The Startup Culture – Views from the Top
The word “startup” has been popularised – thanks to huge success of the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Uber. In addition, the portrayal of workplace cultures as creative and dynamic has also heightened the appeal of startups. The outcome is, there is a thriving ecosystem of startups raring to revolutionise the world. However, is the view from the inside really as exciting as it seems on the outside?
In the case of Quantum Inventions (QI) – a technology services company that develops solutions for intelligent mobility, the journey was definitely not always easy. Particularly, the perception that it only takes a killer idea and (sometimes more than) ample funding to establish a successful business is all too often, too good to be true. While having a good idea did help us get started, it was clear that more needs to be done, and continuously, if we want to conquer the innovation-hungry marketplace.
Bootstrapping – Not Sexy but Very Tangible
We knew we had to scale up but that also meant the need for more resources. Although we could raise angel capital (and yes, there are true angels), we quickly realised that the amount of money raised was insufficient to create a product roadmap. Therefore, very early on in QI’s journey, the strategy of innovating on the back of contracts – aka bootstrapping – was adopted. We exercise cautious pragmatism – build a minimum viable platform; find a customer; license; and build some more.
This model led QI into producing our first consumer product for the automotive market – our real-time traffic enabled navigation software, Galactio. In exchange for exclusive rights, our marketing and sales partner committed to initial payments. It all worked out. Today, that partner is under the same roof as QI.
Product – All about Market Fit
Since the inception of QI in 2006, we have grown from strength to strength. Today, we are not only a market leader in connected navigation and GIS (geographic information systems) products, we also create state-of-the-art fleet management solutions and industry-leading intelligent transportation solutions used by government agencies – counting among our customers big names such as Land Transport Authority, Ministry of Defence, PSA, Singtel, Vodafone (Egypt), Toyata Tsusho and Google.
Underpinning these achievements is an in-depth understanding of what the customer wants and where the market is heading. While we are not Steve Jobs who possessed an uncanny ability to know what the customer needs, we got started by acknowledging the customers’ needs and making it a point to ensure that our customers form part of our acceptance loop in new products development. This unwavering focus empowered QI to constantly set technology, efficiency and innovation standards for intelligent mobility solutions, enjoy a profitable track record of over a decade and continue growing.
Culture – It can Make or Break Your Startup
Increasing number of statistical reports show that very few startups last. They do something right that the other 99% did not. There is no formula for success but with startups – the culture, as it is referred to, has to share a part of the blame.
Misunderstood, the startup culture has become synonymous with sizable valuations, a swanky workplace and flexible work hours. Venture capital firms are both victims and propagators in this situation, bold enough to invest money on unproven ideas. This culture is forcing many to go against the traditional business-making practice, where companies respond to consumers’ needs rather than vice versa. Yes, there have been true innovators, but that’s still a very rare breed.
Survival – No Longer a Long-term Commitment
One of the key differentiating factors of QI is that we believe in taking a long-term commercial view to technology development as well as our operations. Comparatively, the motivations for many startups these days detract from the core objective of making a viable business through revenue (and profits), marring the spirit of true entrepreneurship. News rife with stories of million dollar acquisitions and buy-outs further encouraged the tendency for the millennial generation to sell their companies to larger corporations for “quick cash” instead of creating a sustainable business.
The phenomenon of the serial entrepreneur – entrepreneurs who move from venture to venture with an exit-oriented game plan – has also changed the norms of good entrepreneurship. The value of businesses is measured by the amount of money one cashes in by selling their companies rather than as vehicles to achieve wide-scale impact.
There has been a fundamental shift in the motivation for business ownership, and it is likely to stay for a while. It is obviously different from the set of values and beliefs that QI is built on. But, there is no telling if it may prove to be better. Perhaps it is more practical to take a long hard look at your own business and evaluate its tangibility based on the core significance of business existence – to make money!