As Daniel and I prepare to launch Good-Loop off the platform that Collider has helped us to build, I thought it might be wise to take a moment to reflect on what I have learned throughout the startup accelerator process.
Straight out the gate I learned; don’t buy an unlimited pass at your local yoga studio because you’ll never have a chance in hell of getting your moneys’ worth. It’s been an incredibly busy couple of months with full-on training, valuable networking and unfortunately the occasional lunch-and-learn without any lunch. Starting and running a business whilst simultaneously also learning how to start and run a business certainly requires some impressive time management skills. However I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t be as confident and capable as I am now without the support, training and guidance from the Collider team.
Lesson 1 – Live and breathe your story
I’ve only just started to fully understand how important it is to know what your narrative is and to know how to communicate it. I come from an advertising background so I inherently think of storytelling as a brand-building tool, a way to construct something for your customers to buy into. But always in my mind it’s been just that – a construct. I now see that as a startup, our story is everything. It’s not some abstract mission; it actually goes right down to the core of who we are as human beings, why we founded our company and what the purpose of our company is. It’s in the little things like what I tell people over coffee at the start of a meeting and in the big things like why on earth I get out of bed and do this everyday.
And telling that story on an on-going basis is how we get other people to join in. We had a Collider training session on how to hire a great team and turns out that a huge component of successful recruitment is being clear about what your company stands for, where you’ve been and where your story is going next. This is what attracts people and it’s what makes them want to stay. We also had a training session on how to manage your investors and again, making them feel a part of your evolving story is absolutely crucial if you want them to engage and support you along the way.
In fact it seems that there is only one time when a startup shouldn’t ben talking about their story and that’s when they are selling. Because then it’s not about you anymore, it’s about your customer. Which brings me on to lesson 2…
Lesson 2 – Find perspective and have empathy
In a sales training session we had with startup guru Gabbi Cahane, he said something that’s really stuck with me; Selling isn’t ‘here’s what our product can do’ it’s ‘here’s what you can do with our product’. No one cares about 16GB of storage but everyone wants 1000 songs in their pocket.
At a basic level this lesson has meant that I’m re-writing my pitch deck literally every 5 minutes. Each new meeting I have, each new brand, publisher or charity I speak to – they all have very distinct objectives and perspectives. This seems obvious but in fact can be very nuanced. For example in the charity sector there are some who are driven by fundraising and there are others who focus on raising awareness. For the latter group Good-Loop is actually much more interesting to them as a comms. tool rather than a way to get donations. I’ve found the Value Proposition to be very useful in this context and I try before every meeting to take a moment to consider what the value is that Good-Loop can uniquely offer to the person I’m about to speak to.
I’ve learned that sales is all about empathy. So much so that sometimes, once you really take time to understand someone else’s business or situation, you realise that what you’re selling actually genuinely isn’t right for them. And that’s absolutely fine.
Lesson 3 – Have a big vision and tiny plans
I feel that I am constantly bouncing, or perhaps simultaneously co-existing in the world of big hairy audacious goals and the immediate next email. In meetings it’s a balancing act of getting people to take the small next steps with us but also to buy into our Good-Loop ‘big vision’ of a more positive internet. A vision of valuable advertising that helps journalists and content creators to get paid a fair wage for their hard work. A vision of purposeful brands telling genuinely interesting stories in a way that makes a real positive impact in the world. A vision of an internet where I control who advertises to me or uses my data and I have control over who benefits from that exchange.
See, I lost you a bit there didn’t I? It all gets a bit fluffy and impossible-seeming if you go too big picture. Let’s crash back down to earth by talking about VAT…
Lesson 4 – Tax rocks
As the Collider team love to say; the taxman will likely be your best customer for a while. And it’s so true! What with reclaimed VAT and the R&D tax credits – the cash available to us through tax breaks has actually been a great support as an early stage business. Not to mention the SEIS / EIS investment scheme we have in the UK which offers a chunky 50% tax relief to early stage investors. This scheme is fantastic because it reduces risk for them and so enables us to fundraise more easily. Collider have a partnership with Deloitte who have come in to speak to us a couple of times about these schemes and how we can ensure we are making the most of them. I’d recommend the Deloitte Propel service as a comprehensive way to get your head around all this stuff when you’re starting out.
Lesson 5 – Be proud of being small
Not a lesson I’ve ever had to learn before as an incredibly tall person but I started this process asking people if they wouldn’t mind, possibly, just maybe giving up like just like 10 minutes for me to buy them a coffee. In every meeting I felt like this newbie who needed a favour. Someone told me recently to never say ‘thank you for your time’ after you see a client or customer or investor because it suggests a power imbalance in the meeting. And definitely as a startup I have felt, or self imposed, that power imbalance at times because we’re young and delicate and we don’t know as much as the big guys yet.
I will always be grateful when someone gives me their time and I’m far too English to not say thank you profusely. But I’ve also learned to appreciate the value that we bring to the equation as a smart, savvy and dynamic startup with fresh ideas.
So in summary, after 3 full notebooks of scribbles, a million cups of coffee, an extortionate oyster card bill and one wasted yoga pass – I think I’ve learnt a fair bit. And we’re only just getting started…