What is the secret to a successful startup? The startup community is growing exponentially, we can rejoice at innovations that attract increasingly higher investments, however, quite a few startups fail before even reaching the market. This raises a question – what are the professional and personal challenges that startup founders face, what influences their successes and failures?
Startup founders Thomas Solupajev-Ronlev from Denmark, Jaanika Jelistratov from Estonia, Veronika Grechko from Russia and Ruben Cisternino from Italy shared their experience at “Kaunas Startups” event.
Lithuania – a home to create a global business
One of the main things that unite the startup founders we talked to – all of them are foreigners working in Lithuania who are developing global businesses with the help of teams that are settled all around the globe.
Ruben, for example, an Italian living in Lithuania, joined a founding team in Great Britain, his development team sits in Czech Republic and the team is comprised of people from Romania, Great Britain and Ukraine. Thomas – a Dane who founded his startup in Lithuania, is currently working with clients from Scandinavian countries but is trying to enter other European markets. Jaanika is an Estonian who travels to Lithuania at least once or twice a month, she’s developing her product in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and her next step is entering the Polish market. Veronika came to Lithuania from Russia, her main markets for expansion are South America and Africa.
The reasons why founders choose Lithuania to develop their businesses are quite diverse: Ruben came to Lithuania because of the personal circumstances, while Veronika believes that “Lithuania offers a lot of support for startups and easy business expansion”. Another important reason why Veronika decided to develop her business here – the image of the startup in the European market – according to Veronika, “Lithuania is ideal as a base for working with foreign companies, in particular with European ones”.
Jaanika is developing her business in all three Baltic countries, however, she shares that all three markets are very different: “Lithuania and Estonia are rather advanced in the technology field, the legislation has also adapted to the new technologies, while Latvia is a bit behind in this field, the legislative environment is not fully tailored for new and emerging technologies”.
Perfect product – in the second place
When developing a business, many founders desire for the product to be flawless, however, all of the startup founders we talked to agree that the most important aspect is to find your place in the market and attract the first clients. When you understand the value your product creates for the client, what features are the most relevant, only then should you improve the technological features of the product: “Remember – your problems are not necessarily your clients’ problems. Therefore it is imperative to talk and understand the challenges your target audience faces, because exactly they are your first clients” – shared Thomas Solupajev-Ronlev.
Jaanika, founder of “VITS”, agrees with this approach. She shares that one of the key tasks when developing a business – understanding the needs of the client. Jaanika’s startup – an app that automates the completion of documents related to occupational safety; however, this version of “VITS” is not the first one – the product was constantly improved according to the problems that the customers face. Only when the team started talking with potential buyers and investigated their needs did they offer a product that solved their underlying pain points.
Cultural aspects are equally important – Jaanika notes that even though occupational safety regulation is similar in all Baltic states, employers in Estonia pay more attention to ensuring the safety of their employees, while Lithuanians and Latvians are more frightened by the control authorities, thus focus more on the bureaucratic aspects of occupational safety.
And what is the best way to reach the clients? Startup founders claim that no single answer exists – new methods, such as “LinkedIn Navigator”, are gaining traction, however, in some cases, time-tested methods work best, such as phone calls as well as taping into one’s network.
I want to create a startup – what should I expect?
During the discussion, the startup founders shared very personal experiences – moments of success, happiness, stress, negative thoughts – all of these are inevitable.
Ruben, a founding member of “Coinrule”, which operates in the cryptocurrency field, shared that developing a business requires a lot of responsibility – finances, HR, strategy – all of it has to be thought about, however, according to Ruben, “whatever doubts you might have while planning, strategizing and managing your startup, even the smallest victories and successes redeem all of the anxiety and sleepless nights”.
Jaanika seconded Ruben – however many negative days you might experience when the success hits – all of that will be forgotten. Last year was difficult for “VITS” – the team that worked on the product decided to leave the project, which caused quite significant difficulties for attracting investors, who put a lot of emphasis on a strong team.
When developing the business, it is important to draw boundaries in your daily routine and forget about work for at least a little while. According to Jaanika, a great way to do that is exercise – “volleyball helps me relax and forget about the problems for at least a couple of hours; I play 3-4 times a week. After the workout, I feel as though I can solve all of the issues much faster“. Ruben notes that learning from others’ experience is also incredibly valuable – “such events where people share their stories are indeed helpful. They make you feel as though you’re not alone”.
“Kaunas Startups” program fosters the entrepreneurship of Kaunas’ residents, increases the attractiveness of the startups for private capital investment as well as the attractiveness of Kaunas city for attracting startups from other Lithuanian cities and foreign countries. The program is funded by Kaunas city municipality, is organized by VšĮ „Kaunas In“ and is implemented by „Civitta“ and VšĮ „Startup Division“. It is the largest program of such kind in Kaunas.