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Experiences of a Corporate Manager in the Startup World

After 20 years of working for a big corporation, I was accidentally introduced to the startup world. After a particularly long vacation, I had gotten bored of sitting on the couch, when a group of my friends, who had just been nominated as the winning group of the Fintech startup accelerator in London, asked me to help them utilise their limited time and resources as efficiently as possible. Considering that the startup was insurance-related, my friends from Insly wanted to use my years of experience and knowledge in the insurance business and service process development.
After arriving in London, my first emotion was a mix of memories from my student years and the early years of my corporate life when we had started to develop the insurance company where I have spent most of my working life to this point. Everyone on our team had their own responsibilities, but they also knew that they must be able for covering anyone else, if necessary. We worked around the clock in small, cramped working conditions. This was very different than the corporate environment, where people performing their routine tasks need a certain amount of space and privacy, so compressed spaces can become a problem. In the startup world, the proximity of ideas and discussions actually enables new ideas and actions, thus working as a positive feature. Also, in case you really need to concentrate – noise-cancelling headphones are very popular here…
The basis of startup thinking seems to be the almighty MVP – Minimum Viable Product. This concept basically means preparing something visual that communicates an idea, followed by finding someone interested enough to show that interest in writing (sign-up for use). Then, you have to find investors who are ready to finance the actual development or manufacturing of the product/solution. In the corporate environment, this kind of approach is normally unsuccessful, as the products/solutions are expected to begin repaying the investments immediately after launch. In other words, there is not much space (if any) for testing and mistakes – the idea itself is expected to be proven and guaranteed, which usually means less ideas being presented and executed.
picture_ivo_blog_postThe concept of MVP is great, but oftentimes, things will be prepared within the MVP framework without remembering the middle word – VIABLE. Without viability, a product or solution will not even attract potential customers, let alone investors. In the excitement of creation, people can forget the initial goal, which is well described in the picture here (also, read the interesting article about MVP, where I sourced the picture from - http://blog.fastmonkeys.com). If that initial goal is ignored, then innovators may start to develop the product for the sake of producing it, without any real use or market. In the corporate world, the most important thing is the process that leads to the desired goal and fits into the existing corporate setup (everything has to be thought through and all possible mistakes must be eliminated). However, in the startup mindset, you first have to envisage the look and feel of the product, as well as the customer experience. It is only at that point that you can develop the necessary processes and logic behind successfully producing and distributing the idea or product.
When I arrived in London, Insly also had their MVP, and the online marketing campaign for it had just started. However, because the product is very comprehensive and has broad functionality, setting it up in a customised way for each customer is complicated, especially for someone seeing it for the first time. Our first experiences in marketing and customer communications had already proved that interest for the product was great all around the world; however, we got a large number of sign-ups, but not many active users. After eight weeks of working with the product, the customers’ experience has improved significantly and we kept moving forward. I am confident that with little more time and some additional investments, Insly will become the best cloud-based insurance broker software on the market.
Personally, I felt that the most interesting part was learning about those new concepts and being introduced to all the fantastic tools there are in the cloud-based economy. All of the necessary tools to cover your marketing, sales, and other aspects of company management are provided, including, but not limited to, Google Analytics, Intercom, Mixpanel and Pipedrive. I have been actively involved with marketing and sales management for the past 15 years, but until this point, my main concerns were strategies and management issues, rather than the tools themselves. That being said, this experience gave me a chance to learn about and use these crucial tools, which provide all the information you could possibly need to form a strong foundation for managerial and strategic decisions. Having been rather passive in the social media landscape, I was quite surprised to see the broad possibilities of those platforms to develop different aspects of your business, whatever that business may be. With such a focus on customer service and marketing, my main areas of interest, I was very impressed.
Having said that, no matter what tools and equipment you may have, you cannot overlook the people making this learning experience possible and interesting. It’s fascinating to see how different people from all around the world can come together and bring their different ideas and problems to the table. That kind of collaboration and cooperation results in new and better ideas being born. Many of those new ideas will be expanded further and I am sure that new startups will be created out of that creative mix of minds. Furthermore, many of the existing ideas were tweaked and improved, which means that they have an even better chance of succeeding now.
Learning new things and absorbing myself in different tasks caused my eight weeks to fly by in no time. However, it is time for the Ultimate Moment of Truth for any startup accelerator participant – Demo Day has arrived. On Demo Day, we will see if what we’ve accomplished is interesting enough for people to actually invest significant sums of money into the further development of Insly. Whatever the outcome is tomorrow, for me, these two months have been extremely interesting, educational, and fun. I hope that my contribution was significant and helps Insly to eventually succeed in some way, either tomorrow or at some time in the future. I also know that no matter what corporate position I might hold in the future, some of this start-up experience and mindset will remain. I’ll use it to help me manage wisely and make decisions to make the organisation more innovative and engaging as a work environment. Hopefully, I will be able to recreate some of the dedication and energy that I experienced while working here.
Ivo Kuldmäe
London, November 2014

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