This is part of the Startup Mentor series — featuring startup experts who share their advice in building successful businesses.
He was one of the first employees at Lazada Group, one of the largest online shopping websites by Rocket Internet GmbH. Now the Regional Chief Operating Officer of Ecommerce at True Corporation, Dean Krstevski shares some great advices for startup founders on what makes startups successful.
Dean Krstevski, Regional Chief Operating Officer of Ecommerce at True Corporation
What’s that best advice someone has given you before you started your own startup career that has helped you?
The best business advice I’ve received came from Mr. Martin Graham, former Markets Director at the London Stock Exchange.
During the 19th European Business Network Congress held in Spain back in 2010, Mr. Graham challenged my business model. I blamed the market; he blamed me.
His response was simple, “No excuses. You are the one who chose the market”.
The discussion that followed can be summarized as, “You will have to deal with whatever goes wrong with your product, your customers, your employees, your investors and your competitors. No excuses allowed.”
What do you think is the most common mistake of most startups when starting up and what’s your advice to avoid those?
Strong focus on the product, but lack of attention to the real customer need
It’s great when the founders are obsessed with their product, but developing great product does not always translate into developing a great company. Also, a great product in the eyes of the founders may not always be great in the eyes of the customer.
I faced this mistake with my first venture. My team and I developed an online trading platform for the wrong market at the wrong time.
The business model was proven in all developed markets and the user experience was sleek and comparable to leading trading platforms. Within a year, the platform received three international awards for innovation and entrepreneurship.
However, the recognition did not change the fact that we could not achieve the required scale.
Eventually we ended up closing the platform and moved to a completely different industry.
My advice is to stay passionate about your product, but also consider the real customer needs.
What sort of criteria do you think investors specifically look for before they decide on investing?
In my opinion, assuming that the product offers superior customer experience or addresses a certain need that is currently unmet by the other players on the market, the key questions from the investors will be:
Can you build a sustainable business around the idea?
The challenge for the founders will be to build a business case that supports the idea. Advertising revenue is not a solution for every startup company.
Can the founders attract and retain top talent?
A sound business idea can attract top employees to the company. However, the ability to scale will greatly depend on the founders’ capacity to retain and continuously attract invaluable talent. This will fuel the company to stay one step ahead of competitors.
What do you think most successful startups have in common especially in the early stages that make them so successful?
Idea, Talent and Execution
I believe that a successful startup has a combination of three key elements:
Visionary idea, passionate team and excellent execution skills. Remove any of these three elements and the equation will not work.
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