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The Traction Stage
41 minutes | Feb 17, 2020
Abartys Health: Saving Lives by Providing Accurate Patients’ Data – with Dolmarie Mendez [Ep#21]
Abartys Health is a startup from Puerto Rico. It has created a system that allows seamless data flow and communication between insurers, doctors, and patients. Today, it has more than 1 million patients registered, 700,000 providers enrolled and $11 million in Annual Recurring Revenue. In our 21st episode, Dolmarie Mendez tells us Abartys traction story and how she turned a (very) tough moment in her life into a startup that is saving lives. Listen to the full episode here: SHOW NOTES The notes below are just part of the interview. Listen to the audio to get the whole episode! THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION What is the problem you’re solving and what is the solution Abartys Health is providing to its customers? Today, we give insurance companies and providers a centralized place, where they can exchange information—like their credentials and all the documentation that evidence they are capable and they are up to date with all their license and documentations in order to treat a patient. A very high percentage of patients in the United States—to be exact 10%—die in the emergency room because they [payers and providers] don’t know anything about that patient. They don’t know if they are allergic to something—to penicillin or latex. Information about the patients is crucial in order that those patients get the right treatments. So, having the right information from the provider and having it available for the patients are crucial in order to be efficient. Abartys is providing a solution to mitigate the fragmentation in the healthcare systems. A VERY TOUGH TIME How did you have the idea to build such a system? In 2014, I had an infection. I had a shock—a bad reaction to crop—while I was in one of my continuing education trips. I had poisoned food—something that sounds simple to treat. But, if it’s not treated right, it can bring complications later. I had a sepsis and I spent six months between hospitals. They didn’t know what was happening to me and no one was able to treat me in the right way, with the right treatment. I said goodbye to my family because they told me I was not going to recover. My weight was 81 pounds—I’m five, three inches. So, imagine, very small. I lost my hair, my intestinal flora. And I remember like yesterday, praying: “Oh, my God, if I recovered from this, definitely I’m going to dedicate my life to collaborate some way to fix this.” And I remember like yesterday, praying: “Oh, my God, if I recovered from this, definitely I’m going to dedicate my life to collaborate some way to fix this.” That is the foundation of Abartys Health. After that, I got obsessed with wellness, prevention and making sure I have access to clinical data. That is the essence of our technology: access to clinical data and access to providers’ data. ZERO MONEY, BUT MANY CONTACTS How much money did you have when you decided building something together? We had no money. I was a vice-president of a benefits management agency at that moment. So, we proved our concept with the clients that we already have in here, managing their benefits. It’s about being strategic and wise about how you move all your stakeholders around you. When you are going to start a company, you need to keep your job, unless you have a good amount of money saved that you can go without nothing. So, we started conversations with some of our friends, and a friend—of a friend of a friend—put us in contact with some people that could make some recommendations. Then, Lauren realized she had a friend that ran the physicist’s department at the University of Puerto Rico. We explained everything that he wanted to know and his first words were: “You are both crazy.” It was feedback that we were getting from everybody. We explained everything that he wanted to know and his first words were: “You are both crazy.” It was feedback that we were getting from everybody. I know a ton of people in the healthcare industry here. So that gave me some perspective and data bank to go on talk and ask for feedback. And the feedback was: “We trust you. If you make that, just call me because I’m going to buy it immediately.” MONEY FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE What did you do next? We needed to bring people with a fresh mind or thinking out of the box, that you just explained the problem, they learn from knowledge transfer, and they say: “What about this?” We built a lab with students from the University. We were not able to pay them. At the beginning, it was just our word: “We cannot pay you.” Then, at that moment, I spoke with my employer and we had a good number of clients in the company—that were my clients—and they trusted me. So, I told him: “Hey, I have this personal commitment and I really want to do this.” And he trusted me too. He said: “I’m going to fund your project.” That’s our seed investor and that’s where we saw our first capital seed—$562,000. We used that money to build the company and to start with the technology. When did you have something to show people? We used another technology—a B2C product that you can buy online to manage wellness products—and it was like a third-party technology. We got the license and we started with two insurance companies here and employers to give them wellness benefits. We did clinics on side, physical exams on side. And then we challenged that vendor: “Hey, can we take lab results? Can we process the lab results?” And we did it. But we wanted something bigger. Because when we finished—after our case studies—we realized that we had the capacities to make this bigger. And then we said: “We’re going to build our technology.” PARALLEL18 We went to Parallel18—an international accelerator here—to visit another startup, in the first generation, that had something we thought we could use as part of our solution. When we explained everything to them, we already had the platform to start managing membership. And they said: “You don’t need another startup to do that. That’s an easy thing.” And we applied for the second generation [of Parallel18] from our cars. I remember we had like one hour left to submit the application and we got accepted. We were very lucky to be part of the second generation. There, they give you $40,000 without equity and we invested all the money to start paying the guys that were working for free. WORDS FOR STARTUP FOUNDERS Usually as startups, we are told: “Don’t show your idea. Don’t tell anything. Don’t talk to everybody.” And you need to be wise about that. It’s not about not talking; it’s about how to talk about that. And it’s something that we did very, very wisely. The feedback is very important. You need to take that feedback. You need to read about everything. I stayed in the medical office the whole day to look at people and see their reactions. You need to involve in the problem in a way that you have to feel it into your skin. If you don’t live what you’re trying to solve with your startup, honestly, it’s very difficult to achieve your goals. Because it’s a very rocky road. If you don’t live what you’re trying to solve with your startup, honestly, it’s very difficult to achieve your goals. Sometimes you’re going to get hit by a bus. And you need to start it all over again, go back and think “what happened here?” and learn from your bad experience. All of them are good experience, because you’re learning something from it. So, there are no errors, no failures. There is no negative. It just depends on how you learn from it and what are you going to do to mitigate that? The other thing is that do not underestimate yourself. That is something very important. While we raised capital, I was pregnant—and we raised $1.5 million. At that moment, Lauren and I were single moms. And I remember one investor telling us “Never say anything about your children. You don’t have a family, that is not true.” And our investors, they love the fact that we are women and we have children. We raised 1.5 million in 2018 while I was pregnant, and now we raised $3 million while Lauren was having her baby. MORE ABOUT ABARTYS HEALTH Abartys Health (Website; Facebook; LinkedIn) is a Puerto Rico based technology company founded in 2016 by Dolmarie Méndez and Lauren Cascio focused on centralizing and improving healthcare processes by creating solutions that streamline data, communication, and services for the three major components of healthcare – patients, doctors, and insurance companies. The Abartys Health system provides a consolidated solution to many of the inefficiencies contributing to the almost $1 Trillion loss in healthcare every year. The company has Developed a health technology system that is moving healthcare from the existing dis-jointed state to a centralized hub. Among the solutions that the company has created for the Healthcare Industry, Abartys has built the first truly shared digital provider data management system to increase data quality, drive down costs, decrease credentialing approval waiting times and to ultimately reduce the total long-term staffing, hosting and integration costs of maintaining and man-aging multiple applications in support of costly credentialing, online look up and compliant provider directory management.The post Abartys Health: Saving Lives by Providing Accurate Patients’ Data – with Dolmarie Mendez [Ep#21] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
26 minutes | Nov 28, 2019
Cityfurnish: An Indian Startup That Provides Online Furniture Rental – with Neerav Jain [Ep#20]
Cityfurnish is a startup from India that offers online furniture rental. It was founded in 2015 by Neerav Jain and Saurabh Gupta and today it has more than 10 thousand subscribers, $3MM in Anual Recurring Revenue. In our 20th episode, Neerav tells us about the beginning of the journey, the idea validation process, the marketing channels that were successful and more. Listen to the interview: SHOW NOTES The notes below are just part of the interview. Listen to the audio to get the whole episode! FLEXIBLE AND AFFORDABLE What is the problem that you’re solving for people in India? I did my undergraduate in New Delhi—the capital of India. While I was studying there, we were three friends staying in an apartment. As we realized later on, more than 70% of the apartments in India are either unfurnished or semi-furnished. So, we also ended up in an unfurnished apartment. That actually led us to a problem which we faced at that time: there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs. So that was kind of a problem statement: If you don’t want to buy new furniture or old furniture, there needs to be a solution for it or an alternative […] […] there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs Then, when we were leaving college, the second problem occurred. While we’re moving out of that city, it’s not easy, and it’s very painful actually to either discard or resell the furniture. So, that was a kind of an awakening to us that the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate. […] […] the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate. At the same time, an average Indian shifts between jobs every 18 to 24 months. That does not resonate with their lifestyle. Because if they’re looking for something flexible and affordable, buying does not solve that problem. SUBSCRIBE, INSTEAD OF BUYING! How are you solving the problem for them? We wanted to provide flexibility and affordability to our users. The way we do that is that we provide them a rental subscription plan that you can pay a monthly affordable rate. You can select items by packages, or by combos, or you can select it individually as well. So, an average two-bedroom apartment, including furniture, furnishings, and appliances, will cost you roughly around $80 a month if you’re taking furniture from us, in India. And that resonated very well with the users. TWO HUNDRED INTERVIEWS Okay, let’s go back to September, 2015… The day zero scenario was actually very funny and very challenging. We follow this book, The Four Steps to Epiphany. There was this very good saying: “For every assumption, you need validation.” The way we went about it was that first, we needed to validate: “Is there a need for rental furniture or is it something we just want to solve, but there is no market need for that?” That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews. So, I did around 200+ manual interviews, in which I asked two major questions. Cityfurnish’s Offices: 2015 (left) and 2017 (right) First was “If you’re living in a rental house and if that is unfurnished, how will you furnish it?” As I expected more than 95% said, either they will buy new furniture or old furniture. My reason to ask that question was to understand: “Is there an awareness already about furniture rental available in the market or will we have to create that awareness and category as we go about that?” That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews. The second question we asked them: “If we provide you two-bedroom furniture and appliances, rental solution, around $80 a month, does that excite you?” And an astounding 89% said “Yes”. And we got our first 20 subscribers through that interviews itself. So that was a big resonance for us, though the category awareness was not there. But if the category awareness is available to the users, the conversion is there. And there is a market sizable need, which we need to solve. LEAN START Did you count on any money at that time? That time it was on ourselves. First of all, to do the interviews and surveys, we didn’t need any money at that time to start with it. Even the website was something which I and Saurabh did in the house. So it took very limited budget to start with. But, as soon as we started getting orders and to buy the inventory and to fulfil those orders, we started using our savings to fund that. OLD PARTNERS What are your backgrounds? I come from a furniture industry background. I did my undergraduate in Commerce. Post that I was working with Pepperfry—a retailer of furniture in India. Saurabh is graduated from IIT in Computer Science. He has done his MTech from there. He has worked in companies like Vodafone and HCL and Mdocs, for close to 10 to 15 years before we’ve both started in one more venture—prior to Cityfurnish, That did not work eventually. Post that, we started Cityfurnish. We knew each other for I think like two and a half years before we started Cityfurnish. GOOD ENOUGH TO LAUNCH Was this first version much different from what we have today? The first version was very limited. We just had five options in total for furniture, at that time. The homepage and the products page were kind of similar. You just placed an order, then everything was done manually at our end. We used to call the customer, send them the emails, collect their KYC over the email. Now, most of it is automated. The customer can have multiple items, view, place the orders, do the payment and upload documents also on the website. […] We have done a lot of iterations from 2015 to today. And in every iteration, the theme which is consistent is that our users should get more trust and confidence while coming on to the Cityfurnish website. TRACTION AND CONFIDENCE When did you start seeing traction coming? To be very frank, when we were doing these 200 interviews is when we got the first 20 subscribers. That was a very happy moment for us, because we were just stopping random people coming out from metro stations and just asking them. Actually, those 20 guys did place an order. So, it was a very good validation and that increased the confidence for the complete team a lot. Maybe towards the April of 2016 was when scale actually started coming up a little bit, because we were doing