As we headed into week 4, it was easy to notice that the program really settled in its track. The progress that the teams are making is almost palpable. The Monday filled with 1:1 weekly meetings with each one of the teams manifested a general shift from the first to second gear in the teams’ development process. The teams were excited to jump into our 4th week, which is particularly filled with founder talks and mentor visits.
Tuesday was a busy day for everyone; we started the day with a morning webinar with Christina Garza, the owner, and chief-number cruncher in Accountingprose: a tech-focused, cloud-based small business accounting company. Through Accountingprose, Christina aids small businesses in bookkeeping, payroll, clear and fair pricing, financial statements, tax payments and finally converting from Quickbooks to Xero, a cloud-based online accounting software. Christina offered her advice as an accounting expert by elaborating on smart accounting solutions and tools our startups could use for their businesses. It was really interesting to learn more about the new and improved generation of accounting practices that are much more accessible and feasible.
On Tuesday evening, we welcomed Şahin Boydaş, the co-founder and CTO of Leo Augmented Reality, founder of the non-profit “Silikonvadisi.co” and an investor in “StackShare” to our office. Currently working on his 6th startup, he shared his advice on making it as a Turkish person in the Valley as well as growing as a startup and getting investment. “Pitching your startup is 100% an art; it’s storytelling in which you have to gauge the audience and get them emotionally invested in your dream” Boydaş says. According to him, investors are actually either investing in a vision or the person behind the vision. If the person or team with the idea are bound to be successful in something, be it their current or future startup, the investors will choose to support them. An investment doesn’t require an existing product or something palpable, Boydaş elaborates. After all, “there is nothing tangible in the Valley; it’s all good storytelling and attracting good investor evaluation”. Quoting from Don Valentine’s intake on Apple, Boydaş reminded how Steve Jobs managed to pitch the idea of a “personal computer” when the concept was nonexistent. A similar example is Starbucks that now operates in 28218 locations, whose founders received highly critical responses back in the day to their idea of “ a coffee shop in every corner”.
Boydaş also shared the difficulties that come with pitching a vision saying that his company was in Tech Crunch 8 times; “99 out of a 100 people you meet will not like you or your idea”. He recommended that the best way to approach this situation was to consider the “no’s” as “maybe’s”. “Keep yourself motivated; watch motivational videos on Youtube if you have to!” he says. According to Boydaş, giving the feeling that you are here to stay is also important to investors. Proving to them that you are the best in your area is essential and can be done through thought leadership. He shared an anecdote from an event where he met the founder of a startup that works as Airbnb for hairdressers: the founder considered himself an influencer for hairdressers and even had a book. “Create content in your topic to be the go-to person in it.” Boydaş says.
On Wednesday, we relocated for the day to an office space in DLA Piper for the second part of our mentoring session on scaling yourself as a founder. The session started with Kashi’s presentation on approaching “flexibility” as an asset in the business life. In order to build your company successfully you need to be adaptable to user feedback; “don’t hesitate to kill an idea if its not working according to your customer” Kashi says. At the end of the day, what you end up building is bound to be somewhere between your original idea and what your clients are demanding. Being inflexible in this process may result in loss of time, resources, people and partnerships. Communication is also a key feature in this process; Kashi defined communication as the bond between two people to achieve the same objective. Realizing who your audience is, what the goal, message, and tone should be while communicating is essential. “Always assume that you are wrong in a discussion because while you can control your own words, you can’t control how another person will act and what triggers them”, Kashi continues. Quoting his words, good communicators are always good listeners.
Katherine Glassey followed Kashi’s presentation with a session on “Radical Candor”: a novel concept developed by author Kim Scott. According to Scott, nowadays big companies develop a culture of not saying for the sake of not confronting uncomfortable topics. The concept of radical candor aims to tackle this issue by finding the right balance between challenging directly and caring personally. Glassey says that we should move past the trend of just being professional, an apathetic attitude involving pseudospeciation in many cases. Co-workers need to develop more “human” relationships with common human decency and care. Embracing the discomfort of hard honesty may be challenging, but we should start learning to reward the candor according to Glassey. From now on, listen with an intent to understand, not to respond, said Glassey while concluding her presentation.
To create a more in-depth understanding of topics on company culture, the teams were shown a webinar conference by expert coach Wendy Hanson, who shared the three guiding principles to create and nurture a healthy and thriving company culture. The main message she tried to deliver was the importance of recognizing and appreciating effort in a more personalized manner within the company.
