With so many aspiring entrepreneurs taking the plunge and launching their own businesses, standing out from the throng has never been harder. The local startup scene had been on the rise since 2012. By 2017, PwC Philippines recorded roughly 300 startups operating in the country, with a vast majority of them seeing more growth in that sector over the next 12 months.
That’s good news for the community as a whole, but for new entrants, more competition means more noise to get lost in. To guide entrepreneurs in overcoming this challenge, Impact Hub and KMC Solutions gathered business experts for their VIA Startup Summit held last November 28 at The Axon at Green Sun.
Here are some six insights every startup founder needs to know:
1. Focus on your business value
Since the term “unicorn” was coined in 2013 to describe privately-owned startups worth over $1 billion, new businesses have been scrambling for the moniker. A new “unicorn” not only joins the ranks of Facebook, Uber, and AirBnb, but also grabs the otherwise elusive attention of big investors. According to Sernen Perlada, director of the Department of Trade and Industry’s export marketing bureau, fixating on labels causes its own problems.
When the drive to be a unicorn overrides the company’s purpose, “you lose focus on why you exist,” he said. If every firm is running with the same mission, how can they expect to stand out?
Instead, startups should focus on creating business value by identifying the problems that they want to solve. “Let the unicorn be your prize and not your goal. Focus on what matters and the fundamentals,” said Dr. Donald Lim, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Philippines.
2. Always keep your customer at the center
Knowing and valuing your customers may not only foster brand loyalty but also raise your profits. According to Sreejith Narayanan, Netcore Solutions’ international customer success head, consistent, meaningful customer engagement can increase profits up to 95 percent.
“It’s important for us to understand not just his problems and not just the way he wants to solve them, but also what values and motivations are driving those decisions… Observe what they value and not just rely on what they tell us,” said Donna Paez, innovation and business development manager of Globe Telecom.
3. When it comes to office spaces: mind the small details
According to KMC Solutions, the office space is another aspect of work life that’s often overlooked. Its location says a lot about how professional a company is, according to Riccardo Corsini, KMC Solutions’ vice president for marketing. Layout is essential in keeping your workforce efficient — maintaining separate areas for working, eating, and even playing and sleeping. “You need different spaces throughout different times of the day,” said Michael McCollough, KMC Solution’s managing director and co-founder.
Open phone lines, internet connection, a working printer: these are some things often taken for granted by employees. But even one malfunction among them can cause major headaches and kill productivity. It’s important to take note of the “little things” and keep them running for operational efficacy.
4. Fail quickly, fail cheaply, and — most importantly — learn from it
Making mistakes is part of any person’s life, moreso for any businessperson. But it’s important to get back up as quickly as possible. “How quickly you learn depends on [how] willing [you are] to do something about [failure]… Once you are able to pick up properly and create the right product that adapts to the market that you’re trying to address, then eventually you’ll get it right,” said Fred Tiñga, president of Global Electric Transportation.
Another thing to keep in mind is to try to minimize the collateral damage caused by your mistakes. “Try to get value out of it,” said Ronna Reyes Sieh, managing partner of The Coding School. “There are ways to take high risks cheaply, so think about how you make decisions.”
5. Stay in Day One
Every startup begins with the drive and excitement to innovate, this period which Jeff Bezos calls “Day One”. But as the company starts to get bigger and more successful, there will be a tendency to settle into familiar processes because, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Continuing this pattern of contentment will eventually lead to “Day Two”: stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by decline, and finally, death.
To avoid “Day Two”, startups have to keep their innovation caps on throughout their life cycle. “We ingrain in ourselves the idea that past results do not equal future successes. We strive to always innovate and strive to be always open to change,” said Paez.
6. If it’s time, let go
It’s often very hard for startup founders to let go of their brainchild. But when the only way forward is apart, too much emotional attachment can drive businesses to the ground. While this isn’t a choice that all startup founders need to make, they need to be open to the idea.
Ces Rondario, co-founder of Impact Hub Manila, said that, when mentoring founders, the main piece of advice they give is to keep an entrepreneurial mindset. “One of the first things that I asked was, ‘What is your exit plan?’ Because there are different strategies… It’s okay if they want to stay in their startup forever. But their growth pattern will be determined by their exit plan.”