Are Entrepreneurs born or made? Both.
To shine a light a on the SAP.iO FoundrySF’s special focus on female founders in tech, SAP TV has a new series featuring the voices of the Foundry’s first cohort. The second blog in this series comes from Sena Zorlu, CEO of Instapio. To read the rest of the series, click here.
I started my first company when I was 25. It took me months to come up with a business plan, company name, logo and eventually a website. I was naive enough to think that if I build the perfect business, customers would follow. Nevertheless, it didn’t really work out the way I anticipated.
The second company I built looked more like a business than a personal project. I got customers first, then created a business around it. With this model, I solved the profitability problem, but I couldn’t scale it.
Now, I’m working on my third company; turning my previous experiences into armor. I understand why investors like founders who have built things in the past. The learning experience alone sets you apart from first time founders by years. Some characteristics necessary to make it as an entrepreneur were part of my DNA from a young age. Creativity, leadership, good communication skills, persuasion, taking a large concept and breaking it into actionable manageable pieces…these things made me a good entrepreneur.
However, I lacked other skills that blocked me from being an amazing entrepreneur. Over the past year, I have been working to improve myself to be a better founder. To go on such a journey, it is critical to understand oneself and also be open to feedback. My journey is still evolving, but here are some of my top insights from where I am today:
Live Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I started building Instapio while I was living in Turkey. We built the most valuable product (MVP) in few months and took it to the market as quickly as possible to get feedback from first adopter enterprises. I was working for local traction during days and building global partnerships in the evenings to test the product in different markets. When we had enough evidence from the market, we decided to take the business to Silicon Valley where we hoped it would flourish into a global company. I landed at San Francisco International Airport within 5 days of gathering the conclusive evidence. It was really difficult to let go of everything and completely change my life in such a quick time. I left behind everything I owned, my house, car, dog, cat, friends, and family behind. But when it comes to entrepreneurship there are no excuses or blockers — you just have to do what’s necessary to succeed.
When it comes to entrepreneurship there are no excuses or blockers — you just have to do what’s necessary to succeed.
That was two years ago (I want to note that the dog and cat are California residents now). Despite my having lived in the U.S. before this, this new move required an entirely different mindset altogether.
I am working hard to bring this follow through approach on each business and personal decision since.
A lot of the time, it’s not easy.
Over the past two years, I have been pushed to get out of my comfort zone on a daily basis in order to take one more step towards the magic circle. And on these days, it would be easy to use a personal excuse to get out of being uncomfortable — but doing so would hinder my success, which is not an option. Taking risks is the only way we have full control in overcoming obstacles. We just need a bit of reverse engineering to imagine where we want to be and work our way backwards.
Apply the Pareto Principle
I am a list-maker. I feel more in control when I have a list of everything I have to do and I can tackle that list. Although this makes me feel in control of everything, I often fail at completing items on my list, which is frustrating to say the least.
Founders have so many tasks they juggle every day that without goal focused prioritization, it’s easy to lose control. For the past year, I’ve been focusing on decompressing and prioritizing my to do list. Instead of trying to tackle everything and failing at it, I apply the Pareto Principle to phase out anything that could be a distraction.
This change was critical not only for my improvement as a founder but the focus of the company. We have a lot of tasks on our to do lists that aren’t a part of our big picture goal. By focusing on few vital tasks, you can dramatically impact your outcomes.
Create a Product Driven Business
Before Instapio, I was managing a strategic management consulting company. As a consulting company, our focus was entirely customer centric where we applied best practices and our know how to solve their problems. For some startups, including Instapio, we could not operate in a customer driven model. We were focused on building a new datasource for enterprises and we had to be product focused rather than focusing on individual needs of the customer.
Coming from the service industry, being product driven was not part of my DNA. When we started building our MVP for Instapio, we were very lucky to bring in large enterprises to test the solution however the feedback we got was very skewed to what they needed today and we were building a platform for tomorrow.
Our initial POC deliverables were fundamentally very different from each other which can be detrimental to a startup. Building a successful startup requires extreme focus and consistency to build a business model that can be replicated and scaled. As a CEO, you are bound by both delivering revenue and a growth vision. When these two efforts contradict one another, decision making can be difficult.
After our initial tests, we built our product vision internally and stuck with it. Along the way, we had to say “no”to few customers and investors that we really wanted to work with, because working with their existing needs would have made us a service company.
As we progress forward, I am very proud of the path we took towards a product focused approach. We are now making product vision part of our company culture so every function can work with the same underlying objectives.
Find the Right People to Help You
We feel very lucky to be one of the first companies in a SAP.iO FoundrySF cohort. The timing of the SAP.iO program was very critical to us as we go from seed to growth stage — the strategic decisions we are making now will impact the future of Instapio. We had the opportunity to interact and build long term relationships with not only the internal SAP.iO team but a variety of SAP experts from IoT, machine learning, pricing strategy, big data who will remain valuable assets as we grow.
On the personal side, the past two months helped me grow as a founder and expand my network. Being a founder can be a lonely journey but surrounding yourself with similarly passionate people makes it more meaningful.