Following the webinar we had a conference call with Stephane Panier, former Finance and Operations Director of Google and founder of BetterManager, whose mission is to increase employee and manager engagement, productivity, and retention by bringing the value of executive coaching to managers. Panier introduced us to how other companies should follow Google’s example of company culture which they refer to as “googliness”. “Even in 2002, the darkest times of Silicon Valley, Google was throwing TGIF parties every Friday, Panier says. In a smaller company you can prioritize the values you look for in the employees you hire, whether it be the level of expertise they offer or their emotional intelligence. As you move from a smaller to a bigger company model, maintaining this kind of a company culture gets particularly challenging; companies should formalize their values and be specific about what they are looking for according to Panier. A good example of this formalization process is the Netflix Culture Deck, which is a useful resource you can refer to.
We wrapped up the day with Chris Ye’s presentation on his intake on how to build a strong company culture. “Be intentional about your onboarding process for employees”, Chris says. It is important not to confuse personal characteristics of employees to the company culture; a personal fit might not be a cultural fit for the company. Be specific about your priorities and ask yourself if you need the addition of economic or moral value to the company with this employee, Chris recommends. Moreover, in his years in the Valley, Chris discovered an odd pattern in which many founders try to stay involved in the hiring process until the company size reaches a very specific number: 500. “These first 500 people are critical for the company culture because these 500 people will hire the next 5000 people into the company” says Chris.
On Thursday evening we welcomed the Global Scaling Academy mentor Tim Taylor. A Pitch Coach at Band of Angels, Tim presented on tips regarding pitching your startup to investors. Not overwhelming the presentation with complicated technical information, too much text and rather aiming for visually engaging slides is key says Tim. He shares an amusing example from a group of cardiologists he once met, who kept referring to heart attacks as myocardial infarction. “Nobody says they are having a myocardial infarction when they are having a heart attack(!)” says Tim. Think about the presentation in the simplest, most non-technical way possible to ensure engagement. Furthermore, the presentation should highlight the main messages such as what your product is trying to achieve. Assume that you are presenting to both people who know nothing about your business and people who know everything about your business so that you can convey your idea competently. According to Tim, the first thing an investor thinks of when they see a presentation for the first time is “When am I gonna get my money out and how many times will it be multiplied”. Thus, the presentation’s objective should be to keep the investors hooked in the idea and get to that next meeting with them. Your presentation should include the problem you are addressing, the solution your product provides, the competition, your go-to-market, financials(revenue, use of funds and potential acquirers) and the management team. Within the competition slide, describe how you are different through the comparison parameters of simple vs. complex, complete vs. partial and effective vs. ineffective.
In terms of the overall presentation, according to Tim’s observation, one mistake that many people tend to fall into is to “spray and paint”: bombarding investors with everything in the hope that at least one of the things they say is going to come across. “Your presentation should instead be extremely objective oriented, with preferably 6 slides and maximum 10 minutes”, Tim says. A lot of presenters also tend to use customer testimonials within the slides; a more effective way to engage the angel investors is to actually bring a customer to the presentation according to Tim.
When asked if using videos is a proper way of visual engagement, Tim shared a funny anecdote stating that “that usually ends with the audience staring at a black screen and a person slowly muttering to the microphone ‘this was working a few minutes ago’”. The bottom line is to get to the presentation place very early to be 100% sure that the video is going to work. Tim concluded his presentation by addressing two things to watch out for at the end of the presentations during Q&As. “Answer the question that is being asked” and “Do not argue with the investors even if you don’t agree with them” Tim said as the room burst into laughter. No matter how straight forward, we were extremely grateful that Tim pointed out such issues of utmost importance for the pitching process.
On Friday, our mentor Jeff came in for a short presentation to assist teams with marketing. He shared that during the scaling process, scaling financials through assigning activities to people and analyze if this contributes to scaling. “As we move forward, you need to be more intentional about the things you are doing” Jeff said. He provided the teams with a framework: attract strangers to make them visitors, convert visitors to leads, close leads so that they become customers and delight the customers so they become promoters. “Keep measuring your funneling size to determine if your marketing strategy is the right one for you” concluded Jeff.
We closed the week with a brain trust session accompanied by delicious Turkish baklava. Teams discussed the strengths of the program that they have observed so far and how to make it even better for their scaling process. Our MD Çiğdem Toraman reflects on the past week by saying “We had a very fruitful week in which we focused on topics like building a team, company culture, and inbound marketing. We are really excited that our teams are starting to reach out to their first customers in the US market!”
June 19, 2018