MY-GATEWAY project launches an open call for 22 CEE and Western Balkan startups to attend Startup Europe Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria.
MY-GATEWAY is after twenty-two CEE and Western Balkan startups to attend Startup Europe Summit in Sofia, 15th November
Travel and accommodation costs are covered
In total twenty-two startups, twelve from Central and Eastern Europe and ten from the Western Balkans, will be selected to attend this year’s edition of ‘The European Startup Event’. A committee comprised of leading startup support organizations from the CEE and Western Balkan countries will select the startups through specific criteria.
Selected startups will be given the possibility to meet high-profile people such as Prime Ministers and European Commission policymakers to discuss European entrepreneurship and new opportunities. The one-day Summit will be filled with workshops on how to access venture capital, business angel funding, EU funding and panel talks on how to scale-up. Travel and accommodation expenses of one representative per selected startup selected will be reimbursed by the European Commission.
Take a look at the Summit’s agenda here.
Would you like to apply? Click here.
‘We need to create programs and policies to connect ecosystems, founders and startups at European level.’ – Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, and also key-note speaker at the Summit, said at her speech on Masters of Digital. – ‘This is with a view to accelerate growth, cooperation and diversity.’
In order to be considered for the application process and be eventually selected to attend Startup Europe Summit, startups need to have a high growth potential, a prototype or viable business plan and a unique business idea.
What is Startup Europe Summit?
Startup Europe Summit is a European Commission event which aims to bring together startup founders and policy makers. More than 400 people will attend this year’s Bulgarian edition to learn about new funding opportunities, meet entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders and benefit from the possibility of closing a business deal.
MY-GATEWAY is an initiative of Startup Europe that aims to strengthen the capacities of high-tech start-ups and innovative SMEs in the CEE region to become better connected, gain higher market exposure, and have improved streamlined access to funding opportunities and talents.
Hapen thirrjet për aplikime në programin e akselerimit OFIÇINA 2018
Are you a STARTUP?
The day has finally come: the application for our next Acceleration Program is now open!
Hapen thirrjet për aplikime në programin e akselerimit OFIÇINA 2018
Për të gjithë të rinjtë që duan të zhvillojnë idetë e tyre të biznesit, hapet thirrja për aplikime në programin e akselerimit OFICINA 2018.
Je një Startup i ri, ke një produkt/shërbim inovator dhe të nevojitet një ndihmë e specializuar për të krijuar biznesin tënd të ri?
Atëherë, apliko për programin e akselerimit OFIÇINA duke plotësuar formularin online tek www.OFICINA.al
Programi i akselerimit OFIÇINA fokusohet në nxitjen dhe mbështetjen e iniciativave sipërmarrëse inovatore. Për një periudhe 6 mujore Startupet e përzgjedhura do të punojnë ngushtësisht me stafin e qendrës OFICINA me qëllim arritjen e objektivave të tyre të biznesit, për një zhvillim sa më të shpejtë dhe të qendrueshëm. Përmes një kombinimi të mirë strukturuar workshop-esh, sesioneve të mentorimit, ekspertizave ligjore, financiare, menaxheriale si dhe mundësi angazhimi në aktivitete të ndryshme në fushën e teknologjisë dhe sipërmarrjes, themeluesit e startup-eve do të kristalizojnë idetë dhe planet e tyre të biznesit, do të krijojnë modelin e biznesit si dhe do të kenë finalizuar një produkt të testuar gati për tu lancuar në treg.
Në përfundim të programit të akselerimit, Startup-eve më të mira do t’u ofrohet mundësia për investime të drejtpërdrejta me qëllim zhvillimin më tej të biznesit të tyre.
Si funksionon OFIÇINA?
Faza e parë – Aplikimet
15 aplikimet më të mira do të përzgjidhen për të kaluar në një fazë të dytë prezantimi përpara një paneli ekspertësh. Fituesit e fazës së prezantimit do të fitojnë të drejtën për tu përfshirë në programin e akselerimit OFIÇINA.
Çfarë ofron programi i akselerimit OFIÇINA? Faza e dytë – Akselerimi
Të gjithë fituesit e programit OFIÇINA do të kenë mundësinë të punojnë ngushtësisht me stafin e qendrës OFICINA, i përbër nga ekspertë lokal dhe ndërkombëtar, në ambiente pune kreative për të zhvilluar biznesin e nisur. Si pjesë e programit të akselerimit OFIÇINA 2018 fituesit do të jenë të përfshirë në një program intensiv trajnimesh në fushën e të bërit biznes, ekspertiza mbi Startup-in që ata drejtojnë në fushat ligjore, financiare, menaxheriale. Pjesmarrësit do të kenë mundësinë të mentorohen nga sipërmarrës të suksesshëm të programit. Gjithashtu ata do të jenë pjesë e jetës sociale si dhe në eventet e ndryshme që do të zhvillohen pranë OFIÇINA-s.
Ju Pyesni – OFIÇINA Përgjigjet
Kur mund të aplikoj?
Procesi i aplikimit do të vazhdojë të jetë i hapur deri në datën 30 Nentor 2018.
A duhet të kem një grup pune apo mund të aplikoj edhe si individ?
Preferohet që grupi të jetë i krijuar përpara se ju të paraqisni kërkesën tuaj për aplikim, por gjithsesi nuk do të përjashtohen aplikimet nga sipërmarrës individual, për sa kohë që ata do të jenë të përkushtuar për të ndërtuar një grup pune gjatë programit të akselerimit. Rekrutimi i individëve të aftë përbën sfidë, por ngritja e një grupi pune do të lehtësonte ndërtimin e një biznesi të qëndrueshem dhe të suksesshëm.
A është kusht që sipërmarrja të jetë e orientuar në fushën e teknologjisë së informacionit?
Jo domosdoshmërisht. Programi OFIÇINA është ndërtuar për të nxitur iniciativat sipërmarrëse. Edhe pse preferohen iniciativa në fushën e teknologjisë së informacionit, çdo ide inovatore është e mirëpritur. Ne ju këshillojmë fuqimisht për të aplikuar, pasi programi ka shumë për të ofruar.
A është ky program vetëm për studentët?
JO detyrimisht. OFIÇINA është në mbështetje të të gjitha grupeve të cilët kanë filluar tashmë të zhvillojnë idetë e tyre dhe kanë përkushtimin, energjinë dhe kohën e nevojshme për të ndjekur programin e akseleratorit OFIÇINA.
A mund të marr pjesë nëse jam në një marrëdhënie pune apo jam duke ndjekur studimet?
Sigurisht që PO. Programi OFIÇINA do të përpiqet t`iu përshtatetnevojave tuaja, gjithsesi duhet të keni parasysh që shumica e veprimtarive do të zhvillohen gjatë ditës dhe nuk do të mund të përsëriten në mbrëmje. Është shumë e rëndësishme për punën tuaj që ju të merrni pjesë në aktivitetet e programit të akseleratorit OFIÇINA.
A pranon OFIÇINA aplikantë të cilët vijnë jo nga Tirana?
Patjetër që PO. Akseleratori OFIÇINA mirëpret dhe inkurajon aplikantë nga e gjithë Shqipëria dhe rajoni.
A duhet që të gjithë anëtarët e grupit tim të jenë shqiptarë?
Absolutisht JO. Gjithsesi, për lehtësi komunikimi preferohet të paktën një anëtar i grupit të komunikojë gjuhën shqipe.
A ka një tarifë për të marrë pjesë në programin e akselerimit OFIÇINA?
JO, nuk ka asnjë tarifë për të marrë pjesë në programin OFIÇINA. Mentorët dhe bashkëpunëtorët tanë do të ofrojnë shërbimet e tyre pa pagesë pasi ata besojnë në misionin dhe filozofinë e programit të akselerimit OFIÇINA.
A është i domosdoshëm plotesimi i formularit në gjuhën angleze? Jo domosdoshmerisht. Formulari mund të plotesohet edhe ne gjuhen shqipe por është e këshillueshme që pjestarët e Startup-it të kenë njohuri të gjuhës angleze pasi kjo do të lehtësonte integrimin me ekspertët e huaj që ofron programi.
Çfarë ndodh në rast se përzgjidhem por nuk mund të marr pjesë në program për një javë ose më shumë?
Të gjitha aktivitetet në programin e akseleratorit janë të ndërlidhura dhe kjo është shumë e rëndësishme për zhvillimin e biznesit tuaj. Megjithatë, në situata dhe rrethana të veçanta të cilat do ta bënin të pamundur praninë tuaj, kërkohet njoftimi paraprakisht i stafit të OFIÇINA-s në mënyrë që të vlerësohet mundësia për t`iu përshtatur nevojave.
A merr OFIÇINA një pjesë të kapitalit nga bizneset e regjistruara për programin e akselerimit?
Per këtë thirrje OFIÇINA nuk merr asnjë kapital për ofrimin e paketës së shërbimeve për të gjitha grupet, ku përfshihen shërbimet ligjore dhe mbështetëse, ekspertët e nivelit të lartë si konsulentë, programet softëare, aktivitetet sociale, hapësirat për zyrë, ambientet e takimeve, dhe shumë më tepër.
A do të përfitoj unë fonde në fund të programit të akseleratorit, në DEMO DAY?
OFIÇINA do t’iu ofrojë mundësinë për të prezantuar biznesin përpara investitorëve, por nuk garanton përfitimin e fondeve nga investitorët. Ajo çfarë mund të bëjmë me siguri për ju është përgatitja nëpërmjet praktikave dhe udhëzimeve të ekspertëve më të mira në këtë fushë, për të bërë një prezantim të shkëlqyer përpara investitorëve.
Çfarë ndodh nëse në fund të programit nuk do të kem një biznes të suksesshëm?
Nëse në fund të programit të akselerimit, biznesi juaj nuk do të jetë i ‘suksesshëm’, ju sigurojmë se do të fitoni një besim më të lartë në vetvete dhe do të jeni të pajisur me njohuri të vlefshme në të bërit biznes dhe një pamje më të qartë në iniciativat e ardhshme si sipërmarrës. Dështimi nuk është alternativë për sukses, ai është diçka që duhet të shmanget, gjithashtu është një pengesë e përkohshme për t`iu drejtuar në një rrugëtim më të madh dhe të rëndësishëm.
