Some startups are capable of changing the world for the better, but often times, they are met with trying times that limit their potential and growth. These ideas can quickly seem worthless, never reaching their full potential without proper execution. Here's how Timo Rein, president and co-founder of Pipedrive, survived the pressure of building a startup in Estonia and scaled it globally, with over 30,000 paying customers in five years.
1. Have a good reason to start--solve a real problem
If you're going to get your car towed, you better have a great reason for it.
"Growing a startup is hard," Timo said. "Your car gets towed away because you can't afford to pay your car lease for several months, your software is copied first by opportunistic startups and then by well-funded tech-companies, and you have 6 a.m. calls every day for a couple of years because your other choice would be to lose touch with your team members."
And the list goes on.
To be able to cope with these pressures, you need to have a good reason for what you're doing. As a salesman, Timo's reasons stemmed from 10+ years of using CRM software that directly or indirectly cost him deals and limited the growth of his company. Timo was certain other entrepreneurs and small businesses had the same issue.
"I also knew that building a business gave me the best chances to provide for my family long-term," he said.
2. Get your product in the hands of the right people
While Pipedrive did prove to ease the pain of its customers, shortly after the launch in June 2010, the team wasn't too happy about its growth.
"On month four, our revenues barely covered our hosting costs, and we were growing a measly 10-20% per month," Timo stated in a blog outlining Pipedrive's experience in attaining its first 1,000 customers. "It was only after we had managed to get our product to the hands of the right users that our revenue growth graph took a much more exciting angle."
They realized they had to get their product in front of influencers, thought leaders, and other software gurus. Their most tangible results came from applying to incubators, moving part of the team to Silicon Valley and running a deal to get techies interested.
3. Be frugal and reach revenue faster
Once a startup becomes more of a reality, it's tempting to quit your day job. But most of Pipedrive's five co-founders kept their jobs for a full year.
In November of 2011, only one of the founders came on board with the new company full-time, helping Pipedrive manage their expenses while gaining a better grip on managing sales for a long period of time.
Running their own hackathons also proved efficient for the team. The intensive weekend-long events allowed them to write massive chunks of code and craft new marketing ideas in a short amount of time to accommodate the co-founders who still kept their day jobs.
4. Learn to fundraise
Fundraising often fails because it's treated like a one-way street, but it's actually like dating--chemistry needs to be flowing both ways, and you're only "hot" for a minute.
You have to keep the momentum going, constantly finding creative ways to show investors what you're working with and what you can bring to the table as well. The timing also has to be right.
"Most startups need more time than the three to six months often required at an incubator before they are on the right path to attract funding," Timo said.
Furthermore, many investors don't make time to go through your well-thought-out pitch deck.
"You have to assume investors check it while they're in a hurry, in between their meetings or while they're stuck in a traffic jam," Timo said. "So before you send your email, ask yourself if it's too long or is it drowned out by too much data."
5. Build a team and invest in team communication
"Magic happens in real time for us," Timo said. "Having a 10-hour time difference between California and Tallinn meant that there was not enough magic happening."
Using communication tools such as Slack and Google Drive and having a wiki setup made it easy for the team to grow quickly as one, and expanding their team to their latest office in New York made it even easier as the team reached over 100 employees.
But the team's growth was never simply about finding people to hire just to get the job done, Timo said.
They also found that hiring people who fit their culture added continued value. As they have customers from all over the world who speak various languages, the company worked to make sure their new hires were also culturally diverse.
Assessing not only the company's needs but also its audiences' created a smoother growth track.
"Hiring a person into a role not fully clear yet is a huge gamble that had often led to bad results," Timo said. "Without a clear role, description expectations are much harder to manage. Both the company and the person hired tend to put too much faith and hope on the more ideal tomorrow that may actually never come in that shape, or in the desired time."
6. Localize and "light the fuse"
Pipedrive translated its app and website to Brazilian Portuguese, Estonian, French, German, Russian and Spanish pretty early in the game. While this worked well, it worked significantly better in some countries more than others because of the company's access to local news coverage.
"Localizing a company in one aspect or another without communicating it locally is like adding gunpowder without lighting the fuse," Timo said.
7. Stay true to yourself and your mission
Transitioning from direct selling to indirect selling was a bit of a challenge getting used to.
"It was hard not to pick up the phone and sell the beta version of our product to the people we knew, but we know we couldn't attract a lot of small businesses from all around the world with that tactic," Timo said.
Once they focused on the bigger picture and business picked up, they were eventually approached by large organizations. Great at first glance--but they often didn't have the best interests of the company in mind.
"Some people wanted us to host our product on their organization's servers--one even offered us $40,000 for a self-hosted version," Timo said.
It was tempting, as this was a time when some of the founders were struggling to provide for their families, but their motivation was more than about a quick payout.
"We knew it would be a detour from our destination," Timo said. "So we said 'no' and stocked up on ramen noodles."