Listening to advice is an essential part of being an entrepreneur, but it’s also important to know when to stop. We spoke to Bhumika Zhaveri of InteriMarket – a contractor community and engagement platform for businesses that want to retain top external contract workforces – and found out how creating feedback loops and listening to the right kind of advice were pivotal to her company’s development.
Despite being from India and a society that didn’t allow me to ever think of owning my own business, I have become a serial entrepreneur.
I started working at the age of 16 and, after owning five previous businesses that included a successful consulting company, I thought I was ready to form my current tech startup. I had learnt a lot over the years from these businesses. From budgeting to planning and bootstrap funding, I thought I had it all covered.
But then I realised that building and selling an enterprise technology product as a tech startup was a lot harder than it had been for me in my previous businesses in retail, consulting and other professional services. This is primarily due to the target consumer being mid to large-sized enterprises. But after making some miscalculations and learning a few lessons within my first two years, I’m happy to say that I’m still standing!
Accept that you don’t always know best
One of my biggest challenges was that I listened to everyone, and I mean everyone! This was out of respect and fear of missing out on information. It was clearly too much.
My secret sauce to surviving over two years with minimum investment and a live mature product lies in my acceptance of the fact that I don’t always know best about my customers’ and users’ needs. So I developed constant feedback loops and began to understand that if something doesn’t work for the customer then it has to be changed.
I was never of the view that my opinion or ego mattered. What mattered to me was the success of InteriMarket: our technology and innovation, our customers and users.
These are the most important lessons I've learnt in my journey so far:
- When you are the CEO, you are not the boss. You are a leader, a motivator, a guide and everything in between.
- Even with my 10+ years of experience in recruitment, my first hire was wrong. It cost me a few thousand pounds and, even worse, a lot of time and money in providing training, resources and equipment.
- When building a technology startup, I would recommend having a product idea executed into a minimum viable product (MVP) with a clear six-month test and feedback loop. Doing this made it much quicker and easier for me to learn what my consumers needed.
- Adoption of design thinking. Yes, it may sound counterintuitive and a bit premature, but if your customers don’t leave feedback then you’re clearly not building for them. Therefore, make sure you build what they need and don’t forget to report your progress.
Take it step by step
This is not to say that you have to follow my exact steps, especially if you are not building a B2B enterprise software. Depending on your sector and what problem you are solving, the best way to avoid excessive costs, heartache and frustration is to consider taking smaller steps.
Another thing to note is that if you have a brilliant idea and an MVP that proves its worth, don’t worry if you don’t have a co-founder. You can go it alone. Be bold, have conviction and learn to become resilient to rejection.
Keep in mind that enterprise sales deals can take a long time. Even when you get your foot in the door, their internal processes, politics, culture and resistance to change may make it very difficult to sell to them. Know that people don’t like change and no matter how much enterprises promote innovation, there is a huge aversion to risk in bigger organisations. So tread with care, especially as your cash won’t last long to begin with.
Watch out for the “enterprise ready” excuses. No matter how much you have proven your product, no large customer will want to be the first big customer. This is unless you have a family or friend network that is specifically there to help you through big brand pilots when you get started.
All the best and, if you are scaling your business, considering remote work arrangements for your workforce is a great potential strategy. From experience, it’s not the location but the skills that fill our teams and workforces. For example, our whole team is remote, flexible and in different locations.
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