What Goes Up, Must Come Down. Start Up Life: Year 1
When I started Skosay in 2014 I was cautiously optimistic about the opportunities that were ahead of me. The reason I say cautiously is that after you spent enough years in the corporate world you get acclimated to the saying “never get too high on the highs and too low on the lows”. I’ve even said it for many years now. See, what this means basically is everything is a process and there will be ups and downs. A lot of people enter a new venture with an enormous amount of excitement and can easily be let down once you encounter the grind of being an entrepreneur. Here’s a look into the ups and downs of the last year.
The Breaking Point
The window of opportunity for us at Skosay came when we received an initial round of funding and were accepted into the ARK Challenge accelerator in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The funding was great but the best part of the accelerator was being able to connect with other companies and to have mentors on which we could bounce ideas and gage progress.
A big learning for me after reflecting on this experience was that we had way too many meetings and we needed to be more heads down on developing our vision and product. When seeking out advice it’s a very common thing for anyone and everyone to provide you their opinion. Those opinions will vary greatly from “this is mind blowing and awesome” to “you might want to go back to your day job”. I believe had we been more focused on this heads down approach early on we would have arrived sooner with our new direction.
First Customer Commitment
I’ll never forget the moment my co-founder and I were driving in the car and I had received a note from XNA saying they wanted to pilot our product. I was so excited for this opportunity and what better opportunity than to be at the airport, front and center, in front of an annual 1.4 million passengers that fly through there. That to me was the moment when it felt real. We hadn’t even finished the product development but now the pressure was on.
We launched our first product, Skosay Messenger, into market in March 2015 with the airport and then quickly followed with a few additional customers over the coming months, one of which was a local grocery retail chain, Harps. These customers are the most important piece in launching a new product because they help you learn quickly what’s working, what’s not working, and what next steps are needed. It took 7 months to launch our product though. This was way too long and after going through this experience I would tell any person looking to build and launch something to get an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) into market in less than 4 months to begin testing and learning.
After launching our product into market the learnings began coming in quickly. I whole heartedly believe that being a successful business person requires one to listen. I spent a lot of time listening to our current and potential customers about their needs and that was the biggest difference maker in being able to make a decision to enhance our product offering that would suit their needs.
Starting a business requires money. Take a look at these numbers. -10%, -11%, -12%, -12%, -10%, -12%. That’s my personal checking account from July – December 2015. If that doesn’t make you nervous then you love risk and doing this type of venture might just be your thing. The one caveat though, starting a tech company requires more money and diversified talent. We had a great bit of good fortune early on when building our technology as we received an injection of funding from the ASTA (Arkansas Science and Technology Authority). That along with some customer revenue has kept us moving along, enough to have a solid team of 5, and to continue building.
We rode up the peak and like any ride you always have a time where you head down the mountain. That point of inflection requires you to rethink your business, your ideas, and even yourself. Most recently, we had lost a key customer, were being turned down by investors, and one of our most coveted employees turned in their two week notice. This all happened in a weeks’ time, but we knew we had something with our new vision, products, and customers were demanding it.
Just a short period after this we are on our way back up the mountain now. Think of the emotions that have come along with these swings. We signed a brand for our new retail engagement product and will be launching in mid-January. Our new product offering took less than 4 months from build to market and that’s exactly where I want to be. As a company we are evolving, offering tools to brands and retailers to simplify the ways consumers engage them and have some things that I couldn’t be more excited about to get into customers hands. 2016 is going to be an exciting year for our company and I hope you continue to follow our path, share in our vision, and be part of the journey here in Northwest Arkansas of building products for retail and bringing jobs to market.