Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to intern at BECO Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in tech startups with the potential to grow. But before this internship, I was just a freshman at Babson College who, along with 12 other classmates, pooled $3,000 to launch and operate a business. The business revolved around a single apparel product called PackJacket.
PackJacket was essentially a fleece that could easily be folded into a drawstring bag so users could easily store their items inside their fleece without the need to carry around a bag. The experience of operating a business showed me what it takes to be able to cooperate with a group of people for 8 months under the stress of making back the $3,000 we had invested (and much more).
However, the transition from working in a startup to a venture capital firm that invests in tech startups gave me a few valuable learning lessons about operating a startup that I wish I had known. So without further ado, these are the things I would have done differently in my startup:
- Have a clear vision of where the company wants to go
One thing I had learnt at BECO Capital is that the team has a criteria that guides them in deciding whether or not to invest in companies. One quality in that criteria that a company must have is a team with a clear vision and solid execution of this vision. In complete contrast to this quality, the startup I had worked for had an approach of “take it as it comes”. We had conducted limited market research into the space we were entering and we went into the space guns blazing like the young aspiring entrepreneurs we were. Needless to say, this approach was not very effective in terms of the long term sustainability of the business. From changing our target market 3 times within the span of 2 months to losing our primary supplier of fleeces and having no other alternative supplier to fall back on, our business had learnt the hard way that it is important for every startup to have conducted a substantial amount of market research to test the feasibility of the business before entering the market.
- Market the Unique Selling Point of the product
When I had started PackJacket, I was in love with the product because I believe it was something unique that had value. It was a something different that had the functionality applicable to many situations. However, our marketing activities failed to captivate audiences with the same admiration I had for the product, which is detrimental especially when the primary function of marketing is to convey the value of the product to audiences. The importance of marketing the value of the product was only emphasized when I had arrived at BECO Capital because the Value Proposition of the product is another element that BECO Capital includes in their criteria when looking at investing into startups. One experience I took note to highlight the importance of was the value proposition, after the BECO team had met with a company to invest in. One of the members of the BECO team members completely turned down the technology that the company presented because he deemed the value of the product to be non-transformative and easily replicated. This just shows the importance that should be placed on both the design of the product and the marketing of the product, which are two key aspects I would have taken into a greater account in my startup.
- Incorporate more group tasks to build a stronger team
A major regret I have about my experience as a head of department in my startup was that I was unable to implement as many group related tasks as I had hoped for. The majority of the tasks undergone were completed individually with little collective input from other members of the team. This not only created a lot more stress for the individuals completing the tasks alone, but it also created a corporate culture that embraced individualism rather than collectivism, hence reducing the desire of team members to assist in the completion of tasks outside their respective departments. On the other hand, BECO Capital showed me the many positive effects of implementing group related tasks, particularly with their deal flow meetings. In my time at BECO Capital, I attended weekly deal flow meetings where all the members of the BECO team discussed the progress made on current and potential deals. This was a great way for all the team members to coordinate between each other to understand where the business is going and even help each other in the completion of tasks. I had also noticed that completing a task in a group made it a lot easier as it stimulated thought and the creation of ideas between the team. Similar to the first thing I would change about my experience in my startup, having an extraordinary management team is another one of the qualities that the BECO team looks for when making an investment into a company, and this is certainly a trait that the BECO team have incorporated into their own business.
Antonio is in his second year at Babson College, majoring in Entrepreneurship with a concentration in Finance. To get in touch with him, send him a note on LinkedIn.