OFICINA BLOG –Dakota Findley: PowerPoint or Prezi: Which Will Tell Your Story Best?
PowerPoint or Prezi: Which Will Tell Your Story Best?
This is a guest post by Dakota Findley
Delivering a speech or presentation to a group of people? You need a visual aid. Visual aids not only help keep the audience focused, but they can enhance the overall experience of your presentation and prevent audience boredom.
There’s been a lot of negativity lately about PowerPoint, but many of those bad feelings come from poorly designed PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint slides aren’t meant to be something the presenter reads directly from, nor should the presenter attempt to cram every word they plan to say into the overall slide show presentation.
When done well, PowerPoint still offers quality options and many benefits to presentations, but there’s another type of presentation that’s become popular: Prezi.
People tout Prezi as the answer to PowerPoint, but in reality, they serve very different types of presentation styles. The tool you choose depends entirely on the kind of experience you want your audience to have. Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of both and how you can decide which one is best for your presentation.
PowerPoint is a straightforward, workhorse presentation deck that allows you to summarize information for your audience and keep them on track.
It helps with linear storytelling or presenting in which all the information builds on the previous information, and there are logical introductions and conclusions.
How it Works
PowerPoint works best with simple fonts (only one or maybe two) and using only highlighted points instead of typing out paragraphs of information.
Think of how you might outline a text to study for a test. The format of PowerPoint works much the same way and is intended as a focused guide for your audience. Delivering the slides is a matter of using the outline without reading the slides directly. Never turn your back on the audience.
It’s best at getting the audience to a stopping point. All the information builds to one conclusion or summary.
PowerPoint is easy to manipulate, and most anyone who has used a computer will be familiar with the program’s design. It provides templates for simple drag-and-drop text and pictures, plus video capability. It is excellent for introducing the topic of the presentation and highlighting key points just as headings do in an article.
At the end of the presentation, the slides are printable so you can send the audience home with the highlights and resources to remind them of the core of your presentation.
To be honest, a lot of the drawbacks are due to user error. PowerPoints tend to look the same because people rely on the pre-created templates and boring fonts.
If your story or presentation isn’t linear, then you’re faced with flipping back and forth through slides, which looks unprofessional, or recreating slides over and over, which seems redundant. It also can’t be used for free because it is part of the Office suite, and Mac users might find that converting to Keynote loses some formatting.
Prezi is a newer presentation software that uses motion, space, and zoom to create effects that mimic the freer flow of conversation or non-linear storytelling. When you need to build information to a wow factor, or you are attempting to inspire your audience to take action through a pain point, Prezi’s dynamic presentation is the best choice.
How it Works
Prezi doesn’t use slides. Instead, it uses a “path” design that leads viewers from information point to information point.
The main points on the path are clickable, and each click zooms in so that the audience can see the details. Returning to different points is easy because as you zoom back out, all the clickable headings are visible.
This is a more intuitive setting that doesn’t have you flipping through slides or exiting presentation mode to the dreaded computer view to find a piece of info again.
Prezi is best at getting your audience to a starting point. The information presents a scenario or story, and your audience should leave fired up to take action at the end.
One of the great features is that in exchange for making your presentation publicly searchable, you can use the presentation software for free, which is great if you’re trying to reduce expenses.
It starts with a virtually blank canvas, so each presentation tends to be more creative and less like one thousand other presentations. It is excellent for non-linear storytelling, and for presentations where you know you’ll be returning to the same piece of information again and again.
Even though it’s about seven years old, it’s still less familiar than PowerPoint for many audiences, giving it the instant wow factor. It’s excellent for inserting sound files and other kinds of media.
It takes more time to create a quality Prezi presentation because you have to start from scratch. If you’re looking to create a quick presentation in a couple of hours, you might find yourself out of luck.
Prezi does offer a few preset templates, but these are very limited in scope and less customizable than PowerPoint templates. Prezi shines when you start from scratch but is very limiting otherwise.
You have to upgrade to a paid version if you plan to keep your presentation private, and unless you upgrade, you won’t be able to work on your presentation offline.
A huge downside is that Prezi presentations aren’t printable. You’ll have to alter the format of your presentation or create an entirely different printable handout to give your audience the recap handouts.
Ultimately, if you aren’t very tech-friendly, it can be a steep learning curve to use Prezi, unlike the ubiquitous PowerPoint format.
Which is Best?
In the end, the software you choose will depend on what sort of conclusion you want your audience to reach and what sort of experience you are designing for your presentation.
If you want them to leave informed with a synthesized conclusion, PowerPoint is your winner. If you want to inspire your audience to see the big picture and to make their own judgments and take action, Prezi is the clear choice.
OFICINA BLOG –Michael Boland: Why “Document Everything” is Poor Advice
Why “Document Everything” is Poor Advice
This is a guest post by our Entrepreneur in Residence Michael Boland (@michaelbolandco)
A Developing Trend
I’m frequently approached by start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to build up their brands, create relevant content, and expand their networks. Oftentimes, these same people have Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for their businesses with no actual product or service in existence or on the horizon.
I’ve been guilty of this mindset too and find that we often get tied up in “building our brand” instead of proving our value to customers — a great customer experience is sometimes neglected altogether. I expect the fields of service and experience design to boom in coming years as this problem persists.
This trend is something I like to call the “Gary Vee mistake”. Emerging as an extremely popular entrepreneur and now media guru among my generation, it is easy to get excited and inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk’s short videos, interviews, and advice clips. He is a hustler who spent much of his teens and 20s building successful businesses and brands.
He has spurred a new marketing fad with his famous mantra “document, don’t create”. Entrepreneurs everywhere are now filming their every moves, photographing their logos all over cities, and publishing content at a border-line obsessive rate. Because of this new movement , I’ve heard entrepreneurs from all walks of life representing different industries offer the same advice: “document everything”.
But this article is not a hit-piece on the people following Gary Vee’s words and mass-producing content. It is rather an alternative perspective — one backed by collected start-up and business experiences from around the world: North and Central America, Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa, and most recently the Middle-East.
In a 2012 Nielsen Report, data from 56 countries revealed that 92% of respondents trust “earned media”, such as recommendations from close friends and family ¹. This number has fluctuated between 88% and 92% in recent years ². Online consumer reviews were the next, most trusted media.
This is where I find the conundrum: I see entrepreneurs producing content before ever developing a viable product or a trusted user/customer base. I can’t recommend your product if I can’t find value in it or in your customer service — regardless of your brand’s “likes” on social.
Therefore, I’ve thought through a few of the main reasons I think constant content production is just bad advice (or at least very short-sighted). Its a mixture of feelings and facts so please take what you will from it. Let’s begin!
As the Gary Vee craze sweeps the globe, you better bet business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs are taking notes and joining the content band-wagon. Even on this platform, Medium, it can be difficult to determine if an article is a genuine piece of human creativity or a subtle, impish marketing ploy.
I predict that as brand content creation rises on social media, praised by the marketing and advertising realms, people will continue to turn to trusted reviews and family and friends for sound product/service advice and recommendations. When content ads are disguised as authentic articles, who can you trust?
Wouldn’t it be a shame to find out when you scroll down to my name that I work for ___ Media Company? It makes you question everything I am expressing in this article. Hopefully, it makes you question my intentions and motivations.
I think as the social media marketing trend grows, the companies that thrive will be those that engage in “deep relationships”, borrowing from the terminology of Cal Newport. In his book Deep Work, Newport defines deep work as uninterrupted work — the kind that sends us into a trance-like state ³. It is work that brings us true passion, fulfillment, and expertise. It is also work that is missing in most of today’s companies.
Similarly, I think “deep relationships” are the future of business. A human-centered, trust-focused approach to product/service design and customer experience will win out in the long run. As constant noise bombards our senses to buy this product or rep that brand, we’ll continue to fall back on the companies that offer real human help, quality products, and genuine care for the best interests of their users.
Adding to this, companies that return to their roots and focus on building the best company culture while investing in and caring for their employees will reap the rewards of good work. Word of mouth is powerful and I’m more willing to buy your product if I know you treat your people right.
It is entirely possible for a brand to have a strong social media presence and bring real value to to the lives of their customers. But what I’m seeing is a growing imbalance of priorities in which content production takes the wheel while value, trust, and genuine relationships are left to the wayside.
Unrealistic and Unhealthy Expectations
Just the idea of constantly documenting sounds like hell to me. Then again, I am that person who frequently considers deleting all of my social media accounts and taking a digital hiatus.
Let’s think about this logically. What happens when you promise constant content and documentation? Well, you set unreal expectations for your customer base and brand identity.
I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs who make this mistake burning out early, struggling to keep up with content creation. Their content quality eventually fades away and they resort to dirty tactics: accepting any and all content on their platform or copying/stealing content from other producers (often without credit or hyperlinks to the creators).
Furthermore, what happens if you ever decide you want to stop? How much of your customer base supports you because of your content? How will they react to your decision? What I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to “document everything” and promise content, you better know your customers and be able make true on that promise.
My suggestion? Only document what brings you joy. Share what you think is going to add value to and positively impact human lives. The world doesn’t need more static or disingenuous content. More than ever, it needs your realness, your passion, your humanity. However, I don’t think that it is effectively being fostered through media-content (at least not in its current state).
Focus on developing strong bonds in your local community. Get to know the entrepreneurs and businesses working around you. Listen to people and try to find sustainable solutions to their real needs. Give back to your community. Planned obsolescence is not the future and you will be far ahead of the curve if you realize that today ⁴.
Documenting everything is also unhealthy. There is countless evidence to support the negative psychological, mental, and emotional health effects of constant social media use and content sharing ⁵. Instagram was recently noted as the “the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health” ⁶. Maybe it is time to reconsider those implications…
The Commoditization of Humans
Humans are becoming brands in their own right. Many of us have personal brands, customized logos, and freelance websites that we use to market our work and skills to the world. While innocent on the surface and a way to be relevant and competitive in a globalized job market, there is a pernicious and dark side to this.
