What does it take to found a successful startup and take it to the next stage? And what are they key challenges that have to be overcome on the journey? Some great lessons for startups were shared today at the Founders panel: From Startup to Scaleup, with viewpoints from across the world, expertly moderated by Stephen Ibaraki, Founding Chair, Global Industry Council & Vice-chair, IP3 Board, International Federation for Information Processing, Canada.
For Aibek Amandanov, Global Marketing Manager of Republic of Korea’s ulalaLAB- a finalist in the 2016 ITU Telecom World Awards, a key challenge- aside from finances- was convincing manufacturers to implement a new technology, but one that could optimize creativity. “Dealing with governments can pose a challenge to start-ups in a host of areas from navigating through licensing institutions to obtaining data. “The government doesn’t have any data on Indonesian SMEs,” explained Kiki Rizki, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Indonesia’s Nurbaya Initiative. Without this data they have no way to reach their potential target market of Indonesian SMEs- we practically have to go door to door to find them, she explained.
Advice for early stage founders
Be open to change when its required, said Reg Orton, Co-founder & CTO of Kenya’s BRCK, winner of 2016 ITU Telecom World Awards, cautioning that it can be too easy to change too much or too often. There is a fine line to be trod between switching direction every 6 months (too frequently) and sticking with the exact same direction throughout, he explained. Educate the market, be that on the importance of connectivity or the Internet and what it can offer them, said Rizki. Expecting SMEs to manage complex digital marketing or an online store takes more than 1 day.
Many ideas can fail without a good co-founder, as a co-founder can bring with them a complementary skillset and experience, ideally even experience from a different culture. But make sure they have the same mindset, explained Tilman Süss, Managing Director, Berliner Strategen, Germany. Also, remember you can’t do everything- if there is a particular skill you lack, say, accounting there maybe people who are expert in this field and can do this better than you, so it can be a good idea to give some areas up.
Best support for startups
Startups need to be sure the public understand them. Often the public, or even large corporates, think they get startups but they don’t, as they just don’t have enough experience of them and the climate they operate in. Süss commended ITU for its work with startups, including through the ITU Telecom World Award – which will announce its winners on 28 September – to help integrate them into the ICT ecosystem.
Governments can provide key support to startups, helping establish a business friendly environment, establishing accelerator programmes, helping secure investment as well as helping startups manage risk, working with them in a way that enables them to scale up. Governments need to find a path for startups, not just go with the incumbents, according to Orton. The Indonesian government is giving a whole lot of exposure to its startups, according to Rizki- indeed, a number of them can be seen in the Indonesia Pavilion here at ITU Telecom World 2017.
Raising capital & getting ahead
The road to raising capital can sometimes be a difficult journey for startups. Start early, and be brave, said Amandanov. Meet with investors and make sure you research who you are meeting with. Be realistic, cautioned Rizki, don’t set yourself impossible numbers to hit. Finding an investor within your niche can be tricky, Orton explained that it was easy to find either tech investors or investors interested in Africa but trickier to find one that covers both areas, as well as being an investor you can scale with.
Finding an extra pair of hands can help extend your reach explained Rizki, who worked in conjunction with the Indonesian postal service to get their message out and help get large numbers of underserved SMEs online in just one day.
The panel summed up with some key thoughts to ponder; be realistic but don’t sell yourself short. Don’t do something if you don’t love it – if it’s something you love, it will come across in pitches, said Süss. Take a risk, urged Amandanov. You only live once and when you take a risk the result will be more satisfying. Know where you are going, said Orton, but don’t be afraid to change how you get there. “If you want to succeed, keep pushing yourself beyond your capabilities, you can achieve amazing things.” Concluded Ibaraki.