During the last 2.5 month we, the ENVERACE Team, have been participating in the Founder Institute program taking place in Chisinau, Moldova. Founder Institute is the idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program from the US, specifically from the well-known Silicon Valley. In Moldova the program has been implemented for the second time this year with the support of Dreamups Innovation Campus, USAID, Sweden, and other partners.
The program was very intense for us, with numerous moments of “ups” and “downs”. Still, it seems that we managed to go through it, and today, after the final pitch, we will join the community of Founder Institute Chisinau graduates. If you are curious to see the pitch and what we have created so far, join us at the Founder Institute Chisinau Graduation Day.
From the 2.5-months experience we have learned a lot of useful lessons about entrepreneurship, idea development, startup establishment, marketing, sales, etc. But the truly valuable ones are related to the underlying human behavior, attitude, collaboration, and execution. And here we would like to share the 5 most valuable takeaways from our experience in the Founder Institute program.
- Advice is abundant and free, but genuine support is rare and extremely valuable. Or, how Mary Schmich once said, “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it”. During the program we received an abundance of advice from many different mentors. Each one of them came with advice from his/her own perspective, and we are grateful for each one of them. But if we would take and implement every suggestion coming to us, we would be stretching ourselves into many different directions. Instead we focused on our vision, values, experience, and understanding, and assessed each piece of advice through these “filters”. Some suggestions were taken fully; others were modified; while the rest were discarded. And then we connected with those mentors, who were truly interested in supporting us, and followed their further pieces of advice.
- Customer is the best mentor. Indeed, in the end what really matters is that our product / service solves the “pain” of the customer, and he/she is ready to pay for that. Therefore, it is the customer, who can usually give you the best advice on how he/she wants to see the solution to the problem he/she experiences. But again, one must be careful here as well, as customers might feel the “pain” but might not know what exactly is that solution that can relieve it. So, it is up to entrepreneur to process the feedback and advice coming to him/her and then see how everything fits together. During the program we have received many conflicting feedback from the first customers, but we tried to stay “on track” in our vision.
- Engagement in product development should be done when it is really needed. The common practice in many startups is to initially develop a shiny looking product / service in the form of a software, app, or device, and then try to find a customer for it. This might be a costly and risky way to approach business development, as the product / service might not fit the customers’ perception of a suitable solution and the needs of the market. Instead we were advised to create a very basic model of what we intend to deliver to our customers, find the ones open for new experiments, and then test the concept with them. If they like it, then we go for development. If they come back with feedback, we process it, add modifications to the model, and test it again. If the customers don’t like what we deliver to them and don’t use it, then it should be discarded, and we should rethink the business concept, problem, solution, market, etc. Considering this, our first sale-able product was a pre-selection button with suitability score working through an enhanced Google Form. By testing it, we can confirm that the idea works, and can initiate more complex developments.
- Successful startups do not compete, they collaborate. The common perception of the startup world is that it is full of fierce competition among its “players”. And it might be true. However, what we advocate in ENVERACE is collaboration. We believe that it is better to cook a big cake together and split it among all the contributors, than prepare a little cupcake and eat it alone in the corner. In other words, successful startups win by collaborating together and creating much bigger value than they would have done it separately. This is why we are very happy to support the recruitment process of other startups from the program, Corbelium and Duckinder, although they are not from our targeted market niche. While helping them, we also win by testing our product / service and receiving trustworthy constructive feedback from their founders.
- No startup acceleration program guarantees success; this comes from your own execution. Yes, we have received a lot of inputs from the Founder Institute program. But we cannot yet state that our startup is successful and prosperous. The program cannot guarantee that. It is only up to us, startup founders, to execute and grow our “baby” to successful maturity. However, such programs, when organized thoroughly and with passion and desire to truly help startups and their founders, can still bring valuable networks, communities, resources, personal discipline, team bonding, and significant boost for further idea development into a healthy startup. And now, coming to the Epic Challenge of the Founder Institute program, the Graduation Day and final pitch, we start to feel the value of that boost accumulated during the 2.5 months of intense work.
In conclusion, we are happy and grateful to the Founder Institute program for bringing us to the place we are now with ENVERACE. But we also believe that much improvement to these and other programs are needed for increasing their value to startups. And we hope that next year we will have the chance to contribute to the improvement of the Founder Institute Chisinau program for it to raise and prepare an even more successful generation of startup founders in Moldova.