I call it the commoditization of humans. We are more and more becoming products, selling ourselves: our advantages, creativity, skills, experiences, etc all the time. We don’t need to have a personal brand to do this either. We do it everyday when we post on social media. How often do we share the struggles, pain, and sadness that we feel in our lives? Rarely, if at all. Anything deemed less than happy is kept hidden while we project a perfectly fake representation of ourselves.
We’re always trying to show the best sides of ourselves, whether we use social media professionally or personally. From this fact alone, half of our humanity is already sterilized by the network. The other half we share is at best, a semi-accurate snapshot of our lives and at worst, a planned misrepresentation of our current realities.
Mix these warped sociodigital norms and behaviors with content marketing and the monetization of human networking and we’re left with a shallow culture of selfishness, paranoia, anxiety, and unhappiness.
We need to remember that the ability for humans to communicate with the world is still a new phenomenon. We’re still infants learning how to use this internet medium, making mistakes and abusing privileges along the way.
As of right now, the “Big Five” technology companies own and guard most of the data you share on the internet (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft) ⁷. The power of these companies is raising a global red flag. Dishonest and manipulative tactics have already been leaked via documents from secret meetings while intrusive marketing practices are engineered based on the rich personal data people and businesses share through their platforms.
We have become the products. The products, services, and brands that you are promoting on social media can and will be used against you, to sell you the things these companies want you to buy, to show you the media and news they want to influence you, all in order to siphon as much data from you as possible ⁸. Where do you draw the line for privacy? Are the brand and marketing gains worth the intrusion and violation?
The human brain can only maintain a finite amount of human relationships at one time. This was first realized in the 1990s by anthropologists studying the brain sizes of primates and the average group size they lived within.
By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the primate data, the scientists came to the conclusion that the human brain can manage between 100–250 simultaneous relationships, sitting comfortably at 150 ⁹.
I have close to 1,400 friends on Facebook. I recently created a business page to share some of my creative works and connect with others interested in collaborating or working on similar projects. I sent an invite to all ~1,400 friends to follow/like my page. As of today, I have 131 likes on the page. After scrolling through, these are all people I, at one time or another, had a close relationship or friendship with. This is Dunbar’s Number at work.
Dunbar’s Number is the same reason that historically, human tribes would lose stability and dissolve into separate factions. After 250, humans have extreme difficulty observing and keeping track of their relationships.
Under normal circumstances, egotistical individuals and those with malicious intent could be discovered within the tribe and punished. But when the tribe grows beyond its limits, bad actors are not as easily tracked, imbalances of power form, and the tribe splits.
Personally, when I realized the significance of Dunbar’s Number, it released a tremendous weight from my shoulders – one that constantly nagged me to build, connect, network. I still do those things, but I am more aware of the process and selective in my decisions.
My point? It is not feasible to build such large networks and maintain them. Therefore, try to form authentic relationships with those in your vicinity wherever you may be. When you move on, do the same thing in the next place. But don’t try to force the growth of your brand, because the truth is you probably only really connect with 150 people casually and 4 to 6 people deeply at any given time ¹⁰.
A Giant Clusterf**k
It’d be an understatement to say that we have no idea what we’re doing. Most of us want to be successful (however we define that), make an “impact” (again, however we define that), and have a fulfilling work life ¹¹. Yet, I don’t see how that is possible when “document everything” and its other variations is the popular advice of the day.
I don’t just find this advice particularly useless, but see its staunch simplicity and general lack of awareness (of the emerging negative implications it has had in many avenues of human life – health, media/journalism, sustainable business practices, etc) as careless and harmful.
The culture of social media may be more toxic to individuals than it is helpful. This isn’t set in stone and can definitely change. But for now, the oligopoly running the show and the successful companies making big gains off your data are more than happy to persuade you to market yourself, document and publish content, and become dependent on their platforms for the success of your business.
By the same token, social media culture eliminates what truly makes us human in the shallow interactions, networks, and content that it fosters.
The human element is becoming increasingly uncommon in modern business practices and great customer experiences are becoming rare and surprising. Yet, we insist that more content, photos, and videos is the answer.
Having worked alongside businesses and startups around the world, helping humans find clarity, meaning, and true community, I am convinced that the way moving forward for entrepreneurship does not lie in documenting or publishing content, but in focused intentionality and relationship building.
Those who produce less (or no) content but put all their energy into providing the best service possible, unique and meaningful customer experiences, and a strong, close-knit company culture will be the ones who flourish into the future.
When content is produced, those who record impactful moments and document genuine and unadulterated human experiences will be the ones who gain the continued trust and support of customers and communities.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the future is human-centered and trust-focused. Content obsession and social media overstimulation will only hasten the entry of this new paradigm (which is already upon us in many respects).
Until then, I’ll continue to observe the clusterf**k that is compulsive content production wherever I am, hopeful to help end the self-destructive tactics many entrepreneurs are using to promote themselves and their products.
Maybe it is just part of growing pains and learning how to use social media and communication networks. That is why I do think (and hope) that this is just a passing phase, a quick fad that wakes us up to what is and should be important in business: trust, relationship, community, and creating awesome things that will improve the lives of the people they reach.
OK, this has now happened far too often, and I can’t ignore it any more.
There’s an epidemic of Albanian entrepreneurs who expect to get money (in the form of a grant or investment) without putting in the work to earn it. And this has to stop.
Today I spoke to a startup mentor and person with a great investor network who told me how a Tirana-based entrepreneur indicated to him that he doesn’t really care about his opinions and that all he wanted was investment for his business.
I know this entrepreneur. I met him quite recently. Initially, he struck me as smart and driven. But then I asked a few questions:
“What are your revenue projections for year 1 and 2?” Shrugging shoulders and an uneasy smile.
“What’s your hiring plan?” No answer.
“What’s your gross margin?” It took us a solid minute to arrive at the figure.
“What’s your customer acquisition plan?” Nothing coherent, not even clarity if he would first go after corporate customers or consumers.
“If you now had investment of €50,000, what would you do with it?” Again, vagueness. Clearly, he hadn’t thought about it.
“At how many units sold do you start breaking even?” No answer.
“How many units can you currently produce per day?” Vagueness, again.
Frankly, I was shocked.
Those are all reasonable questions and the bare minimum an investor will ask you. Not having answers to them shows that you are 100% unsuitable for investment.
Investors usually manage other people’s money. Someone investing in this guy’s business after this level of vagueness and ignorance would be acting highly irresponsibly towards the people who entrusted him with their money.
And as I indicated earlier, this is far from the only case I experienced. In May, as we were traveling to five different cities in Albania to promote entrepreneurship and Oficina specifically, the most frequent question directed at us was “can I get money from you?” When we asked back “well what’s your idea/plan/business?” we usually got uncomfortable smiles, arrogant statements in the vein of “I know what I’m doing” and sometimes just plain surprise that we were even asking the question.
I will not engage in speculation where this culture of entitlement is coming from, I don’t know Albania well enough to have an opinion. But I have never seen this attitude elsewhere at this frequency and intensity. And I have met entrepreneurs from most countries in Europe, the US, India, the Far East, and a few African countries.
You will never, never ever in a million years, be successful with this kind of arrogant / despondent attitude of “well I can’t do anything if you don’t give me money.”
This is not how an entrepreneur thinks. You know how a real entrepreneur sees the topic of money / investment / grants? They think along these lines:
“Someone investing money in my business needs to trust me a lot. And I will work my ass off to EARN their trust.”
There’s several dimensions of trust:
1. Earn my trust that you have thought deeply about the fundamentals of your business.
When I ask you about…
…your basic metrics, you shouldn’t have to dig in your memory or your notes. You just know them.
…your revenue projections, you have them in a tidy spreadsheet and have your assumptions (customer acquisition volume per month per sales person) easily accessible so I can understand and maybe question them.
… how you’d use €50k EUR, you tell me that you need to hire 3 sales people, 1 engineer and an operations intern which will cost you around €25k per year, €10k will go on equipment, and the rest will go into marketing which you plan to spend in channels A, B, and C. When I ask you about why these three channels, you give me clear and concise answers that show you have thought about this.
… the customer research you have done to validate your idea, you’re able to show me protocols of interviews you’ve done, surveys you’ve conducted, and a 2-page summary that shows how all your qualitative and quantitative research indicates that this is a good opportunity.
…your competitors, you know their names. If there are no direct competitors, you tell me how your future customers are currently addressing this need that your product solves.
You knowing the fundamentals of your business tells me that you’re a serious person pursuing a serious business, and not a kid who’s in love with the idea of calling herself an entrepreneur, hopping around on a startup conference stage with a name tag on a t-shirt one size too large.
2. Earn my trust that you’re someone who will take care of my children’s inheritance
Look, if I’m giving you money, it’s money that is meant to provide for my retirement and my children to inherit. So I will only give it to a person who will take care of it and treat it well.
This attitude of casual ignorance of your business fundamentals is the best signal for me that you will not be that kind of person.
Of course, every investor is playing a numbers game, fully knowing that it’s more likely that he will lose a particular startup investment than make money on it. That’s portfolio investing. Out of 10, there’s one big winner who makes all the money back, the rest are also-rans and losers.
But every investor also knows that this only works if the people she invests in will do their utmost to make the business a success. And that they cherish the investor’s trust and money just as they cherish someone working for them for a small salary and a big dream.
3. Earn my trust that you’re a hard worker
Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest jobs out there and if I give you money, I want to see you will work hard to succeed.
Your unwillingness to put in the hard work to do the research, to think through your go-to-market options, to calculate how much it will cost you to acquire a customer — all that shows me that you’re plain lazy. And there’s no way I will invest in you.
