My Startup Experience
July 2016 marks an important milestone for Cynopsis Solutions Pte. Ltd., a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) start-up company in Singapore, for having actual invoiced sales for a year now.
Cynopsis Solutions is a self-funded technology company that focuses on niche and specialised domains of Risk & Compliance and Investment Analysis. We are proud to say that within a short span of 12 months, we are now cashflow breakeven and currently have 4 products to our name:
Artemis – fully automated KYC risk assessment platform
Iris – case management tool for Balanced Scorecard framework
Athena – transaction monitoring tool for money remittance companies
Zeus – white label portfolio allocation and optimisation tool
We are far from being successful yet but believe that we have built a reasonably decent foundation to sustain growth and success in the future.
There are many good articles written by startup veterans and business leaders advising on the pitfalls of the long and winding road for startups. I am certainly not in a position nor qualified to give any advice in this regard but thought it may be useful to share some personal thoughts.
Vision versus Action
While it is important and necessary to peek into the blur horizon of where the future pot of gold will sit, I think it is even more important to be able to translate such vision into executable action. Unless you have a bottomless pit of funding and the luxury of all the time in the world, nothing beats building something that is tangible and sellable.
Demand versus Command
There are thousands of good-to-have ideas but there are usually only a handful of must-have needs. People usually wish for good-to-have but they may not necessarily want to pay for it. Designing a product that your customers want (must-have) versus what they wish (good-to-have) should drive your development priorities.
Friends versus Strangers
One of the biggest satisfactions I have experienced in running Cynopsis Solutions is to convince strangers about the benefits of our products and to eventually make a sale. For veteran salesmen, this may be an easy feat. However, the real test of your products is when your initial batch of clients comprises more strangers than friends because strangers owe you no favour and won’t mince their words if your product sucks. In fact, over 95% of our current client base are relationships built from scratch with people we do not previously know.
Perfection versus Practicality
You can spend all your dough in building the perfect software but it will often take a very long time to do so because no one really knows how perfection looks like. Worse still, you may not even be able to complete it when you run out of cash. What would be pragmatic and sensible to do is to build something that is functional and fit-for-purpose but may not be super pretty and full of wows. Thereafter, improve upon your offering over time. In that way, you show your clients that you are listening to their feedback as they use your product and continuously strive to give them better value-add.
Insource versus Outsource
The trouble Cynopsis Solutions faced initially was around the inability to get anything built. We could not properly manage a fully outsourced model of utilising offshore developers and neither was there anyone locally willing to work for us. We have landed on a blended approach where we now have a modest core team of in-house software engineers supplemented by an outsourced approach when we need to scale.
Cashflow versus Stack Overflow
For startups, cashflow is everything. Where you do not yet have the ability to generate sales because you are in product development stage, watching your cashflow is key. The inability to manage cashflow properly can lead you down a very slippery road of disaster. If your technology stack requires a longer build life-cycle, then you need to project and budget carefully how that can be funded. Taking no salary (and expect everyone else in the team to do the same) for an extended period of time simply drains out the passion eventually. Keeping in mind that speed-to-market is paramount.
Sensibility versus Sensitivity
Not everyone can build the next Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and so on. So whilst we all harbour that deep desire to be the next success story someday, I think being sensible in the approach and the way you manage your business is crucial. Being receptive to harsh criticism and be less sensitive about it should make you a stronger outfit. If pride gets in the way, then it becomes much harder to move forward.
David versus Goliath
A startup is like David with the incumbent competition being Goliath. What are the chances of David surviving a battle with Goliath? Identifying your niche, playing to your strength and understanding your market terrain including your competition should help you better position your products in time to come.
Team versus Dream
Having a good team of people with common belief and sharing that same dream helps you get to a certain point faster. In a small environment, being transparent with your team about vision, sales, success and failure give them a better sense of trust and ownership beyond monetary compensation.
Questions versus Answers
The constant self-questioning of your product suitability, functionality and usability for your existing and potential customers should help you improve your product features over time. The only people that will give you an honest opinion are your customers because they are paying for it and would always want to have better value for money no matter how cost effective your solutions are. The moment you do not receive anymore question about your product does not mean that you have found the meaning and answer to life. It may simply mean that your product is no longer relevant and people have moved on to other products.