Startup Lessons Learned: Dreams, Teams, and Strategies

3775721812_ec64821eb7_z.jpg

By Liza Deyrmenjian (Founder & CEO, Afingo) My initial idea for Afingo was a business-to-business social network for the fashion industry. In 2008, that was the buzz word.

I had a lot to learn, but I was lucky. An angel investor found me and I was on my way. I did what many new technology entrepreneurs do; I built out websites that probably should not have existed and spent a tremendous amount of capital in the process.

The first iteration of Afingo was a social network, and advertising was the only model that made sense to us. We were up against the beast called Facebook.

We needed a change, so we scaled back and refocused the business around our greatest asset -- our match functionality. Match Afingo syncs up users with the factory or supplier best suited for their needs. We hurried off and built another site around our new offering. It looka beautiful, gets rave reviews, and now we are gaining users every day.

On Being Creative About Revenue

We had to focus on building out a sales-oriented arm of the business, to help our users sell their wares and round out our revenue model. After a three month brainstorm we came up with Shoptoko, the first B2B pop-up online trade show.

Within three weeks of launch, Shoptoko had over a thousand retailers, forty brands, and great press. Afingo's users are a natural source for Shoptoko product so they are symbiotic properties, with Shoptoko being immensely scalable.

Building Your Team

The team is the hardest thing to put together, especially when you don't have a big budget with which to attract talent. Build your team quickly but be sure that you have a revenue model that works before you hire more then you can afford.

Building your team helps you to build further, it's through my team that I've had my most valuable introductions. I was fortunate to meet my COO, Katherine Danesi, through professional associates. She has a tech background and came aboard part time initially, ramping up to full time this year. Team introductions also brought me Shoptoko's UX manager and development team, as well as multiple mentors and advisors.

The quality of the team you work with every day is essential to your success. The relationship between members are like marriages. You want them to challenge your mind and support your passion. This dynamic, cultivated by the CEO and COO, creates a healthy and productive professional atmosphere. You don't want your staff merely validating the idea; you want and need a team that can and will question every last angle.

Even when you face what you think are unnecessary questions, stop and answer them. See them as an opportunity to refine your pitch and to better understand the product you're collectively creating.

On Asking Your Advisors To Break It

Quality advisors are key in any startup business (and in life, too). We have a roster of experienced professionals that have time to give and believe in the company. I've been tremendously fortunate to have a group of such talented and incredibly smart people to call upon for counsel.

We have asked several of our financial advisors to poke holes in our plan and did five passes at an executive summary. As a result of all the collective input, Shoptoko gained traction in a mere three weeks. We are still asking people to break our pilot in order to continually refine it for our users.

On Educating Yourself

I have learned to trust my instincts. When you feel you are being led down the wrong path, don't doubt yourself. Unfortunately, it's easy to be led astray when you're out of your depth with technology. There is a lot to know and you can find yourself deferring to a more knowledgeable person's faulty judgment.

Learn as much as you can about your tech. Gather data in order to make the best decisions when building out your platform. Don't rely on a single source of information before making such a pivotal and potentially expensive investment. For example, take a night class in coding, have seasoned professional consult, visit trusted web sites, and read, read, read. Get as much data as you can on the subject; it will literally save you millions.

On Getting Out

I suggest you identify your exit strategy and build the product accordingly. Stay vigilantly aware of your competitors, know the value of the data your platform will be collecting, and identify who would consider these assets an attractive acquisition. This awareness helps you to build a better business model. Identifying your end goal will necessarily refine the business. Knowing where you're going will save, and make, tremendous amounts of money.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Liza Deyrmenjian is the Founder and CEO of Afingo, changing how fashion does business. She hails from Vancouver Canada, where, at the age of 19, she launched her first apparel production venture, Arteenelle Manufacturing. She moved to New York City where she created a curriculum for new design entrepreneurs looking to grow their business from sketch to sale. Follow her startup on Twitter at @afingofashion.