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Failure as Fuel and Building a Startup: Lessons from Martin Aguinis (Co-Founder & CEO at AccessBell) | Remote Students

Key lessons as an entrepreneur, differences between working in big-tech vs. startups, and using failure to fuel motivation

Members of the Remote Students Community had the opportunity to meet Martin Aguinis this week and ask him questions about his experiences in entrepreneurship & big-tech. Apply here to join our community and meet our amazing lineup of guest speakers, including people like Martin!

Martin Aguinis is the Co-Founder and CEO of AccessBell. He previously led Global Marketing for Flutter at Google, was a PMM on YouTube VR and Google AI. Before Google, Martin started businesses in the events and ride-sharing space. Martin is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 2020 list and was named PMA’s 2019 International Rising Star in Marketing. He is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and loves to travel.

What are some key lessons you learned in launching your startup, AccessBell?

You have to be in love with the journey and iteration process. Over 90% of your work is not seen on the outside. You’ll end up learning so much from starting your first company, and it becomes easier and easier the second and third time.

I continue to learn about product/market fit in todays evolving landscape. Throughout the past two months, we pivoted AccessBell several times, and it’s been interesting to see how these different changes make our product more beneficial and create additional value-add.

I am also constantly amazed at how lucky I am to get to work with a rockstar team. Always surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. Folks like Kamil Ali and Josh Payne (my Co-Founders) are phenomenal and I learn something new from them every day. Same with others in our growing team.

What are the biggest differences between marketing for a big tech company like Google versus your own startup?

The budget. I used to joke that Flutter was the best-funded ‘startup’ I’ve worked at (given it was part of Google), and it was amazing to be able to launch global campaigns instantly, but at a stand-alone startup, you have to be very scrappy.

There can be a few disadvantages in working at a huge company, though. One is that, often, there might be 20 different people all working on similar things as you. In that case, it’s important to find a way to own a part end to end, and really make it your own work.

How are you able to persuade people to fund your startups? What resources in college did you utilize?

Personally, I think you don’t really need that much money to start a startup. I’m lucky to be a part of the Pear VC accelerator, which includes mentors and funding and support, but we haven’t really tapped into these funds yet because we are strong on creating the value in a scrappy way (and have revenue).

One of my favorite books, The Lean Startup, talks about how important it is to build that minimum viable product. Essentially, what’s a version of your product that requires little-to-no funding, but that you can start getting feedback on? As long as you can get feedback on the product, you can start iterating and building on it with the end-user in mind.

Do you think your network contributes to your marketing success? Do you have any networking tips?

The most important thing when reaching out to someone is to be candid and be yourself. Get straight to the point and do not be scared to show vulnerability. Nobody is perfect, so no need to fake that.

My philosophy with networking is: surround yourself with people doing really amazing things in spaces that you want to be in. This ties back into mentorship, and when choosing a mentor, it’s really important to think about the end goal. The ‘work backwards’ method is great for this; think about where you want to be in five years and what your hypothetical resume would look like. Write that down, and then you can look for people in your network, school, or direct friends that have that ideal resume and connect with them.

What are some of the most important skills or aspects you look for when you hire your staff and team?

One of the most important things when starting a company is who you hire. The first few people that join you define the culture and can make or break an organization. It’s not enough to simply look at their resume, or their output, but you must understand their true motivations and priorities. Really ask yourself why they want to work at your company.

For an interviewee, the biggest thing that will make you stand out is telling your own story. Talk about a time that you were really impacted by something or made a big impact, and don’t only list the colleges you went to or your job experience. Again, this ties back into finding the human behind what is on a cover letter or resume. One tip I have is to have 4 or 5 stories of a failure, success, or important event that really shows you as a person, and write them down before an interview. This ensures that you won’t really be worrying about coming up with something ‘real’ or ‘genuine’ to tell the interviewer in a tiny spam of time.

What were your biggest pitfalls that no one saw, but still helped you land where you are today?

When I started AccessBell, we applied to Y Combinator and got all the way to the final round, before getting rejected. At the time, we worked so hard to get into that incubator, and I spent a while after thinking about all of the things I could’ve done so that we wouldn’t get a straight ‘no.’ But now, we are in an amazing accelerator, and have so many sponsorships, and are doing very well… only because we didn’t give up after getting rejected.

The night we did not get in, I sent a note to the team that said, “Hey, this is just fuel for us to work harder, and I’m really proud of all of the work we’ve been able to accomplish thus far,” and after that, we worked even harder, and did not quit. So, using those pitfalls as fuel, and not giving up, is really important for success.

What is the process of interviewing at a top tech company like?

When interviewing at companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, they usually want to understand how you think about problems. There is oftentimes not one ‘right’ answer. How you approach the problem and work towards solving it is key.

There’s also the typical behavioral and case questions, but here’s a trick that’s really helped me:

When you get asked a straightforward question, like, “How would you launch a brand ambassador program at X company?” — don’t jump straight into the answer. Instead, add a layer of depth to the question and ask questions about it. In this case, it could be like “Why are we launching this program in the first place? To get candidates for X, to get general brand awareness, or something else?” Depending on what that answer is, it could add a new layer to the question and make the interview more interactive; instead of diving into an answer, you’re getting behind it and questioning the question.

Any tips for being ‘scrappy’ and adapting to changing trends while sustaining a good product/market fit?

Start with the ‘why’ of the company. At AccessBell, I always start our weekly all-hands meetings by stating our mission, which is to bring human connection to the virtual world. Even through all of our pivots, we’ve kept that same mission. At first, it started as connecting people to other students and mentors, and now it is eliminating friction for e-commerce. It is also important to identify where the business opportunity is. This is why we have started to gravitate towards the e-commerce market: because we see a lot of value in eliminating friction in that area.

If the current direction is clearly a dead end or has very low TAM, then it’s time to pivot.

How do you convince someone to take a significant professional chance on you?

I think at the end of the day, transparency of why you’re reaching out from the beginning is really important.

The first thing I like to do is find a common ground, like ‘Hey, we both went to Stanford,’ or ‘I noticed you wrote this article and that’s something I’m really interested in!”

After that, it’s having the asks, and being proactive about how to make their lives easier. Here, it’s kind of a ‘help me help you’ situation.

Adding on to the above, when you are writing the email or message, think about being them. Think about what they want you to do to make their lives easier, or what value they would get out of helping you. It could be something big you have to offer, but it also could be just the feeling they get knowing they offered something really valuable to someone who needed it.

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