Pivot: The 5 Year Startup Journey So Far
Working for two years within the market of independent professionals, talking to them every day, and seeing them work on building their business drove us to the conclusion that these people — our clients — possess real superpowers.
Superpowers are something we see a lot… on ‘X-Men’, or elsewhere in the Marvel/DC universe.
It was the X-Men that actually played a key part in building TOPRO, since we decided to build Cerebro — a device that brings visibility to those with superpowers (our professionals), helping clients who need their skills to find and access them easily.
The first version of TOPRO was a map-based tool where professionals from all over the world could add themselves and their superpowers. The tech side was developed in October 2015, in the middle of the Jewish New Year and the subsequent holiday season. There wasn’t much I could do while it was being developed, so I started two side-projects:
1 Creating a list of 72 awesome professionals that any newcomer, who had just moved to Tel-Aviv, would be happy to get their hands on. I added service providers I knew and trusted to an open spreadsheet, and asked trusted friends to add their own contributions.
That list was posted on a Facebook group with over 80,000 members, most of them new residents to the city. Within 24 hours, there were over 1,000 unique entries.
A dozen different people sent me emails, asking to add their recommended professionals to the list, complete with gushing reviews. Two weeks later, a woman reached out to me in an email, asking if I could recommend her a great dermatologist. I could, and I did.
2 To avoid an empty map situation, I started to “do things that don’t scale” and manually found 100 professionals in 12 different professions on Instagram. By the time it was ready, we had 1,200 professionals on the map.
Combining the lessons from these two projects brought about another mini-pivot. The list spoke for itself. It was another clue in our yellow brick road, and the answer to the pressing question: “How do we make the database fill itself up?”
We changed TOPRO’s design from a map to a list tool where users could add their own lists of professionals. We created both collaborative and private lists: The collaborative lists were dedicated to specific topics or locations, to which anyone could add their recommendations, while the private list comprised my list of recommended professionals. Our theory and our gamble was to build up a database based on user-generated content — and on some levels, it worked.
Investor Pitching — Part 2
Two years after the first run at investors, I embarked on an angel round. I met with Israeli angel investors and micro funds, knowing that with no deep tech or high traction, traditional VCs would be a waste of time at this point.
I recall two meetings specifically:
- The one where I “made an entrance” by tripping over and falling down, with the managing partner helping me regain my footing. No good recovery from that one, I knew that — yet, I continued on to pitch and then to collect some feedback. Needless to say, it ended with a polite “no”.
- The one where I had an angel investor reschedule the meeting four times. I was sure he’s just not that into us, but when he finally did arrive (late), his first words were, “I’m so sorry, I know what it looks like. I want to invest. Tell me more.” That was our first “yes” ever.
In 1 month we’ve raised half of the round’s amount. We had a 4-no;1-yes ratio. We are now a team of seven, and still living off that round.
One Brunch Can Teach You a Lot
Not getting the TOPRO lists to fly as high as we thought they would, I felt we’re missing something. I still believed that the best way to build the database of professionals is by the good recommendations of clients, however clients didn’t add their lists. We sent out emails to friends asking them to “add your list of recommended professionals”. That didn’t work.
A few days after sending out those emails I met my friend Rebecca for brunch and decided to ask her something different.
I told her “Ignore the email. Will you add 5 professionals to TOPRO?”
Rebecca’s response was “Oh, only 5? Sure.”
She added 11.
We realized that framing the ask into a specific, not too high or low of a number (asking for 1 is actually harder for most of us than 3 or 5) makes people see it clearly and they are more inclined to do that.
During the interaction with clients, friends and investors, the name TOPRO got a lot of feedback. Either it was pronounced or written wrong (ToPro, Toppro..) and inside my heart I knew that TOPRO is like Microsoft and it doesn’t go with my Apple personality.
Side note: I divide company names to “Apple”s and “Microsoft”s — The inspirational vs. the litteral. TOPRO is literal. Take top, add professional, remove the end and same letters and there you go. Missing: the inspirational.
I knew that changing the name again will feel weird to everyone around me (my nice way of saying that my team and investors will think I had lost my mind), so I decided to let that thought go for now and focus on making things work. The name change, if needed, will arrive by itself.
We started working on a list of only 5 spots for anyone to add their TOP5 professionals on.
In the middle of work, Superr happened.
Chapter 6: The lesson of quality (hint: quantity has nothing to do with it), Superr’s first “Fans” and the return of the app.
Chapter 7: What’s going on today, building a kick ass team tips and tricks, handling failure on the way to a possible success, and who gets to play our characters in the movie.