SeedcampWeek09: Founders talk about "the first 100 days of your startup"

TechCrunch Europe is hanging around at Seedcamp Week in London this week. We’ll be wrapping up the companies who pitched at the end of the day. Meanwhile, here’s some coverage of the panel sessions.

In a panel featuring Turi Munthe from Demotix, Errol Damelin from Wonga, Ian Hogarth from Songkick, Brent Hoberman from, Mydeco (and most recently PROfounders Capital) and Lukasz Gadowski from Spreadshirt, attendees at Seedcamp Week 2009 heard quite a few nuggets of wisdom today.

The first issue to be raised was about credibility. In the first 100 days of operation, how do you get it? According to Munthe, it was all about personal contact from the CEO. For Gadowski, with Spreadshirt, the key was winning competitions and gaining profile in the press. So pretty standard stuff.

But then the panel became a little more interesting.

The panelists were asked what the first 100 days had been like in their various business. Hoberman described a period of “creative chaos”, in which ideas were tried out and the whole enterprise was kept moving with a “let’s see what happens” ethos. But Damelin wasn’t so sure, seeming to prefer a more methodical and structured approach to the early days. The conclusion? Different strokes for different startups.

On the subject of deadlines, Ian Hogarth said something that seemed to resonate with the audience: “The best deadlines are the ones the team collectively agree to, not the ones that come from the top.” Sage advice for start-ups who feel pressured by a high profile to get their product out there. Munthe looked on thoughtfully at this point, having admitted shortly before that his overriding wish had been “to have done this before”.

Then we back to a bit more standard panel fare, with Hoberman repeating the line that your approach to mistakes is generally defined by how many you can afford to make. “But lack of money,” Gadowski added, “is often used as an excuse too. Often you don’t need the full product to test the concept. You can test parts of the system, even if you don’t have the whole solution.”

Damelin sounded a note of caution. “One of the challenges when getting out of the door quickly is that you can risk damaging your brand. One idea is to use a subsidiary brand to do the testing. Work out what you want to test and concentrate on that in your early version.”

Klein then asked Hoberman about hiring policy in the crucial early stages. “It does make a difference if the whole team are of one mind,” said Hoberman. “You have to be absolutely obsessive and passionate, and if the early people are passionate it becomes cool to others to be passionate.

“And keep breaking new ground to keep your team motivated. Choose a team of passionate people in the same mindset and let them work on challenging things.”

“Absolutely,” said Gadowski. “Doing your job is not good enough. And don’t make a hire just because you’re desperate to fill the position.”

So where should young companies look for leads when they need an extra pair of hands? “Stay away from recruiters and consultants,” said Gadowski. Hogarth agreed: “You have do your own hires. You’re defining the DNA of your company; these people will be doing the hiring for you in future.”

The advice from the panel was: be experimental. Invite potential hires to spend a few weeks with the team. And if you do need to get help (for example, in a global B2B play when you need people on the ground), go for a boutique firm rather than the larger companies, whose processes tend to be too cumbersome to be of use to agile young startups.

Then we opened to the floor. “What’s the toughest problem you’ve faced in your first 100 days?” asked one member of the audience. Hoberman volunteered: “At, we had no demand and very little supply. So the challenge was the salesmanship, persuading the first company to make that leap of faith. It comes back to the issue of credibility.

“There are a few methods you can use. Either raise tons of money – which is great if you can do it – or get people around you who can validate your business When I started Mydeco, I had no credibility in the design industry whatsoever. But we brought in Terence Conran and Philippe Starck. They do.”

Toward the end of the questioning session, Hoberman was asked about building trust with customers. “Our customers are often smarter than we give them credit for. They’re looking at all the little signals you’re sending out. Put yourself into minds of your customers,” he said. “Would you trust yourself?”