a very good number of orders—in Delhi at least. Then, we became a little bit more confident that we could expand into one more city. And that’s how we scale to Bangalore. So, that was the confidence level we were waiting for and once we got it, we expanded to Bangalore. THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE From 50 subscriptions in 2015 to more than 10,000 subscriptions in 2019. What were the marketing channels you used to acquire so many users in that period? As one YC was saying: “do things that are not scalable for marketing”. So, we did a lot of this kind of thing. There are a lot of expats and communities for expats. So, we used to do a lot of marketing promotions on Facebook and inter-nations related groups to target the expat community. Because we had a very good start in the expat community in terms of the orders that were coming in. And then we started tapping into those and started converting into referrals as well. Around 35% of our orders are towards organic and referrals. In the beginning, most of our orders were towards organic and reference—through word of mouth and to reference. So, that worked really well for us. As we started scaling, we understood that, in India, most of the apartments that are available for rentals, are available through the broker’s channel community—real estate agents and brokers. We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us. Now, you will see that we have an Android app called Cityfurnish Partner, on which a real estate agent can come on board and become a channel partner. We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us. And whenever he is working with a tenant or a landlord, he can input those leads into the channel on the partner app and our team calls them and then converts those leads, to fulfill those orders. So that was a very interesting and a very different approach towards increasing the orders. And that worked really well for us. YC GOT ME You were part of Y Combinator Winter 2019 batch. What was the most valuable learning you got from this three-month program? I think the biggest advantage or learning from YC is the YC community in itself. Wonderful founders and peers you are working with, amazing pedigree of founder partners who are working with YC who are helping and guiding you. So that experience is invaluable, to say the least. YC community has a very good factor to make everyone push harder to excel in their work. The weekly office hours that they have make everyone accountable in a way that everyone is motivating and pushing each other. FINAL WORD What would you say to startup entrepreneurs that want to build a successful startup? One major key thing I would say is that you should not do a startup because you want to do a startup; You should do a startup if you’re looking or if you’re able to solve a problem. So like, that major difference between those two things, I think is a key enabler to take through all the pains and sorrows which are going to come. And if you are doing it for the right thing, and you’re trying to solve a problem, eventually you will be able to find a solution for it. Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT CITYFURNISH Cityfurnish (Website; Facebook; Pinterest; LinkedIn) is revolutionizing the furniture industry by providing quality furniture and home appliances on easy monthly rental. With the immense focus on product quality and customer service, we strive to become most preferred name in furniture industry by customer’s choice. The post Cityfurnish: An Indian Startup That Provides Online Furniture Rental – with Neerav Jain [Ep#20] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
29 minutes | Nov 15, 2019
BeOn: Connecting Community To Improve Security – with Gustavo Caleffi [Ep#19]
To feel safe is a basic need of human beings. Unfortunately, in today’s world security issues are present in everyone’s lives. But, how can we prevent something from threatening our security? Gustavo Caleffi believes the answer relies on bonding community connections and making people aware of the dangers, so they can avoid being harmed. And this is the basis of BeOn. In the 19th episode of The Traction Stage Podcast, Gustavo will tell us about BeOn story and what was important to start generating traction for the platform. SHOW NOTES BEING AWARE What exactly the problem that you are solving is? And what is the solution that BeOn is offering to its users? First of all, we need to integrate the community to exchange information about security in the same place. A big problem that we have when we talk about security is that nobody knows what’s happening around their houses and offices. We want to integrate information on everything that’s happening about security, health, environment, traffic and fire problems, so people can see what is happening around their places and also to help public staffs. With this integration, we provide a lot of good timing to all these staffs to work with security and this problem in any place. BETTER THAN RADIO How did the idea come to your mind? We worked for a long time with security—almost 20 years. Here in Brazil, the security problems were growing and we had a lot of places that we wanted to work together to have more safety in their neighbourhoods. First, we worked with radio communication—one condominium talked with another condominium by radio. But it has costs. So, we started thinking about how we could make these people exchange information with no costs. We thought about an app, and this app is BeOn. We’ve been working in this solution since 2016. GETTING AN EXPERT What were the first steps you took after having the idea? First of all, we made a big project with everything that we could develop in this platform—the best ways and the best platform we could have. For sure, we didn’t have enough money to put everything working. So, we looked for someone that is an expert in technology, and we started working together with this expert. After that, we made a project to develop the MVP. And how did you contact him and how did you make him to jump on board? We looked around all Brazil to find somebody to develop with us this project. And we found that guy very near us. He lives in São Leopoldo—a city very near Porto Alegre. Actually, it’s a company called Mura. This company looked at our project and wanted to be inside the project with us. So, we paid them some money and they came to be our partners in the project. MONEY TO START Were these “friends and family” funds or did you have to raise the money from someone else? No, only friends and family. And after two days we launched the platform in the market, a friend—CEO of a bank—wanted to put money in the business. FIRST VERSION You’ve mentioned about the beginning of the idea in 2016. How long did it take for you to release the MVP? Well, we worked hard. We draw all the features that we needed in almost four months. We talked too much and we planned too much the features that we needed in BeOn in the first MVP. After that, we had almost six months developing the app until we could put it in the market. How was this first version like? What features did it have? The features were almost the same that we have today. We’ve just changed the way they appear. We are from the market and we know what people need. This is the difference to have one MVP that you’re really giving people need. Because of that, we didn’t make big changes. SECURITY MATTERS What were the best strategies or marketing strategies that you use to get users coming to your platform? Well, everybody needs our app. We were talking with Google, two weeks ago, about Waze. People that use Waze are people that need to go in their own cars. BeOn is used by everyone—an old woman or a child. They need to have information about security. So, it is very important for people. And when we put BeOn in the market, all the newspapers and TV programs, wanted to use BeOn to explain that people can use technology to have more security. So, we had 32 exposures in Brazilian newspapers and TV programs. It helped us a lot to show people what BeOn is. We also had a lot of influencers that helped us—on the radio, on the newspapers and on social— to explain people about BeOn. All these things together helped us to explain people what BeOn is and make them download it. SECURING DATA How do you deal with users’ data security? This is a very good question for us, because we don’t have any data about the user. The only information that we have is the number of the telephone; Nothing else. You can put your name or not, but we don’t show the name—and we don’t know if the name is real or not. For us, it doesn’t make a difference. However, if somebody starts to put information that is not true, we can show the phone number for justice or for the police, and they can start to make an investigation. But we don’t show this information on the platform. ADVICE A piece of advice you would give to startup entrepreneurs… To start a project is not an adventure; It’s hard work. People really need to know very deeply what they are doing. Sometimes, you have an idea and you think your idea is the best thing in the world; And you start working. But you really need to know about the market. An idea can be good, but the difference is how you work on your idea, put that idea in a project and how you work to somebody see value in your idea. For me, it’s important to have a lot of knowledge about what you are doing and about what people need, to have success in your project. Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Gustavo Caleffi (LinkedIn) – Fundador e Sócio diretor da Squadra Gestão de Riscos; Fundador e CEO APP Be On Segurança Colaborativa; Administrador de empresas, com MBA em Direccion de Seguridad en Empresas pela Universidade de Comillas (Espanha); Certificado pela Universidade Israelense ICT (International Institute for Counter Terrorism) em “Segurança Global e Certificado pela empresa israelense ISDS em “ Advanced VIP Protection Course; Especialista em Gestão de Riscos Estratégicos e Segurança; Autor do livro “Caos Social A Violenta Realidade Brasileira”; Atua no segmento de segurança há mais de 20 anos; Inúmeros artigos publicados em diversos veículos de comunicação; Instrutor de lutas há mais de 20 anos; Palestrante em eventos nacionais e internacionais sobre o tema Prevenção em Segurança, Gestão de Riscos Corporativos e Gestão de Segurança de Grandes Eventos; Responsável técnico por projetos em inúmeras empresas multinacionais e nacionais e também em grandes eventos como Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lolapalooza, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Planeta Atlântida, Circuito Banco do Brasil de Música; Reconhecido pela Brigada Militar do RS com as medalhas “Brigada Militar”, Serviços Distintos” e “Serviços Relevantes a Ordem Pública” e medalha “Tiradentes” pela Polícia Civil do RS. MORE ABOUT BEON BeOn (Website; Facebook; Instagram; Youtube) is the solution that have the purpouse to save the world, from a free Community Security APP that communicate and integrate community, public staff (police, fire department, transit department), public managers and private security staff. The APP treats security, fire, traffic, health and environment emergency communication. Gains For security: Prevent information about suspects acts and suspect people; Help to reduce the response time of state and county security mechanisms. Gains For Fire Fighting: Rapid community communication, promoting greater agility in a first fire fighting, minimizing the risk of major fire; Easy way and agility for fire Fighters identify the geolocation of emergency call. Gains For Health: Enables professionals in the area (doctors, nurses, firefighters) to assist the victim until the ambulance arrives; Anticipation of situation reporting to emergency call centers, including photo, streamlining understanding of state agents’ need; Preservation of lives by the possibility of first aid care before the arrival of ambulance. Gains For traffic: Roadblocking information for community rerouting in the region; 911 call location geolocation facility; Anticipation of the situation report for emergency call centers, including a photo, speeding up the understanding of the need by state agents, especially speeding up cases in which firefighters’ support is needed for cutting tools Gains For Environment: Community information in case of lost child or animal, facilitating and speeding up the identification of those responsible; Natural Disaster Communication Agility in Micro Regions; Form of utility reports for the entire user base, such as road flood closure, landslideThe post BeOn: Connecting Community To Improve Security – with Gustavo Caleffi [Ep#19] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
28 minutes | Oct 24, 2019
Anzu.io: A Startup That Brings Real-World Ads To In-Game Experience – with Itamar Benedy [Ep#18]
Do you think games and businesses are part of two separate worlds? Do you consider every ad boring and invasive? It’s time to update your brain with the story of Anzu. In our 18th episode, you’ll know the story of Anzu.io, a startup that connects game studios to advertisers, by providing them a platform to include real-world ads in any game object. But, how did Anzu’s founders go from an idea to the traction stage? What kind of challenges did they face in the way? How did they overcome it? Our guest, Itamar Benedy, co-founder of Anzu, answers these and other questions in the 18th episode. Let’s go! SHOW NOTES MERGING WORLDS What is the problem that Anzu is solving? And what is the solution it is offering? When we looked at the game developers, we saw a big problem: helping them to build the business model of advertising, without harming the user experience—all the pop-ups in the annoying ads we felt weren’t a good solution. On the other side, were advertisers and brand. We saw that there were some audiences very hard to reach—many of the younger audiences, for example, don’t watch a lot of TV anymore. And then, we saw gaming as a very good channel to reach these ‘unreachable’ audience. So, we tried to solve problems for both types of companies, by basically connecting them in our platform. How our tech works is we integrate with game developers—mobile, PC, Xbox, PlayStation—really any type of applications. Our technology allows the game developer to convert every object of the game into ad placements. So, every billboard, logo, object of the game can be actual ads. And the beauty here is that this is exactly how we as end-users consume content in the real world. So, we thought, why not to bring these real-world ads into the gaming world and the e-sports world and enjoy all the advantages of digital advertising—programmatic media buying, targeting personalization, real-time data? A LOWER BARRIER What features you’ve chosen to have in the beta version? Our vision was always to focus on the biggest games in the world—the triple-A games that never showed ads. And now, for the first time, they’re accepting advertisement, because of our non-intrusive, native, very authentic ads. But we knew that these game developers were very, very picky in the sense of what tech they would allow and would accept. Number one, we started with mobile developers—which barrier to entry is lower—with a more basic version, just to support mobile. As we grew, we moved into having a mature platform to use with the very big game developers. Number two, in the advertising world, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. We were the only company in the world to provide ads viewability and real-time data around the ad formats in our gaming environment. Now, marketers can also understand, for how many seconds did the user see the ad, what’s the percentage of the ad from the whole screen, how much of the ad is actually being seen. So, working in a parallel on the measurement tool