Fear & HungerBefore I go on sharing my experience about Startup Sauna, I would like to say a few words about Startups. My coach Aape Pohjavirta once said to me: “Startup is not a project. It is your dream. In case, it dies – you die. The question everybody should ask themselves is that if they have made something relevant before that.” I strongly believe that startup is not anymore just about business; it is also about changing/shaping world for a better place. In order to do so – there are some great startup accelerators where in a short time turns rocks into diamonds. I was lucky to take part in one of them – Startup Sauna.
Startup Sauna is located in Helsinki, Finland – birthplace of Nokia, Angry birds, Stockmann etc.. It is no surprise to me that this is one of the best places for a startup to be.
Just recently a Finnish company Supercell sold 51% of their shares for 1,5 B EUR (this is impressive if considering that the company has been working just for 2 years).
Everybody wants to succeed, wants to be the next Supercell, and this is the reason why Startup Sauna is the right place to start. Here are the lessons what two naive guys from Latvia, me and my colleague Maksims Sadurskis, learned there.
First week is all about getting you confused. Coaches are experts in doubting everything you have done so far and in case you are not 100% confident of what you are doing you, you will start doubting yourself. There is a joke in Startup Sauna that usually one team does a pivot – and yes, this time that team was mine. In our case, we did not think big enough when chose to concentrate on wedding photography niche instead of something much bigger than commercial photography for organizations and ad agencies (who also book photographer more than just once in their lifetime). Of course, it still looked promising, but in an industry where everybody is going after millions, while we just after hundreds of thousands, nobody is willing taking risk and to investing in such a startup. So we took a risk and changed our product, our target market and business model. We thought that we are so smart and that it will be no problem to do that all in a month, but boy we were wrong. It was one of the biggest challenges in my life. We lived in constant stress as all the other teams had almost ready prototypes and could start focusing on acquiring first clients.
When we did pivot, just then we realized how much exactly we have do make in this one month. The coaches did not make it easier – they still doubted everything we did and the only way how to prove that we know what we are doing was to get first customers. It is easy to say, but how to do it when you know that first version of the product will be just in the end of the program? You reach out for your customers even before that. We did a first landing page and started to test different approaches how to acquire photographers and their clients. For photographers, we used techniques like online ads, collaboration with famous photographers and photographer associations. In the end, we still found out that the cheapest way to attract photographers were by using telephone and calling each of them (it is easy to find their contacts in web, and they are more than happy to try your product – especially when you provide them with new clients). This was the easiest part because even when we stopped contacting photographers to concentrate on acquiring clients for them – photographers who we even did not know continued to register.
The biggest challenge for us was how to get clients for photographers in the waiting list as search still did not work, but we already had 500 photographers in database. We went even further. Using social media administration tools, we found people who were desperately looking for photographers. To be honest – they were a lot:
However, even if we had a large database of photographers, that did not mean that we were able to get those clients. Almost every of the case ended up with that those persons found some friend who did photos for them for much less money than our photographers. When we thought that everything was lost – we get lucky, and we got out first booking from and sports agency for an international football match. We used this knowledge to focus only on organizations and ad agencies and were able to repeat that 9 times. It is not so much, but still at that moment we felt like happiest persons in the world and knew that starting from this point we know who are our first early adopters and how to approach them. Now just scale it up.
Going back, I must say that there has been a lot of people who said that we are doing it wrong, and you should do it like that or that. It is good to listen to everybody, but still in the end it is you who have to take responsibility for all the actions you have made. Startup Sauna is a great place where to get more confident about yourself – I believe that the worst thing you can do is doing nothing. Even if that what you thought in the beginning does not work – you still gained experience and find new ways how to make it work.
Startup culture is super fast. Everything changes in days, so you have to think accordingly. We had the pleasure to be coached by NVidia Director whom all the time challenged us to think faster – come to solutions in 10 seconds and to reach customers in less and less time. If you want to succeed as a startup you cannot wait to do something in the next day – you must all the time go to your own limits. As a serial entrepreneur and graduate from Stanford University said – do it, or I will do it.
For all those who feel fear or hunger, for those who believe that they can make a world a better place, do it, and do it now. It will be hard. It even will be harder than you expected, but when you will start it – everything else will seem boring.