#MentorSpotlight || Meet Barbara Elstein
“Every customer has a problem, every problem has a solution, but not every solution has a customer.” — Lean Startup Machine
Barbara made aliyah for the first time in the mid-80s, then returned to the NY area and began her career in consulting and market research that included work for major companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. She helped major brands identify emerging trends and potential competitors in the markets to stay ahead of the curve.
She was then recruited by Ernst & Young on the verge of the e-commerce boom, developing an ‘innovation function’ that allowed the firm to create new services and offerings internationally.
Before making aliyah for good, Barbara worked for IBM on market insight and development, looking at markets and their trends to predict the firm’s next innovative offered solutions/ services. Again, Barbara worked on e-commerce and expanded IBM’s reach by focusing on the customer and where they were headed.
Eventually Barbara and her husband’s love for Israel led them to return to the Startup Nation, where she is involved in the nation’s preferred career path, startups.
Six years after settling in Israel, Barbara started consulting and helping companies of all sizes, but had a real love for startups, both product and customer focused.
While mentoring startups at accelerators, something she does often, Barbara encountered TacaTech, a B2B marketplace for the printing industry, soon to be rebranded as Swathly. After hitting it off with the CEO, she joined the team as CMO. TacaTech won first prize in accelerator, The Hive’s, demo day competition last month. Read about it here.
Barbara says the company seeks to disrupt how small and medium-sized print shops buy products and services and grow their businesses. Considering that this is a trillion dollar industry and 70% of print shops are mom-and-pop, there is plenty of room for growth. TacaTech helps printers find the best prices for machinery, spare parts, consumables like paper and ink, and anything else they could possibly need. They’re also trying to help printers transition into digital and locate new markets based on their expertise.
When she joined the company with no background in the printing industry, she took the advice of many entrepreneurs to ‘get out of the building’ and meet printers. She traveled to New York, going door to door to print shops in the area, and ended up talking to 13 incredibly talented individuals who’re passionate about what they do. Barbara confronted them subtly without even mentioning TacaTech, simply wanting to talk, ask them questions, and have some of her questions answered.
TacaTech is currently seeking $500K in seed funding, has obtained commitment for part of this amount, and is optimistic that it will close this round soon.
Lessons from the corporate to startup world
One unexpected difference between the two worlds that Barbara mentioned was the amount of difficulties and complexities a startup goes through.
She had been under the impression she was moving from a complex corporate world to a simple startup one. But she sees now that for startups to get anything done, they must take action in a complex ecosystem that includes investors, customers, partners and more. This can be even more complicated than navigating corporate bureaucracies.
#1 tip for entrepreneurs
Barbara’s number one tip for all founders is to have the company center on the customer from day one.
“Don’t create the product and then think about the customer, think of the customer and then build the product around them and their needs. Go to them with an open mind, understand what the problem is and what solution they want, and then…. hustle!”