Following the completion of our seed capital investment round and my reflections on the past 18 months spent focused on Doordeck, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how my experiences in a tech start-up have differed from my previous experiences running businesses, and some of the advice I’d offer to anyone else considering going down this route.
Perhaps the most important factor has been ensuring I have the right team around me — and, even more crucially, the right business partner. In that respect I really couldn’t have hoped to find a better co-founder than Michael, our CTO. In many ways we are opposite personality types and we certainly have very different skill-sets but, critically, we compliment each other perfectly and have a very honest, co-operative relationship.
We both trust the other to do their own thing and have confidence in their judgement but are also prepared to take their advice when offered and needed. I can’t stress enough the importance of this, especially when you’re working under intense pressure for a prolonged period of time. Thank you, Michael.
It’s not just about the colleagues, of course — any fledgling business is dependent on the guidance and financial support of external agencies. Many organisations claim to assist startups in finding funding through networking and pitching events, and while it can be daunting and exhilarating to be introduced to many potential investors, it’s important to be realistic about the outcome and to target the right people.
Sometimes the investors are unvetted, sometimes the intermediary fails to follow up the event with the investor, and sometimes they can even relay inaccurate information between yourself and the potential investor! It’s a haphazard process unless professionally organised and it’s easy to be discouraged when you seem to be pitching a dozen times a week with no obvious benefit. Stay the course: if you believe in your product, your confidence will be apparent to others, although you have to be prepared to be cross-examined and criticised, particularly if your product challenges the status quo.
What can sometimes feel like an onslaught of negativity is, naturally, driven by investors protecting their interests, but occasionally it seems impossible to convince someone of your USP. I remember one pitching event where a potential investor was adamant that Doordeck was simply a rebranded version of the Amazon Key, and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise, describing our offering as ‘coming too late’ and telling me to ‘stop interrupting’ when I tried to explain the differences. Suffice to say, we didn’t receive any investment from that person, which was a good thing. These encounters are simply part of the journey — all you can do to minimise these experiences is to clearly communicate exactly what makes your product unique, as simply and succinctly as possible.
Perhaps the least surprising challenge we encountered was the stressful business of maintaining cashflow. The early months — and often years — of a tech startup are, inevitably, spent developing, testing and refining the product in small, controlled areas before any sort of large-scale launch happens and a customer base is built. Early installations at these pilot sites are usually set up at a greatly reduced customer rate, or even for free if the site yields useful customer data and the location provides good exposure to other potential customers.
Consequently, it can be a long time before the startup actually starts to generate any funds, and even longer before the profits overtake the day-to-day running costs and overheads in any meaningful way. Michael and I were fortunate enough to have private funds to plough into Doordeck along the way, otherwise our loyal staff would have spent the past year living on breakfast cereal and, ultimately, the company simply would not have survived.
As someone with many years experience of running several companies, I didn’t enter into this venture with my eyes closed. I knew the challenges of growing a brand, I understood the huge time commitment and I was completely prepared — or as prepared as I could be — to face a hundred competing demands on my attention on a daily basis. What did surprise me, however, was how enjoyable a challenge it’s been. Doordeck was very different to my previous experiences and the challenges have been completely unexpected.
In many ways, despite running the business, raising the funding and developing our profile, I’m completely removed from whole areas of our operation: the broad sweep of Michael’s technical expertise and the intricacies of Gregory and Marwan’s coding abilities, for example. What this has meant is that the input of others has been critical in generating confidence from investors and customers — I can try to sell the product as persuasively as possible, but if there’s a technical query I have to trust my colleagues to handle it. I’m delighted to say that they have risen to the task admirably.