December 15, 2014
Guest blogpost by David Mata, founder and CEO of PYNK SYSTEMS and winner of 2014 Amcham EU Youth Entrepreneurship Award.
Entrepreneurship, a very recurrent word when talking about economic revitalization after the crash. It is a term that reminds one about beautiful professional fulfillment: assuming a risk, making the most of an opportunity, it is usually identified with million dollar startups that were founded a couple years before in a garage by twenty year-old friends who quit school after achieving rapid success. Although exceptional, successful cases have been powerful enough to convince almost 150.000 European entrepreneurs to give it a try. However, is this the reality that entrepreneurs face when deciding to form a startup? Is entrepreneurship a real solution for making our economies grow?
I can consider myself one of them. I am currently 26, and after graduating from architecture school in Madrid I started working in my hometown. For several months I combined my professional activity with a hobby: the design of an autonomous office desk that could be adapted to modern working conditions in the way that a car addressed comfort for driving conditions. The first materialization of my idea was kind of silly; it incorporated almost any “home automation” feature that you could think of –even a coffee maker eventually. After some months of lonely action I decided to partner with Carlos, a computer scientist and one of my best high school friends and together we managed to polish the concept and present it in a European startup contest. We went through the definition of a Business Plan starting from zero, dedicating long hours on identifying our target, studying our potential competitors, explaining what our HR policy would be and the marketing strategy we would follow. We projected our prediction of sales for the next five years, considering unit production costs and personnel needed… It took us about 4 months to come up with a coherent document of 60 page. The contest resulted in an unexpected success for us. We won some of the main prizes and came back home euphoric, but after celebrating, a tough decision was waiting for us. We had to actually build a real business from our idea.
We had spent so much time defining what our company would be like that we didn’t have time to define our product. This was the reason for taking a risky and radical decision, we formed a 6 person team backed with the award’s economic help and decided to fly over to Silicon Valley, the “land of entrepreneurship”. We will never regret it. There, we met a very different understanding of entrepreneurship from the one we experienced here in Spain. Everyone talked about “target” and “traction”, both new words for us, which referred to potential clients and the number of them already paying for the product. I started reading about Agile Development and LEAN management methodology, and the message was clear: build your idea and put it out there and then, iterate from the feedback received. And this is what we did. We spent the next two and a half months building prototypes, evolving and completing our concept and talking to hundreds of people, beta testers and potential clients. We were producing new ideas and testing them so fast that we had to redo our “objectives sheet” a couple of times to introduce further objectives. After an intense period of production, we managed to install our first complete beta product, a collaborative ergonomic desk for 6 people in a real working environment. This co-working space has being on trial for over two months now.
Since we are back in Europe, everything is going slow again. We know that our most valuable achievement has been what we got to do in America, and it was only possible because of both the availability of resources for entrepreneurs at a really low cost and the amazingly open mentality of their people. We worked at a maker’s space in which we had access to heavy industrial machinery for rapid prototyping and a working space at a monthly cost of 120€ per person. We also had companies that received us to hear about our product, and two of them offered to try out an experimental prototype for several months.
Entrepreneurship is about risk; it is about doing amazing things with little resources. We entrepreneurs have to be ready to face adverse conditions, but overall we have to be able to fight our biggest enemy: time. This is the main challenge in which we can get help from our societies. We will always have a timeframe for achieving success, and having the resources available, with the public institutions’ support and with companies’ doors open, it is possible to shorten evolution time leads and get the final products offered to the market as fast as possible.
In answer to my very first question I would say yes, entrepreneurship is an excellent solution for helping our economies grow. In fact, I think that when entrepreneurship is encouraged, especially when it is associated with innovation, it is a very efficient way to find new solutions to existing problems that the market is not giving answers to. I have been asking myself for a long time why haven’t big furniture companies developed the product that we are developing with the facilities, experience and resources that they have to do it. I didn’t find an answer yet, but my guess is that they are too focused on satisfying today’s customers and improving today’s products that they don’t have time to think about tomorrow’s challenges. We are building the smart desk of the future, and we will have a finished product with an investment of little more than 20.000€. Of course we can fail, but isn’t it worth trying?
The best part of entrepreneurship as a solution to stacked economies is that it is cheap. All that entrepreneurs need is support and faith from both public and private institutions. The best lesson that I learnt from Silicon Valley is that they have created an environment that is waiting to hear about innovation, about new ways of doing things. Europe needs to import this mindset, it may be hard to start, but the growth of it will be viral. Let’s give it a chance.Blogactiv Team