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We all know that most startups fail. That’s why aspiring entrepreneurs all over the world are lying awake at night wondering, “How can I make sure mine doesn’t?” Here are the most important things we did to navigate the chasm from a tiny startup with an idea to an established fintech that in just a few years is already engaging with millions of customers around the world.
Pick The Right Problem
The first challenge you’ll face is what product to build to solve a consumer pain point or market inefficiency. No matter whether your business is B2C or B2B, I firmly believe that, as an entrepreneur, you need to make sure you’re solving a real need for the consumer. Our company, for example, sells our AI platform to banks that use it to power virtual assistants to engage with their customers. To be successful, we have to constantly focus on how real people use our virtual assistants and chatbots, and whether our platform helps the bank’s customers better manage and understand their finances as well as deepen their relationship with the bank. That consistent focus on the end user is critical, even if your go-to-market model is B2B. Driving business results goes hand in hand with delighting consumers.
Pick The Right First Customer
Your first customer is critically important because they can help you shape your product and open the door for you to have conversations with the next customer — so you want to choose someone who wants you to succeed and understands part of that success will be wider adoption of your product by the industry. Defining and delivering measurable ROI for your first customer is a must-have. Our first customer was instrumental in making introductions for us, which was invaluable and spearheaded a strategic investment. Soon after we had success in the market and proven metrics, their executives were open to picking up the phone, making introductions and speaking about us publicly. In part, this was because they saw clearly that we would benefit from having more exposure and room to experiment and develop our product, which in turn would benefit them as well.
Pick The Right Market
Pick a market where innovation is not only tolerated but welcomed. As we sought our first customer, we were drawn to Asia, for example, as it is having a startup moment in fintech. Banks are less regulated, and they are innovating at a faster clip, so it’s a good place for fintechs that want to collaborate with them. Tech giants like Alipay, Ant Financial and WeChat are investing in all-digital financial products and services and rapidly acquiring customers, creating a unique challenge to the incumbent banks. In response, forward-looking banks are reinventing themselves from within, embracing innovation and new technologies that can transform the customer experience. As one example, one of our customer’s banks in India went from zero to 2 million users in under two years. This helped us establish a presence with current customers like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, TD Bank and others, as real-world use cases proved fruitful in burgeoning markets. The fact that industry analysts predict that the banking sector is expected to be the biggest contributor to technologies like AI by 2020 is supported by strong customer examples.
Do The Right Thing
Banking is a big global industry, but like most industries, it’s a small world, so word of mouth and reputation are extremely important. This means you have to be open and direct with customers about what you can and can’t do. As CEO, I want our teams who are on the front lines working with customers to call me and tell me the right thing to do based on our customers’ needs.
Focus, Focus, Focus
To summarize, it’s not easy starting a business, no matter what industry you’re looking to enter. What is predominantly important across the board as a founder, though, is remaining laser-focused on four things: the problem only you can solve, the larger market trends, choosing the right early customer and doing the right thing by your customers. What would your customers say about you today if they were to be asked by a third party interested in your services? Let that question be your guiding principle.
January 3, 2019 at 08:11AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs