Unacast has entered its growth stage and now, has a competitive name in the data and location ecosystem. Earlier this year we announced our $17.5M Series B on the heels of strong revenue growth and product momentum. Even with this fundraise milestone, and all of our success so far, it’s important to remember that the journey has just begun.
I recently attended a few pitch events where early-stage founders presented their ideas and visions, and given a few talks to early stage Founders. Attending pitch events and talking to pre-revenue and pre-product Founders and their teams is a “must do” for those that are building or working at later-stage companies. It not only humbly reminds us of where we came from, but it forces us to realize that we actually still have a lot we can learn from those who are standing where we once stood. There are important behaviors and themes early stage Founders embody. For those growth stage companies that have had some success (like Unacast has), listening to these Founders can remind us to stay humble and to never forget the basics of startup building!
Here are the five lessons that growth stage companies can learn from early stage Founders:
1. Invest in big ideas
At every early stage pitch event, at least a few of the Founders will present really really big ideas. The ideas are only visions, concepts, or desired solutions to big problems. The “how” hasn’t necessarily been figured out. There is a magic in the bravery of presenting a big idea or massive challenge that you may not know how to solve yet.
At Unacast, post our Series-B, we have been investing in big ideas and the “next big thing” for not only ourselves and our clients, but for the industry as a whole. From radical transparency in our data to shifting my own role from leading the Data Supply team to leading Business Development, Unacast is making some heavy bets on visions - without necessarily knowing the “how”. This can be scary when you still operate under a runway. But it could mean the difference between a decent future and a revolutionary one.
2. Ask yourself: Where could this go wrong?
A recurring question asked by any pitch event panel of judges is, “where could this go wrong?” After all, big ideas are risky. An early stage Founder needs to have a decent answer to this question.
For later stage startups like Unacast, we can’t rest on our laurels and we, too, must continue to ask ourselves “where could this go wrong?” Our industry is still young and evolving. Our current product isn’t going to be our future product. Our current vertical may not be our only vertical. It is also at this stage that companies start experiencing client churn. For companies solving new problems or problems that didn’t have established solutions, client churn can be an unpleasant surprise once the company hits its stride. It takes a strong client success team, like the one we have at Unacast, to always stay on top of clients and to constantly ask, “where could this go wrong?” Managing not only your clients expectations so that churn doesn’t occur, but also managing internal expectations about client traction can be achieved with a stellar client success team. This kind of team usually starts to be formalized during the growth stage. So if you hit your stride, now is the time to hire and expand client success!
3. Talk to customers - get feedback
In a recent talk I gave, I encouraged young Founders to remember a very important concept: talk to your customers. It’s so important that as a startup founder, I would tattoo this phrase on my arm! During the early stage, talking to customers is the only way to achieve product-market fit.
But what about the growth stage? Many startups forget that they need to keep talking to their customers to iterate, to innovate and to prevent churn. At Unacast, “customer feedback in everything we do” is one of our foundational pillars. We want feedback from customers not only about our product, but our service, our people, our process, our market position, our industry. We also infuse this notion internally and allow everyone to have a true voice is providing feedback on our culture, our leadership, our direction and even our snacks.
4. Traction traction traction
Ideas are great but what really matters is traction. Every startup founder will hear this from a judge during a pitch, or perhaps from a potential investor. Traction means that customers are willing to buy your product and, not only that, but are willing to buy it again, buy more of it and are willing to promote your product to their peers.
At the later stage, even though Unacast had proven its revenue story, and even though Unacast has found product-market fit, the need for traction traction traction does not end. Revenue growth becomes ever more important. To achieve that growth, you must talk to your customers, continue to ask where this could go wrong, and invest in big ideas to drive future revenue... See what I did there?
5. Bring the Passion
One last, perhaps unsurprising, point. The magic of the early stage is the sheer passion to solve big, unsolved problems. Once you hit your stride as a company, how do you ensure that same level of passion? You can ensure it by rewarding those early employees for taking on those early day risks with you. Perhaps invest in an offsite where everyone in the company feels truly special. Perhaps finally get that fancy Bevi drink maker for your kitchen. More importantly, as a management team, don’t lose the hunger. Culture flows top down. Keep wanting more. Keep hustling. Keep solving interesting problems. Keep pushing everyone for higher levels of achievement, now at a bigger scale. If this is done, the passion will flow!