4. Earn my trust you’re willing to learn
I’m not saying you need to have it all worked out. Actually, too much confidence can be a handicap. It’s perfectly OK if after many hours of hard thinking and research, you still don’t know if it’s best to build up mass marketing capabilities or if you should go after big corporate clients. Tell me the pros and cons, tell me about your dilemma — we can discuss it, you can get my opinion, and I can introduce you to people who have faced similar questions in the past.
Let’s work it out together — but show me you’ve worked through the issues and are just stuck at a deep level.
And if then I see that you’re someone who takes advice on board, accepts some, maybe even rejects part of it for a good reason — then I see someone who learns from evidence. Someone who is a safe bet, because when things change, you will react and adjust and hopefully learn.
5. Earn my trust that you’ll behave appropriately
Going into a meeting with an investor not knowing these kinds of fundamentals and without a clearly written and well communicated plan tells me that you don’t have a clue about business.
Because you know what I’m imagining in this kind of moment as you are bumbling around, cooking up some bullshit answers on the spot? I’m thinking: How on earth will this person behave in a conversation with a potential high-value customer? How will they handle customer complaints? Will they ensure all health and safety procedures are in place?
I will think: This is an amateur who doesn’t know how to behave appropriately in a business setting.
6. Earn my trust that you won’t give up easily
If you tell me that you can’t do anything if you don’t have cash to invest in the business, it tells me that you’re not resourceful enough to find alternative paths to success. You could work nights and weekends to earn extra money to do small customer tests with, which would further reinforce that your business idea has legs. You could drive a taxi on the weekends. You could ask friends and family to put together a small amount. You could run a Kickstarter campaign. You could write a book that sells 10,000 copies, you could be a hand model.
Whatever. Be resourceful.
If your reaction to my “No” is folding your hands in your lap and complaining that noone gives you money, you just showed me that my “No” was fully justified. You’re not an entrepreneur, you’re a wuss.
7. Earn my trust that you are someone I can refer
Maybe your business lies outside my investment domain or I currently don’t invest. But if I like you and your idea, I will introduce you to my investor friends.
But if you behave like an entitled little brat who hasn’t done the work and just cockily tells me “I know what I’m doing, give me money”, I will end the meeting, never respond to your email, never accept your LinkedIn invitation and will actively discourage people from meeting you if they ask me for my opinion.
What to do
If you haven’t seen a good investment presentation, google it. You’ll find plenty. And yes, I want you to build a PowerPoint presentation. The kind that people make fun of, with pie charts, arrows, and boxes with bullet points and shit.
In that boring presentation, you put, at a minimum:
What’s the problem you are addressing?
What’s your solution to the problem?
What are your factual proof points that make you think this will be a good business? How many potential customers have you spoken with? Have you sold units already? If yes, what were your customers’ reactions?
What are the microeconomics of your business? Revenue per unit, customer acquisition cost, direct cost, fixed cost.
How big is the market?
How will you go to market?
What’s your scaling plan? More products, different customers, different geographies?
What are your revenue projections for year 1 and 2 and what assumptions are you making to reach these projections?
Who is the team, what’s their background, and why are they a good team? Complementary skills? Experience in the industry?
How much money are you raising, what valuation do you propose and why, and what do you plan to do with the money?
And you know what? It doesn’t really matter if everything in the deck is true. Your projections will be wrong, for sure. But that’s not the point. The point is that I see that you have thought through these things carefully and deeply. Because this means you work hard, you know how to behave appropriately, you won’t give up, you’re willing to learn, and you’re someone I can refer.
And of course it doesn’t need to be a beautifully polished presentation. I’m fine with ugly. Ugly but smart.
Believe me, it is NOT a problem to raise money when you have your act together. Before my departure to Albania back in May, investor friends in London have asked me to keep my eyes open and let them know if I see interesting opportunities for them to invest in.
You will get the money when you deserve it.
But you will only deserve it if you check this weird sense of entitlement at the door, get your ass in a chair and work.
This article is for anyone who is considering starting a business in the Balkans.
If you’re already an entrepreneur working on your startup, this will probably not be interesting. In this case, please do share the article! Many people want to be like you. And this is a recipe to get there.
Why should you start your own business?
Oh, I’m not saying you should. Starting a business is not for everyone. In fact, it almost certainly will lead to a lot of pain and insecurity, rejection and humiliation. And you will have to be insanely strong to not give up.
But if you have that itch and feel like there must be more to life than being in a boring job that allows you to go to on holiday once a year and save a bit for retirement — then read on. Because there is also a good chance you’ll have fun, make a decent amount of money, and boost your confidence if you’re successful.
And in my opinion, this makes it worth trying.
What do I mean with “running your own business”?
It may sound like this:
When in reality there are many more businesses that look like this:
In fact, the vast majority of businesses look much more like the last picture, not like the one above. So don’t be intimidated by the concept.
Anything where you build a system that at some point in the future will allow you to draw an income without having to work — that’s a business. (In Step 5 far below I discuss the difference between Self-Employment and Business Ownership).
So why do I recommend starting your own business?
The main benefits of doing your own thing is:
You could be very successful and make a lot of money. That in itself is a delightful idea. Not because you can buy expensive crap. That won’t make you happy. What WILL make you happy is: being able to help a friend out who is in need; buying your mum a new car; investing in someone else’s business; give to a charity; sponsor a promising artist; have time to see the world, read the collected works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez during the day and learn to dance salsa at night; learn about Artificial Intelligence and how it is changing the world. Whatever you are interested in, money will allow you to pursue that. Money = freedom.
You are more in control. I’m not saying that you are fully in control. You can’t control your customers, the market, and you can’t ignore what your investors (if you have them) tell you to do. But you’re much more in control than when you are an employee and have to punch in every day at 9am and are always on the edge of getting fired. As a business owner, you choose who you work with. You choose which customers to pursue and which ones to dump. You choose how you position your brand. Most importantly, you choose to leave work early and have a date with your wife, visit your parents or attend your daughter’s school performance. And control over your life’s circumstances leads to more happiness (research supports that).
You make yourself more valuable in the job market. Most businesses fail. But the upside is: If you fail, you will at least become much more employable. Employers will value your courage, your leadership, the fact that you had to fight for yourself and get customers, run the numbers, hire and fire — all of that. You will be a much better leader after having gone through failure. Now, this is generally true in the UK where I live. But I understand that this might not be true in the Balkans. (In Austria, where I lived for 20 years, it’s much more of a stigma to fail at a business). If you are concerned about this, you’ll have to hedge against this risk and make your business more failure-proof by increasing the length of your runway. I’ll explain. Keep reading.
It keeps the dream alive. If you stay in your job, you know for sure that you will never get rich (unless you win the lottery or you have a rich aunt for whom you’re making plans to make it look like an accident). Having your own business keeps the dream alive that while the chances of success are low, they are far higher than Zero. And this kind of hope often gives people a strong purpose and lust for life. And beyond money, it keeps the dream alive that you could have a significant impact on the world because your products or services are widely used and loved by your customers.
“But I’m old / poor / uneducated. How can I start a business?”
Old? Doesn’t matter. Yes, it’ll be harder than if you were 20 years old. But there are plenty of examples of people who became successful as entrepreneurs in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Poor? Doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s much harder than if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. But again, there’s plenty of examples of people who made it from rags to riches. There are ways. How committed are you finding yours?
Uneducated? Doesn’t matter. There has not been a better time to get educated. In 2017, so much information is freely available that you can get a massive head start just by using free content and get into the top 1% of experts in the world about any given topic. You just need the know-how to learn and the stamina to push through. This may even mean that you have to become better at English so that you can understand all the online resources. Thankfully, this is also possible to do completely for free — you just need the discipline.
All these, and other, cases where you see a disadvantage in your circumstances simply mean that it will take you longer than someone who doesn’t have this disadvantage. So what — you won’t be successful 10 years from now, but 15. Big deal.
“But I have family that depends on my paycheck”
And that’s the most important thing in the world. You will have to hedge yourself more against failure by working on the length of your runway. Read on.
“But the government makes life so hard here. There’s no opportunities. I don’t have connections, and in the Balkans, you need connections.”
Look, I get it. It can seem overwhelming and it can feel like all those great success stories are for people in the West where governments are less corrupt, business infrastructures are better, and established companies are more meritocratic and less nepotistic.
But that’s all just excuses.
Starting a business is hard everywhere you go. It’s not like anyone starting a company in the UK has success guaranteed. A challenge that e.g. the UK has that the Balkans don’t have is that a) seemingly every conceivable niche is already occupied and has dozens of competitors and b) that some of the best minds go into entrepreneurship, so whatever you do, chances are your competitors are smart as hell. In the Balkans, many interesting niches are not occupied yet or are being served poorly.
A real entrepreneur doesn’t complain about their limitations. They accept them as a given and find their way around them, safe in the knowledge that, unless war breaks out, a flood destroys their home, or an anti-business dictator takes over, there are paths to success — and it’s just about uncovering them.
OK, enough of the preamble, let’s get to it already: How to quit your job and start a business.
The sequential approach to entrepreneurship
I don’t like the idea of just quitting your job to start working on your business if you don’t have enough money to support yourself in the long run. Whenever you hear about successful cases of “building your parachute after jumping out of the plane”, there are hundreds of cases you haven’t heard about where this approach backfired and people ended up broke with their business in tatters. I know because I’ve been one of those cases.
Instead, I recommend you take a sequential approach. One step after another. Something like this:
I will discuss at a later stage what I see as the key difference between your freelance work and your actual business.
Of course, if you are in a well-paid job that allows you to save up a lot of money, you can of course skip the freelance stage and go straight to business owner. But there is a risk that if you DO run out of money by a time when your business isn’t making enough money yet, you may have to go back on the job market — something you wouldn’t have to do if you had a marketable freelance skill. We’ll explore this topic a bit further down.
Step 1: Plant your mindset garden
The journey will be very long and difficult. More so than you can imagine. And the temptation to give up will come at you every day.
You have to anticipate this temptation and make sure that you are able to resist when it shows up. Preparing for this moment is crucial.