and on the ad tech stock, and starting for mobile then going to the triple-A, to the bigger games, is basically how we structured it. Of course, there is a minute—like hundreds of different features that we had in mind. And we tried to prioritize. Entrepreneurs think that they know what feature is most important for their products. But the reality is that the clients, the guys who actually pay for it and use it, they are the real kings. So, really listen to the market and develop whatever you have a very clear understanding that clients are going to use. So, really listen to the market and develop whatever you have a very clear understanding that clients are going to use. SALES CYCLE And with a beta version, were you able to start convincing this triple-A Game Studios? With the triple-A games, the sales cycle obviously is much longer. From the day they tell you that they want it until the “go-live”, there’s a big period. With the mobile developers, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a very fast integration sales process. With the triple-A games, first they need to accept the concept of what you’re doing. Then, there are two things happening in parallel. Number one, they will audit and test your platform to see if that’s something that is good enough for their standards. On the other side, you’ll get a list of features: “Okay, now that we like what you do and we tested everything, in order to go live, here is a list of 10 features that you need to build for us.” But then it’s easy to build them, because we know that there is immediate use of those features. THREE GOOD ARGUMENTS Was it challenging to convince advertisers that you could, in fact, engage users in this different virtual environment? First, if I’m looking on advertising and programmatic buying, there are a lot of problems in the attic world and, in some senses, it is broken. So today, if I’m buying traffic in a programmatic way, there’s a lot of fraud. As a company who integrates into the game engines directly and work with console environments, we can provide a much cleaner environment. It’s like a third-party audit company. That’s already a big plus for the advertisers to work with us. Number two, it’s around brand safety. Today, in the social world, there is basically user-generated content, so you cannot control the content that has been seen. Ads and brands can appear close to things that are not brand-safe. With gaming, as a nonuser-generated content platform, we can provide a very clean and brand-safe environment in that sense. The third point is around eligibility. Today, marketers are buying a lot of traffic that is not fully being seen. With our patents and partners—the cyber security companies—we can give confidence for our marketers to only pay for viewable ads, and ads that are actually being seen, for enough time, for big enough of an ad… SEED FUNDS Let’s talk about funding… How has the seed fund helped you in the very beginning? Each different funding stage has different challenges, different opportunities, pros and cons. In the very, very beginning, when you go to raise money without a working product, you’re looking for investors to believe in the team, to believe in the initial concept. We raised with a PowerPoint, the first fund. It was a smaller amount, so the risk was smaller for the investors. You’re looking more for investors who have good intuition about you, about the product and about the market. And investors know that the product can change, the market can change, but if there’re strong entrepreneurs behind it, they will find a way to make it happen—to pivot, to do whatever needed to be super successful in the venture—and to give a very high return on investment for the investors. In the very, very beginning, when you go to raise money without a working product, you’re looking for investors to believe in the team, to believe in the initial concept. THE TRIANGLE Did you have any kind of prototype or mock-ups to show investors? The first fund was basically only raised with a PowerPoint. We tried to focus on the triangle… Number one: a very strong founder team that knows how to get shit done, how to execute without a lot of resources and to be very effective in that sense. Number two: to focus on a market that is so big, that it can be so meaningful to build and to innovate in that area. Number three: to focus on the product, the idea, the concept and the amount of thought that was already invested in that. Eventually, that played for us pretty well. That funding helped us to hire a small team, build the first prototype and get the first client. So, to the second fund there was already a working product. MARKETING EFFORTS Direct sales are your main marketing efforts? The team is pretty small. We’re doing most of the things in-house and a lot of organic stuff. We have good connections and a good network in the ecosystem. We’re going to a lot of events, we’re meeting a lot of people, and we have a lot of ambassadors and champions who really believe in what we do. Because this is such an interesting topic, it’s very easy to associate with, and we see a lot of traction on social media. Today, gaming has become a pop culture; the big games are brands by themselves. There are a lot of examples. There is a guy called DJ Marshmallo, he’s doing like musician concerts, inside games. People will go into the game, not only to play the game but to hear his show. Gaming is becoming basically the new social media. Gaming is becoming basically the new social media. SEE, THEN BELIEVE What was the most challenging thing in the way so far? There were a lot of challenges down the road. In the very early days, a lot of people were very pessimistic about what we do. We heard a lot of people who didn’t believe in that. As we grow, as we continue, as we validate our solution in the market, more and more people believe. Now, most of the people will agree that this is going to become a big business—of course, with the big companies who just backed us recently. Just believe in yourself and don’t listen to any feedback coming from people who know very little about what you do. The second most challenging thing is still to build the best tech in the world and please all of the players that we’re working with. Just believe in yourself and don’t listen to any feedback coming from people who know very little about what you do. FINAL ADVICE A piece of advice for startup entrepreneurs that are listening to us… I’ve always looked on the triangle of: the idea, the team and the funding. A lot of entrepreneurs think that it’s always hard to get the funding or always hard to get the idea. I can tell you: bringing the best team is always the most challenging thing. If you have a very strong team and if you’re focused enough, eventually you’ll find a good idea. And once you have a good team and a good idea, eventually you’ll get funding. A lot of entrepreneurs think that it’s always hard to get the funding or always hard to get the idea. I can tell you: bringing the best team is always the most challenging thing. So just focus and having a strong team and be laser-focused on what really matters, and everything will basically come from that. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDERS Itamar Benedy (LinkedIn) – Co-Founder & CEO CEO of Glispa, a Berlin-based advertising firm with €100M in annual revenues, a team of 250 people, and 9 international offices. Itamar has been overseeing the Glispa’s transformation from an affiliate marketing company into a full-stuck ad-tech business. As part of this journey, Itamar led the acquisitions of JustAd, a playable ads start-up, and Relevantech, a Telecom monetization platform. Previously, Itamar served as VP Marketing at Sport.com and Yoga.com, leading the user acquisition, monetization, and analytics teams. He guided Sport.com to become a market-leading fitness firm and transformed mHealth into a business with over 40 million downloads across 30 apps. With a decade of experience in mobile and marketing, Itamar is a member of the Mobile Steering Group Board of IAB, and the Young President Organization (YPO). He was also nominated for Forbes Israel 30 under 30 in 2016. Ben Fenster (LinkedIn), Co-Founder & CPO Anzu.io Before Anzu, Ben was the Chief Product and General Manager of Pay.com, an e-wallet subsidiary of Safecharge. Ben was in charge of building the card-issuing business of Safecharge saving millions of dollars annually in Mastercard/Visa scheme fees. Prior to that, he served as VP Technology at Safecharge, a public company valued at £350M. In this role, he led the integration between the Playtech software casino and the Safecharge online payment solution to maximize profits and reduce operational costs for both parties. Before that, Ben was appointed as CTO of Social Gaming at Playtech PLC, a public company valued at £1.5B. He built from scratch a social casino game studio that achieved more than 5M MAU, and generated over $80K a day. At the age of 23 Ben sold his first company SoWise to the Israeli billionaire Mr. Teddy Sagi and has over a decade of R&D and product management experience. Michael Badichi (LinkedIn), Co-Founder & CTO Anzu.io Before Anzu, Michael led the Innovation Lab at IronSource, an ad monetization platform with $1B valuation. In this role, he managed all aspects of architecture, infrastructure, and hardcore development and also built from scratch some large-scale monetization systems the macOS Installer. Prior to that, Michael founded the JumiTech company, a platform for developing local and remote apps and services that released over 20 high-quality apps in the automation, remote control and real-time camera streaming fields and reached over 20M users.Previously, Michael was the leading architect and developer at Zoran. He worked with a range of technologies involving Smart multimedia mobile-phones when developing the award winning Approach line of processors, and was part of ARM development effort for the Mali 3D GPU.Michael has been developing disruptive technologies for more than 30 years. As a true professional in any aspect of software engineering, he was a mentor at the Tel Aviv Barclays techstars accelerator. MORE ABOUT ANZU ANZU.IO (Website; LinkedIn; Facebook; Twitter) – is an in-game advertising platform that brings the sophistication of advertising into video gaming and esports. Our Blended In-Game Advertising solution seamlessly integrates non-intrusive ads into the gameplay. With Anzu’s state-of-the-art programmatic technology and real-time data, brand advertisers can deploy real-world ads in IAB-recognized formats through exclusive inventory of top video games that promise brand safety and ad viewability. We work with top names in gaming and esports offering new revenue streams to game producers with our cross-platform advertising and monetization solutions. With Anzu, gaming studios have limitless advertising opportunities without interrupting the gameplay that gives them full control over content, ad formats, and analytics. Backed by BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, WPP, and Axel Springer Digital Ventures, Anzu strives to transform gaming and esports into a premium revenue engine, promising a native advertising and monetization programmatic solution the video gaming industry has long waited for. Founded: 2017Offices: Israel, GermanyTeam Members: 18Funding: $8M (Seed Round+Round A) The post Anzu.io: A Startup That Brings Real-World Ads To In-Game Experience – with Itamar Benedy [Ep#18] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
34 minutes | Oct 14, 2019
RoadBotics: The Early Days Of An American Startup That Provides Smart Road Assessments – with Mark DeSantis [Ep#17]
We all want our roads in good conditions. Don’t we? But, the definition of a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ road may vary a lot. This is the challenge that governments and companies run through in the process of road maintenance: assessment subjectivity. RoadBotics was born to solve this and other problems regarding road inspections. Through the same technology used to make autonomous vehicles to “see” the road, the startup makes computers analyze road conditions. In this interview, Mark DeSantis, cofounder of RoadBotics tells me about the early days of the startup, since the idea until it started gaining traction. SHOW NOTES Let’s understand the problem you’re solving and the solution RoadBotics is offering to solve that problem… THE PROBLEM Road inspection has been a staple of road maintenance for a long time. There are millions and millions of miles of paved road in the world. So, the process of doing that manually around the world is expensive, it’s tedious. But the bigger problem is you’re using humans to look at the surface and make judgments about it. And everybody’s opinion about what is a good road or a bad road is different. THE SOLUTION Basically, you download an app into a cell phone, put the cell phone in the windshield of any kind of vehicle, camera pointed forward, turn the app on, records everything it sees. As soon as the cell phone hits a friendly Wi-Fi, all that data goes up to the cloud, and a deep learning platform that isolates the road in the image, then begins assessing the surface of that road pixel by pixel. And what it’s looking for are about three to four dozen distinct patterns that show up on any kind of asphalt or concrete road—like alligator crack, block crack, edge crack. So, we’re able to do that by using a standard cell phone, some deep learning and assess that road in a far cheaper, far more efficient and consistent way for roughly about 160 municipalities, counties and states in a dozen countries. LOOK TO THE ROAD! The idea happened not exactly in a garage, but inside of Carnegie Mellon University. Right? Exactly. Carnegie Mellon (CMU) is famous for its AI program. I think most people would argue they’re probably the number one AI program in the entire world. And among the programs they have inside the AI program is the now-famous Robotics Institute. Within that, they have a lab that focuses on transportation. In fact, the Uber Lab and the Argo Autonomous Vehicle Lab—both of which are based in Pittsburgh—were ultimately spun out of Carnegie Mellon. That same group came up the notion: “We’re using image processing to move a vehicle around. Couldn’t we use the same data to assess the surface? Because after all, we’re looking at the road.” So, the idea was born out of the autonomous vehicle lab. INVESTIGATING THE PROBLEM, TESTING THE SOLUTION What were the first practical steps you had to do in order to develop the startup? We did over 100 interviews with people, either in the business of road assessment, road maintenance, who kind of lived that life. We made no mention of our AI platform. We didn’t talk about any solution or anything. We simply talked about their problems. “How do you assess roads? How do you determine what is a good road and what is a bad road? How do you collect the data?” All those questions allowed us to really get deep into the world of the customer. And then once we collected it—maybe 75-80 interviews—we knew that what we could do addressed that problem. The second step was to create an MVP. We were fortunate we had already started, because some of the core technology was developed at CMU, but it needed a lot of work to get its commercial grade. All those questions allowed us to really get deep into the world of the customer. And then once we collected it—maybe 75-80 interviews—we knew that what we could do addressed that problem. Parallel to our market discovery—the hundred interviews—we developed a basic working version of the product such that when people used it, they could determine of whether or not this thing really added value for them. It’s not so much a way to make money—and we charged for it by the way—but it was more a case of to get elicit a response to see what