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Sam Leong Road, Singapore, 4th November 11:49 PM
I’ve been part of a startup incubator(Entrepreneur First, Singapore) for the last three months. Two days back, we got news that EF decided to go ahead with funding a pre-seed round for our idea.
If you’re not a regular on this blog, that probably won’t make a lot of sense – let’s recap!
Myntra, Bangalore, 6th June 4PM-ish
I was explaining an ML model to an intern, when my phone rang. Singapore – It was Entrepreneur First. I had already given a couple of interviews, and was expecting this call. They told me to fly down asap. I resigned the next day.
Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, 25th July
I’d spent 10 days learning surfboarding in Lanka, with Gyani & Sodhi. Gyani left for London, Sodhi left for Hyd & i left for Singapore.
32 Carpenter Street, Singapore, 30th July
Impostor Syndrome was at its highest. Entrepreneur First(EF) follows an unconventional model to build companies. It brings together a bunch of talented individuals from different industries & varying skillsets, encourages them to team up & build kickass startups.
Socializing doesn’t come natural to me, and i had to sell myself to potential co-founders. It put me out of my comfort zone, like nothing ever had. I’ll definitely remember it as one of my biggest learning curves. I realized the actual meaning of “fake it till you make it”!
I teamed up with Siddharth(Bitsian senior lol!). We were both product guys, and got along really well. We saw that there was a major problem in B2B Sales – whom & how to reach out. We talked to more than 30 people in Sales, and pivoted quite a few times while refining the core solution.
We eventually broke up after three weeks, as we weren’t able to find a niche undominated by existing players. B2B Sales is super-competitive, and you need to be crazy innovative to stand out. Add to that, both of us had zero years of combined experience in this domain.
I learnt hard conversations are hard for a reason. Our mentor at EF asked us whether we’re ready to give 5 years of our lives to this problem. We didn’t have an answer.
While debating our breakup, i went through a lot of hypotheticals & reasons on why we should stick together. The chat below shows my frame of mind at that point of time.
I run quite a lot, and my runs take me to good places inside my head. I fight my insecurity on my runs, i get more perspective on my runs, i perservere through my runs
Once you breakup, you date again. Try to find another co-founder & start from scratch.
I teamed up with Hardesh, a domain expert in Compliance. I’d never thought that I’d be working in regtech, but i’d promised myself that i’d be going out of my comfort zone everytime i needed to.
By this point, I’d realized that i was restricting my universe of ideas to those that were buildable by me alone. I soon learnt to go beyond, and come up with solutions that haven’t been built before, with a vision that would need an army of developers & scientists to bring it to life, not just me.
Meanwhile, I kept running. I went on a 14-day streak to run everyday. I know, i’m crazy.
We started with customer validation of our problem. Trying to kill the idea every other meeting, we slowly moved from problem validation to solution validation. I’m really good at writing cold emails now!
Both of us were seeing direction in our customer meetings, and felt productive week-on-week. Some conversations make you think about a pivot, but then you go back to first principles & redraw your decision tree. EF says that when you’re unsure about a decision, “run to the spike”. i don’t understand that completely but we ran to the spike multiple times, we still are.
We ended up pushing out a basic landing page, and multiple versions of our Dropbox-ish video prototype. When we showed the video to potential customers, we documented the reaction on their faces. They immediately got the idea & smiled, and then transitioned to a puzzled “how”. i love that.
EF pushed us to cover our grounds on traction, go-to-market & market size. All of them turned out to be tough exercises for us first-time founders. We went ahead shamelessly asking for Letters of Intent, read every other PWC/EY report on regtech & scratched our heads endlessly at spreadsheets. The Friday team pitches at EF helped us in getting structure around our pitch.
We’ve talked to more than 50 people in compliance, we’ve been to conferences & seminars and have listened to their pain points, over & over again. Customer empathy is what i value most in a startup founder, and i can proudly say that i’m getting there. True customer empathy drives the shit out of you when you are building the product.
I got back on my meditation+journal routine when i realized that this was exactly the time i needed it most. Half an hour of me-time. Meditation also helps me remind myself of my lack of sleep, my constant companion.
Was still running, 3 times a week. Follow my runs on Instagram – first time you saw a CTA in the middle of a blog!
I’d started EF with the goal of 7 day workweeks, and slowly realized how stupid that was. I transitioned into 6-day weeks, with a long run on Saturday to recover from brain death. Still blogging every Sunday – subscribe to the newsletter at the end of this blog. Another CTA :p
Early-stage investors like to ask the question about disagreements between co-founders, and now i realize why. Disagreements are bound to happen, what matters is whether you respect the others’ PoV and how you plan to resolve it. We tend to go back to first principles, and kick ego out of the equation.
We decided to build a prototype to show our core value proposition to customers & investors. I churned out an insane amount of code within 2 weeks, i don’t think i have ever been as productive. Fun times.
I feel like i struggle a lot at switching between thinking & executing. i can’t blame anyone for bad product design or bad UX. It’s all on me. Transitioning from coding up an NLP grammar engine to giving actual value to the customer to changing the background color for the website – this doesn’t come easy to me.
By the end of Week 9, we headed into a Super-Checkin at EF. Funky name, right!
Supercheckins are basically mock panel interviews to prepare us for the Investor Committee, making us go over all our weak points. We were grilled on our go-to-market and product roadmap, and it turned out to be super-helpful in hindsight.
For the last four weeks or so, we were focussed on developing the prototype & refining our story. We rewrote our go-to-market strategy, and went over means to achieve defensibility. We were pitching it to everyone we could get in touch with, and getting feedback on refining our pitch.
By end of Week 13, we were approaching the EF Investment Committee – a panel that decides whether we are investable. Both of us proactively tried to condition ourselves for the big day – Personally, I believe in positive visualizations & tuning out all negative what-if scenarios from my thought process.
I’d heard this beautiful quote from George Raveling on the Tim Ferriss podcast – “If it’s up to be, it’s up to me”. This resonates with me. I feel like I’ve carried this quote all through the past 3 months.
Last month, I (re)started my gym routine – it makes me so much more happy & productive! Three days of runs, three days of gym – Follow them on my Instagram XD
We went through the Investment Committee last Monday, and got the results on Friday. We were grilled hard on our defensibility & differentiation. I believe in our speed-to-market, and it’s time to get going.
Sam Leong Road, Singapore, Week 14
When people do what they love, with people they love, solving problems worth solving, magical things happen :)
We are building out our MVP in the next couple of months. We pitch at Demo Day in end of January.
Oh, and also, we are hiring!
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org