There’s three ways you plant your mindset garden:
1) Surround yourself with the right people. As Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend most time with”. Choose to spend more time with people who are supportive of your plans. It should still be people who challenge you and give you helpful feedback. If you don’t have such people in your current social circle, make new friends. I will explore this topic in a dedicated article because it’s so important. In the meantime, there’s a great article from James Altucher where he speaks about finding mentors through books (point D).
2) Read. a) Self-help books are great for inspiration and to help build mental resilience. There’s only two problems with them: a1) Many of them are pretty bad. They have one or two decent ideas and the rest of the book is padding. Often, they are written by people without the credentials to be giving advice. So it’s important to be critical and spend your time wisely on them. a2) even if they are good, it’s easy to get lost in them and to not take action. So limit the time you spend on them. b) Blogs are another great source of inspiration as well as c) Biographies of people who have overcome hardship. You can find a short list of my favourite reading materials for entrepreneurs here.
3) Build your werewolf cage. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, at some point you will get down and think you can’t make it. You have to be prepared for these moments. In the climactic scene of the film “Wolf”, Jack Nicholson, knowing that at midnight he will transform into a werewolf and lose control over himself, locks himself inside a horse cage so that he can’t hurt Michelle Pfeiffer. When you are down and want to give up, you are also barely in control of your own feelings and actions. You may do something you’d regret later on (like abandon your mission and start looking for a job). So you need to take advantage of your positive, lucid moments now and build mechanisms that will keep you from doing damage to others and yourself when the moment of darkness comes. Everyone has their own style of werewolf cage. For example, I’m a very rational person and just need to remind myself of things I know are true. I have a document where over the years, I’ve listed my limiting beliefs that have popped up in my head over time. Over the years, I’ve collected notes on what I believe to be true when I’m in a positive mindset, on lessons learned from wise men and women I had the fortune to speak with and quotes from books that have influenced me. I have this document bookmarked, so that whenever I feel bad and my brain decides to play one of its greatest hits (e.g. “You’re just an imposter and will be found out”), I go to the document and re-read all my notes I have made about that particular topic. That usually does the trick and I get up again.
Planting your mindset garden is an ongoing, never ending process, in which you acknowledge your inner demons, get to know them, and protect yourself from them doing harm to you.
Careful: There is a risk of overplanting. Many people who can’t get their act together do too much in preparing for the jump into the unknown and never take proper action. So make sure that in your time allocation (see Step 3 below) you limit your mindset garden planting time to a couple of hours per week.
Step 2. Build your runway
When you are starting from scratch, quitting your job is not the beginning, but more like the mid-way point in your journey as an entrepreneur. You need to build yourself up to that moment.
You need to have several months of “runway” available before you quit your job and work on your business. What do I mean by runway? It’s the amount of time that you can keep going without making any money from your business. If you have €5,000 in savings and you need €500 per month to keep things at home going (pay rent, put food on the table, educate your kids), your runway is 10 months.
Important: Don’t deprive yourself. You need to be in it for the long haul, so it doesn’t make sense that you limit your monthly expenditures to a bare minimum, living on bread and water. This means that if your family is used to go on holidays, you should allocate some money for that when calculating your runway. Sure, it’s ok to (and you should) cut down on a few luxuries you might not need. Taking the taxi less often and cooking at home instead of regular restaurant meals are not major sacrifices for most people.
How many months of runway do I recommend? Of course, more is always better — but I would not recommend to take the leap unless you have 12 months of runway. Your individual number of months will depend on a few factors:
your personal risk appetite
how many other people depend on you
how fast you can realistically get a job in case things don’t work out
how quickly you’re likely to start making money from your business. That depends strongly on the nature of the business. But as a rule of thumb: Everything usually takes 2–3 times longer than you think it will take.
Only you will know the answer to this, but generally, I recommend you to be conservative in this respect.
How can you build and extend your runway?
There’s two ways to do that, and they can be combined. The second is far better in my opinion.
1. Saving up.
You simply build up savings until you have enough to have a 12+ month runway.
The problem with this is that it can take a really long time to do that with a normal middle-class job. In the meantime, opportunities seem to slip through your fingers.
Some people start taking on side work to make extra money, e.g. they do security work or bar tend on evenings and weekends. That is possible, but it has two big drawbacks: First, these side hustles tend to be worse paid than your main job, and it’s quite demoralising to have a second, badly paid job eating up your social time. Second, these jobs tend to not develop you as a person. You don’t learn much in them. You’re just exchanging your time for (small amounts of) money. And that’s why the second alternative is better.
2. Building a durable “money tap”.
With this, I mean developing a skill that you can leverage to make money as needed. Something that you can do for 10 or 80 hours/week, as it suits you.
Ideally, it would be a skill that will help you in your future business, whatever you will be setting up in the end. It should be something where you do more than just exchange your time for money, something where you learn and can improve over time.
I am biased towards online skills, so my recommendations below are mostly focused on that, but I’m sure there’s many others.
Here’s a few ideas what this could be:
Website development (using WordPress or more simple drag&drop tools like Squarespace)
Facebook / Snapchat marketing
Copywriting (difficult if you’re not very good at English, but there could be some demand for it in Albanian)
Which one to choose? Look where your existing talents lie and build on that. If you’re decent at drawing, you’ll have an easier time to get into graphic design than if your friends can never decipher your doodles in Pictionary.
Each of the above skills take you between 100–300 hours of study and practice to learn to a level where you can start charging money for them. Not much, but let’s say €3-5 per hour. As your experience and the number of successfully completed projects grow, you can start charging more. In one year, if you do a good job at what you do, you’ll be able to charge €30–40 per hour. Great graphic designers often charge double that rate. A WordPress developer I know in London charges $100 per hour.
These skills have huge advantages:
You decide the pace. You choose the number of hours you work per week. If one week you’re sick, don’t work at all. If things are slow in your main job, crack open a book or switch on Youtube, and learn using shortcuts in Photoshop. This is far better than alternative side hustles that rigidly ask for your presence at a job between 7 and 10pm, for example.
They can be highly relevant for your future business. One year from now, when you’ll be setting up your new business, it will come extremely handy that you’ll have been doing Facebook marketing over the last year or two.
They are valuable across the world. Location doesn’t matter. And this is probably the greatest thing from the Balkan perspective. The average monthly salary in the Balkans is between €300 and €500. Within one year of deliberate practice, you can get yourself to a point where you earn €30 per hour and 15 hours of work per MONTH can pay you an average monthly salary. Just imagine what you could do with the rest of your month if your monthly financial needs were met after just two days of work!
You can always restart them. Imagine you’re working on your real business and have a bit of a personal cash emergency, e.g. your car breaks down and you have to buy a new one. If your business allows it, you can pause it for a month, work 80 hours a week on your freelance skill and make the money to get a new car. Or what if your main business idea fails and you are looking for the next opportunity. Instead of having to do job interviews, you simply restart your freelance work and make as much or as little money as you need to keep things going.
How to get started?
Decide on what valuable skill you’d be good at and start studying it. There is an endless stream of free learning resources online. Just start googling and you shall find. The better ones cost a little bit of money, but the value of something like lynda.com where you pay $20 per month for an unlimited amount of videos is off the charts.
Register on websites such as upwork.com, peopleperhour.com, fiverr.com or freelancer.com and check what kind of projects people are working on. Make sure that your ongoing education reflects those projects and that you don’t learn irrelevant things.
Read up about freelancing strategies. There are many productive shortcuts on how to get to a high hourly rate quickly. This is a good article to start with.
Get some reference projects done for free or very cheap. Make sure you do a terrific job on them. There’s a great line from Neil Gaiman about freelance work. He says that clients keep working with you a) if your work is good, b) if you’re easy to get along with and c) if you deliver your work on time. And fortunately you don’t even need all three: two out of three is fine. If your work is good and you deliver it on time, people will tolerate how unpleasant you are. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good and you’re a joy to work with. And you don’t have to be as good if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
Showcase your portfolio. At the very least you do that on the freelance site you’re signed up on, but also put it on LinkedIn and ideally build your own site. Keep updating it and over time you will be able to charge more and more money.
You can go at your own speed here — and that’s the big advantage of this kind of money tap.
For more on the topic on building valuable skills read Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”
Step 3: Allocate your time and execute
Here is where the long and unglamorous climb begins: The actual execution of your plan. There’s no way around it — you need to put in the hours. Next to a full time job of 40 hours, at the very best you will be able to put in an extra 30 hours of freelance work. More realistic is 10–15. Be ambitious (= not lazy) but make it sustainable in the long run.
Below are some suggestions on how to allocate your time.
Phase 1 — before making money as a freelancer:
40 hours per week: Your current job
20: Studying and practicing the new craft
5: Logistics — Freelance strategy, understanding tools you’ll be working with (e.g. upwork)
10: Planting your mindset garden
Phase 2 — starting to make money as a freelancer
40 hours per week: Your current job
15: Doing the freelance work
5: Studying and refining your skills
5: Building your freelance portfolio presence (your own website, LinkedIn)
5: Planting your mindset garden
Phase 3 — after quitting your job
30 hours per week: Doing the freelance work
25: researching your business idea
5: Studying and refining your skills
5: Building your freelance portfolio presence (your own website, LinkedIn)
5: Planting your mindset garden
Track your time and make sure you don’t slack off. Every day at night, I track in a spreadsheet how many hours I worked on each area I consider important. It doesn’t take more than 1–2 minutes, and it allows me to keep track of my effort.
Step 4: Quit your job
Before you quit your job, make sure you have saved up enough money by then to be able to survive a lull in your freelance work. A short term lack of projects shouldn’t be the death sentence to your entrepreneurial plan — it would be very unfortunate if you had to go back on the job hunt. So I’d recommend you have at least 3 months of runway by the time you quit your job.
Also, you should only quit at an earnings level where if you worked 40 hours per week, you would be making at least as much as you made in your previous job.
Don’t put it off too much — at some point you will have to quit your job. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be able to get a business idea to sustainability, all the while working in a full time job. This is why the freelancing career is so important — it keeps your business plans afloat and you can flexibly dial it up and down.