customers were really looking for. It [the MVP] had a lower resolution. Let’s just say we couldn’t see as much detail; It didn’t have the user-friendliness that the current version has; It wasn’t able to see all the things that needed to see; It wasn’t exactly presented in the most useful way. But for the most part, everything that’s in the current product showed up in some version in the MVP. HOW ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED? What were the customers’ reactions that told you: “we have evidence that this is going to work, we can accelerate and try to scale it?” That’s a really good question. People don’t pay enough attention to the type of feedback. Reactions like “Hey, this is great.” or “This is really cool.” weren’t terribly useful. In fact, what we wanted is them to critique it and tell us where it wasn’t useful. In other words, we typically would get a reaction something to the effect of “Wow, this really saves me time and money, and has reduced the hassle!” Source: https://www.roadbotics.com/ But, we were not satisfied with that response. We would say “When you say ‘save time’…exactly how? How does this compare to how you did it before? What do you mean by time? What aspect of time is it? The time on the road?” And we were constantly probing for areas where they were dissatisfied. We’d say, “Look, you’re not going to hurt our feelings here. Right? Don’t worry about hurting our feelings. Where is this disappointing? Because, before we showed this to you, you had an impression of what it could do. We gave it to you, you’ve used it, and you have to be disappointed in some way. How are you disappointed? THE REASON WE LIKE IT Did you find any insight in these interviews or showing them the MVP that made you iterate the product? Definitely. In summary, we had a primary emphasis on “This is a cheaper and easier way to do the work you do now. Just put the cell phone in the windshield, camera pointing forward automatically assessing. Cheaper and Easier.” And it is, substantially. Source: https://www.roadbotics.com/ But after a number of interviews, users started giving us feedback, they said “That’s not why we like it the most though, that’s not the reason we like it. The reason we like it is you solve the subjectivity-objectivity problem.” That’s something we hadn’t really thought of. But after a number of interviews, users started giving us feedback, they said “That’s not why we like it the most though, that’s not the reason we like it. The reason we like it is you solve the subjectivity-objectivity problem.” For example, a city like London uses hundreds of inspectors. If those inspectors disagree on what a good road, a bad road or a so-so road is, the data, all of it, is frankly suspect. Our system solves that problem. KEEPING THE BALANCE From the idea until you got traction, what was the biggest challenge in the way? It’s a balancing act. Every entrepreneur has to balance three things. You have to raise money—that’s just the nature of the beast, for most tech companies. You can’t necessarily self-fund or grow organically—you have to build a team, and then, you have to build a customer base. You have to do all three of those things, simultaneously. The biggest challenge for the entrepreneur is to keep them in balance. Entrepreneurs out there who really don’t want to be bothered raising money or getting customers or, another entrepreneur who really doesn’t have technical skills to build the product, but really is a great salesperson, I would say to them: “Okay. If you’re not going to do that, somebody’s got to do that. And that somebody has to care as much about the company as you do.” THE MILESTONES What were the most significant milestones that shaped what RoadBotics is today? One was nine months or so after we founded the company. I met a team from an incubator called UrbanX—BMW’s incubator in the United States—who is just phenomenal. They really know the game and they helped me rethink our strategy going forward. They also invested cash and introduced me to BMW, who cares a lot about what we do. So, when you get right partners like that early on, who can invest and give you wise advice, they can really accelerate your growth. When you get right partners like that early on, who can invest and give you wise advice, they can really accelerate your growth. A second milestone was when we got to around two dozen customers. It’s one thing to get four or five customers; It’s quite another thing to have two dozen. We had enough data, with that number of customers, that really convinced us that we had something and that we knew what we were doing. The third milestone was when we got our first couple partners, and they actually sold our services to their customers. When they started to pick up two or three customers, we realized: “Hey, we’ve got something here!” The partnering strategy—the idea that an engineering firm would sell our product or use it for multiple customers—really encouraged us a lot. The partnering strategy—the idea that an engineering firm would sell our product or use it for multiple customers—really encouraged us a lot. MATCHING, INSTEAD OF SELLING What is the most valuable learning from all RoadBotics’s fundraising experiences you’ve had? Two things… One is that fundraising is not a sales effort. It’s a matching problem. Early on in my startups, I used to think I had to convince people to invest in my business. I was wrong. It’s not like selling a product. It’s a matching problem. […] fundraising is not a sales effort. It’s a matching problem. There’s a group of investors out there who are looking for someone at your stage, with your background, with your point of view, who care about the problem you’re solving, and the way you’re solving it. Here’s the problem: there are also hundreds of investors who are not that person. So, your challenge is to sift through all of these potential investors to find those perfect matches. The other thing is do not underestimate the level of effort it takes to solve the matching problem. People will say: “I’ve done 20 pitches, and nothing’s happened.” I would say to the people out there seeking investment: count on not a couple of dozen presentations. Count on 100 or more, before you find those three or four investors. As a CEO, I probably spent two-thirds of my time raising money or doing something related to raising money. Fundraising demands your attention, so be prepared to give a substantial amount of your time and be persistent. Fundraising demands your attention, so be prepared to give a substantial amount of your time and be persistent. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU A piece of advice to startup founders that are listening to us… What would you say them? For any entrepreneur out there, think first and foremost about solving a problem and building an institution to solve the problem, not about building an ego. And I say that because sometimes it’s hard for entrepreneurs to accept that. They think of their company as their company. It is not their company, it is something they created. A beautiful magnificent thing, that’s solving an important problem. But if you find yourself emotionally attached to the status associated with being the founder or the CEO, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. Your sheer satisfaction should come from giving other people the opportunity to create wealth—investors and employees—giving your employees the opportunity to have a life-changing experience, and the most important personal growth opportunity they may have ever experienced in their lives. […] if you find yourself emotionally attached to the status associated with being the founder or the CEO, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. If you can draw satisfaction from those things, you can create not only great wealth for other people, but great wealth for yourself, and you have a much higher likelihood of being successful. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment! Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT MARK DESANTIS Mark F. DeSantis (LinkedIn) – Mark is a serial tech entrepreneur and is currently Managing Partner at MIR Ventures in Palo Alto. Most recently, he was cofounder and CEO RoadBotics, an AI platform for assessing roads and roadways infrastructure. Prior to that, he was cofounder and Executive Chairman of kWantix, a quant hedge fund, cofounder and CEO of kWantera, a GE Ventures-backed energy trading company and CEO of Think Through Learning, a venture-backed online tutoring company and US Managing Director of ANGLE Technology, PLC, a UK-based venture capital firm and consultancy. MORE ABOUT ROADBOTICS RoadBotics (LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, LinkedIn) – RoadBotics is an industry leader in road assessments. At RoadBotics, we provide objective road assessments to over 100 customers across the world and help them fix the right roads at the right time. Our mission is to drive objective infrastructure decisions and help improve critical infrastructure that impacts people’s lives every day. Founded by Mark F. DeSantis, Dr. Benjamin Schmidt, and Dr. Christoph Mertz, RoadBotics spun out of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute in 2016. The company has raised $3.9M in venture capital investment to date and has disrupted the subjective and expensive pavement inspection process.The post RoadBotics: The Early Days Of An American Startup That Provides Smart Road Assessments – with Mark DeSantis [Ep#17] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
29 minutes | Sep 5, 2019
MPost: The Traction Story of a Kenyan Startup that is solving addressing problem – with Twahir Mohamed [Ep#16]
Receiving correspondences in Kenya might be a real challenge. That’s because addresses (street, number, etc) are not available for every one. For many years, people have been counting on PO boxes—rented post office lockable boxes—many times shared with other people, in a centralized way. The problems naturally arise, once your packages might be accessed by unwanted people and there is no warning system to communicate you got a mail. That’s exactly the problem MPost is tackling with its solution. Through a unique address code—derived from users’ phone numbers—MPost provides privacy and, at the same time, communication about new packages deliveries. In the 16th episode of The Traction Stage Podcast, Twahir Mohamed told me how he and his partner developed MPost and how they are impacting the lives of more than 45,000 users. ***Hey, are you trying to take your first steps as an entrepreneur? Click here to see how I can help you. SHOW NOTES THE PROBLEM Let’s start by understanding what is the problem that you’re solving for people in Kenya. The problem MPost is solving is basically the addressing problem. For the past 100 years in Kenya—within the existence of the Postal Service—the Postal Corporation of Kenya had a maximum to provide addresses of 400,000 to a population of 400,000 people. MPost has come to solve this problem, by turning the mobile phone number into an official postal address and the mobile phone into a post office. So, you are able to give out these addresses as part of KYC documentation, either in the public sector or in the private sector. THE SOLUTION MPost is a 30-second registration process available on feature phones and smartphones. After registration, you receive a virtual address. It enables you to use that address, for example, on e-commerce sites or government forms. When you give out that address and you receive either correspondences or parcels from an e-commerce website, you receive a notification on your phone. The notification gives you two options: you can go pick it up at your nearest post office, or have that parcel or mail delivered to you at a place of your convenience. You need to give out your postal address as your mobile phone number. We have a code for every post office that is near you. So, the MPost address basically is your mobile phone number dash the post office code that is nearest to you. They call it a zip code in the west part of the world. AN EXPIRED OPPORTUNITY How did this idea come to your mind? Abdul Aziz [MPost co-founder and CEO] and I were high school mates for some time, and we parted ways when we went to universities. After some time, he applied for a job opportunity in the government of Kenya. He got shortlisted, went to the interview and got the job—in quotes. I say “in quotes” because three months down the line, he had not heard from the government. His wife told him: “Government communicates via the post office.” Twahir Ahmed and Abdulaziz Omar, founders of MPost He remembered the PO box that he gave and it was of his mother. She has not lived in Kenya, since the 90s and the key for the post office box—the postal address—was with his aunty, 400 kilometres away from Nairobi, in Naivasha. So, he had to go reach that key, come back to Nairobi, and then open the letterbox. And guess what: he found a big brown envelope written “Government of Kenya”. And by opening it up, at the post office, he sees he got the job. But the job had expired—three months down the line. And it’s written: “If we do not hear from you in seven days, then we consider that you have forfeited the job opportunity.” IT CAN BE BETTER With that experience, he started asking himself: “Why didn’t the post office notify me that I had a letter? And why are we sharing addresses?” With that experience he started asking himself: “Why didn’t the post office notify me that I had a letter? And why are we sharing addresses?” During our research, we found out that only 1% of the Kenyan population could get a postal address. And that postal address, in this sense, is a brick and mortar—a metal box and a key—where your letters are placed in a central area. I met up with Abdul Aziz after some time and he told me the problem. We sat at his place, we came up with a technical algorithm and MPost was born. We patented the product, copyrighted it and also trademarked it. I met up with Abdul Aziz after some time and he told me the problem. We sat at his place, we came up with a technical algorithm and MPost was born. Then we approached the post office who gave us a pilot. For this pilot, we were challenged to give 200 addresses in six months. But guess what: the demand was so high, we did 1500 addresses. Because people saw the convenience. They saw the security, in terms your parcels are kept in a safe, secure place whereby it is not accessed by unwanted people. So, we launched the product MPost on 16th of June 2016 and the product was launched in partnership with the National Postal Corporation of Kenya, by the Cabinet Secretary Joe Mosheru. FIRST LAUNCH, THEN IMPROVE Was this pilot really different from the current solution that you have today? Since it was the first time this has been done, the Pilot was totally different from what we have today, in terms of access channels to the solution. We began with an SMS solution, but, through customer feedback, we saw it was taking more than five minutes to get a virtual postal address. There were so many complaints. We improved that and moved to the USSD channel, the web application, and the mobile application channels. The backend also completely changed from what we had during the pilot. We have scaled the backend to better frameworks, programming frameworks, and also better cloud solutions, from where we had a standalone server. DELIVERING PARTNERSHIP Tell me about the importance of the partnership with Postal Cooperation of Kenya. Postal corporations around the world are the only ones mandated to give official postal addresses. This partnership is really important because it validates MPost as an official postal solution that has been adopted and is also recognized worldwide by the Universal Postal Union. Not only that, the postal services have subsidized delivery and logistics