Five lessons learned from being a startup

Karoline Gross

Karoline Gross is Founder and CEO of Smartzer

Karoline Gross, Founder and CEO of interactive video player company Smartzer, one of the Digital Catapult’s Scaleup Boost participants, gives her top five lessons learned from being a startup.

Communication is key for a strong team and excellent delivery

This might sound like common sense, but many can overlook it because of that. Quite simply, having a team that communicate frequently and well with each other, will make for a stronger bunch of employees. Quite often we have had clients approach us wanting to work on a fully customised player within a shorter time-frame than desired.

We of course take the opportunity, but this has meant our team will need to step up their game and work faster and harder to ensure the video is completed on time. Without strong communication skills and regular discussions among the team, this could not happen, or at least not to the high standard it does.

As we are still growing and building up our regular clients, we have learned to communicate well internally (we even use social channels, such as having a ‘Smartzer Team’ WhatsApp group to engage one another if somebody is out of office), as well as keeping the client in the loop on each part of the video tagging process.


“A team that communicates frequently and well with each other will make for a stronger bunch of employees”

Adapt the product, and be flexible – the technology will never be ‘finished’

One lesson we learnt very early on is that development of our product is never done. It has become clear to us that one fundamental key to survival in tech is being adaptable and flexible with the product. The video player that we created in 2012, is absolutely miles away from the video player we have now – and not just in appearance.

Over time we have added functionality and features that we now couldn’t imagine the current Smartzer player without. The structure that you build the business model on must be scalable, and we have certainly changed our aims and ambitions for the company over time. As the product we created has grown, we have learnt that our tech solves more than just the original problems we thought retailers faced and as a result, we don’t just limit ourselves to our original business plan if new opportunities to use our product are being presented.

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“Learning how to time the approach with clients, and be patient while awaiting a response, are absolutely invaluable lessons”

Practice patience and understand timing: B2B sales cycles can be very long

If we think back to Smartzer’s humble beginnings, we would often walk away from potential client meetings with the most positive and confident of attitudes. We would be so sure that the brand would be in touch within a few days to tell us they want to pursue the partnership between us and them. Of course, that was not always the case. This is not meant to sound negative or downtrodden, but over time we realised we needed to learn to practice patience.

We will admit we have been naive in the past but if the timing is not right for the client, then it simply will not work out. This can be down to a multitude of reasons: budgets; unclear marketing roadmap; hesitance towards new tech; the list is endless. Learning how to time the approach with clients, and be patient while awaiting a response, are absolutely invaluable lessons learnt by all of us at Smartzer.

Finding the right investor is just like dating (no, seriously!)

You have to be sure that the right people are investing in your company for all the right reasons. We have learnt that you will often need to evaluate the kinds of people that present themselves to you, as well as consider how long fundraising can actually take. It will not happen overnight, unless you are incredibly lucky, and we are guilty of occasionally underestimating the longevity of the fundraising process and of how much we need to raise.

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“Start approaching and contacting people earlier than you think you should”

What we have learned is to start approaching and contacting people earlier than you think you should and always be completely sure of how much you are aiming to raise. It is not always necessary to raise huge sums in one round, so don’t fixate on those high numbers. Smaller sums but more often will still help take the business forward just as nicely.

Take everything with a pinch of salt – learn from everything but maintain focus

As a business, we believe in aiming high and having ambition, as that will help propel us forward and keep momentum going. But we have also learned to be realistic and take each slight U-turn with a pinch of salt, otherwise it can be easy to let small things derail you from staying focused. Not everything works out, and not all endeavours will pay off, but every step gets us closer to the end goal by either knowing that something works, or also importantly that others don’t work. But ultimately, if we can handle the setbacks that occur and carry on, then we will benefit from this lesson in the long run.

Karoline Gross is Founder and CEO of Smartzer. To find out more, visit their website or follow them on Twitter @Smartzer. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult.

Smartzer is one of the Digital Catapult’s Scaleup Boost companies. Scaleup Boost supports promising startups in becoming successful scaleups. To find out more about the programme, click here

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