Step 5: Work on your business idea
It’s important to understand the difference between your freelancing activities and owning a business.
Robert Kiyosaki makes it clear with his Cashflow Quadrant:
The big difference between Self-Employed and Business Owner is that the latter has built a system that generates the income. The former still engages in a transaction of their time vs money.
If you are building something where you will be able, at some point, to remove yourself from the organisation and the income will keep coming, you are a Business Owner. If not, and if your personal presence and work is required, you are Self-Employed and own a job.
Organisations can transition from Self-Employed to Business: For example, if you run a marketing agency and your clients rely on you personally to provide the work, you are self-employed. You may have employees, but you can’t leave and sit on the beach. Even if you are a highly specialised expert who charges $1,000 per hour, you are Self-Employed. But: If you create a system for your marketing agency that allows your employees to take over and manage all clients from beginning to end without your input, you have transitioned to Business Owner. Enjoy sipping mojitos in the sun.
So this is where this long article ends. Much has been written about starting a business, and I won’t go deep into that. Read The Lean Startup or any other good business book (here’s my recommended reading list) and look around you to uncover the endless opportunities that are out there.
And when you’re ready to jump into the cold water of starting your own business, get in touch with Oficina — we would be very happy to help you in taking your idea to the next level.
OFICINA BLOG – Michal Bohanes: The one thing that has made the biggest difference in my development as an entrepreneur
The one thing that has made the biggest difference in my development as an entrepreneur
This is a guest blog by our Entrepreneur in Residence Michal Bohanes @mbohanes.
Supercharge your own learning and networking by creating an email list for startups in Albania.
Who is this blog post for: Anyone in the Albanian startup community. Either you are working full time at a startup (congratulations!) or you have a full time job and work on a project on the side. Either way, you are trying to get something off the ground.
Imagine an entrepreneur, let’s call him Arber. Arber is starting a business selling personalised gifts online. He has a few thousand email addresses from potential customers and he would like to do some good email marketing with this list. He has never done any email marketing. He doesn’t know much about it — should he just send through his personal email? Or are there tools he can use?
Now imagine that Arber has access to a group of 250 experienced entrepreneurs. He simply sends an email to an email list with these 250 people on it, asking if there’s someone who has experience in email marketing and who could spend an hour with Arber on the phone giving him some instructions.
A few hours later, he checks his inbox (yes — Arber works productively and only checks his inbox three times a day). And there’s seven people who responded:
Three of them offering to speak to Arber
Two saying that they are interested as well and that they would like to be included in the learning session
One sending a link to an email marketing agency that they have worked with and recommend
One sending a link to a book and a series of blog posts where Arber can learn about email marketing
Does that sound like too good to be true? Well, this is daily life in most startup ecosystems. And it’s probably the single most important thing for my work in London.
In London, I’m part of a group called the ICE list. ICE stands for International Conclave of Entrepreneurs. You can join if you are the founder of a business, two people who are on the list recommend you, and if you participate in a trip with a group of ICErs. Once you’re on the list, you get access to 250 startup founders, investors, and tech industry executives.
This is how I get introductions, how I learn new things, how I hear about interesting events — and how I came to be in Albania: Someone I know posted on the list in January “Hey, some people in Albania are looking for an Entrepreneur in Residence. Get in touch if interested.”
I can’t overemphasise how important it is to have such a group. If there’s anything that will turbocharge the Albanian and Balkan startup ecosystem in its learning and development, this is it.
If there’s anything that will turbocharge the Albanian and Balkan startup ecosystem in its learning and development, this is it.
So, how do you build such a community?
You will say — Sure, set up an email list, easily done. What’s the big deal?
Well, this is actually harder than it sounds. Why? It requires quite a bit of trust. Why?
You are often putting your ignorance on display. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance. We all are ignorant about 99.9% of everything. But not always are we comfortable saying this publicly. If you don’t ask for help, you won’t learn. So you need to be vulnerable sometimes and ask for help.
People need to feel that there is a give and take. If you help others but never receive help in return, you will disengage. If there are free riders on the list, their presence will slowly spoil the experience for everyone else.
When you provide introductions, you want to make sure that the person who gets introduced will not do or ask for something inappropriate. It could damage your relationship with your contact.
The trust requirement means that you can’t allow just about anyone to join the list. You can only let in high quality people who will share their knowledge, follow through on their promises, and not embarrass you.
What’s the first step?
The first step is to build a community core. 2–3 people. The ICE list started in 2007 when 3 friends in London, Alex, Peter and Andrew, realised that being a founder was pretty lonely. So they decided to go on a trip together and take a few of their friends along. After the trip, they all stayed in touch through the email list.
Don’t start this alone. Get a friend or two who are as committed to the idea as you are. Consider the email list a little startup in itself. It’s always better to have a co-founder.
Set up the technical solution
It doesn’t really matter which service you use, as long as it’s reliable. The ICE list uses groupspaces.com (£12.99 / month), but you can also use Google Groups as a free alternative (Select group type “email list”). Another good paid option is copyin.com — get in touch with me via Linkedin or Twitter, I should be able to get you a discount. You can initially pay for the service yourselves, and once you have 20–30 good members together, spread the cost out and have everyone pay €10 per year as membership fee. You will be able to pay for the emailing tool and have a bit of extra budget for incidentals.
When a member sends an email to the group alias, all members receive the email in their normal email account. (When a non-member sends an email to it, it bounces and informs them that they are not authorised as senders.)
“Can’t we use Slack or Snapchat or Whatsapp or Instagram or Facebook?”
No. And I’m very serious about this. Don’t be tempted by these services. Do boring email instead.
None of these services have good archiving functions. One of the best things about ICE is that you can search for past discussions. ICE is now 10 years old — that’s a real treasure trove of information. At some point, you will remember “ah, we once had this discussion about equity distribution between co-founders, let me look it up” — and you search in gmail, and boom, there it is, a discussion you had 3 years ago. Try THAT on Facebook.
You can’t send attachments on these platforms. Yea, maybe on Facebook — but it’s a bad user experience. And you can’t search within attachments on Facebook. In Gmail, you can.
The signal-to-noise ratio is very, very poor on social media. You will get a lot of idle chitchat on them, people sending GIFs and LOLs and emojis and similar stuff. The valuable information will get drowned out.
You will get distracted. Thousands of engineers in all of these companies are spending their waking hours coming up with ways how to distract you. You may plan to interact with your entrepreneur friends, but you will find yourself, after watching 12 cat videos and clicking on 3 random news stories, wondering where an hour went.
Do not use social media as the main vehicle of the community.
Once you’ve selected your email delivery service, get your 2–3 friends on it. Congratulations. Your community was just born.
For the rest of the article, let’s call your new group CEB (Conclave of Entrepreneurs in the Balkans) — yep, you should aim at going beyond Albania soon — there’s no point limiting yourselves to a 3m market. (Also, come up with a catchier acronym than CEB. ICE is cool (ha!) because you can play around with it with various initiatives — holiday on ICE, Icicles, ICE on fire, whatever)
Establish who is in and who is out
You need to establish who you want on the list. Discuss this in your founding team — it’s an important decision you’ll be making.
The risk is, if you allow people on the list who are too different, you risk losing engagement.
Imagine you’re all startup founders on there and someone on the list asks “what is a startup?”. You’d be rolling your eyes and think “who let that one in?” — Right?
This may sound elitist, but it’s a fact: You need a certain level of common interest and shared experience.
It doesn’t have to be terribly exclusive. Your rule could be that membership is limited to people who
Are founders — defined as someone who is working more than 15 hours a week on a project that, if they received funding for it, they would quit their full time job for. Their project must be something that, if successful, is profitable and self-sustaining.
Or who work in senior positions in startups. This allows the second-in-line person to join who has almost as much responsibility as the founder/CEO.
This is just a suggestion. You come up with your own membership criteria. But you need have SOME criteria.
You need a certain level of common interest and shared experience for the list to be successful.
When in doubt, don’t let people in. It’s better to grow slower but maintain quality.
If you are selective, it gives you the advantage that you can reach out to high-profile entrepreneurs who are more ahead than you, the founders of CEB, are. If you can guarantee them that the community are all founders and a trusted circle, you can get the star power, and with it, great knowledge and contacts.
The list will be a convenient excuse to start networking with entrepreneurs you don’t know yet.
Establish the list rules
At some point, you will get behaviour on the list that you’re not happy with and you’ll have to establish some ground rules. For example, on ICE, we started having too many people who were posting their job adverts. This became a bit of a drag — too many “we’re looking for a marketing manager” type emails. Others started to complain, and some said that they are opening ICE emails less, as a result.
So we set up the rule that job postings are not allowed. When someone breaks the rule, we remind them publicly for everyone to see. If they broke the rule despite warnings, we would remove them from the list (hasn’t happened so far).
Don’t be too detailed about the rules — you don’t want this to be too regimented. But do remind people of a few good practices such as:
1. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online (e.g. “what’s the difference between a patent and a trademark?”)
2. Be specific what you want from people on the list. Eg. asking “I need help starting a business” or “How to advertise on Facebook?” are not good questions to ask because they are so broad. Instead, phrase things in a way that makes it easy for people to respond with a specific offer to help. E.g., in the above cases:
“I need some advice about which kind of co-founder I need. My own background is X and I wonder if, for my business idea, I need something with skill Y or skill Z.”
“I have problems understanding how I can use Lookalike Audiences on Facebook advertising. Can anyone who has used this feature jump on the phone with me please?”
Not only does this make it easier for others to offer help, you also show the group that you’ve done your homework and that you don’t want people to explain the world to you — you only need specific advice.
3. Don’t go fishing for likes or follows. CEB is not your marketing pool but your mastermind group. It’s not respectful to use them as click cattle. There is a fine line here — on the one hand, you want to keep people informed about what you do and get a little bit of support, on the other, you can’t go around asking people to like every picture you put out on instagram. A good compromise here would be that it’s ok to ask for support when you launch a new business or product. These things happen rarely enough. But asking for support on marketing campaigns etc — that’d be a big no-no in my book.
