INNOVATE

‘Think Illogically’ and Other Not So Mind-Boggling Success Tips from Rock Star Entrepreneurs

When your customers complain, it means you’re doing something right

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 20 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

From “I have an addiction; it’s called winning” and other such gobbledygook on Pinterest, to a photo of somebody on a cruise with a caption quoting Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates, there is no shortage on the Internet of advice and motivational soundbites—both silly and sensible—on how to be successful at pretty much anything.

As encouraging as these pieces of motivation are, as a start-up, it’s still best to turn to the wise words of fellow entrepreneurs who went through, or still experiencing, the same thing you do. Not only is there a good chance you’ll avoid making some of the rookie mistakes they did, but their words bring a sense of comfort knowing you are not alone in this no-holds-barred leap into the unknown.

We rounded up start-up founders from Southeast Asia. Here are their sage words of advice:

1. Think illogically

According to Pavel Bains, co-founder and CEO of blockchain start-up Bluzelle, going into an innovation-led space sometimes entails you unlearn everything you’ve been taught in school.

“Traditionally, schools train you to think a certain way, often on the side of risk and analysis. In a start-up, you almost have to throw every logical thing you used to think about out the door and think ‘illogically’ on some things,” says Bains, adding that he knows of VCs that used to shy away from entrepreneurs “because their ideas didn’t make sense to the VCs [at that time]. It’s only later on that they realize these visionaries are the ones that end up doing great things. So I think for any successful person, you have to begin with that ‘illogical’ mind-shift.”

2. You’re only as good as the network you’ve built

For Reggie Bradford, a serial entrepreneur who now heads Oracle’s Startup Cloud Accelerator Program, “surrounding yourself with big people, people with integrity” is key. “Insulate your blind spots with people with better experience or different experience than you do. Give them opportunities to add value to your start-up—delegate and don’t micromanage, and hold them accountable. I think this is the key to scaling and being successful,” he says.

Ki How Tran agrees. The founder of ARC Hub PNH, a start-up that’s bringing Cambodia at the forefront of 3D printing technology, advises to develop strong networks and partnerships with people. “Go out there and start talking about what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to back a good idea,” he says.

3. Don’t make fundraising your objective

Many young start-ups go into business with funding as the objective instead of simply a means to an end. “Your objective is to build the business, not to raise money. Only do it (funding) when you really need to,” says Paul Rivera, CEO and co-founder of A.I.-powered job portal Kalibrr, a start-up that’s disrupting the recruitment industries of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Rivera adds that what excites investors are entrepreneurs or teams with a deep understanding of the space they are in. “They’re experts in it, they have a capacity of building world-class products, and they have some traction, meaning something is growing, revenue is coming in. That’s the point that you raise funding—not when you just have the idea. Investors want to see that you can execute,” he says.

Do have enough funding to cover the rainy days, says Ben Wintle, the founder of Booky, a food discovery app. “Make sure the money you have to get started will last you three to five times longer than you think it will take,” he says.

4. Use the Lean Startup method to be more agile

Once you’ve identified the customer problem you want to solve, Brad Jones, the founding CEO of fintech start-up Wave Money, advises to use the principles of the Lean Startup method.

“Build a minimum viable product and test assumptions before really investing heavily,” he shares. In a country like Myanmar where Wave Money is gaining traction, Jones says there’s “great opportunities, given the digital penetration, to cheaply build solutions and test them on customers without having to invest in a lot of money.”

5. Doubters abound when you’re doing something unconventional

If you’re doing something truly unique, you’re always going to have trouble describing what you do. Says Roman Mercado of Philippine-based start-up Squadzip, “Having a start-up that doesn’t fit into existing product categories will make people uncomfortable. But entrepreneurs should take comfort in knowing that many companies that had to pioneer a product category went through this struggle. In fact, if you don’t struggle with describing yourself, it may mean that you’re not doing anything special,” he says.

As far as doubters go, Mercado says finding a team with the same conviction as you solves this.

6. If you have customers that complain, then you’re doing something right

At the early stage of their start-up, Squadzip co-founder and CTO Joaquin Barandino says he and Mercado experienced a mind-shift. Before they migrated their SaaS platform to a private cloud provider, customers had raised complaints.

Instead of feeling downtrodden, the co-founders realized that customers were complaining because “they valued what we were providing. It’s bad if you have disgruntled customers who don’t express it. If you have customers complain, it means you’re doing something right, that they actually use your product. And customer feedback is not just about problem solving—there are opportunities that emerge. A lot of our features were derived out of suggestions from customers,” says Barandino.