Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The ‘secret’ to success, according to three IDEALondon start-ups

August 16, 2016

It’s been an exciting year at IDEALondon. We’ve had a ton of new start-ups joining us at the centre, bringing with them all the buzz you’d expect from a bunch of up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

To celebrate the good times, we interviewed the founders of three of our newest residents: Trint, TeskaLabs and MishiPay.

We asked them about the challenges they’ve been facing (ever tried marketing on a start-up budget?) and how they plan to overcome them.

Check out the video below to see what life is like at IDEALondon:

We also asked all four founders the question on every would-be entrepreneur’s lips:

What is the secret to success?

A somewhat tall order, I admit, and one that prompted a couple of chuckles and eye-rolls. But here’s what they had to say…

Persistence is everything

You might remember TeskaLabs from the IDEALondon demo day, when co-founder and CEO Ales Teska was unfortunate enough to have a fire alarm going off just as he was about to start his pitch.

To his credit he still delivered a brilliant presentation, and even managed to come up with a fire alarm-related gag at short notice. He also had some powerful advice for fellow entrepreneurs when we interviewed him.

“I’m far from calling our company successful,” he said. “This is a long journey. The last year has been amazing, but true success is still years ahead.”

So how do you get there? Ales believes the only way is through sheer hard work, and lots of it! But also a determination not to give up, even when things aren’t going so well.

“You need to be persistent,” he said. “You’re running a marathon – there will be a lot of failures and bad days, so you have to be prepared to get through those difficult periods.”

You need to have focus

We also spoke to Trint founder and CEO Jeff Kofman, who made his name as a war journalist before turning his hand to the even scarier waters of entrepreneurialism.

According to Jeff, the most important thing for any up-and-coming business is focus:

“You’ve got to have a strong definition of the problem you’re solving, how you’re going to solve it and who you’re going to solve it with. But also a clear idea of how you’re going to get the early resources you need.”

And if you’re not solving a problem? As far as Jeff is concerned you might as well not bother.

“You’ve got to be solving a problem. You can’t be doing something indulgent just because it’s ‘cool’. Why are you making people’s lives better, easier, more efficient?”

Get to know your customers

Those who attended the demo day might also remember hearing Mustafa Khanwala pitch his start-up, MishiPay.

Like Jeff, this CEO stressed the importance of solving a problem. And you can’t do that without first understanding your target customers –not just what they want or need but how your product or service is actually going to impact them.

“One of the most important things when launching a new product is understanding what change it’s going to make to your customers’ or users’ lives,” he said.

Then you have to work out how to communicate that change in a way that makes them stop and listen.

“It might be a very positive change,” Mustafa said. “But you need to be able to prove that to them before they use it. Once they use it they either continue to do so or they don’t, but it’s your job to make it really compelling for them to try it in the first place.”

It’s going to be hard – but fun

The biggest takeaway when speaking to these founders is that running a start-up is not for the faint-hearted, even when you have a place like IDEALondon at your disposal. There will be stress, as we discussed in our recent blog post. And there will be low points.

“This is a really hard journey,” Jeff said. “I did business reporting as a journalist for part of my career, and it’s very humbling to see first-hand just how difficult it is running a company at this level, when you’re trying to create something out of your imagination with a team that shares your vision.

“There’s no guarantee of success, so you better believe in it. If you’re out just to get rich, good luck to you. But if you’re doing it because the journey is interesting and exciting and you’re passionate about it, whatever the outcome you’re not going to regret it.”

“You’ve got to have a great team,” he added. “This is not a solo journey – it’s about everyone collaborating together, sharing that vision and excitement.”

Ales made the point that many start-up founders go into business thinking they’ll make it big early on. But that, he argued, is a completely unrealistic dream for most people.

“Something anyone launching a start-up needs to understand is there’s nothing like overnight success,” he said.

Ending on a more uplifting note for those thinking of taking the plunge and launching their own business, Jeff was quick to add that actually, despite the hardship, being your own boss and living your own dream is a lot of fun.

“It’s hard work and long hours,” he said. “But it’s really satisfying to see it come together.”

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