is completely wrong. Talking to your target audience and finding out their pain points, and then a way to effectively address that is what has really driven us forward in the recent months and continues to do so.

Furthermore this method of working allows you to secure pilot trials and sales before you have started. If you have solved a problem for the consumers you were talking to, bypassing all the reasons to why they wouldn’t buy from you and leaving you with a sale unless the consumer doesn’t have the funds to purchase, then it is not your fault if they don’t convert.

Finally converting those early adopters into real champions of your product is the best and most valuable thing you can do for your company and brand. It is the theory of six degrees of separation on a macro scale that sees these champions change your company from a local brand to a possible global giant if the planning and execution is done well in the expansion.

Getting the right guidance

Designing and building a product that has product market fit is great, but navigating your way to the top is a difficult matter.

You can do it by yourself but I wouldn’t advise it. Find yourself a team of specialists, having a team of people who can all do the same thing is limiting but a team who can bring their respective expertise is something of value. It allows things to be done faster and makes your team more agile.

But aside from your day to day team of specialists keeping your business going, finding yourself advisers who understand your vision and have a real network within the industry you’re working within helps you grow. Having the right adviser shows immediate pay-off. They connect you with people you would never have met otherwise, they keep you away from tunnel vision and if they are really worth the terms you have agreed in your non-executive director agreement they will be honest with you when they believe you are failing to achieve your goals, and help you turn it around.

There is always another way

You have to know this and believe it, especially in these early stages of running your company. Wishing for money so you can achieve your goals does not work but understanding the notion that there is always another way to achieve your goal is essential.

We recently did not have the funds to attend a conference but through emailing nearly all the speakers at the event and explaining why we wanted to be there we got in, and when we got there we worked extremely hard to make it worth everyone’s time and personal investment.

Now even if your problem is not this simple or that obvious to solve please be assured there is

Do you really need investment?

In the tech industry it has become almost a rite of passage that you build a product get some form of traction and run all the way to investors. But we took a step back to ask whether we really need investor at this stage and whether we could commercialise the product while growing our user base.

It is a difficult road to take. Especially as it makes us poorer in the short term but if we take this stance we will be better off in the future. This is because if we are a self-sustaining, post-revenue company we have a higher valuation and can retain more equity if we go for investment later on down the line.

Knowing what to ask for

Every start-up has money on their mind, but we’ve got to ask for money at the right time and from the right person. Personally I feel the many start-ups that get declined investment are way too early and asking for the wrong things from the wrong people.

There is a saying: “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice.” This saying hold true to nearly all my experiences of trying to raise money for past ventures.

People who can introduce you to potential customers are the only people we should be talking to until we have to find money to hire more people to handle the workload as we expand.

Networking in the technology industry has been written about endlessly but leveraging our network is crucial. You do not know how far the contact book of your friends within the industry extends let alone someone sitting next to you.

Being afraid to talk to people isn’t something that works when you are starting your business. Without asking for what I want I could not have opened the door to extend my user base to a potential 40 additional users, and that is huge seeing as my goal is getting 100 customers through the door.

Fear of rejection has no place in business for me.

What’s next?

What’s next is to keep going and not stop. In the last few months I have put myself out there with all the best intentions but failed a bucket load and if I didn’t I could not have written this blog at all.

I am from a start-up that has never received funding, but by being relentless borderline annoying I could not have gotten anywhere or even posted this blog on Startups.co.uk to been seen by the rest of you guys. I hope I’ve helped or at least have given you something to think about as you grow your business.

Akil Benjamin is co-founder of Comuzi Software and featured in our Tech Pitch profile recently.


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