As the saying goes… “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
The drive behind kick-starting my own startup was really, the passion to grow the cloud communications space in Asia. Growing a startup now in the already-cluttered startup ecosystem in Asia is challenging, but rewarding. Sometimes, it is about sticking around as long as possible until other players fade off. Other times it is about innovating better solutions and selling a compelling product story.
Back in 2010, when I started my company to leverage on the untapped potential of the cloud communications space in Asia, the startup and funding culture was not as mature as it is now. It was a blue ocean market space with very few startups compared to Europe and the United States. After a couple of years and two rounds of successful funding – Series A and Series B, we were thrilled. But this also meant that there was more work to be done! We can’t deny that building a business requires constant hard work and strategic focus.
Here are some of my key tips for entrepreneurs starting out on their journey:
1) Team and talent is what counts
I wish I could provide you with an awesome growth hack for your business as the first tip, but I bet you hear this a lot – what you truly need is a great team.
One of the biggest challenges faced by startups is learning to master the art of hiring not just employees, but talents. Over the last 18 months, Wavecell’s team strength has almost tripled from its initial 30 staff. To achieve this, we had to get all hiring managers aligned with our recruitment efforts and strategy. From the very beginning, we prioritised hiring local talents to get the most out of each regional market as well as to contribute to the company’s culture.
I strongly believe that each and every team member is the face of the company, manning the front lines while interacting with customers. It is therefore important for your team leaders to be able to bring out the best in their own team.
2) Prioritise your products first, then think about profitability
I started the business with two other co-founders and we bootstrapped for the first 5 years until we independently gained profitability. Initially, we built a simple platform to go to market to grow our foothold in Asia. It was a success – we managed to sign deals with some of the current renowned brands of Southeast Asia. Of course, we still had to continue tweaking and enhancing our platform, to solve even more pain points. This naturally pushed us to ensure profitability.
Most products need to work for your customers first before they are willing to invest more into your business. Profitability can be amongst your list of business strategies. However, it should not be your first focus when you’re starting out.
3) The “fail fast and innovate quicker” principle
The original concept goes something like “fail early, fail fast, fail often”. But I’d like to take things a little bit more positively instead; fail fast to innovate quicker. We have to keep up with the pace of the various competition, customers’ ever-changing behaviour and high expectations of shareholders.
We cannot afford to fail too often as well. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs to first identify a clear business need, customers’ pain-points and quickly translate those findings to produce a viable product to accelerate your growth. Therefore, the Product and Engineering teams are always the core strength of our company to ensure that even if we failed fast, we can quickly innovate and accelerate growth. The most important factors to keep in mind are flexibility, agility and the ability to pivot fast to adapt to most customers’ demands.
Every race car requires the occasional pit stop fixes. Likewise, every business always has something to fix and improve on. If you ever feel like there is nothing to fix, it’s probably a tell-tale sign that you’re not moving fast enough, and you should be worried.
4) Test, iterate and retest
The team at Wavecell is constantly testing, iterating and retesting every single module in our platform until we achieve a beta version and a workable feature, ready for clients to utilise.
To ensure successful go-to-market ready-products, all features for your beta versions have to be thoroughly specified from the beginning. This must be based on customers’ real pain points and needs. Once you hand over the specifications to the Software Development team, capital and resources will be heavily invested to develop this scope of work.
Therefore, always test, iterate and retest to ensure a successful result!
With these tips, I wish you the best on your rewarding adventure through launching a startup in Asia-Pacific!
Catch Olivier Gerhardt, CEO & Co-Founder of Wavecell at the upcoming Growth Summit at RISE Hong Kong 2018 (10 – 12 July).
The team will be exhibiting on Day 1, 10 July and Olivier Gerhardt will be speaking on “RISE of Chat Apps and APIs in Asia-Pacific” at the Growth Summit stage on Day 3, 12 July at 10:15am.
To know more about Wavecell, watch our introductory video below or drop us an email at email@example.com: