• Three lessons I learnt while founding a startup – SMF Taha Dar

    SearchSmartly founders Taha Dar (left) and Gil Razafinarivo

    For many years, I kept telling myself that I would, one day, start an innovative business. I have always been passionate about using data to solve problems and improve human experiences. I had developed a technical skillset as an engineer at Red Bull Racing, a Formula 1 team. Yet the reasons that stopped me from taking the leap into entrepreneurship are probably familiar to any budding entrepreneur: Are my ideas good enough? Do I have the skills needed to succeed? Where do I even begin?

    Finding the answers to these questions isn’t easy, but here are some of the lessons that I learnt on my personal journey.

    Share your vision…
    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met budding startup founders who are protective about their idea and don’t want others to learn about the ‘next big thing’ that they’re working on. Except in certain rare circumstances, I think that this is a mistake. An idea’s value lies in its execution, and not in the concept itself. By exposing your idea to feedback, you maximise your chances of learning from potential customers, meeting potential mentors, and finding others that are equally passionate about your problem set. Starting a business as a solo founder is incredibly difficult, and one of the most fundament challenges a startup faces is that of building the right team. Only by meeting others who share your vision can you maximise your chances of finding the right people to work with.

    I told everyone that I met during the early days of my MBA about my idea for the future of property search, and that’s how I met Gil Razafinarivo, my co-founder at SearchSmartly. He had just been through a six-week ordeal in finding a flat for his family, and by sharing my vision I learnt that he was as determined to change the property search experience as I was. He brought an extensive background in technology sales – something I had no experience of and a skillset that would be critical for the B2B business that I was looking to build. It was a great match.

    …Because it will be wrong anyway
    To paraphrase a famous piece of military wisdom, “no startup idea survives first contact with the market.” Entrepreneurs often have elaborate plans for bringing their idea to market, ranging from a fully-baked user interface to a particular market niche that will fall in love with the product. These plans invariably fail in their original guise, as the market is always more complicated than you think. Investors know this too, and they aren’t worried. It’s often said that early-stage investors aren’t really backing your idea at all; they’re betting on you being able to test your hypotheses with potential customers, learn from feedback, iterate on the product, and pivot your business in a new direction if needed.

    My co-founder and I made some large changes in our business model very early. During our time in the London Business School’s Launchpad pre-accelerator, we pitched our idea in front of customers, market experts, and potential investors. The feedback we got from these individuals made us quickly realise that our initial, consumer-facing (B2C) business model would not be sustainable against the duopoly of Zoopla and Rightmove. Following this insight, we pivoted to a business-facing (B2B) model with the view of selling our technology direct to estate agents.

    Take the first step today
    I felt deeply uncomfortable taking the leap – it’s human nature to fear change after all. I had a technical skillset, but I utterly lacked the business education that I felt I required to get my idea off the ground. I knew programming, but I didn’t know much about web design. My first step was to teach myself HTML, CSS, and Javascript, the building blocks of any basic website. Using great tools online such as CodeCademy, I was able to get started. Yet I didn’t feel that this was sufficient. I ultimately decided to pursue an MBA to develop the business education that I lacked – in areas such as finance and marketing – greatly aided by my MBA scholarship from the Sainsbury Management Fellows.

    The most important lesson of all is to get started today. In hindsight, much of what has been most relevant to my business was learnt from creating our first prototype and sharing it with potential users and pitching to investors. Speak to your users. Write the first line of code. Start sketching out your product. Draft the first pitch deck. Get out there!

    About Taha and SearchSmartly
    Taha is a Sainsbury Management Fellows Scholarship winner.  He is also the co-founder of SearchSmartly, a software-as-a-service startup making property search more efficient for estate agents and their clients. The team won the London Business School Launchpad 2017 demo day and is a winner in the Great British Entrepreneur Challenge. SearchSmartly is currently looking for a talented software developer to join its team and for contacts in the estate agency industry.   To find out more, contact the team at taha@searchsmartly.co.

    Are you a young engineer interested in studying for an MBA?  Visit this page to learn about applying for the Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship.


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