For the perfect alternative to earn a excessive return, take a look at the Varo Savings Account. The all-mobile financial institution gives a uniquely tiered APY program that encourages clients to save lots of extra, and it has two financial savings applications that robotically switch cash out of your Varo checking account to your financial savings account.
The next time you order food using an app, you can also order groceries. In a bid to reach out to consumers, most FMCG companies have formed partnerships for delivery of essentials as customers have been avoiding stepping out for fear of getting infected with the deadly Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I had a fascinating conversation with a challenger bank customer — let’s call her Jennifer. Jennifer is a nurse practitioner, in her early thirties, and lives in Atlanta. Towards the end of the interview, when I asked her to give me three words that came to mind when she thought of her former brick-and-mortar bank, she hesitated for a moment and then said:
How I spent €200.000 on a failed startup by raising money, hiring people, and building a product no one wanted.
We received the call we’d been waiting for. An angel investor was ready to make us an offer. After some back and forth, despite it being a “biggish” amount of money, we said no. The main reason for this is because we were still figuring out what we do and knew that it would be way too easy to completely waste the money.
What led us to such an unusual conclusion? Four and a half years ago my team and I had a sobering experience raising and unreasonably spending €200,000 that led to both insights and a reality check.
Don’t raise money before product/market fit
I thought money would accelerate our path towards finding our business model, but it only created a distraction, and ultimately led us to waste money on things we didn’t need to even think about.
4.5 years ago my startup (Panda Training, which back then was a matchmaking platform for trainers offering training and companies that needed training) raised €200.000 from various funding sources. We ended up going from Helsinki to New York that summer after an initial “killer” run at local sales in the spring with a product that “was supposed to be ready by the time we arrived to NYC.”
It was bad timing to raise money because we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have a product and we didn’t have any revenue. Fast forward to today, however, and we have a product with close to €20.000 in monthly revenue. But regardless of this, we still ended up saying no to an investment. The primary reason for this is because it is still too early and we aren’t quite there yet.
Don’t hire before product/market fit
After raising €200.000 we ended up hiring people and bloating our headcount to 14 people at its peak.
We got community managers, marketing managers, sales managers, and all kinds of developers. We spent time designing the job description, marketing those, selecting people, onboarding them. It is a very straightforward task to do when you are a stable company. But when you don’t know what you are doing, have any revenue, and changing the direction every week, it is the recipe for disaster. Employees are not founders. They need direction and they can’t adjust every week. Even for founders it’s super hard and takes me as the CEO several discussions with the team.
People can help you scale what you are doing well and what works. But if you don’t know what you are doing, it will take you more time aligning a team. of 14 people than it would have taken to do the job alone. Not to mention that it’s super expensive
So what is Product/Market Fit?
One term that is arguably the most important for any startup is product/market fit. Here is what one of the top investors in the world Marc Andreessen says about it:
In short, customers are knocking down your door to get the product; the main goal is to actually answer the phone and respond to all the emails from people who want to buy. You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
Why is product/market fit important? Because it is what makes a successful startup. You thought it’s the investment you got? How many people you’ve hired? Revenue? Profit? I would argue it is none of those things.
A startup is a company looking for a business model. Product/market fit is when you found your business model. Having product/market fit means you have a very high chance of surviving the next 10 years as a company, provided you keep your sh*t together. Raising €1M and going bust in 2 years is not a success.
Don’t conflate interest and demand
Why do startups make such basic mistakes? Why do they raise money and hire people when they don’t need to? I believe it is about our psychology. Inherently, to build a business, one needs to be an optimist. I picked this idea from the ex-CEO of Intel and the book “High Output Management”:
“CEOs always act on leading indicators of good news, but only act on lagging indicators of bad news.” This is because “In order to build something great, you have to be an optimist, because by definition you’re trying to do something that most consider impossible. Optimists most certainly would not listen to leading indicators of bad news.”
Being optimists we as entrepreneurs often conflate interest and demand.
Interest is when someone is saying “Amazing idea, we should test it when we have some slack in our organization and the right opportunity arises.”
Demand, on the other hand, is when they say (in a higher voice), “We really need this! Now! Where can I sign?”
The reason I went to conquer New York at the age of 21 is that I conflated politeness and interest with demand. We thought they were going to buy our service. We were wrong. Our potential clients just liked kids and their innovative idea, and in some cases invested in testing it with them.
Sell before building
Many conflate politeness with demand and rush to build their product. We were not an exception. We poured thousands into the salaries of developers in Serbia and only to realize 6 months later that no one needed our product.
Looking back on it though, we didn’t need to build an amazing backend to realize that no one wanted to use what we are trying to build. Even a quick mockup would have done the job. And yes, we definitely didn’t need an iOS developer who would be adopting our web solution to mobile before it was even validated.
You don’t need a fancy office. And I would go as far as to say that you should sell just with a Powerpoint. Once they pay, only then you can start building. And ideally, it should be a hefty sum. The price of a coffee level commitment is not a good indicator for investing €100K into development.
Investors will come to you
One other thing I’ve noticed is that investors will come to you if you have a good business. Randomly, somehow they will find you. Not everyone, but you will start getting strange offers. We didn’t get any offers with Panda Training at first. Nor did we get any after we first pivoted. But then now after the second pivot with close to €20.000 in monthly revenue, it has started to happen.