English is the list language
You won’t be surprised to hear me advocating for making the list language English. You will of course be tempted to use Albanian, but I think you should be strict here and consider list postings in Albanian a rule-breaking that can, if repeated, get you banned from the list. Why?
You want to expand this soon to other countries. I’d much rather have the best 100 people from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia on the list than the best 100 people in Albania alone. The earlier you show yourself open to non-Albanian-speaking audiences, the easier it’ll be to get the best people to join.
Forwarding threads — imagine someone has a question which leads me (being a member of the list) to think “oh, they are discussing this topic that my German friend knows a lot about, let me ask her.” If the thread up until then is in English, I can simply forward to my German friend and ask her “hey — can you please comment on this and say what they should do?” If the thread is in Albanian, I either have to summarise (which takes time) or use google translate (which can result in gibberish).
It’s much easier to start with new habits than to break existing ones. This is why it’s not a good idea to start in Albanian with the plan to later change it to English. People will forget that there’s new members on board and it’ll be a struggle to change.
It builds goodwill in a region where language barriers run along the fault lines of ethnic tensions. You’re looking forward and not back.
It’ll improve people’s English.
Albania is such a tiny market — any successful startup has to think beyond the country. No unicorns will get built by serving the local market alone. Speaking English on the list will further instil this globalist perspective.
To reinforce this, I recommend you get some of the best entrepreneurs in Macedonia on the list from the beginning. That way, you’ll have an easier time convincing the most obstinate Albanian speakers that it’s rude to exclude the Macedonians from the conversation.
English is the lingua franca of startups. Speak and write it well.
Have an offline initiation activity, ideally a trip
ICE is ICE because of the offline interaction of the members — largely facilitated by the trips we take. It makes a HUGE difference to know each other in person and spend some quality time together. You’re much more likely to help someone out if you played beach volleyball with them or built a snowman together.
You can’t join ICE if you haven’t been on a trip. ICE does 2 trips per year — a ski trip in March and a summer trip in September.
The first ICE trip I went on was one of the best vacations I ever had — we went to South Africa, did a safari, visited local entrepreneurs, drank wine at vinyards near Cape Town, climbed Table Mountain and swam with sharks (ok I didn’t do that bit). The group were existing members and around 20% newbies. Early stage founders, experienced entrepreneurs, investors, recruiters… all in one big group of 40+ people.
If this sounds expensive, it wasn’t too bad — ICE is so big and influential by now that we regularly attract sponsors for trips — companies with deep pockets who benefit from exposure to a group of ambitious entrepreneurs. Their contributions lower the cost for everyone.
You don’t have to go on trips abroad to build relationships, though. A long Sunday hike in the mountains, a weekend at the beach — there’s plenty of fun activities that you can do on a super low budget. Even a regular evening playing board games will do. But the more time you spend together at once the better: A weekend together is better than 5 evenings in a row.
Whatever you do, it should be something that allows you, the founding members, to see if whoever wants to join you has the right personality and mindset — are they generous, positive, helpful, fun to be around? What do they bring to the table?
Avoid activities that minimise interaction (e.g. trips to the cinema or museum). Also just doing drinks in a café isn’t great because it’s such a low-stakes environment — you only sit and talk, and words are cheap. If you travel with someone, however, you get a much better idea of their personality — do they share? Are they good at organising and improvising? How do they react if things don’t go their way?
Do applicants have the right personality and mindset? Are they generous, positive, helpful, fun to be around? What do they bring to the table?
Drinks are better than nothing, of course — and I recommend you do at least a dinner together. But the more actual activities you do together, taking yourselves out of your normal surroundings, the better.
After a trip, you decide on who should be accepted into the group. In ICE, the pre-vetting has been usually done before the trip already, so it’s an exception that someone on a trip won’t get invited to join the group afterwards. We’ve had an instance where a candidate behaved improperly towards a few women on a trip, and we paused his application. He apologised to the women in question and his behaviour was not bad enough to ban him outright, but he had to go on another trip to try again. He behaved well this time and was allowed on the list.
The right mindset on the list: Share and contribute
I once knew a woman who quit her job in risk management in a large bank. I asked her if her boss already had a replacement for her. He didn’t. I told her that a friend of mine had the perfect profile and was looking for a job. What a lucky coincidence, I thought! I was excited to be able to help my friend out and that the leaver’s boss would fill a position without paying expensive headhunter fees. Everybody wins.
I asked the job leaver if she could do an intro to her boss. She told me “why would I do this? I don’t get anything out of this.” I said that her ex boss would be grateful to her and my job hunting friend even more so. She replied that she didn’t know my friend and that she’d be taking a risk to her reputation if my friend ended up being a bad fit.
This story is meant to illustrate the exact opposite of what you need on the list. You need people who enjoy helping out — with their contacts, their expertise, their well-informed opinion. When I heard that the woman was leaving her job, my pulse jumped! I was so happy that I could possibly help my friend out. (Sorry to bring myself in as an example of virtue — but this is the kind of attitude you need to have on the list.)
One of the reasons I enjoy working in technology so much is that people are so incredibly helpful. It’s an attitude that permeates the entire sector. Asking someone I know for an introduction, picking someone’s brain about a topic they know a lot about — all this is daily bread in the London tech scene. And ICE reflects this — Here’s a random list of topics on ICE in 2017
41 “talent available” emails: People recommend non-ICE friends who are looking for jobs. Because great people are always in short supply, we encourage ICErs to recommend them. In 2016, over 14% of these recommendations have directly resulted in a job, which saved the hiring companies a combined £125,000 in recruiter’s fees.
A question from someone about non-compete clauses in a consulting contract. 9 people responded (on a holiday!) within 3 hours with very specific advice on how to handle it.
Over 20 requests for introductions. Almost every request had at least one response.
And so much more.
Asking questions on the CEB list
My conversations with entrepreneurs in Albania and Macedonia have given me the following ideas for possible topics to discuss on CEB:
I spoke to the inventors of a device that saves money for people who use solar panels at home. They needed introductions to independent engineers who can help them get credibility with investors by providing a testimony that their product works as advertised. These founders could therefore write on CEB “Dear all, does anyone of you know an electronics engineer / technician who has a background in solar panel energy? If not, do you know anyone who works in company X, Y or Z*? We are looking to get external validation on our product and need someone to review our work and provide a public endorsement. Of course, we are willing to discuss a possible equity participation in our business for the right person.” (* you’ll have to research which companies are relevant for this)
Another request the same guys could do on the list is about filing a patent: “Dear all, we’re looking to file a patent application for our invention. I’ve read up about the process and wanted to ask if there’s anyone on here who has done a patent filing recently and who we can ask a few specific questions we haven’t found answers for. (I think it would take around 15–20 minutes of your time). Even if there’s noone on the list, I’d greatly appreciate an intro to someone off list. Thank you!”
I met a company in Skopje who had a good consumer product and were already selling in shops. They were ready to pitch for investment. However, their pitch presentation was very poorly structured and they lacked confidence when pitching on a stage. A question they could ask on the list is “Dear all, we have a product, we have traction, but our pitch sucks. We are ready to get investment, but I think we’re selling ourselves short. Is there anyone on here who is good at pitching? Could I ask you for an hour of your time to give me some actionable feedback? Also, can anyone on here recommend any good online resources for pitching? I found a few random things on Youtube and it all felt very artificial. I’m a bit of an introvert, so need to find a style that suits my own.”
Btw — remember how I said earlier on that you need a certain calibre of people on the list? This is where it becomes important: If you have too many newbies and inexperienced people, such difficult questions have a low likelihood of receiving an answer.
Make sure you don’t tolerate questions that can be easily answered through Google. That’s really annoying. For example, notice that in the above question about patents, I phrased it in a way that shows that I did my homework. There must be SOME online information about patent applications in Albania. I am being respectful to the CEB members’ time by first reading up online and only then asking forhelp on specifics and direct experiences.
Answering questions on the list
Every email you receive on the list should trigger your desire to help. Unless you already have a very giving mindset, you need to change the way you think about requests on the list. The list is now a bit like your family — and when a family member needs help, you should try to provide it.
In an average month, I probably respond to 1 email on ICE in depth and to another 5, I respond with short messages. This is not because I’m lazy to do more, I simply don’t have anything to contribute in the other cases. But thankfully there are enough people on the list so that almost every email gets an answer.
The list is like your family — and when a family member needs help, you should try to provide it.
Examples for how to answer requests:
Someone asking for an introduction to someone at Google? I go and check Linkedin to see if I am connected to someone relevant. If I am, I write to the inquirer asking: “Hey, I can intro to XY, I’m reasonably close to him and he’d probably answer my email. He’s a bit junior but let me know if you don’t receive a better offer and I’d be happy to help.” I’m writing this to the person privately (not via “reply all”) because it’s not necessary to let everyone else know that I know XY. I don’t want to spam the list.
Someone asking for recommendations on email marketing platforms. I’m using Aweber and I like it a lot, so I write a longer email (replying to everyone on the list because there could be others who might find this information useful) where I describe the pros and cons of Aweber in detail.
I’m a member of all kinds of networks (alumni group of my university, Facebook and Linkedin groups etc) but no other list triggers my willingness to help as much as ICE does. Because of the personal connection I have with these people.
Your role as a founder of the list
Imagine someone asks CEB for help three times, and they never receive a response. That sucks, right? And if it continues like that, they will stop asking. Because they feel bad that they haven’t received help, they will be less willing to help themselves. And CEB will slowly die.
This is a big risk early on, when the list starts. A big responsibility lies with you, the list’s (co)founder, to not let this happen. People need to feel that they can find help.
Make it a habit to monitor questions people asked that didn’t get (good) answers and try to help them, especially if one person is affected multiple times. If they are asking for an introduction and noone responded, see if there’s any possible way you can help. Spend a few minutes searching Linkedin if you can find a relevant person. Send an email to 10 people (outside of CEB) you know and ask them if they know someone for this person.