solutions. This is subsidized because postal service is a human right, according to the UN. That’s why they have a UN body, known as the Universal Postal Union. This makes our solution an impact solution, through which we are able to provide addresses and delivery solutions to those below the pyramid, those who live under the line of poverty, or those who are trying to make it through getting products from outside and having them delivered to their homes, using the MPost addresses. The Postal Service also has the widest network in any country. For example, in Kenya, they have the largest spread out offices—over 638 offices across the country. This enables MPost addressing a solution to be able to deliver from the cities to even the outside far-flung frontiers of the country. ACTIVE LISTENING You did a lot of research, a lot of customers feedback. Is this a practice of MPost? Yes, it is. We continuously seek to improve the solution. We usually engage our customers through SMS surveys, on-ground surveys and activations, so that we are able to improve the solution and to see the impact that MPost has to the community. Also, these surveys and researches help us to scale in new markets and learn, because African markets and developing country markets are almost similar. We usually engage our customers through SMS surveys, on-ground surveys and activations, so that we are able to improve the solution and to see the impact that MPost has to the community. FUNDING THE JOURNEY How have you funded this journey so far? At first, we started out with friends and families, and money from ourselves. Then, we did a lot of bootstrapping—the first two years—before we got a good angel investor, who we raised a seed round from. Now, we have been able to open our series F round, which we are closing at the end of this August. Were able to start generating traction with your family and friends’ money or did you need this angel investment to really generate traction for MPost? We needed the angel’s round to generate traction. It helped us to move our numbers from where they were to where they are now. Just to build an MVP, to make sure that everything from technology, operations are working in a proper way. We have not done any marketing to achieve these 45,000 subscribers. But it was through word of mouth, we are planning to use the money that we raised from our series A to acquire and retain talents, and especially to do marketing in order to be able to achieve growth in Kenya. And then maybe to move to Uganda, Rwanda, and also close the East African market. THE POWER OF REFERRALS You did a campaign that provides commissions to referrals… Have you had any results from that campaign? Yes, we have. Actually, most of this has come from that campaign, most of the subscribers. And also we have created around 3000 virtual jobs for young men and women who are selling MPost through the referral system. For every referral, they gain $0.50. You have attended the Startupbootcamp Afritech Accelerator Program. How did that help on the startup development? Our experience at the Startupbootcamp opened up so many doors. We were able to pivot our business from a B2C to B2B Business, and to understand our business model and improve ourselves. We got good mentorship. We were able to meet various investors, who believed in the dream and who came in our pre-series A. So, Startup Bootcamp exposed us to the ecosystem in Africa. While in the Startupbootcamp, we were also able to enter the competitions such as the South African Innovation Summit, where we won first prize. We also entered the Startup World Cup, where we were the top startup, and we went to represent Africa in the Startup World Cup in San Francisco, in which we emerged top five. Also Startupbootcamp AfriTech exposed us to large corporates, like Unilever, with whom we have been able to negotiate commercial agreements where they are buying prepaid addresses for their clients. What kind of advice could you give start entrepreneurs that want to build successful businesses? First, use whatever resources you have to build an MVP, before going to the market. Bootstrap. Be able to do a pilot. Have your IP correct, in terms of copyrights, maybe trade marking. And if it’s a really unique idea, try to spend some resources to patent that idea. Also, go for commercial agreements. Then, seek fundraising. And also, do not give up. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment!Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Twahir Ahmed Mohamed (LinkedIn) – Entrepreneur | Co-Founder | Digital Technology | Experienced Chief Technologies Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology, Innovation and services industry. Skilled in Digital Strategy, Web Project Management, Servers, Web Design, and Management. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Bsc. Information Technology focused in Information Technology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Abdulaziz Omar (LinkedIn) – Experienced Founder with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. Skilled in Strategic Management, Innovation, International Relations, Project Management. Strong business development professional graduated from KENYA METHODIST UNIVERISTY. MORE ABOUT MPOST Mpost (Website; Facebook; Twitter) is an innovative product that allows you to enjoy Postal Services at home, in the office, or on the go at your convenience through your mobile phone – Posta Mkononi. Once a user registers for the service, they choose the most convenient post office (out of the 622 Post offices across Kenya) where they can receive their letters/documents/parcels. Once a letter/parcel is received by the PCK, an SMS will be sent to the user, notifying them that they have received mail (letters/documents/parcels). The user then has a choice of walking to the post office to collect the documents or ask that Posta delivers them to their house/office/different location at an extra fees. This service costs KES 300 per year. The post MPost: The Traction Story of a Kenyan Startup that is solving addressing problem – with Twahir Mohamed [Ep#16] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
36 minutes | Jul 10, 2019
Redox: A Platform For Healthcare Vendors And Providers To Integrate Their Data – with Niko Skievaski [Ep#15]
How exciting it is to think about all the solutions being developed for the healthcare industry! The use of technology for measuring patients’ health, setting appointments, setting medication and improving patient’s overall experience are just a few examples of that. However, to make all these improvements come true, healthcare vendors (technology developers) and healthcare providers have to overcome one significant barrier: to integrate their systems so patient data may be securely accessed and processed by these new applications. Redox is a startup from United States that is focusing exactly on facilitating this integration, through a platform that serves as an effective interface, providing accurate data transfer between different systems in an easier and faster way. In this 15th episode, Niko Skievaski told me about the development of Redox and how it evolved from just an idea into a platform that connects more than 450 health systems SHOW NOTES CONNECTING TWO WORLDS Tell us what is the problem that you are solving for healthcare vendors and healthcare providers? It is a kind of deep systemic problem. For sure, in the United States—as well as I imagine around the world—one of the main barriers to technology adoption within the healthcare space is the inability for new software being built in the cloud for consumers on their phones to actually exchange data with the health systems that they work with. Because for the most part, healthcare organizations who are treating patients, have electronic medical records that were really never designed to talk to the internet. What Redox does is connect these two worlds by taking data out of health systems and standardizing it in the cloud, and then making it available over an API for software developers to use. On the software developer side, they can connect to us once and work with any of the health systems that are on our network—or that they bring into the network. And on the health system side, they can connect to Redox and work with any of the applications that they might want to utilize into. These are all sorts of different types of digital health applications—things like telehealth solutions, remote patient monitoring. Because for the most part, healthcare organizations who are treating patients, have electronic medical records that were really never designed to talk to the internet. How did the idea come to your mind? My background was coming out of the electronic health record world. I worked at a company called Epic—which is a very large electronic health record vendor—and really started to learn and understand the way that the software was being used across the industry. It was there where I also met my co-founders who worked in various parts of the organization and understood both the business and technical aspects of working with electronic health records. After leaving Epic—in 2013—I actually started a different healthcare IT Company, and started to see first-hand the challenges of being an entrepreneur developing a digital health solution for health systems. Through that experience, we went through a number of pivots between that company and then eventually started a co-working space and an incubator focused on health tech. We saw over and over again, how digital health companies were running into this barrier of willing to connect up to the health systems and their electronic health records. Source: https://www.redoxengine.com/company/ It was through that process where I and my co-founder started to realize: “Hey, the biggest problem here is not the development of new innovation in the space, it’s the adoption of it. If we can actually break down this integration barrier, then it can really accelerate the technology adoption across the industry.” […] THE MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT Right after we realized that this is a problem we’re solving, we said: “We have to go out and get initial traction because we are running out of money.” We were using our own savings and we knew that we would need to raise money to start a network business like this. So, we said: “Okay. We need to raise money pretty quickly, but we don’t think that we can actually get live with our product to get real traction.” So, essentially, we designed a minimum viable product that would allow us to test the market demand and see if there’s demand out there. We literally called up startups in the health tech space, we went on to accelerators, websites like Ycombinator, TechStars, Dreamit, Blueprint Health, Rock Health and a bunch of these kinds of healthcare-specific accelerators. So, essentially, we designed a minimum viable product that would allow us to test the market demand and see if there’s demand out there. We just started calling those companies and saying: “Hey, we came out of electronic health record world, we want to figure out a way to help you integrate more easily with an API, would you be interested?” And we got amazing hit rates. We had CTOs calling us back had a product type folks reaching out to us and saying: “Yeah, we would love to use that solution. What does it look like? How do I use it? How much do I pay?” THE BOTTOM RUNG At that time, did you have anything? No, we had nothing. We had a PowerPoint deck. But we did have specialized knowledge of the way that it works from our background coming out of Epic. So, that was the bottom rung of the traction ladder—just understanding that this was a problem worth solving. And very busy people, technical co-founders of companies were willing to call us and talk about it. So, that was the bottom rung of the traction ladder—just understanding that this was a problem worth solving. Through those conversations, we started to understand the specifics of the use cases here—what data needs to be exchanged, how the workflows need to work—and that’s what helped us start to design our API. The next stage that we moved on to was going deeper: “Can we monetize simply one side of the network? We know we can’t get both sides simultaneously because the product isn’t there yet. But can we get the vendors, the software developers to pay for something?” We created an API and we put a pay-wall around the documentation of how it would work. So, we essentially charged people—it was something like $50 a month—just to look at the documentation of how the API would work. And that told us that it was such a problem that people were willing to pay just a little good documentation, which is kind of a head-scratcher, right? Because the only value that they were getting was confidence that they could go to the health system they’re working with and say: “I know how to do this, because I have learned, I’ve read up on how it should work.” So, when people started paying, we called those people up and said why are you paying? Who are you? What’s your use case? Where do you see the holes and how this works? VALUE TO INVESTORS Do you think that having that initial validation helped with the investors? Absolutely. It showed investors that we are scrappy enough to figure out how to get people to buy into a vision before it actually existed. It also showed that we can generate revenue like the demand was high enough that people were willing to pay for it. And then we got live with our first two or three sites. That was enough that we raised a series A after that, it was 3.5 million. Because of the feedback we had gotten from the market, we were able to convince investors that we would be able to solve the problem. And there was the market was big enough for it to be a good back. Because of the feedback we had gotten from the market, we were able to convince investors that we would be able to solve the problem. And how many investors meetings did you do? We did a couple of accelerator programs early on before we raise this money, we actually did two of them. And in one of them, they took us on an investor road show in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. We probably had 50 meetings, a lot of first-time meetings that have follow-up meetings with various investors around the country, both Angel groups and venture capital, kind of looking at that early stage investment. TRACTION SPIKE From the moment you raised 3.5 million, how long did it take for you to have a similar version of Redox, as you have today? The product kind of iterated at an almost linear rate. Over the years, we’ve improved and added features and made it more stable and more secure and all of that. We’ve been improving that all along the way. But what really changed in the business was between 2015—when we raised that round—until 2018, was Redox really grew because we were working with vendors who brought us into health systems. What happened were some of those vendors started growing quickly. So, we started seeing some exponential growth from that. Then, we started moving up-market from early stage vendors to later stage companies who were already in many health systems. So, we support integrations for Microsoft or Stryker, for instance. And they have an established footprint. So, we started landing those sorts of contracts because we built up trust in the market. And that has really allowed us to grow much, much faster. But, in 2018, what we really started to see was the health system side—this is like the demand side of our market—start to be engaged. So, what happened was, we would go live at a health system and then they would see how easy that project was, and how easy it is to maintain. And then the next piece of software might come along that they want to adopt. And health systems were actually telling software vendors