From Startup Purgatory To Startup Glory: 11 Things We Did To Get Acquired
It feels weird to write this blog because I’ve never been in this situation before. I’ve always been the underdog, the outlier, the hopeless case. But today, after all the hardships and pain that I have experienced over the past 9 years of my startup journey — we finally made it. ChatbotPH has been acquired.
All the negativity is now gone and everything that lead up to this moment was worth it. I finally understood what every setback was for. I’m not going to divulge too much things about how it feels to be acquired in this blog because I don’t even know how to explain it but to some it up, I’m just extremely happy.
I’m writing this blog to tell you that it is possible — you can achieve your dreams.
It’s ironic because just over a year ago I wrote this to tell you the lessons I learned from my failed startup and around half a year ago, I wrote this to tell you how I got out of the dumps. Both of those blogs, I didn’t share but somehow ended up making some noise. I wrote them to remind myself that no matter how tough the journey is, I have a shot at making it as long as I hustle hard and I learn from my past mistakes.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I will be writing this to teach you how to get your startup acquired.
The saying is right, the harder you work the luckier you get. So here we are, I’ll be sharing you 11 things we did that helped us get acquired within 12 months.
Why am I doing this?
It’s not to toot my own horn. I don’t think what I did is spectacular yet but this blog is to show you that it is doable and it all depends on you and the decisions you make. My mentor Jojy Azurin told me on the day I decided to be a technopreneur: “When you get successful, don’t pay me back. Pay it forward.”. This is how the world will become a better place.
This is my way of paying it forward to you.
Just like the first two blogs I wrote, I plan to keep it real with you and that means there will be cuss words from this point on. If you don’t like reading cuss words, you may close the browser now.
- First Who, Then What — I got this from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. When we started ChatbotPH, I made a personal vow to make sure that it will not suffer the fate of Partyphile. I made sure that the people I hire first are people with the following traits: integrity, hunger and humility.
Talent did not matter much because skills can be taught and the right people will figure shit out eventually anyway. Before we can take off as a company I need to make sure I had the right people on the bus because they will be in charge of taking care of one thing — our culture.
- Be Deliberate About Your Culture — Culture eats strategy for breakfast. In a startup where you don’t know who your customers are and how you’re gonna make money, it’s culture that will push you forward. We solidified our culture by making rules that everybody bought in and held everyone accountable in making sure that everybody gets shit done.
Little things like doing our daily standup (and automating it using this tool) helped us know what everyone was up to and if they were pulling their own weight.
We didn’t need to throw office parties every week or do team buildings (honestly, we just couldn’t afford it), we needed to create habits that empowered people to contribute to a common goal that is clear and concise. People knew their work creates impact from day one. It’s that sense of purpose who will attract people to work with you because people will love to go to work.
- Focus on your OMTM — If you don’t know what OMTM means, you should do your homework, it’s something every startup person sould know. Everybody in my team knew we had limited runway and we were just bootstrapping and we had no time to dick around. For us, the only metric that mattered was revenue. Sales fucking cures all.
We needed to get profitable as fast as we can or we’re gonna die.
By having a clear north star, the whole team knew we needed to ship fast and get our shit right. Everything else is a distraction. Luckily, we got that done quick because of the next item on this list.
- Do Your Branding Right — One of the best decisions we’ve made is that we made our branding straight forward because we were able to buy the domain — www.chatbot.ph.
By being straight forward with your branding, you eliminate the time for your users to figure out what the actual fuck you are doing. People have short attention spans now and you don’t wanna complicate their lives with more shit for them to process mentally. Sure you might want to have that cute Silicon Valley name, guess what? You’re gonna be like one of them startups who will have to do an elevator pitch every single time just to tell people what you do and that causes a lot of fallouts.
By simplifying your name, you increase your SEO and your chances of driving people in your funnel. You wanna keep that funnel as fat as possible at the top. This is how we got all our sales for the 1st year and we’re still reaping the benefits of SEO because of it till now.
- Speed And Timing Is Everything — By being in the right place at the right time, you increase your chances of success. For us, this happened when I watched Zuck’s keynote in 2016. Instead of imagining what could be done with bots, I went to Go Daddy right away to check if the domain is still available. That single move got the ball rolling for us.
Next thing I did was I created an MVP, I knew the market was wide open and we can have a first mover advantage so I created the easiest MVP one can make — a powerpoint presentation.
Mind you, we didn’t know shit about how to make chatbots still back then, and there were only 2 of us in the company full-time. We had to learn that along the way by using free bot builders and by learning on the fly. I started pitching right away with in my own network and within the first 2 weeks, we got our first clients then it just snowballed from there.
