I am working on ExchangeBuddy for my final project, and as part of his marketing efforts, Eugene set up a booth in N House to advertise ExchangeBuddy as a start-up, and I went down to help out with Eugene’s marketing efforts. All of us went to the event thinking of on-boarding new users and doing user testing for ExchangeBuddy, but our expectations were completely turned upside down.
Firstly, the event itself was structured in such a way that the other companies that have setup over there were established companies (99.co, carousell) with a polished application and an active user base. So compared to them, we were kind of a bit behind the standard few companies over there (they were generally seed companies before their serie A funding rounds). We spent most of our time introducing our idea to potential interns, and telling them that we would be in contact with them for internship opportunities, instead of onboarding them as potential users. On the other hand, instead of getting feedback on our application from user testing, the “users” were already conditioned to think that our idea was already very polished due to the nature of the event, and readily accepted our idea without giving much feedback. Basically, we got very different type of feedback about our application as compared to what we went to the event looking for.
This got me really thinking, in these projects that we were doing especially in CS3216, they were all potential projects that could be the core idea for one of these companies if students who take on these projects do decide to pursue it. Even through selling our idea in this platform, we had many people who were willingly able to buy into our idea, and I could actually foresee it being pushed through into the market. Especially because of the fact that most of the people I see in CS3216 are pretty amazing people, I am pretty sure that they are better technically than many of the startup founders that I see at the event. However, having attended the event, I could also see that there was a huge gap between us, and the other companies pitching their ideas there, and I thought of some ways and strategies that such school projects could be converted into actual startups:
You cannot do everything yourself, learn to scale and do it well
As a CS3216 student, I realised that to develop a good idea, a 4 man team is pretty optimal. However, when you talk about beyond prototyping the initial product and onboarding your first 10000 users, to expand as a startup, you need to have more people involved, be it people handling HR, PR, marketing efforts, knowing the future roadmap for the company, getting grants, etc. You can’t do it yourself!
Form your team, and make everybody know what’s in it for them
Be it if you need an intern to help you with a part of your code, or you need advice from a “marketing guru”, you should not only know how to get people involved, but how to tell them what they are getting out of working with you. This could range from it being a learning experience, or even a share in the eventual company you will found, but if this is clear to people helping you from the start, they will be clear of their buyin and know what’s in it for them!
Have a roadmap, and know whose advice to listen to
Ultimately, if you are a startup, you’re young, and are willing to pivot your idea, depending on what your users say, your stakeholders advice, etc ,etc, (the list goes on….). You can’t listen to everyone’s advice, and ultimately, as a stakeholder of the project, you have to know whose advice to listen to, which metric to take into account, make a certain decision, and make everyone aware of any new changes in the company direction.
The road to “making it” is a long and arduous one, and I guess everyone’s finding their way at this stage. These are just some of my thoughts on it, and I’m still learning and growing too!