Startups big and small across northern Europe and Russia met in Helsinki this week for tech startup conference Slush to discuss which trends are surging within the space. Some tips to budding companies are simple (“stay focused” and “think ahead”) but hearing cautionary tales and words of wisdom could breathe new perspective into your own approach.
Here’s a look at what to keep in mind during the early stages of growing a startup from those who have been there before.
1. Be open
William Wolfram, founder of ecommerce company DealDash, which is valued at $100, believes startups shouldn’t be put off by criticism from venture capitalists in the search for funding.
“It’s basically free advice,” Wolfrom said. “A founder should walk away from a meeting with what they need to work on and what they should do. You can get so much value and feedback from VCs, even if they don’t want to invest.”
Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen found much success with his 3-year-old company, which is the force behind two of the most popular iOS apps worldwide right now: combat strategy gameClash of the Clans and social farming game Hay Day. But his advice to startups is to stay creative and celebrate failures.
“Don’t just look at what’s popular in the App Store and see how you can do something along those lines,” he said. “Try and create something new and exciting.”
Supercell also embraces each product failure with a bottle of champagne. “We celebrate failures,” Paananen said. “We don’t pretend failing is fun — people dedicate their lives to gaming production and sometimes the products get killed — but we get so much from that failure. We analyze and talk about what went well and what didn’t. We pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate what we learned.”
3. Stay selective
Many will offer advice, but be selective with what tips you actually follow.
“Listen to the right advice,” said Jukka Hilvonen, a producer at Nitro Games. “While going through incubator programs, we met a lot of talented people from different fields and received a lot of advice.
But if we listened to everyone, we’d be chasing our own tails. Some said making free-to-play apps is the only way to approach mobile, but because we are doing interactive storytelling, that would have been really hard to do.”
4. Get balanced
Markus Haltunnen, whose startup Small Giant launched in February, said a well-rounded founding team is crucial for success.
“Make sure your founding team is well balanced. It’s not enough that you have a group of talented people working together,” he said. “We had two graphic designers and one developer, but we knew we needed something more. It’s important to identity gaps in skill or knowledge. We were lucky to get someone else on the team who had experience talking to investors and that was key while we looked for funding.”
5. Think years ahead
Tiina Zillacus, founder of the Yoga Retreat app, said it is key to consider what you need to keep your company thriving beyond the present.
“If you need investors, raise enough money for the next level while still playing the current one,” Zillacus said. “Even if someone isn’t interested now, they could be later. It’s about building relationships and thinking ahead, not just what you need now but what you might need two years from now.”
Zillacus also said to approach investors who might have a specific interest in your category. “When you walk into a room of suits, they might not make decisions based on what you want (such as, for our company, their health),” she said. “Once I developed an eye for who might be right for our own interests, it was much easier to gain awareness.”
6. Forget the competition
Knowing your competition is one thing, but don’t let it fuel your every move.
“You’re more likely to be killed by lack of focus than competition,” said Juha Paananen, CEO and cofounder of Singapore-based Nonstop Games. “Some companies look too much at what competitors are doing and don’t focus on themselves.”
7. Market yourself
Will Kassoy, CEO at AdColony and former senior VP of global marketing at gaming company Activision | Blizzard, said many early startups believe a strong concept is enough to get really noticed — but it’s not.
The slogan ‘if you build it, they will come’ doesn’t always apply,” he said. “You need some form of marketing.”
Hire a team or allocate internal resources to get the news of your brand in front of influential eyes.