Perfect Dashboard in 2016: 5 things we have learned
Some stories on implementing American way of thinking to Polish startup reality.
From many points of view 2016 was a fascinating year for Perfect Dashboard. Our MRR has increased by 900% (December to December), our team has doubled, and we have closed seed round financing with both Polish & US investors on board. Of course, there were some difficult moments too, for example, when we were struggling to find the right messaging or a scalable sales channel.
But the biggest challenge of all was implementing the advice we were getting from our Silicon Valley advisors to our day-to-day Polish reality. Here’s how it went.
Think Of Solving Problems
Ken Singer, our lead mentor, investor, and a friend always says that Polish people are so good in technology that they often get distracted by building „cool shit” instead of focusing on what problem their code is actually solving. In our case, having a team that consists mostly of engineers made it difficult to resist a temptation to build things that we wanted to add to Perfect Dashboard. Fortunately, we have introduced a customer-driven design process to mitigate that risk. Every time someone came up with a new „great idea” we added it to the pool of ideas and every once in awhile, we discussed our ideas with the Key Customers Council. This way, we made sure that we only built and added what our customers need the most. Moreover, we were reaching out to our users asking what are their biggest challenges with their work with websites to see if we can solve them & make our product even better.
What was surprising, people in Poland I was talking to were far more secretive, than people in the US or Western Europe. It was difficult to learn where were the biggest obstacle to their business growth. And no matter how famous Poles are for nagging, it seems like many Polish freelancers & web agency owners don’t want to share their struggles and just say that everything is fine. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to show their weak spots or they are thinking of obstacles as things that cannot be solved or at least mitigated.
Make money by letting others make money.
„Creating win-win business models is crucial for a rapid implementation of a startup’s product.” That’s what Ed Soo Hoo, another Silicon Valley mentor told us. This was a personal challenge for me. Doing business in Poland for 10 years taught me to think about how I can get the most from the deal for me or my company giving as little as possible in return. My experience was telling me that it was all about getting the best deal possible and the other party should care about their interest on their own.
I slowly started to switch from „taking” to „giving” attitude and realized that Ed was right. The more I was thinking how to help others, the more I got in return. It was like the exchange of gifts George Gilder described in the „Wealth and Poverty”. Now, every time I think of a business proposal, newsletter or even an email I always ask myself „what’s in there for the recipients. Why would they care?”.
Keep Team Updated
At first, we were not sold on the idea of transparency and sharing our numbers with the team. It seemed strange to tell the team how much we earned, how much we spent and how long the runway was. I thought that the team would feel unmotivated or would even consider quitting when we would share how close to the end of cash we actually were at some point this year.
But history proved me wrong. It turned out that being honest, presenting a clear vision of where we were heading, and what we were going to do to avoid running out of money, not only stopped everyone from leaving but also made them work even harder to make the vision come true.
Meet New People
There is a team formation exercise on the Entrepreneurship course in UC Berkeley where the goal is to meet as many people in a room as possible within 3 hours and see if any of these people could be good teammates for the rest of course. With 60 people in the room, it gives you roughly 3 minutes per person. Not that much time to break the ice, gather information and decide if you want to work with them for the rest of the semester. It wasn’t natural at first for any of our conference-goers, but the ability to tirelessly meet new people turned out to be a crucial skill during over 30 events we have attended in 2016 on 3 continents.
Mike, one of my US friends, described his attitude in these words: „Imagine every person in a conference is an envelope. Some of those envelopes are empty, some of them have $100 bill in there, but there is one with a $100,000 check. Wouldn’t you try to open all of them knowing that?” So I did, and not only did I found a few checks but I also made some great new friends!
Pay It Forward
Silicon Valley mentors often refuse to take money for their help. In 2016 alone we have received mentorship worth tens of thousands of dollars. They just say „Pay it forward” as they want their apprentices to become mentors for others and share their know-how even further.
It was surprised to see Luke Kowalski, the vice president of Oracle, spending his time talking to us or Chris Burry, co-CEO of US MAC agreeing to sit in our Supervisory Board free of charge. But so was a lady in Startup Zone in Gdynia, when she heard that we are willing to come to the other side of the country and make a workshop for young entrepreneurs without asking for no fee. Still, we have a plenty of mentoring dollars to give back, and it’s exciting to be able to spread the idea of free know-how sharing in Poland.
All in all, 2016 was a pretty exciting year. The plot was full of turns and twists, but thanks to our hardworking team, devoted mentors and engaged users we eagerly look into 2017 knowing that the best is yet to come.