It is now a good 10 months ago since I started my company and I am looking back on what as a professional was definitely the most challenging, but also rewarding period of my working life. After the operational launch in March 2019, I had the pleasure (and probably a decent portion of luck) to build the company from 0 to 30+ customers, CHF 130k+ bookings and CHF 90k+ bookings within less than 12 months.
Sounds straightforward, but involved quite a few business model changes. Let me first share the 4 iterations I went through between 03/2019 and 01/2020 and then explain why I thought it was the right thing to do for startups and what I learnt along the way.
https://hartmannventures.com 1.1 (Q2/Q3 2019): Entrepreneurial, operational sales support
Nearly every startup lacks sales capacity, and I felt like I could help. This resulted in a creative mix of hands-on lead generation and outreach, sales enablement workshops, provision of on-the-fly created templates and sales sparring sessions.
https://hartmannventures.com 1.2 (Q3/Q4 2019): Entrepreneurial sales support
The “operational” part needed to go to focus on high value sales support. And frankly, living costs in Zurich do not mix well with expected costs for email mining and similar tasks that people can also outsource to low-cost countries.
https://thesalesplaybook.io — SaaS (Q4 2019 — ongoing): Software-as-a-service web application
I wrote the same questions, templates and processes on whiteboards in customer workshops and was looking for a way I was looking for a way to providing this content to startups independently of me. I therefore built a Progressive Web App to achieve this at 0 marginal costs and therefore make my offering even more affordable.
https://thesalesplaybook.io/accelerator — Sales Accelerator (Q1 2020 — ongoing): 6-Month Programme
A pure service offering is not that scalable. A pure SaaS offering is hard to build out to generate 6-digit annual revenues within months without external funding. “Man + Machine” still seems to be the best combination today to generate tangible business value for B2B startups.
Now over to the 4 in the headline promised Lessons Learnt of changing my market offering 4 times.
Working with startups works
Early 2019, were 3 central questions: 1) Do startups need help?, 2) Can I help them? And 3) Will I be able to support a family within 18 months after launch? My thoughts were 1) YES!, 2) I really think so and 3) I am honestly curious about that myself…
“But startups have no money! They will not pay their bills! They do not know what they are doing! You will struggle to ever make a living! Why the hell do you not work with SMEs and/or corporates?!”
These were arguments I heard often from friends, colleagues, and actually also startups. Making >CHF 90’000 revenue in Year 1 helped silence the voices a fair bit. Also, the internal ones telling you 1–10x per day you will go bankrupt.
Focus relentlessly on customer value
My north star is to help Swiss B2B startups succeed in their mission to change the world for the better.
How I do that, I do not care THAT much about. Which is why I might update my market offering some more in 2020. I am looking forward to the further journey of continuous iteration, validation, learning and adaptation to make sure my offering constantly improves — every day 1% would be 37x better within 1 year right?
Yes, I herewith publicly admit: I wanted to build a 100% self-service, fancy Software-as-a-service application for a few years now. But launching the MVP on Day 1 with hierarchical levels, roles & responsibilities, Stripe integration and a beautiful UI was “maybe” a bit over-engineered.
But apart from the above, I appreciate the freedom to only pursue activities that add value for my customers, partners or myself to build a better a business and have 0 political, admin, social, governance or other Bullshit.
Entrepreneurship is awesome
Friend: “How is the company going Manuel?”
Me: “(A lot) better than expected to be honest!”
Friend: “Yes glad to hear, but will you get a (serious) job again sometime soon?”
Me: “Absolutely not!”
I have seen a fair share of company sizes and working modes in my 10 years in business at i.a. Tesla, Holcim, Accenture, WEF, ABB and several SMEs. Most people prefer larger organizations for many reasons (stability, community, belonging, internal learning, promotions, benefits, no closed feedback loops etc.).
But I really love the freedom, accountability and upside potential of being a “Solopreneur”. So no, I do not plan to apply for a normal job soon, but continue to build my company.
Stay tuned for more news in 2020 and looking forward to keeping in touch with you!