Since late 2013, Zoosh has been developing and refining our SaaS Startup Factory model. Zoosh is a technology/commercial Partner (in a number of cases Co-Founder) with early stage SaaS ventures. We work with our partner companies on both the technology development and in parallel commercial validation from the very beginning of the relationship. Zoosh support our partners on figuring out what the product needs to be, how it should look, how it should be built and how we get traction with the targeted customer segments. Zoosh is a European SaaS Startup Factory with teams in Ireland, Finland and Hungary.
There have been a number lessons along the way – some good and some not so good – but all extremely valuable in fine tuning the Zoosh “factory” model. The definition of a Startup Factory (or Startup Studio) varies depending on the particular context. It can sometimes refer to an accelerator programme or an incubator or investments by an organisation in multiple Startup companies. The common thread between all the definitions is that the factory has raw material (the entrepreneur or Startup) which it brings through a production process (can be as straight forward as a financial investment right through to a partnership process to help develop both the proposition and promoter). The output of the factory is very much dependent on the internal “production process”.
Which leads on nicely to Lesson 1:
Lesson 1: The Process
Defining, developing and refining the Zoosh factory process was enhanced with each Partner Company that was added into the mix. The initial challenge (Stage 1) starts with trying to find suitable promoters with exciting propositions. There are many sources for prospective partner companies throughout Europe including existing accelerators and entrepreneurial development programmes – however the critical aspect of this stage is that a strong partnership can be formed between Zoosh and the Startup to deliver a sustainable and scalable business.
Once the Partnership is forged – the next step is to validate both Proposition and the Commercial Opportunity – this involves the Startup working with Zoosh technical personnel (including UX & Infrastructure specialists) as well as commercial support in Customer Validation and development. On completion of the Validation Stage a decision is jointly made by both the Startup and Zoosh to enter production. The production phase delivers the first commercial product release that allows the Startup move into a Customer development or Growth phase. The ultimate objective of both parties is to create a company that can grow and scale.
A key component of the model and indeed the partnership approach is that all IP lies within the Startup. The objective during growth stage is that the Startup (now Growth company) aims to take full R&D ownership as soon as it is feasible. All value resides in the Partner Company.
Lesson 2: It is all about the People
Nothing surprising here – it is all about people. The people in the Startup, the people in Zoosh that support the Startup, and the partnership between the Startup and Zoosh. The right talent available at the right time to help validate the technical and commercial aspects of the proposition as well as the Startups ability to execute. According to CB Insights survey of the Top 20 reasons Startups fail (https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/startup-failure-reasons-top/) – the large majority of reasons relate to Human factors as opposed to technology issues
- No Market Need (42%)
- Ran out of Cash (29%)
- Not the Right Team (23%)
This is one of the main reasons Zoosh work with our Partner Startups on the commercial-technical validation right from the start - everyone is aligned around what the product needs to be based on what we are discovering during our commercial validation. Feedback from Zoosh Partner companies that have moved from “validation to Production” and also from “Production to Growth” stage are very positive about this approach.
Lesson 3: Validation, Validation, Validation
Yes, it is all about Validation. Everyone knows that investing in Startups is extremely risky and failure rates are high – particularly at the early/idea stage. The Zoosh process puts enormous emphasis on Validation – “is there a market for the proposed solution”, “what does the solution need to be”, “how do we test our assumptions”, “how do we phase our commercial and technical approach”, and so on. Partner companies who go through the validation stage come to the conclusion on whether there is a market opportunity or not – “fail fast or learn quick”. In cases where it is evident that there is no commercial market for the proposed solution – the validation process still proves invaluable to the promoter and allows them pivot or look at other opportunities within the Zoosh factory. The Agile approach to both technical and commercial development ensures we continuously focus on product- market fit with our partner companies.
Lesson 4: Innovation
Whilst one of the main objectives of any factory is throughput increases as the factory becomes more efficient – in the case of SaaS Startup factory this translates to more rapid development during Stages 2 and 3. There is a certain amount of reusable “standard” functionality that already exists within the toolkit and which allows for more rapid development and deployment. The main focus during Validation stage is to identify the unique attributes of the proposed solution with the Zoosh IPR experts. They are involved at the very beginning to constantly monitor any potential IP opportunity that can add value to the Partner companies. Zoosh has found, that even with solutions where it was initially believed that no IP existed - the early validation stage unearthed a number of unique elements to the proposed solution that subsequently involved filing patents. This is another benefit of the focus on validation – allows Partner company and Zoosh explore the proposed solution from a lot of different angles and not being limited by our own assumptions.
Lesson 5: Stuff happens – accept it and work through it
It’s a fact of life and a Startup factory is no different. It is especially the case as the number of Partner companies increases and as these companies are moved through the various stages. There will always be challenges – but each challenge is just a “solution in waiting”!
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