I first met with Raffael years ago (in 2009 or 2010) at the Startup Day, FORUM EPFL, in Lausanne. At that time, I was trying to convince him to relocate his company a bit Northern Switzerland, as this was part of my mission. I was sure he and Joël were on something extremely promising, which is finally true. I remember our discussions as they were bootstrapping (this word was quite unknown at that time), rather than losing too much time to go pitching everywhere. Since then, their company has grown up to a “multinational SME”, with around 20 employees, multiple locations and customers all around the world. Raffael shared his “survival guide” some months ago, which you’ll discover in this post.
This is a guest post by Raffael Maio is a keen Swiss entrepreneur, who is COO and co-founder of NetGuardians. He is primarily responsible for securement of financing as well as business development in Europe and the Middle East. On the technology side, Raffael brings several years’ experience in security software engineering, in environments ranging from a Silicon Valley start-up to a multinational product security company.
A startup vision can grow into a successful SME if your vision is backed by a realistic survival plan.
This was the philosophy Joël Winteregg and I started out with in 2007 when we partnered to found FinTech company NetGuardians. While we’ve fine-tuned our survival plan over the years, we’ve stuck to it. And, if I do say so myself, we’ve done better than survive. Here’s what our startup survival plan looks like today, in 10 rules:
Here is the transcript of the presentation:
- Know how to surround yourself with key people
- They will support you through the long term
- Back yourself up by those who bring skills you don’t have. For us, this means the complementary angles Joël and I cover – innovation for him, finance for me, business development for both – as well as our team’s wide range of talents.
- Accept differences
- A group of clones does not make a good team
- Not everyone around you lives in startup mode – accept what they bring, it keeps you grounded
- When the different perspectives of each person on the team are valued, you gain a more solid base
- Question yourself
- Your board, advisors and friends help you reach better insights when they challenge your ideas. We’re lucky to have very experienced board members and investors who believe in us but aren’t afraid to push us!
- There is never just one way and nothing is won in advance
- Be inspired by others and share experiences – both good and bad
- Take care of finances
- Know when to save and when to spend – erring either way can be equally damaging
- It’s critical to maintain a global view of your financial situation at all times
- Be LEAN but keep SMART
- Avoid the one-man show
- A participatory governance is stronger
- Build your company identity collaboratively and ensure all employees know the strategic vision
- Make your team a part of the decision-making process
- Share successes, share failures
- Analyze and grow from your failures
- There’s always a lesson to be learned
- Don’t be afraid of failure
- Accept that sometimes learning hurts
- Delegate, delegate, delegate
- Have confidence in your team
- You simply can’t control everything, especially when you reach >10 employees
- Share your company vision
- Have a clear internal structure
- Keep everyone in the loop and inspired by the vision – all staff will be more motivated to evolve with you. At NetGuardians, we try to make this a part of every activity from sharing croissants in the kitchen to launching in new markets.
- Maintain a healthy work-life-family balance
- Know when to go unplugged. Me, for example, I don’t touch my phone at all between 7 and 9 p.m.
- Have fun!
So how is all this working out for us so far? NetGuardians has grown from banking software startup into a strong SME with an international client base. Last year, our second round of financing brought CHF 5 million. Named a Gartner “Cool Vendor” in 2015, we are recognized for our revolutionary solutions to fight fraud and facilitate regulatory compliance. Today our clients range from European institutions like Piguet Galland to banks in emerging regions, like, most recently, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.
Of course we had some help along the way: an experienced board who shared their wisdom, for example, or advice from other Swiss entrepreneurs. That’s why today, we also enjoy opportunities to pass on what we’ve learned.