From Wannabe to CEO: What Drives a Founder #1
Running a startup seems to have become a trend -the “in” thing- right now. With the explosion of game-changing ideas and the hype surrounding simple ideas and how they can literally change the way we live, no doubt we are seeing an increasing number of initiatives aimed at molding more entrepreneurs.
Even governments are now turning their attention to startups with the intent of learning and exploring collaborations to better the lives of citizens with the unique ideas and energies that startups bring.
Behind all these hypes are people who have the guts to sacrifice what they have and enter the world of discomfort just to make what used to be a noble idea become a life-changing reality. One such person is Delta Purna Widyangga –once an introverted consultant in one of the biggest IT consultancy firm in the world who is now back in Indonesia to lead Qiscus, his own startup. We interviewed him to uncover some surprising facts about a founder’s journey.
What Made Him Jump into The World of ‘Discomforts’
During his campus days, he admired his friends who participated in entrepreneurship competitions with the aspiration of making changes to people’s lives –one of whom was Muhammad, who later became his fellow co-founder.
He was also aspired to do the same but via a different route –community work. So he busied himself impacting others through volunteer work and training youths. But this became hard to sustain when he was busy as an IT Consultant in Accenture. Often, he found himself sacrificing his aspirations as he gave his best to his clients.
After years of working in Accenture, in a rare occasion, he caught up with Muhammad who was then working with SPRING Singapore. The passion to create an impact reignited. They discussed on an idea which could change how students learn and decided to make the jump.
So there was a vision but the idea to achieve it was raw. Nonetheless, with the right person standing side-by-side and sharing the same vision and passion, the jump was made less daunting. In this regard, it is not the idea that made him jump into the world of ‘discomforts’ –the startup world– but it was the vision and the right co-founder that spurred him on.
Yes, Having The ‘Right’ Co-Founder is Indeed Necessary
Well, the question is –who is the ‘right’ one? With regards to Muhammad, Delta is convinced that they both share the same vision and passion. Not only that, Delta understood and was already comfortable with Muhammad’s working style and personality since their campus days. To Delta, these factors are what made Muhammad the ‘right’ one.
However, the founding team still needed someone who could really get their hands dirty with codes-Delta still needed a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). With no one in mind, he started scouting and that was when he found Evan.
While Evan was known to be the ‘genius’ in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who was also passionate about startups, Delta needed to ensure Evan at his criteria of being ‘right’ one. “Getting a co-founder is almost like choosing your life-partner. You want a long-term and happy marriage together. So we have to choose the right one,” quoting Delta who said this with a slight laughter.
So he tested Evan with a part-time job as the company’s first developer. Vision, passion, personality and working style were the key things Delta looked out for. After a few months of working together, he saw that Evan fitted the bill and he then joined the founding team.
Having the right team is a good start … but it is just the beginning. Their idea was to create a classroom learning app, called Phidecks, to facilitate classroom learning. They built a minimum viable product (MVP) and then tried to sell it to schools in Singapore. “The MVP was still very raw. I felt that we were selling a vision rather than a product. And that was a steep learning curve for engineers like me.”
Nevertheless, that did not stop the team from winning pitches in entrepreneurship competitions in Singapore, one of which was a 3-month incubation opportunity in Silicon Valley. While the team won, Delta knew it was not something to celebrate because the real test was to go out into the field and grow the traction — i.e. to sell.
“I must say, I am not a salesperson,” admitted Delta. But he believed in one key principle: in the early stages, all founders need to sell. If the founders can not sell, then nobody else can. Hiring sales staff at this point is premature.
Unfortunately, Nobody was Willing to Pay
None of the schools they approached were willing to pay for Phidecks. The team attributed it to the nature of the education industry in Singapore; selling to schools would require startups to compete with the other more established companies via a transparent tender process.
So being persistent as they were, they tried selling to international schools in Jakarta which had greater autonomy, and of course, money. So they went. While they managed to garner lots of interest, nobody was willing to put any money on the table.
“When this happens, founders have to take a deep look at things. Companies not wanting to pay is a great indication that the solution is not solving a big enough pain –a pain that is more painful than the pain of spending,” he added.
With Courage, They Pivoted
“Pivoting is not easy. It takes courage to say ‘ok guys, I think it doesn’t work’ and it requires one’s self to detach from the situation and relook the same product, but from a different angle.”
While running around for different meetings in different countries, the team realised that one key problem they faced was communication. They used various chatting applications but none was able to help organise their discussions well.
Things got quite messy –messy enough to give Phidecks a new breath of life. The team realised that what they had built was able to solve a real need –the need for an organized chat-based communication platform specifically for remote/distributed teams.
Phidecks was a chat-based app designed to facilitate in-class and remote discussions. So instead of selling to schools, they modified the product and positioned themselves as the expert in real-time communication via chat. They pivoted and Qiscus was born.
At the start, they were selling as an enterprise messaging app. That proved to be the right move and companies did pay. So they raised a Seed Round and moved all operations to Indonesia. Delta and Evan returned to their hometown while Muhammad moved his entire family to Indonesia as well. They were dead serious.