Obviously, again, you can’t completely lose yourself in these efforts. But this is why it’s so important to have co-founders so that you can spread the burden.
Besides suspending people for bad behaviour on the list, it’s a good idea to regularly “purge” the list from members who don’t contribute. ICE doesn’t have a rigid formula for it, but we do a yearly review of members and if someone has never written anything on the list, we consider removing them. Every year, we remove somewhere between 10 and 30 people from the list.
Sometimes ICE gets so busy that we don’t see the forest for the trees — so one of us does a monthly summary email where we highlight the key points what happened on the list in the past month. This also helps separate the important from the trivial. The summaries then are compiled in a giant summary document that everyone can access and search in.
Based on people’s recommendations, we keep a database of products and services. Someone asks for a good PR firm and seven people respond with their recommendations? I take these recommendations and translate them into the database for future reference. Three months later, someone else needs a PR firm? They can go straight into the database and don’t have to email the group.
And that’s it! Don’t hesitate — just do it. Be the first to launch a Conclave of Entrepreneurs in Albania and beyond. It’s going to be one of the best things you’ll be doing for your professional and social life.
Let me know in the comments section if you have questions. I tried to anticipate a few of them below
“I can’t give up my life to help people out. There must be a limit to my support to others — I need to take care of my business first”.
Of course, that’s true. You can’t be all Mother Teresa on your friends and sometimes you will have to say no when tempted to help someone. Your business is your first priority.
However, helping others out is a close second in my list of priorities. I’d much rather sacrifice some spare time watching a film or hanging out with friends if I can genuinely help someone I value and like. (There’s also endless evidence that being useful to others is a fundamental driver of meaning and happiness for pretty much everyone across all cultures, faiths and classes.)
I think the best middle ground is to establish a boundary for yourself and allocate e.g. 3–4 hours per week that you will spend helping your network. You know when your limit is reached — but try to push yourself. The more you give, the more you receive in the long run.
“Great advice.” (oh, thank you :-)) “But what if, after this blog post, dozens of mini-CEBs start cropping up? They will end up competing and fragment the already small startup ecosystem in the Balkans into tiny fiefdoms. Shouldn’t we try to unify everyone into one big group?”
It’s a fair question. But it shouldn’t lead to you to spend a year planning. It’s better to act quickly and later to consolidate competing groups.
First of all, let’s not forget — quality over quantity. A group of 50 helpful, committed leader types is vastly better than a hodgepodge group of 300 disengaged people whose only unifying trait is that they vaguely like the idea of working in a startup.
Just set up the group. Then, as you network your way through the ecosystem while recruiting new members, you might hear of another group. Chances are, they will have a different focus than you. And if not, if they literally are doing the same thing — perfect! Just join forces and don’t have a big ego about it if the other group is bigger and has higher calibre people on it.
“What if I don’t know any influential local founders?”
Try to get an introduction to them via someone who knows them. This is why it’s so important to have a good presence on Linkedin. If you really can’t find anyone to introduce you: Find out their contact details and write to them. What’s the worst that can happen? They will ignore you. Chances are, they won’t. Because after all, you are stroking their ego by telling them that they are among the most influential founders in the region.
“We already have a Facebook group where founders help each other out.”
Read the section on Facebook and other social media higher up in this article. Trust me on this. Facebook is NOT the tool to do this. It’s distracting and offers far worse features than email (no good searching, loss of history, poor attachment management). Facebook would be good if you wanted to maximise reach and get as many people in as possible. But you don’t want that — you want quality over quantity.
“But email doesn’t allow for likes and comments.”
This is not a popularity contest. Likes don’t matter in this context. And you CAN comment on email — it’s called an email response. The problem with Facebook comments is that they tempt you to write quick, low-quality responses that you wouldn’t dare making on email to a large group of people. It’s so easy to post a silly emoji or an LOL in a comment thread. All this amounts to a massive sea of clutter and distraction where it’s hard to filter out the relevant stuff. I challenge you to dig up an interesting comment someone has made 3 months ago. It’s going to be very hard. Try the same in email. Far easier (especially if you use gmail with its amazing search functionality).
Investors say: “Good teams never become out of date…”
It is commonly thought that in the Balkan region future entrepreneurs do not lack of ideas but of funds…
In fact, several Accelerators have funds to invest in the region, also almost every country in this area has an Angel Network and a couple of Venture Capital Funds also are active in the Balkans. At a closer look we can notice that the region does not lack of funds, should we think the opposite also for the idea part of the statement?
In less than 8 months, a Venture Fund comes in Albania twice, this time to invest. During the Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, a week full of activities to support the entrepreneurship ecosystem all over the globe, and Tirana as well, for two days you could have met them at Oficina. The team of three, led by Mrs. Tatiana Zabasu, the Managing Partner of South Central Ventures, supported also by Swiss EP, met with several actors and listened the pitches of 11+ startups. During one of the breaks, Mrs. Zabasu was very kind to give an interview.
Can you describe South Central Ventures in 50 or less words?
SCV is a team of professionals managing the largest early stage fund in the Balkans, Enterprise Innovation Fund. The fund has been operating since early September 2015, and is focusing on tech companies with high growth potential, coming from the Balkans. We are a team of 9, operating from their offices in Zagreb, Belgrade and Skopje. The core team has been active in VC investing for more than 10 years, and during this time we gained valuable experience and knowledge of the start-up ecosystems in the region.
How can Albanian Entrepreneurs benefit from SCV Fund?
Albania is one of the seven countries SCV focuses on, and although we do not have an office here, we are trying to do our best to screen the Albanian start-ups and promote the fund among them. We are primarily looking for early and early growths stage investment opportunities, but also have an allocation for seed investments. There is no specific procedure for raising funds from SCV; start-ups just need to get in touch with us and present what they are doing. If we find a business interesting, we’ll definitely get back to them and discuss the opportunity further. For a start-up, getting an investment should bring more than just money – access to our network of investors, entrepreneurs, potential partners… We can in some cases “open the door” to larger established companies, and help young teams with our experience and knowledge.
What kind of Startups is SCV looking to invest in?
We are focused on tech companies, in its widest definition. Nowadays, most of the industries are changing due to new technologies, and we are looking for companies that know how to apply novelties in a variety of areas – from agriculture to medical products. What we need to see is the potential to grow, thus we are seeking teams with global aspirations, the ones that look beyond the borders of their country and its immediate neighbors. We want to help start-ups to expand in new markets and grow, so what we are looking for are interesting, scalable products/services developed by good teams, which are operating in growing, potentially large markets. We look for teams that can “make it big”.
What does it take for a Startup Team to impress you? What are the things you do look in these teams?
Well, first they need to convince us that they know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Solving a big pain of a group of people, or creating an opportunity to improve the way things are done or general well-being of people. They need to present the opportunity for growth and explain why they are the ones who will seize it and win the market. We need to see the determination, passion and persistence, as we all know a life of an entrepreneur is often times not easy, and there are ups and downs to be persevered. Without passion and persistence, that is very hard. Plus of course experience, domain knowledge…
Except of the financial part, what other perks can a startup team get from an investment of SCV?
For one thing, raising an investment means you’ve managed to convince a group of people that there is potential and that you are the ones taking advantage of this potential. This may help you with building trust with your partners, clients, people you’d like to see on your team… It sorts of contributes to your credibility. It gives you access to a wider network – of investors, potential customers, maybe an investor can help you get a meeting with a large company you otherwise wouldn’t have the access to. Through the network, also the pool of knowledge you can tap into is much larger, which can be really important and beneficiary in any stage, but particularly in the early stage, when most likely your team is not complete and there are “holes” you need to fill. Also, sometimes it may be just good to have someone monitoring your startup more objectively; as your business is “your baby” you tend to see things differently than someone who looks at it with less emotion. Not to mention that when deciding between different options, you can discuss possibilities with someone who has probably seen companies in a situation similar to yours and may be able to give you a good advice.
Comparing the two concepts that often are misunderstood in our region, Idea/Product and Team, which one is the most important based on an investor point of view?
They are both important, although I’d say we pay a bit more attention to the team. A great team can always improve the product or pivot it or adapt to the changes in the market. Every product needs to be sold at some point if you want to make a good business, and even if the product is not perfect, a good team will be able to get some value from it. In the contrary, you may have a perfect product, but if you are not addressing the right customer segment in a right way, or if you have no one to sell it, it will be difficult to win. Plus, the product if not developed further and tailored to market needs may become obsolete. Good teams never become obsolete…
What advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur or a young startup?
Once you define what and why you want to achieve, get the market feedback as soon as possible. Adjust based on that feedback and then work hard to “make it happen”. It sounds very simple, but we all know it is not.
Digital Media Content Coordinator Swiss Entrepreneurship Programme
Master Mentoring Workshop
On September 8 – 9, 2016, Swisscontact SECO Entrepreneuship Programme organized in collaboration with OFICINA – ENTREPRENEURSHIP & INNOVATION LAB, the Master Mentoring Workshop with the main aim to motivate mentors to mentor but in the meantime help the Accelerators Staff better recruit mentors for their mentoring program. Facilitated by Mike Ducker (J.E. Austin and Ecosystem Forum) who’s work to develop entrepreneurial ecosystems in emerging markets has been praised by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the Prime Minster of Armenia. He is currently the founder of the Ecosystem Forum a platform to share effective practice’s to build ecosystems in emerging markets; and Celik Nimani (Frakton and Zombie Soup) a well-recognized professional with a consistent record of achievement in developing new business, driving profitability and building the foundation for trusted client partnerships.
In both dates, participants in this practical workshop, a learning by doing experience between Mentors and Startups had the possibility to exercise Business Model Canvas Exercise. Also an added value of the workshop was the fact that new potential mentors were introduced to the Albanian Startup Ecosystem and Accelerators in Albania. Based on their experience in this workshop, which they found very useful and empowering, some of them have already decided to be engaged for a certain time in different Accelerator Programs.