This article is co-written by Ali Malik, co-founder, CarSwitch.com.
The startup scene is bubbling in the region, and Dubai specifically, with several ventures announcing fundraising from global players in recent months, with this enviable list of enterprises including names like Careem, Fetchr, The Luxury Closet, ServiceMarket, Mumzworld, CarSwitch and lots more. With this being the case, it makes sense to take a closer look into the key ingredients that led these startups to success- how do these cash-strapped ventures manage to survive and flourish And, perhaps most importantly, where does one start!
As the co-founders of CarSwitch.com, a UAE-based used-car market place that managed to raise US$1.3 million in under a year, we wanted to share a few of the fundamentals (proposition, timing, and relevance) that helped us get to where we are today. In a hyper competitive space (and with limited capital), we managed to launch CarSwitch from concept to launch in 60 days- here are the five pillars that we used to build our enterprise:
1. People , people , people - with little cash , what else do you have?
Committed, driven, and well-placed co-founders are the starting point. It’s quite difficult to afford, or find, the right people for every task, and so you need to tag team the venture with co-founders that are willing to roll-up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to get it done. In our case, as co-founders, the two of us did everything from being actors in CarSwitch’s homepage video, we handheld the first 40 cars on the site from inspection through to RTA transfer, and even playing call center roles in the wee hours of the night when capacity was short!
2. Launch and iterate
It’s crucial to have an end-state vision in mind that delivers the dream proposition, but unless you’re Apple, you have to break it down and launch what you can as quickly as you can or risk running out of money. At CarSwitch, our vision is to give buyers enough transparency and trust to buy a car online sight unseen: an e-commerce experience that ties in online feature and price comparisons, total cost of ownership lens from financing to insurance, and much, much more. It would probably take a year or two to build that kind of platform, and so we broke it down to, say, let’s start with telling you everything about the specifics of the car you’re looking at, from its condition, to pictures of every scratch, and take it from there.
3. Work backwards , and set firm deadlines
When the vision of CarSwitch was being drawn on a whiteboard in Jan 2016, there was a moment where we took a step back and declared (to ourselves) that the website must go live in March. The company didn’t exist yet, there were no customers to sell cars to, no mechanics to inspect, no website to host, heck, the company name wasn’t even clear yet! But while the date was arbitrary, it did put a stick in the ground for our business- a non-negotiable deadline that must be met. The work that followed pivoted around the date: we stripped down our aspirations, and looked at what was the absolute minimum required to take off- and the rest can follow. This provided the framework for a MVP (minimum viable product), and enabled us to bring something to market in less than 60 days.
4. Don’t be afraid to change- listen to your customers , and adapt
Launching quickly gives opportunity to hear customer feedback early, you may need to devise beta groups to manage disappointing early visitors. But remember: real feedback trumps conceptual research any day. CarSwitch, for instance, is running at least five different experiments at any given time- they are controlled, closely monitored, and rapidly integrated. We develop new features and services, their pricing, and how to deliver through real-time learning. It is naturally risky to operate this way at scale, but controlling delivery to accepting smaller groups of customers can be incredibly powerful.
5. Keep the end-state aspiration always in mind
With many moving pieces, small teams, and incredible pressure to deliver, it can be straining to remain steady in one direction. Given this scenario, the importance of having an end-state aspiration in mind cannot be understated. Yes, you have financial obligations to meet, but ultimately your customers determine your success, and unless you have unwavering determination to deliver a proposition that surpasses their expectations and needs, the sustainability of your venture is questionable.
As entrepreneurs, we are undoubtedly facing some of the most challenging experiences of our professional lives, and overcoming incredible feats to deliver innovative experiences to unsuspecting consumers. But these efforts undoubtedly make our lives easier, more enjoyable, and propel the economy forward in surprising ways- and hence, we need to see more of these in the region. Onward and upward, ‘treps!