Recently in a blog article I reported on the possibilities of the InCube program from MANN+HUMMEL. Today I would like to take you on a short journey to give you some more insights about how we actually managed to make all this work and share some of our experiences.
So let’s start with how it has been like for us 5 in the team. Before we left to spend 6 months in Silicon Valley, we had never worked together. Now for six months we then became work colleagues and also lived together under the same roof.
A number of tools helped us several times with the forming and performance of our team. Firstly, we exchanged information on our personal backgrounds, expertise and motivation in order to get to know our personalities and understand the contributions each team member could make.
Just as in any band, we all took on different roles. So we had a lead singer, someone to provide the rhythm and acoustics, someone to make the crowd cheer for us and as in every band, sometimes the team members pursued different rhythms, so someone might be slower or faster than the rest, there were disharmonies and as a result someone would take a break. It wouldn’t be true to say that this never happened to us. But here is how we helped overcome these challenges.
In order to make sure we started our days being all on the same page, we used to do daily standups of just 5 min where everybody could give a short summary about what had been done the day before, what the tasks would be for the new day and if support would be needed for something.
Additionally, every Friday afternoon, we reviewed things that were good during the week, things we should improve or stop doing and acknowledge any outstanding work of team members. Even in rough weeks, these reviews always helped us to have a positive ending to the week and enable a better start in the next one, especially when we addressed challenges and were able to agree and commit on what we wanted to change.
A typical day in a startup ….. does not exist
Even though in the meantime, nearly 8 months have passed, the very first day at our Plug and Play Center workplace remains in my mind bright and clear. Back then, we had no clue about the journey that was right in front of us, all the great moments we would be celebrating and all the times we would be frustrated because something would not work out the way we had planned or expected. So this was the first lesson we learned while working in our startup: there is no such thing as a typical day.
Suddenly, we had to take care of tasks we had never done before. In general, our working field was much wider than we were used to from our corporate backgrounds. Even though we had aligned the main responsibilities for each of us, we worked quite interdisciplinary, like making our corporate design, our own homepage, creating user journeys for the touchpoints of our users with qlair and our app.
Of course, it’s needless to say that we were not immediately able to master all of our new challenges, especially in the beginning. Using iteration cycles to constantly work on and improve our approach to meet these challenges were part of the overall development.
On our own we may have had doubts several times about whether we would be able to accomplish our tough milestones and goals, but these doubts never lasted long. Thanks to our great team spirit we always had faith in our ultimate success.
How is it different?
The mindset in Silicon Valley is driven by the belief that everything is possible. Even if you don’t have a definite product available yet, people will still believe in you that you can make it work. This is because they believe that you have the necessary experience and knowledge. And they also believe that your product will work – sooner or later ;-). But people do not necessarily believe in the efficiency of the company. Many here in Silicon Valley may not see the technical risks, whereas they do see a market risk and this is exactly the challenge for a startup: you have to prove you are a viable, scalable and self sustaining business.
Let´s enhance our tactics for Leadership in Filtration
As we all used to work for MANN+HUMMEL before, we are naturally more than familiar with our tactics to enhance leadership in filtration.
However, being in Silicon Valley, we started appreciating and interpreting these tactics from a completely new perspective. Myself, having worked in different positions in sales before, I was used to going to customer meetings with tangible products or at least prototypes in my hands and a clear idea about what we wanted to sell.
In the majority of customer meetings that we had in Silicon Valley, we had literally nothing more than an idea in mind. Surprisingly, these customer meetings were some of the best I have ever had. So I realized we should not have a strange feeling about meetings where we do not have a 100% solution or an answer available for everything. Quite the contrary, at an early stage these meetings gave us the chance to get input and feedback right before putting too much effort into developing something that we might have thought this is what the customer wants, but something which in reality turned out not to give them any value.
The fact that these meetings started in our very first week in January show the speed of our actions. Combined with the mindset in the valley and the fact that we constantly pushed ourselves and others to leave our comfort zones, we had most of our customer meetings on quite short notice, usually between 1 to 3 days. Which also meant that we usually did not have a 100% polished presentation, a pricing or business model ready or could answer questions about our product roadmap. However, allowing ourselves to be comfortable in situations like these, we were able to collect feedback faster than I have ever experienced before.
Last but not least, the way we worked had a huge influence on the way we were innovative as well. As product development went hand in hand with business development, we often had to change our approach. Our iteration cycles took place at most on a weekly basis, but sometimes even on a daily basis, constantly allowing a change in direction. And still, we did not make any tradeoffs. Because we realized that innovation is not possible when either the product or business development is not available. Both are necessary.
Success factors and challenges
To sum it up, several factors contributed to our success and there were also some challenges that we had to overcome. Every day there were situations where we felt we were literally jumping off a cliff. Quite early after we started, we were asked if we could make a pitch to a couple of Japanese companies the next day. Of course, we said yes. When the people from Plug and Play Center then stated rather as a matter of fact: “You do have a pitch deck available, don’t you?” we actually had to say this was not the case as we had just kind of finalized our idea and had not yet prepared any nice customer presentation. However, less than 12 hours later, we actually managed to make the pitch and out of this meeting we obtained our very first confirmation for a pilot test in New York.
I have mentioned it before, but it was a tremendous help to go out as soon as possible and share our thoughts with others. Any time we talked to someone, there was a positive outcome to it, whether it was a new idea, new contacts or simply that we practiced our elevator pitch for qlair.
Our team spirit was not only evident from how the 5 of us worked together, but also through the close cooperation with our development partners, without whom the creation of qlair would not have been possible. Of course, we also had to deal with challenge probably more often than we would have liked.
We had to realize that even in a startup and in our case when we did not even have a clear idea in mind when we started, it was necessary to prioritize about what you do and when you do it… and what to leave aside for some time or even in general.
Even though we were only 5 people working together in a confined space, early on we had to acknowledge that we all had applied for the InCube program with different intentions, ambitions and goals in mind. And this became clear during our daily work. We drifted away more than once and constantly had to make sure that we re-aligned our activities, topics, goals and milestones.
One of the main targets of InCube was to determine a viable business model. When we got the chance to work on our proposal for continuation with qlair, it was a big challenge to give our all to qlair and combine it with our personal lives.
The last six months have most likely been the most exciting, interesting and demanding time which we have ever experienced. Therefore we are all happy that we were able to come to an agreement, which is best for qlair and for us personally.
In other words: this is not the end, it’s just the beginning! You can look forward to the next article 😉