to work with us. So, the healthcare organizations actually became a channel to drive more vendors into our business. And we really started seeing an acceleration in growth after that. To put in perspective, from 2015 until 2018, we grew to about 100 Health Systems, like healthcare organizations that we implemented—which is still pretty good, in three years we got into 100. Within 2018, we got from 100 to about 450. That’s where we saw this spike happen. CONNECTING, NOT SELLING Did you do any intense marketing efforts in that time to generate traction or was this something more like organic or natural? Marketing has always been a way for us to really just communicate and share our vision with the world. Literally, day one, when we decided to do Redox, I wrote a blog post, saying, “this is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it.” And from that point on, we are using it as a content marketing channel. [Redox Blog] Did that work? Yeah. To this day, about 70% of our business comes inbound. Because we have established a content marketing channel—so, we get pretty good SEO—we have a pretty good status as a thought leader in the space of how to do this, because we’ve been talking, writing and speaking about it on stage for so long. Then, of course, just having open and candid conversations with customers or with potential customers and being honest about what we can and can’t do, and the way that we want the world to work. I think that’s gaining a lot of trust in the industry for how we’re going about doing this. The other thing that we realized early on was that doing an exhibit at a conference is really expensive. But we could, for the same price or even cheaper, buy the bar down the street and do a party. So, we started doing these parties and the first one was at a Mexican restaurant. We had margaritas and tacos, and everybody loved it. We started just trying to find the closest Mexican restaurant to any conference that was happening and throw these fiestas, these taco parties. People now know us for having these taco parties and they’re really just low key down to earth events where all we want to do is hang out and talk to people who are interested in this. We’re not giving a big pitch, we’re not trying to sell. We’re just trying to build a community around a bunch of people who are trying to make healthcare better. And we’re just trying to make healthcare data useful. GET DEEP WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS A piece of advice for startup entrepreneurs that are just at the beginning of their ventures… I think the biggest thing that I see with early entrepreneurs is they’re trying to solve the problem from inside the conference room or inside the office. For us, the way we really started to see how to solve the problem and how we could break into the market was through deep conversations with our customers or with potential customers, getting to know them really well. Getting out their elbow, discussing the problem and understanding how they’re solving it today and how they want the world to look. That helped us paint a picture for a product that was really designed around those needs. Getting deep with customers is super important. And doing that as fast as possible. I see a lot of entrepreneurs like work on the business model and market research and doing surveys and things like that. But I don’t think anything beats just actually sitting face to face with a potential customer and talking through the problem with them. Even if you don’t have a solution yet, I think of it as a couple of stages of progression with customer discovery. I don’t think anything beats just actually sitting face to face with a potential customer and talking through the problem with them. First is just meeting with them to understand their problems. And then you can go back, a couple of weeks later, maybe to that same person and say: “Hey, we listened to your feedback. Now we have this solution” or “I’d love your feedback on… and maybe it’s at a point where you can actually try it.” And then a couple of weeks later go back to them again and say: “Hey, we’ve iterated again. And now we want you to pay for it”. See if they’ll actually put money, whether they’ve described problems. You are iterating and testing out a minimum viable product. But more importantly, you’re building a relationship with people such that they’re going to give you honest feedback about how your product will affect their lives. That’s the fundamentally most important thing in the early stage of a company: getting deep with your customers. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment!Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Niko Skievaski (LinkedIn): As President and Co-founder of Redox, Niko Skievaski leads his team in helping healthcare organizations fulfill the promise of digital health – resulting in better patient outcomes and efficiencies for healthcare providers. In this role, he was named to Forbes 2017 30 Under 30 list of visionaries reinventing healthcare. Prior to founding Redox, Skievaski worked at Epic, one of the largest tech companies in the world, as an entrepreneur and advisor to start ups. After Epic, he co-founded 100state (Wisconsin’s largest co-working community) and created ICD-10 Illustrated-a satirical book illustrating medical billing codes. Skievaski has an MA degree in economics from Boston University and a B.S. degree in economics and international business from the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business MORE ABOUT REDOX Redox (Website; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn) is changing the way healthcare providers and software vendors share data. Currently, inconsistent data formats and redundant connections slow, or completely prevent, the flow of critical health information, hindering patient care. Redox changes this by dramatically simplifying communication, making data actionable and more shareable. Redox’s technology powers a streamlined workflow for caregivers, improving care delivery and the patient experience. Healthcare delivery organizations and technology vendors connect once and authorize the data they send and receive across the most extensive interoperable network in healthcare. The post Redox: A Platform For Healthcare Vendors And Providers To Integrate Their Data – with Niko Skievaski [Ep#15] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
24 minutes | Jun 21, 2019
Tulaa: A Platform That Helps Smallholder Farmers To Thrive In Kenya – with Hillary Miller-Wise [Ep#14]
Imagine yourself as a smallholder farmer in Kenya. To grow your crop, you need to buy some inputs. Since you don’t have much money to pay for them, you ask for a loan to a local bank. Due to seasons timing, you have only 4 weeks to plant. However, the bank takes more than that only to approve your loan, which means you won’t be able to execute things in time this year. To help smallholder farmers to overcome this and other challenges, Tulaa is providing them a solution that gathers several stakeholders in just one platform. In our 14th episode, Hillary Miller-Wise tells us the challenges Tulaa faced to get traction as well as the elements that helped it to be part of the life of more than 15,000 farmers. ***Hey, are you trying to take your first steps as an entrepreneur? Click here to see how I can help you. SHOW NOTES POVERTY TRAP What are the problems that Tulaa is solving today? The problems we’re solving have to do with the fact that smallholder farmers across Africa—of which there are about 15 million households that depend on smallholder agriculture—they’re stuck in a poverty trap. That trap really has to do with the fact that they’re producing well below capacity. And we think there are really four drivers of that poverty trap. The first one is they can’t get quality inputs when they need them. Things like fertilizer, seed, and products like that. One of the reasons is that they don’t have the cash when they want to buy it. Secondly, they also can’t get access to loans to purchase those goods because the banks believe that they’re too risky of a customer. Third, they often don’t have good information and training on how to grow the crop, especially in a context of climate change, where they have to adapt their practices. Finally, is access to the market. Typically, these farmers will wait for a broker to come to the farm and offer them a throwaway price—and the farmer really doesn’t have any other alternative. A MARKETPLACE Let’s understand now how Tulaa is providing a solution to these problems… The way that Tulaa is tackling these problems is through a marketplace. What we call “online to the offline marketplace” for smallholder farmers to access the different goods and services that they need to overcome those challenges. What we do is: we use technology, like mobile technology, mobile money—like M-PESA—and artificial intelligence to enable buyers and sellers to transact more easily. Let me give you an example: farmers can place an order with us for fertilizer. At the same time, they can apply for a loan to purchase the fertilizer. If they’re approved for a loan—and we do our own loan assessment based on a number of different data sets—we send them an SMS that has an electronic voucher—a code—in it. They bring that code to the retail shop, and the retailer uses our application to fulfill the order. We’re then paying the retailer for that stock. So, we’re not disbursing the loan as cash to the farmer, it comes in the form of inputs. Then, of course, the farmer has to pay us back over the season. Similarly, on the market linkage side, we’re predicting when farmers are going to harvest and how much they’re expected to harvest. Right now, what we’re doing is building chat-bot technology to be able to communicate with them automatically, to say: “we expect that you’re going to harvest next week and it looks like you’re going to get 50 bags of potatoes. How much would you like to sell on the platform?” The farmers then give us bookings for what they want to sell and then we link them to wholesale buyers in urban markets. There’s no cash in the system at all. So, when we think about going to new markets, we need to focus on markets where the use of mobile money is relatively high. THE BEGINNING How has this startup started? The idea was developed when I was CEO of a different company [Esoko]. We started to develop this idea and then the platform inside of that business. At a certain point, at the shareholder level we decided to spin it out into a separate company. So that happened in July of 2017. Esoko is a pioneer in the use of mobile technology to reach smallholder farmers and was primarily providing market and agronomic information. When I joined, the goal was to try to get closer to the transactions that were happening in the supply chains. That’s how we developed this concept which eventually became Tulaa. STEP-BY-STEP How was Tulaa platform in the very beginning? Well, we started with the input side first. We knew we couldn’t build everything at once. And the input side is a little bit more straightforward because it is a more structured supply chain. There are large brands—like Syngenta, Bear, Yara—multinational companies, who are then selling to distributors, and the distributors then are supplying the retailers. It’s a bit more structured than the off-tech side. Initially, our goal was to act as sort of an honest broker across all transactions, connecting buyers and sellers for every transaction, including the credit component. We were partnering with banks and MFIs [Micro Finance Institutions], with the intention of bringing these qualified leads to the banks and MFIs to then finance. What we found is that that didn’t really work. And there were a few reasons for that. One is the customers that we were targeting. We know now that 71% of our customers have never had input financing before. So, they’re really not in the financial sector, they’re financially not-included. So, part of what we’re focusing on is financial inclusion. The other reason is that the banks and MFIs have processes a bit more set in stone, and it was taking a long time to make loan decisions. And the challenge that happens, especially with climate change, is that no one knows when the rains are going to start. So, farmers are very rational and what they do is they wait until the rain starts. Then, they all go to try and get the inputs at the same time. LET’S DO IT OURSELVES They [the farmers] have a three or four-week window to plant. So, by taking weeks to make a loan decision, it means that a lot of farmers were missing out. Because we had the relationship with the customer, we had the data on them and we were seeing that some of the customers were having a bad customer experience with the banks and MFIs, we decided that we needed to do this ourselves. That’s one of the bigger shifts that happened since we started. We then launched the market linkage—which is the last piece—in November of last year. So, we’ve been doing that for about six months now. TRUST IS MONEY What other challenges did you face? One of the challenges across the board is just building trust. In these markets, transactions tend to be highly relationship based. So, a new player coming into the market doesn’t have any capital with the customers. You have to build that in different ways. One is if you have partnerships where those partners are trusted by the farmers and those partners are then introducing us to the customers. That tends to help quite a bit. We do that in some places by working through government, government extension workers and, some places, there may be NGOs that are working with the farmers and have built up trust over the years. Secondly is obviously ensuring that we are following through on what we said we’re going to do. It has helped to have agents in the field that are from the communities that we’re serving. We have a multi-level marketing model where we’ve got, essentially, sales teams—who are staff members—managing commission agents, who are people from the communities. They’re farmers, they’re respected, they speak the local language. And that’s been a really important approach for us to build that trust. One of the challenges across the board is just building trust. In these markets, transactions tend to be highly relationship based. On the off-tech side—the market linkage side—it’s the same. You have to build trust over time with the buyers. There’s a great example I saw the other day in one of the wholesale markets—huge open markets where big 10 ton trucks are coming to sell their goods. There were two trucks next to each other and they were selling kale. In about an hour and a half, one guy sold everything and the other guy hadn’t sold a thing. They were the exact same quality, there was no difference between them. The only difference was: no one knew the other guy. They were the exact same quality, there was no difference between them. The only difference was: no one knew the other guy. OFFLINE INFLUENCERS What kind of marketing strategies were you able to perform? The marketing strategies we use are typically, let’s call “below the line”. We’re not doing radio campaigns and things like that. It’s very expensive and it’s not as effective. And even if you could reach people through radio—which is a good channel—there’s still that trust element that you have to build and a radio advertisement is not going to do that. What we’ve done is, through the partnerships that we had, having different partners introduce us to farmers, explain what we do, essentially vouch for us. That is a really important approach. We do it with these commissioned agents in the field, as I mentioned. They are meeting with farmers every day, communicating about what we do, how we work, what the terms are, giving examples of other farmers who have benefited from this service and that’s a very local level. We have to remember that many of these farmers, they’re all extremely vulnerable. CASH What about the monetization strategy? We have three revenue streams. The first is a margin that we make on the sale of the inputs. The second is the credit spread on the loans. And then the third is a margin on the trade transactions—on the off-take transaction—so, the variance between what the buyer pays us and what the farmer prices. Did you have the funds you needed in that time? When we started—when we spun out—we had some funds that were invested into the company from investors that were in Esoko. We then raised a seed round, it closed last year and that was about $900,000. We also had a grant from USAID of 500,000. That was vital to us for getting off the ground in 2017. We are currently raising more equity. We have raised debt this year for the on lending and will continue to be raising debt for that purpose as well. MY ADVICE… A piece of advice you would give to entrepreneurs that want to make a difference in the world, as you are doing through Tulaa… To anyone who’s thinking about starting a business, it takes a combination of somewhat irrational exuberance, combined with a bit of ego. You have to have confidence in yourself that you can do it with a very thick skin. The question for anyone thinking about doing it is: how would you score yourself on those measures? It is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my life, but it is also more humbling than just got anything done. You have to take rejection a lot, you have to cope with failure a lot. I think it was Steve Jobs that talked about perseverance being one of the factors that contributed most to his success. You have to take rejection a lot, you have to cope with failure a lot. Obviously, there were many more, but when he was saying there were other people who were working on innovative technologies around the same time, but failed or gave up and we just refuse to give up. And I think of that often when we’re in sort of what’s called the trough of despair. That’s really what separates in many ways. Those factors can separate the successful entrepreneurs from the failed. