How I used Board of Innovation’s tactics to launch a startup

Former innovation consultant Zygi Krupskis talks about how he used what he learned working here to co-found the startup, Persy Booths.

I worked as an innovation consultant at Board of Innovation for more than two years. When I left to fully immerse myself in the startup world by joining logistics startup sennder GmbH (which raised $100M during my time there) and co-founding Persy Booths, my former employer became my first customer.

Today, if you visit Board of Innovation’s Antwerp headquarters, you’ll notice two Persy Booths – the high-quality, affordable in-office phone booths my startup produces. Consultants use them when they need to make a call or work distraction-free. And true to form, these innovators give myself and my team regular feedback on the product so that we can continue to make it better.

But that’s not the only hand they’ve had in my startup journey. During my time as an innovation consultant, I put business-design methodologies into practice while working with corporate startup teams within organizations, including ING, Thomson Reuters, and Orange. My experience taught me a lot about the early days of a startup and what it takes to build a product people actually want.

Here are 3 of their business development tactics that my team and I employed when launching Persy Booths.

1. Sell before you build

What did BOI do?

One of the biggest things I learned about venture building during my time as a consultant is that you should start selling your product as soon as possible – even if there’s no product to sell. Selling your concept early is a good way to test whether there’s a market for it. In extreme cases, Board of Innovation teaches startup teams to use paper prototypes to get their first paying customers.

What did we do?

In our case, paper wouldn’t do. The lowest-fidelity product we could use for sales was a 3D model of a Persy Booth, together with technical specifications outlining the eventual features. We started by researching the technical aspects of our product. We consulted with soundproofing and ventilation experts to check our product assumptions. We also found a manufacturer early in the process to make sure we could build such a product. Next, we hired a product designer to work together with us to create the 3D models and technical drawings.

And that’s exactly what we used to get our first 2 clients – 3D models and well-researched technical specifications that we were sure we could deliver.

Why is this a good idea?

  1. If you’re presenting a drawing, rather than a finished product, customers don’t feel bad asking for tweaks. So you end up receiving valuable product feedback.

  2. During customer calls, you can easily focus the conversation on the problems you are solving, rather than getting into the nitty-gritty product details (that you might not have set in stone yet).

  3. You’ll understand early on in which context your product will live. You’ll find out how customers think about the problems and all the existing solutions. In our case, we asked customers how it feels to outgrow an office, remodel it, and what buyers usually consider in these situations.

2. Sell to your network, but don’t forget the market

What did BOI do?

As a consultant, whenever one of the client teams I worked with needed to proceed with a low-fidelity, unpolished product, we would face a dilemma: Do we sell it to the people in our network to get early feedback, but risk missing out on learning from an actual market? Or do we jump to selling our unpolished product to strangers with a high chance of no response?

I’d suggest both. Before you start, know the industry and build a network containing your ideal clients. This will help you build up the company to a point where you can make cold sales. You’ll gain referrals, you’ll build experience talking to clients, and you’ll be able to polish your product.

Granted, testing your approach with customers from your network can lead you down a confusing path. They want to help you out, so they use your products, and they give you feedback. However, your network is likely to buy from you not solely based on the merits of the product, but because they know you. So by reaching out to them alone, you’re missing out on gaging the actual demand for your product. Also, you are not discovering how the sales process actually works. But it is a good tactic to get snippets of feedback on unfinished prototypes and to build confidence early on.

Ask the right questions

The solution validation script gives you a set of questions to ask key stakeholders in order to get useful feedback on your prototype.

What did we do?

We managed to get 5 customers just by introducing Persy Booths to people from our network over dinner. At the same time, we didn’t want to get stuck with 5 customers in 3 months with no clue how to get the next 50 because we hadn’t properly validated our product and sales approach with real customers.

So, we reached out to a mix of strangers and friends. We started with Board of Innovation as a network sale but still engaged in cold sales to test the market and understand how to speak about the booths. It pushed us to be realistic with our expectations and forced us to be more prepared to scale the company once the first network sales had been made. Board of Innovation was a great opportunity for Persy to validate initial interest for the product, but we never took Board of Innovation as a customer we should base market assumptions on.

Why is this a good idea?

  1. Getting early sales from your network boosts the morale of the team.

  2. Early and quick sales enable you to iterate on the product faster.

  3. Cold sales enable you to tweak your customer interaction processes.

  4. Cold sales enable you to determine how difficult or easy it is to sell the product, so there are fewer surprises once you branch out of your network.

3. Early on, product and sales are the only things that matter

What did BOI do?

Forget complicated financial models (and other little tasks). There are 2 things you need to spend time on early in your business’s lifecycle – speaking to your customers and building the product.

During my time at Board of Innovation, I would often see startup teams fool themselves with fake progress. They would spend time polishing their financial models, going to tech conferences, overthinking the legal system, picking which accounting software to use, building product roadmaps for the next 2 years – you name it.

While the aforementioned issues can be important to tackle, they are never as important as building a product and doing user research. So focus on that and spend minimal effort on everything else.

A good example of that is financial modeling, which people (especially in corporates) tend to spend a ton of time working on. At Board of Innovation, we would always tell teams that they don’t need their financials modeled in Excel. Instead, we’d supply them with tools to work out 5-6 ballpark figures they could use to calculate the market size, we’d ask them to analyze unit economics, and perform a 6-month financial forecast. We’d ask them to do all of this on a piece of paper the size of a napkin.

What did we do?

Exactly that. We agreed to focus the majority of our efforts on developing the product and talking to users/potential buyers. Regarding financials, this mindset allowed us to work out initial ballpark figures, define our unit economics, and create a 6-month financial forecast – all within a couple of days. Taking this approach gave us space to focus on delivering high-quality booths to our customers.

Ballpark figures

Quickly project the viability of your idea without having to build a full-blown business case with the ballpark figures tool.

Why is this a good idea?

  1. You can’t really know your financials at the beginning. If you spend minimal time working out the financial structure initially, you can easily tweak it as you learn more about the market.

  2. Having the mindset that the only things that matter are product and sales will keep your eye on the prize and ensure you’re less likely to get stuck doing unnecessary busy-work.
    In the end, there’s nothing more important than building a product that customers love.

  3. No other 2 activities will help you get there sooner. Once you’ve figured out your product requirements and built a product that users love, you can come back to all the other topics with and make informed decisions.

Thanks for reading!
I’m Zygi Krupskis, co-founder of Persy Booths. Visit our website if you’d like a quiet space in your own office or reach out to me on LinkedIn for more information.

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