For another company that I am a part of, GrowthClub, angels came knocking very early on. We hesitated. Nonetheless, with GrowthClub we took very little pre-seed money as a buffer and because we wanted to get on board a couple of angel investors as advisors. The difference in comparison to a typical case is that we didn’t spend 6 months full-time looking for investors, the equity we gave up was quite small, and we are watching our profit and loss very closely.
Is your business engine working?
So, when should you build?
After you’ve sold.
When should you raise money and hire people?
When you’ve built your business engine. When you know your target audience, your marketing channels, your value proposition, your profit margins, and can confidently say that if we put €1M into this engine, we will get €2M out.
And as a final remark, these days Panda Training is prospering after 2 pivots and a lot of bootstrapping. Today, with clients like SAP, Universal Pictures, Stora Enso we are making coaching 10 times cheaper and using it as a tool for strategy rollout and implementation, culture and people development. Our service is a human-chatbot hybrid that also collects critical data and insights. All in all — we were thrilled about investors showing interest in us. But declining the investment was the right decision.
Thanks for sticking with me till the end! These days I am a GrowthClub member who became a hands-on advisor there. GrowthClub is a community of founders with an average of $ 5K+ MRR where founders exchange growth hacks and build genuine connections in 1-on-1 video calls.
The US neobank’s newly debuted Varo Advance offering gives customers access to short-term loans of $ 20–$ 100. Customers are charged nothing for a $ 20 advance, with the charge ranging up to $ 5 for a $ 100 advance, and customers can pay off the loan whenever they like within a 30-day window.
With interest rates on savings accounts dropping to half of what they were just a year ago, many savers are eager to find a bank that offers an annual percentage yield (APY) of more than 1%. For those looking to earn more on their savings, your best bet is to head online. The all-mobile Varo Money, Inc. is a San Francisco-based national bank founded in 2015.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many startups have successfully pivoted their business models to accommodate customers and keep their doors open. These same businesses are also keeping a watchful eye on their expenses and finding new ways to save money.
Saving money during the pandemic ensures more than the company’s survival. It also keeps employees from being furloughed or let go, allowing your talented and valued team members to keep their jobs.
StartupNation exclusive discounts and savings on Dell products and accessories: Learn more here
If you’re currently examining your finances and trying to figure out which areas still have the ability to offer up extra savings, consider budgeting in the following areas:
Think about relocating
Many businesses have made headlines over the last six months for their decisions to take companies fully remote, permanently leaving the office behind. While this approach may work for some businesses, others may not be in the position where they can take their operations completely remote.
However, this doesn’t mean that businesses need to stay tethered to an expensive lease that doesn’t work for them. Take a look at commercial office buildings in your area or in surrounding communities for rent. Are they looking for tenants? Do they offer flexible leasing agreements and less expensive rent? If your business fits the bill, you may consider moving to a new location that is, quite literally, a better fit for your business.
Alternatively, this may be a good time to negotiate with the landlord of your existing building. Reach out and ask for improved rates. Be honest and let him or her know that you are looking at other office spaces, as this often yields a more competitive mindset from your landlord. They will want to retain you as a client (especially if your business has a reputation for paying on time), so it’s a great opportunity to negotiate for better terms this year and in the coming year.
Figure out if you qualify for utility assistance programs
Curbing expenses in any workplace can only be done up to a point. You can purchase office supplies in bulk and go paper-free when possible. However, fully eliminating utility bills for electricity and water is next to impossible for any business.
The next best idea? If you’re struggling to make payments on time or are seeking a way to reduce existing bills, get in touch with your service provider. Explain your situation and see if they are offering any discount or relief programs that may be applicable to your business. Take advantage of these programs, even if they are temporary. The short-term relief will make a big difference.
Hire independent contractors
Hiring employees is usually an exciting milestone for a startup, as it shows that sales are increasing and the company overall is growing. However, entrepreneurs on tight budgets during COVID-19 may consider hiring workers on an independent contractor basis rather as full-time employees.
What’s the difference? A worker for any business must be classified as an employee or independent contractor. This classification allows the business to withhold their income taxes accordingly. It also helps determine the relationship between the worker and business within three categories: behavioral control (directing and controlling their workload) financial control (wages and pay), and relationship of the parties (this may include benefits and insurance — which are available for employees but not independent contractors).
Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification. Form W-9 must be completed by the independent contractor. This form allows you to request the correct name of the worker and create their taxpayer identification number (TIN). Always keep this on file in the event there are any questions about the document.
Form 1099-NEC.Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation reports payments of non-employee compensation (NEC) that were reported in box 7 on Form 1099-MISC. Business owners that paid independent contractors more than $ 600 for their services during the year need to complete this form. The business owner then must send this form to two more additional places. A copy needs to be sent to the IRS by January 31. Then, a copy of Form 1099-NEC must also be provided to the independent contractor by January 31 of the year following payment.
We’re only a few months away from 2021, so now is a great time to look at 2020’s overall expenses as well as any expenses from 2019.
Take a look at the areas where you can cut costs. Further, examine anywhere you can get better terms on loans, contracts and any credit cards associated with the business. Now is the perfect time to focus on improving the margins and to take stock in the overall year. Focus directly on your ROI for certain ventures and examine what yields a consistently profitable return. Cut out anything that’s not working — if you haven’t already.
Remember that while many of these changes may be temporary now, you may continue to stick with some of these budget hacks post-pandemic.