Since my debut in 2010, I have participated in fifteen unsuccessful business ventures. So you could say that my business career has mostly been marked by setbacks.
But without the lessons I learned along the way, I would never have been able to get to the point of leading one of the hottest startups in e-transportation, which is even causing a sensation around the world by selling bikes. electric record.
So here are the three key lessons to success … which I have learned through much trial and error. Enjoy the read and I hope you can save yourself a lot of trouble, trouble and money.
1. Sell things that customers really want, rather than what you think are cool
I moved to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in 2010 to found best.ua, a service similar to Yelp. At the time, this market was still open and fertile ground and had not been taken over by companies like Google and Foursquare. While working on this project, I realized that Kiev did not have a service like Opentable with which people could book tables in the restaurants whose profiles we were hosting.
It soon became clear that in order to do this we needed to create not only a reservation button, but a whole CRM system with which restaurants could manage all their available tables and reservations. We had to replace their proven pen and paper system.
Even after putting months of effort into creating a better digital system, many restaurant administrators continued to use what they knew best. It should have been a clue.
As often happens any time a business tried to update its standard operating procedures, there was a learning curve for both our partner restaurants and their customers. Restaurant patrons still didn’t appreciate the convenience of reserving a table in seconds, 24/7, from anywhere with an internet connection. Restaurants couldn’t see why they had to change their reservation management protocols when people could just call ahead for reservations like they always did.
In our post-mortem analysis, we found that only about one dozen of Kiev’s 2,000+ restaurants had enough problems with their reservations that our system was worth it. We spent large amounts of resources building a business solution that our customers didn’t even ask for initially.
Four years later, despite the departure of a legitimately solid business idea, I had to cut my losses and sell best.ua. Other restaurant / business review and reservation solutions would emerge and be successful, but they would not be mine.
2. If your customer wants to buy something, sell it to them!
My current company, Delfast, is known for its record breaking electric bikes, but we actually started in 2014 as a delivery startup (hence our name: Del[ivery]quick). We wanted to make one-hour delivery possible throughout Kiev. Electric bikes were our obvious choice of vehicle.
We initially bought the first e-bikes we could find from our delivery guys, but we had poor results. We needed bikes that could carry our couriers about 150-200 kilometers per day on a single charge, in cold and harsh Ukrainian driving conditions.
But we soon found out that none of the bikes on the market could do the trick. Desperate for a solution, we started building our own bikes, instead. And they worked really well!
After a few years of running our delivery business and finding our ideal bike solution, it was rumored that we had solid, quality e-bikes with a range of premium batteries. We started to receive requests to purchase our delivery bikes, which I was not interested in.
At one point it got so ‘bad’ that I literally had to put a sign on our head office door saying that we did not sell electric bikes. It took me a year to realize that we are looking directly at the organic demand for something we are producing, and yet we are choosing to ignore it!
In 2017, we decided to take our bike to Interbike Expo in Las Vegas, and we had a wonderful reception. We launched a campaign on Kickstarter to bring our bikes to the consumer market. We set a goal of $ 50,000, but we ultimately raised $ 165,000.
The organic demand for our long distance electric bikes convinced me that we have a real and viable business idea in our hands. Producing high-quality, long-range electric bikes in a world that wants green transportation options offered Delfast a chance to carve out an attractive and sustainable niche in an industry where we had already proven our competence and real demand for our product.
We sold our delivery business in 2020 and are now fully focused on manufacturing world-class e-bikes.
3. If you want to enter a crowded market, you need a decisive competitive advantage
As I prepared to launch our crowdfunding campaign, I chatted with my friend, who had managed to raise over $ 1 million over six Kickstarter campaigns. He leaned on me on what made our e-bikes worth supporting.
I thought our e-bike and the tech inside spoke for itself, but then he displayed Kickstarter and Indiegogo to show me 20 results that came immediately when he searched for “e-bike.” He made it clear to me that Delfast needed a destructive competitive advantage that sets our bikes apart from crowded terrain or we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
In his book It won’t be easy, Ben Horowitz writes that the main task of a startup is to create a product ten times better than what is available on the market. It was not physically possible to offer an electric bike ten times lighter than the competition, and it was not economically possible to create one ten times cheaper. So we decided to focus on the reach.
Even our oldest bikes had a range well over 99% of what was on the market. Our competitors’ e-bikes were able to travel 30 to 40 kilometers without pedaling before needing a recharge. What we needed to do was design an electric bike that could blow those numbers up, and that’s exactly what we did.
When we road tested our first marketable prototype, we hired the world record holder for balance on a stationary bike, to ride our bike as far as he could on the highway from Kiev to Lviv. , in western Ukraine. When the battery failed, our bike had carried it 380 kilometers, even exceeding the normal range of a Tesla at the time!
In a subsequent test at the Kiev Velodrome, Vitaly cycled 367.037 kilometers, which was good enough to be certified as the Guinness World Record. With these achievements, we had our decisive advantage. The media started to catch our story, and customers and investors really started to arrive.
Mr. Horowitz was right when he said that success in innovative companies is not easy. It took me many years and many failures to get my business and myself to where they are now.
But if you don’t forget to listen to the market and your customers, and turn your product strengths into a truly valuable competitive advantage, you’ll be on your way to making a splash in the world and making big money. with that.