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Hillary Miller-Wise (LinkedIn) is the founder and CEO of Tulaa. Prior to founding the company, she was CEO of Esoko, a pioneer in the use of mobile technology to provide smallholder farmers with agronomic and market information. She has 20 years of experience at the intersection of agriculture, financial services, and technology, and has developed solutions for rural customers with banks and mobile network operators such as Vodafone, MTN and Tigo. She holds an MBA from INSEAD, where she earned the Social Entrepreneurship Scholarship, and a Master’s degree in Economics from Johns Hopkins University. MORE ABOUT TULAA Tulaa (Website; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; Youtube) is an online-to-offline marketplace for smallholder farmers. We provide inputs on credit at the point of sale, agronomic advice, and brokerage services at harvest time. The post Tulaa: A Platform That Helps Smallholder Farmers To Thrive In Kenya – with Hillary Miller-Wise [Ep#14] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
40 minutes | May 29, 2019
Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13]
In 2013, Faizan took his wife to the movies in a distant city, once the city they lived in didn’t have a cinema. However, when they got there, there were no available seats left, which made them got back home frustrated. With a background in technology, Faizan had an idea: to build a platform in which people could buy their tickets online, so things like what he and his wife went through didn’t happen again. That’s the moment Faizan started developing Bookme, which today provides tickets for the Cinemas, buses and events. Want to know how Faizan got from that idea to the traction stage? Don’t miss the 13th episode of The Traction Stage podcast! SHOW NOTES What is Bookme and which kind of problem does it solve today? Basically, Bookme is an e-ticketing platform. We cater currently three areas: cinema, bus, and events. We are primarily focused on developing countries—or countries that don’t have any online ticketing facilities available. We are currently in two countries: Pakistan and Myanmar. In terms of Pakistan, we are the largest e-ticketing platform. Myanmar is still at a very infancy stage, but we believe it to be a good market in the next coming one or two years. THE RIGHT TIMING Regarding the developing countries—or countries that don’t have a digitized economy or more technology-driven—it’s a challenge, because these countries are generally on paper-based. The same goes with Pakistan back in 2013, when we were thinking about launching this startup, there were no digital solutions available. In order to put it in an easier way those bus companies or the cinema companies were using a paper-based ticket. They were just writing the passenger info or the seat number on a paper, and they handed over that paper to the passenger. And I mean there was no concept of pre-buying a ticket online or any digital payment or something like that. It was a challenge, but it was, at the same time, a big opportunity, because we’re talking about Pakistan—sixth largest population in the world, 200 million plus people and some massive opportunity—which was yet to be disrupted at that time. So, we found that opportunity at a very good time. I think timing plays a critical role in the startup success because when you’re trying to tap into a market, if it’s too early it won’t work out or if you’re too late then it gets occupied. I think timing plays a critical role in the startup success because when you’re trying to tap into a market, if it’s too early it won’t work out or if you’re too late then it gets occupied. NO SEATS AVAILABLE At that time—in 2013—I also got married and that was the time when I and my wife planned to watch a movie in a metropolitan city. […] So we drove to Lahore just to watch a movie in a cinema because there was no cinema in our city. When we reached there, we came to know that there were no seats available and the helpline number—the cinema is used to make a reservation over the phone call—was not answering, because of the lot of load at the box office. They were only entertaining customers who were buying at the box office and they were not making any reservation. The same thing happened in the next week. So, I thought: “Why can’t technology play a role in this problem?” “Why shouldn’t technology be used to answer this problem, so you can buy your ticket in advance while staying at your home and you can see the real-time seat and all that?” Why shouldn’t technology be used to answer this problem, so you can buy your ticket in advance while staying at your home and you can see the real-time seat and all that That was the time when the idea of Bookme came in. CHASING A GREAT CHANCE What were your first steps on executing your idea? I was going through a very tough time, because the software services company that I was running had a setback because the major client of our company got bankrupt. They had to pay roughly about 65,000 pounds, which was unpaid because of the bankruptcy. So, we were passing through a difficult time and my team was very demotivated and a bit shattered about this news. Bookme’s Team But during that time, there was a project, which was initiated by the government of Punjab, which is a province or a state in Pakistan. They initiated a first-ever technology incubator in Pakistan. It was called Plan9, and they had their first cycle being graduated at that time. That was the only hope because they were giving free office space with a small stipend and office equipment, like laptops and stuff. But the best part was that they were located in Lahore, and it was a government pack project, so it had a lot of credibility with it and they were not charging any equity. I think it was the only opportunity I had at that time, if I really wanted to execute this idea. FUNDING THE FIRST STEPS A part of the salary was being paid through that stipend and part of that expense was paid through a personal loan that I requested from my family member, who was a very close relative. He was helping me with the initial expenses and all that. He helped me for about, like 8 to 10 months to overcome in this difficult time because he believed in the idea that yes, it can grow big. THE MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT When was the exact time that you launched your first MVP? It was March 2014. It was merely a form where you can simply put in your request that you want to see a movie at ‘XYZ’ cinema or you want to book a seat from this city to that city. It was all manual, there was no integration of stuff at the back end and there was no option to select a real-time seat. It was like: tell us your preference which seat do you want and we will try to make it as close as possible. And what did you do with the information at that time? For a customer it was an experience that they see the movies that are currently being played in the cinema. They just select the movie, go to the list of the cinema, along with the show times, they select the showtime and, as soon as they select that, the system asks: “Which kind of seat that you prefer? Is it center, front or back?” If the customer selects for example “back”, then it takes you to the information page where you put in your name, phone number, email, and home address. And as soon as you submit that, you get a call from our representative: “Okay, your order has been received. Is this confirmed or are you just testing and trying the service?” The customer said: “Yes, it is confirmed. Please deliver that ticket to my home.” We send out a rider to the customers address. Once the ticket was purchased from the cinema counter or the bus counter it was then delivered to the customer’s home in about the next three or four hours. It was all manual and it was all cash. There was no digital payment or anything. It was more about just launching the service and trying out the market, rather getting the hundred percent or rather going to the complete automated system. It was more about just trying the product in the market and see how customers or the general public react to that and how well is it picked up by the general consumer. It was more about just launching the service and trying out the market, rather getting the hundred percent or rather going to the complete automated system. FIRST USERS How much traction did you get in that time? Initially, I think the traction that we got was due to the media, the hype that we were able to pull off. And users were people who were technology-driven or who are more like friends and families of people who we know. They were the first ones using the technology. Some university students—because our team was at the university and shared the kind of service that we’re offering—were picking up that service. The initial traction was not so good, but we had some customers using our service on a daily basis and the graph was going up, which was a good sign. But it was not like thousands of people using our service, it was mainly like two-three hundred people visiting our website. Out of these two-three hundred, about ten to twenty people were using our service on a daily basis—like placing an order on a daily basis. Ten to twenty orders a day was the beginning for us back in 2014. The initial traction was not so good, but we had some customers using our service on a daily basis and the graph was going up, which was a good sign. IT’S ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE, NOT THE FEATURES I believe it’s about perception, it’s about the image that you create in someone else’s mind. In startups, you have to show yourself that you are a very professional, big corporate company to your user, and then somebody will go and use your service. In order to do that you have to show your customer that your services are top notch. Initially, nothing is a 100% perfect or 100% there. If you look at Facebook, if you look at Uber, if you look at other platforms, they all started from a very small thing, and then they grew bigger with their experience, knowledge and customer’s feedback. Initially, nothing is a 100% perfect or 100% there. The same goes here. It was really a form, but for a customer, it doesn’t look like that. For the customer it looked like everything is integrated. You can see the real-time shows. Whichever has been playing in the cinema is also shown on the website. You can see the real-time routes and, at the back end, we were the one who was putting that bus departures and cities and everything manually in the system, and there was no integration. But, at the front, it looked like everything was very well connected. So as long as you’re able to deliver—even having like 5% of the product ready—go for it. And if you think that you won’t be able to execute or meet the customer’s expectations at this time or if you’re not able to meet the expectations of 80% of the customers then don’t do it. So as long as you’re able to deliver—even having like 5% of the product ready—go for it. GREAT MOVE! Which marketing initiatives worked best for you? One thing I already shared was the media and hype. Showing the brand perception and everything that shows your brand is big. The other thing was leveraging your brand, or using your brand to get the maximum coverage or maximum output from that. How? I explain that with an example. In the beginning of the days, when we were selling the cinema tickets, we reached out to different film distributors. In Pakistan, the film distribution works as a distributor by a film and then it gives that film to all the cinemas and the cinemas share 50-50 roughly of the sale with the distributor. At that point, we’re the first online ticketing company of Pakistan and the company who had real customers. We went to the distributors and said: “We can help you growing your customer base and in return, you have to use Bookme as a call to action in all your trailers, marketing and everything.” Avengers was the first film that signed up with Bookme—end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015. It was being distributed by a TV channel that was aggressively marketing that film’s teaser and trailer on their TV. And we said: “Okay. We will help you market your film to ‘XYZ’ customer base and we’ll do some activation on the ground and all that.” And we were able to somehow convince them. We also told that we’ll give them some share of the revenue. In short, we were able to pull off the deal with them. So, I think it was that perception that you were able to make in general public: “Their logo is being played on the TV” or “They are being advertised on TV. They must be a very big company”. In reality, we were not. We were at a very infancy stage. But, that perception helped us win new customers and to get similar partnerships in future that helped us a long way. LISTEN… What have you learned in your journey with the challenges that you faced that you could say as final words for the entrepreneurs that are out there? RESILIENCE It’s about resilience, it’s about persistence. It’s about staying confident that, whatever you are thinking in your mind will be successful, or whatever you believe, will become a reality. It’s about being that kind of person, and then translating that vision into your team. Without a team it’s not possible. VISION AND EXECUTION It’s about the executors—the people who are responsible to execute day to day operations and everything. If they are motivated enough, and if, as a founder, you are able to translate that vision or the kind of thing that you have in your mind into your team’s mind, then I think the game becomes a lot easier. If they are motivated enough, and if, as a founder, you are able to translate that vision or the kind of thing that you have in your mind into your team’s mind, then I think the game becomes a lot easier. Because you don’t have to see who is working and who is not. It will all be something that will be on ‘autopilot’ mode. Everybody is like passionately working, and you just have to share the broader vision of the company and the rest will be done automatically. THE VALUE OF PARTNERSHIPS It’s about finding the right kind of relationships, partnerships, opportunities, where you can grow your brand by spending the minimum amount of money and getting the maximum results. We had some really tough time raising the last round. We were facing some really difficult time because we had to show big numbers but at the same time, we had no marketing budget. So, we had to use similar kind of partnerships and relationships just to keep the numbers going without spending much on the marketing. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment!Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Faizan Aslam (LinkedIn) Built the e-ticketing ecosystem in Pakistan with Bookme Tickets Pvt. Ltd. Introduced variable fares in transportation sector. Made tickets accessible at all major banks, telcos and eCommerce stores via API integrations. Passion: Business growth and Networking. MORE ABOUT BOOKME Bookme.pk (Website; Facebook; LinkedIn). Getting a cinema or bus ticket has never been a hassle free task. Whether having to drive to the cinema or bus stand to book tickets in advance or standing in those seemingly never ending queues is what we had to go through until bookme.pk came into being .Bookme.pk has introduced online buying of cinema and bus tickets in metropolitan (Lahore , Karachi & Islamabad) city of Pakistan. It is a user friendly application where people can browse for upcoming movies and show times, reserve their tickets before hand, review bus schedule and reserve seat through bookme.pk. Bookme.pk is one of the widely used application in present generation for booking tickets through online web / application. Now there is no need of queue maintenance and rush, one can book the ticket of a movie or bus from his or her smart phone and tablets.The post Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