- Sacrifice, Bootstrap And Stay Lean — You don’t need shit load of funding to launch a startup. When we launched, I was lucky to have my partners believe in me enough that they committed to bootstrap the company for 12 months. My mission was simple, get us to profitability before we raised money and they will take care of the resources to help me build the team. We made sure that the only cost we will spend on was salaries, I had to hustle for the rest. Free hosting, shared offices like QBO (the best place to work yo), and many more resources are available for startups to take advantage, you just have to find them.
The only time you raise big funding is when you have identified a repeatable and scalable business model by having product-market fit. Before that, you’re better off bootstrapping so you can be nimble and resourceful. It would also impress your future investors by showing you can get so much done with less. Those are early signs of grit. Nothing sells more than grit in terms of fundraising.
- Say No To A Lot Of Things — One of the biggest mistakes I made before was I had a shiny object syndrome and that’s always a recipe for disaster for any startup. You can’t scale what you don’t know. I remember when Nix Nolledo blessed me with his time and told me his story: People think that he did a lot of things when he was starting out but in fact he only did Xurpas for 9 years before he started doing other stuff.
After that meeting, I felt like I was blessed with unicorn dust from the startup gods. I knew what I had to do and Nix said it well: “Laser Focus”.
From that point on, anything that is not gonna help us reach our OMTM is an automatic no. The last gift he told me during that meeting was this (in verbatim): “The death kiss for early-stage startups is when they have conglomerate thinking”. You can’t execute multiple product lines if you barely even have money for the next payroll.
- Surround Yourself With Good People — If there is one thing that I am particularly proud of in this journey is that I have surrounded myself with people that are genuinely nice. From my team, my clients and the people I spend time with, there were no room for selfish people. By surrounding yourself with people that share the same values with me, I was blessed to receive support that I didn’t know was possible.
One example is Christian Blanquera of Openovate Labs, a good friend from way back, who happens to be an OG like me. During the time we got introduced to Sterling, they just recently got acquired. Instead of ignoring us, he helped open the door and pave the way for us. People like him are the ones that you want to surround yourself. People who are trying to pay it forward.
- Be Rigorous, Not Ruthless — One thing I told myself when we started ChatbotPH is that I will lead differently compared to how I did in Partyphile. I became very detailed about making sure everyone in my team is in the right state of mind. Startup life is hard. Shit’s gonna happen and it’s gonna happen often but you have to give wiggle room for mistakes. However, you don’t also tolerate bullshit. By being rigorous, I let my team fuck up but I make sure that I don’t throw them under the bus when shit hits the fan. Also, I test their mettle by putting them in the fire aka our biggest opportunities. Regardless of the result though, I reassure them that I got their backs and their jobs are safe. By creating this type of culture, you hold people accountable for each other and not do the blame game.
- Improve The Way You Learn — I knew a lot of things were lacking from me as a leader so I had to double down on how I learn in those times that I can utilize to learn. I read books, here are some of the ones that really left a mark on me:
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel
- Good To Great by Jim Collins
- You Can’t Fire Everyone by Hank Gilman
- The Startup Way by Eric Reis
These books helped open my eyes and gave me tried and tested ideas that I can use in our daily hustle. But if there is one thing that really helped me, it is the EntreLeadership podcast. I spend a lot of time on the road in between meetings and I came across this one in Spotify. It’s a gold mine of practical tips and tricks that you can apply to your team. Listen to it and thank me later.
- Be Very Picky With Your Investors — Fundraising is like dating. You can pitch a lot but you can pretty much gauge if it’s going to be a good fit in the first date. If you know that it’s not gonna work out from the first date, don’t even chase anymore just because of the money. We’ve encountered investors that were not a good fit and we chose not to chase anymore. You’re better off bootstrapping than having a bad investor you’ll have to share the bed with for years. Believe me, I’ve been down that road before. Besides, the best way to raise funding is through revenue.
The best investors know this and you know that it’s the right fit when you see that they share the same values as you. We’re lucky because Sterling believes in the same values we do and it will allow us to grow.
I hope I was able to give you good insights on what you can do to help your startup achieve success. Just keep working hard and fail fast so you can learn. If you fall down, pick yourself up and try again.
Our real journey just begins now and the sky is the limit. We don’t know what the end result is for us, all we know is that we’re very grateful to be in this journey.
If we could do it, you could do it too! Catch you guys in the next blog!