Lessons from ‘Once a bootstrap startup, now a VC-funded machine’

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In business, adapting to different situations is a constant. In a world without guarantees, one of the few constants for managers is that you always have to adapt to changes around you. Many entrepreneurs start out as a bootstrap startup, when they have to develop themselves without outside help, and if they succeed, they move into a VC funded operation. Both phases present managers with challenges and hardships.

Related: What I Wish I Knew Before Launching My Startup

How we went from “bootstrapped” to “VC-funded”

The development of our customer intelligence platform started a few years ago as a bootstrap startup, which later grew into a standalone project for a large company. When you run your own project, you retain ownership and control over the direction of development. At the same time, you lack financing and security. But at the heart of it all is the entrepreneur’s responsibility to build a business that actually works and then convince others that it works.

When developing a service, you need to cover all the bases if you want to provide consumers with a comprehensive solution to their problems. The best way to do this is to take a step-by-step approach and have a certain “test group” that will give you feedback as you go along and add more options and features.

The company that organized our project believed in us and gave us the necessary “go”. They were our customer, investor and, above all, supporter. Working with them to further develop our product and get their constant feedback helped us focus better. It also helped us streamline our platform and thereby offer a better product. That opened the way to adding more investors to our product.

Affogata is already in its fourth year of operation and it is a VC-funded company. Gone are the days of a boot operation. Now that we have many customers and a better developed product, we are not resting on our laurels but we continue to work hard to better serve our existing and new customers. Our shareholders help and support us as we continue to grow our business. With growth comes more responsibility for our customers, employees and ourselves.

Related: Fundraising vs. Bootstrapping: How to Decide What You Need for Your Tech Startup

The lessons I’ve learned

Because our business revolves around analyzing customer feedback for our customers, we pay close attention to our customers’ wants and needs. Their feedback not only helps us provide them with a better service, but also serves as a roadmap for us as to which new areas to explore. They lead us to build a business that actually works and gives us all a sense of accomplishment. So lesson number one is to never lose focus on how your product can best serve your future customers.

In addition, every business desires to grow faster with data, but many ignore what customers are already saying and don’t analyze such responses. Eighty percent of organizational data is an unstructured voice of the customer, and once we understood that, it helped shape our vision and change the way companies work with technology. We thought that to put the customer at the center of organizational decisions, all teams in the company needed data, as well as adapting to the use case of every other department.

A second lesson is to understand that ideas for new features come and go, and it’s part of the process to see if they work. But as usual, not all ideas evolve into actual features, and if an entrepreneur understands that discarding some ideas is part of the process, it doesn’t seem like a failure at all. Testing and more testing is the name of the game, until your product develops into something worthy of your customers’ attention and use.

A third lesson relates to focus. You can’t always be everything to all people, and you need to figure out what strengths your product has and how you can translate this into market leadership. In our case, we decided to solve challenges for specific industries. That meant, for example, that we had to focus on the game world and offer our AI analytics capabilities in areas such as player product feedback. Another great market for us is fintech, where consumers manage their finances with minimal human intervention, making it critical for such companies to find out about their users’ discussions and complaints about such services.

The fourth and final lesson, and this applies to both the bootstrapped and VC-funded stages, is that it’s all about people. When you have good people around you, both professional and friendly, your chances of success grow. You may not agree on everything, but you have to be open to new and sometimes different opinions. If all conversations are conducted in the best interest of the customers, entrepreneurs and their partners will see each other’s ideas as contributing to the overall product and maintain a positive attitude towards the process and their colleagues. Keep all that in mind when developing the next great startup idea.

Related: How to Increase VC Funding When the Odds Are Against You?

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