36 minutes | Apr 29, 2019
Automio: A Platform For Lawyers to Automate and Market Their Services – with Claudia King [Ep#12]
Claudia King worked for many years as a lawyer, but she became really stressed out about the so called billable-hour model. As in any service that depends on the time of the people working in the company, the scalability of the business is restrained by the number of hour people are able to perform. With a strong interest for automation, Claudia became determined to disrupt that kind of business model by not only automating the processes, but allowing lawyers to sell their automated services online. In the 12th episode, Claudia tells us about the early days of her startup Automio and what were the challenges she faced to find the product-market fit and finally generate traction. SHOW NOTES FORMING THE IDEA Tell us a little bit about the fundamental problem that Automio is solving and what is the solution that it offers its customers to solve that problem? So, back in 2011, I launched New Zealand’s first online legal service called Legal Beagle. And through that, we sold online legal services and automated legal documents to people here in New Zealand. And it was around that time that I became very interested in automation. Initially, my enthusiasm for law firm automation was from the client’s point of view and wanting to serve the clients, to make legal services more affordable, accessible and understandable. But then, during my time as a law firm partner, I became so burnt out and stressed because of the billable-hour model that most law firms use to run their business. And the problem with the billable-hour model is you can’t scale your law firm because your income is always limited to the number of hours in the day. I wanted to find a way that I could use my valuable intellectual property—that I created as a lawyer—and sell it online to generate revenue for my law firm, while I was sleeping, basically. So, initially, I developed Automio to myself, to my lay firm to use it. And I really wanted to build a global company and not just be restricted to legal. So, I saw that the product that I developed for my law firm, and for legal Beagle—which is now called Automio—was the big opportunity for me. I could sell it to other lawyers initially, and then to other professionals and business owners eventually. TOUGH TIMES AND FAMILY FRIENDS The idea generation came from your family too, right? Yeah, that’s right. When I was a lawyer, I owned a law firm with my dad Dennis—sort of a more traditional law firm called Dennis King Law. And then while we were running Dennis King Law together, we launched Legal Beagle. After that, we used Dennis King Law and Legal Beagle to incubate Automio. So, dad and I founded Automio together. Unfortunately, he passed away about two and a half years ago. That was quite difficult and, at that time, I had so much going on because I had my law firm, I had legal Beagle, I had Automio plus I was about seven months pregnant with my second child. And I thought: “I might have to sell Automio, for now.” And almost didn’t go ahead because, of course, we use legal Beagle and Dennis King Law to incubate it. So, we needed good profits in those businesses to get Automio off the ground and then when dad died, you know, that revenue was gone. I just didn’t have the same sort of financial means to incubate Automio anymore. But, not long after dad funeral, a couple—who are friends of our family—came to me and said: “Look, we don’t really understand what it is that you’re doing with Automio, but we really believe in you. And we’d like to invest in it to help you get it off the ground.” So, I saw this as the first step in raising capital to get Automio off the ground. REALLY AN MVP How long did it take, and how was it like when you offered it to the first potential customers? We launched the product into the market in June 2017 and, at that point, it was really an MVP. Before that, we had a limited beta group. And when we launched it, it was rough. It was still an MVP. In terms of how long it took us to develop it, both stages all up would have taken about 18 months to two years. And it was a bit of a strange process because here in New Zealand, you can get funding for research and development—some software development does fall within that. We applied to the government for some funding to help us pay for the development of Automio. And eventually we got it but it took a long time. The problem with that is that you’re not actually allowed to start developing it until your grant was approved. There was quite a lot of waiting around for grants to be approved before we actually started developing the product. So, there was sort of some big kind of periods, we were just waiting to hear we had the money or not to do it. SELLING THE IDEA FOR THE FIRST USERS Who were the first customers or earlyvangelists of your product, and how did you approach them? We launched it in June 2017, but we were actually due to launch it three months earlier. Because of the delay, what I decided to do—I’m a really impatient person—[was] a pre-launch. Basically, what I did was I ran a series of webinars and then pitched the product at the end. And I said: “This is what the product does, these are the benefits of it. It’s not available yet, but if you sign up for a pre-launch subscription, you’re going to get ‘x’, you’re going to be the first to get access to it when it launches in a couple of months.” And we were able to sell about 20 to 30 sets at that point to these early adopters who really just wanted to be in on the action. And it was really those people that helped us get our first bit of traction in the market and who we used to help us get feedback. They were people who weren’t my friends or context. They were really third party people who were interested in using automation within their law firms. That’s how we did it and I think it was a really great way to get some money coming in the door to start with, and just to get some people engaged with the product straight off the bat. LEARNING TO GENERATE LEADS What were the most successful marketing strategies to get the traction coming for your platform, of course, besides the webinars in this pre-launch phase? Our product’s been in the market for about 18 months now. And, over that time, we’ve changed the way that we sell the product a lot, because what we started doing initially, didn’t work. We’ve really had to learn to sell B2B. We still do a number of marketing activities, but in addition, we also have a sales team. As part of our sales team, we’ve got a couple of people out doing demos, closing deals, and then we’ve got somebody in sales development rep who does cold outreach, as well as take our marketing leads, nurture them and then get them into demos. The sales guys sort of take it from there. The whole sales team pace was very new to me, and I knew that I needed some help with that. I actually joined Dan Martel’s SaaS Academy, probably about 18 months ago. And he’s very good at marketing funnels, sales pipelines. And through being part of that coaching program, I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve been able to put together the framework for the sales team and change our marketing so that, instead of just kind of putting out content that doesn’t really convert, we’ve now got really good lead magnets that convert to get qualified leads that we push them to our platform. DEFINING THE TARGET CUSTOMER Our description of “target customer” has changed a lot in the 18 months that we’ve been selling the product. We’ve really had to niche down and then niche down again to get the traction. Our description of “target customer” has changed a lot in the 18 months that we’ve been selling the product. We’ve really had to niche down and then niche down again to get the traction. When we first launched the product, [it] was all about helping lawyers to sell online. We were out in the market demoing and talking to any lawyer that would listen to us. We had a lot of feedback. From these people, they didn’t want to sell online—they never would. All they wanted to do was use Automio as an internal efficiency gain tool, so that they could bill the clients the same amount, but they could do the work faster. So, we took that feedback on board and thought that the whole online selling pace was no good, was not something that our product would be able to do, because there just wasn’t a market for it. And we changed our messaging and our target customer around internal efficiency gain. Then, towards the end of last year—so this was reasonably recently like probably four or five months ago—I was feeling pretty negative about the direction that Automio was suddenly going. Because my passion is around the marketplace. Having a global workplace, where lawyers and other professionals can catch their intellectual property in bots and trade those bots online, so that end consumers clients can get affordable, accessible, understandable, legal help whenever they need it. We started looking at our customers list and analysing how each one was engaging with Automio—were they successful with the product or not? —And it was really fascinating. It was a real eye-opener because we could say that our customers who were using Automio to sell online—because we still had a whole lot that were—were far more successful with the product. And they were engaging with it and using it so much more than the customers who were using it for internal efficiency gains—they weren’t using it much. All of a sudden, I was just like: “We need to niche down on law firms that want to be selling online.” And I said: “Look, they’re out there. We just need to find them.” And they are out there and we’re finding them. And I said: “Look, they’re out there. We just need to find them.” And they are out there and we’re finding them. We changed all our messaging towards them and since we’ve done that it has just been such a game changer for us. ADVICE What kind of things would you say to early stage entrepreneurs in order to get the idea and to do a successful way to the traction stage? TRUE TO THE VISION The first is that it’s really important that you stay true to your vision for the product and the company. And that story that I just told you about how we moved away from my vision, how we went from having a marketplace focus to the internal efficiency gain focus—-and as it just wasn’t aligned with my vision. It was because we were talking to the wrong people who gave us the wrong feedback. So, my advice would be to stay true to your vision, if you’re not getting the feedback that aligns with your vision, then you’re possibly speaking to the wrong people. NICHE AND… NICHE AGAIN My second bit of advice is around your target customer, it’s really easy to fall into a scarcity mindset and think that if you niche down on your target customer there won’t be enough of them out there to sell to, to allow you to get the traction that you desperately need. But I think that it’s worth reading the book From Impossible to Inevitable. That was the book that I read, that made me realize that I had to niche down, then niche down again and get success with a small pool of people. Then, you can gradually sort of open the need after that. THE TALK, BEFORE THE LAUNCH The third bit of advice—something that I wish I had done more of—was build a brand around myself and what I was doing before I launched the product. And I think that there was a missed opportunity for me because I already had a bit of a following in New Zealand anyway, with what I was doing in the online legal space. And I should have been blogging and writing valuable content for people who were interested in that, far before I actually launched the product. And the benefit of that would have been that when I did launch the product, I would have already had an audience of people who I could sell it to on launch, who I’d already built some trust with, had already given value too. And I think that would have allowed me to get traction faster. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment!Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Claudia King (LinkedIn; Twitter; Instagram) is the CEO + Founder of Automio. She helps lawyers scale their law firms by selling online legal solutions. Before creating Automio, Claudia King practised law for 11 years. During that time she saw the need to better help her clients with accessible online legal services. She was also disillusioned with the constant pressure of the billable hour, as well as all the tedious and repetitive legal tasks that took her focus away from getting results for clients. MORE ABOUT AUTOMIO Automio (Website; LinkedIn; Twitter; Facebook; Instagram) is your automated, around the clock legal assistant. Our intelligent legal assistant bot platform gives lawyers more time and freedom from boring, repetitive tasks. So lawyers can do the work they enjoy. Automio can do the work of a legal assistant for a fraction of the cost: Automio interviews your clients for you Create customised legal documents in seconds Build the law firm of your dreams Give your clients better access to convenient and helpful legal services Automio is fiercely committed to making quality legal help available to everyone, everywhere. We inspire lawyers to use technology that better serves their clients, while supporting their ideal lifestyle and life’s purpose. The post Automio: A Platform For Lawyers to Automate and Market Their Services – with Claudia King [Ep#12] appeared first on The Traction Stage.
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