Startup Mamak #12 – Lessons Learned

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Startup Mamak meetup on 1st November 2012, and here are my notes.

What is Startup Mamak?

Before I dive into the details of last week’s session, here’s an introduction to Startup Mamak:

We’ll allocate time slots for anyone to pitch about their startup/ideas, the condition is he/she shall willingly receive feedback from the floor. The floor shall “attack” the pitch/ideas with valuable comments.


Why attend?
This is a 2-hour session for startups/industrial reps./entrepreneur ecosystem stakeholders to connect, collaborate and create.

Our special guest is

Benjamin Joffe – startup therapist, digital naturalist and angel investor to discuss the latest news from his experience as a mentor at the 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley and share views on startup ecosystems.


On Getting Started

Founders are everywhere. Ideas are everywhere. If you think your idea is unique, think again. There is a population of 7 billion in the world. There is bound to be someone else who has the same idea with you. In fact, in Benjamin’s experience, he has never seen any successful startups that worked on an idea that is one of its kind in the world. 

The differentiation factors are the market, financing and mentors. In other words, the local ecosystem where a startup may operate. The market is much more impactful on the success or failure of a startup compared to the idea itself.

Customer development is crucial for a startup’s success. Startups and businesses in general are never about planning only, but about how well you execute the idea and your plans. This is especially true for startups where there are a lot of uncertainties involved. Therefore, spend more time to get to know your customers rather than building the product first.

Share ideas with other people. Do not be afraid that someone else will copy your idea. In fact, having a competitor is always a good sign, especially for investors. Investors always look for a viable business model, competitive advantage (moat / barrier to entry) and lower risks. When you share ideas, you get input for your concepts, you learn more and help each other. In Silicon Valley, the rule of thumb is to always share what you are doing, including with your competitors. You would only want to hold back on really sensitive topics like the potential investors you are currently negotiating with, or your “secret sauce” on how you execute.

2nd Stage – Growth

This is the part where you have built your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and need to grow your startup. In other words, crossing the chasm.

Be straight to the point.

  • People need to understand your service in 5 seconds, or else they leave.
  • he more text/explanation about your product, the more complicated it will appear to users. These complexities points to design failure.
  • Just show it, instead of trying to
  • explain what the service is doing. Learn the trick to


  • charm your users and get them to do something in 5 seconds.
  • Story of AirBnB – they started off in a very specific niche – helping visitors to San Francisco to book accomodation. How do they draw in customers? By taking attractive photos and views of the places that offers accomodation. 
Email is effective. You may need to rely on some tricks initially to draw in users. A great example is how Quora initially  

  • emailed people whom they knew have the answer to the questions, then asking them to answer it. As high quality content begin to accumulate, Quora got into a virtuous cycle of good content attracting new users who would ask interesting questions, which will in turn generate more high quality content.
  • Quora email to Ben, 7 out of 10 questions got his interest and he clicked on it
  • RapLyrics – let someone translate the meaning of the lyrics in a rap song. Grew really fast, then they realize they can extend the platform for anything – rock songs, Quran, the Bible, etc
  • There is always features to add. If no one use it, quickly remove it. If people really want it, if you remove it, people will start screaming. So do not hesistate to remove features
  • Startups sometimes build buttons and to track how many people actually click on it
  • Example of Google+ Circles – people will not add their friends to circles unless they are forced
  • If you have an ugly feature it does not matter if people uses it
  • Google and Facebook Ads are not useful for startups, squeeze between big companies who knows what they are doing and have deep pockets, and those who get free credit and over-bid
  • One way is to run 10 campaigns, kill of 9 that does not work well. Then repeat on that 1 campaign to 10 and kill the non-performing 9
  • Example in Zalora, they notice a lot of clicks under 25 but do not buy anything. So they focus on more expensive ads but better conversion.
  • Target niche blog writers
  • The more you learn about your market, the more you can target it
  • Targetting manga/anime fans in Facebook is much better than targeting gamers on Facebook because you are competing against Zynga
  • If you wwant to target teengage boys, think about where else you can find them – i.e. anime/manga fans

What Ben learned

  • You must be very focused
  • Must have very clear demographics

  • Competitors is inertia
  • Try to be a speaker at events – you get to know other speakers, you introduce yourself, an investor might be interested (soft/indirect pitch)
  • If a big company copies your idea, you go to the media, complaining that you are being ripped-off. You can get lots of good press and attract customers.
  • Understand your customer better
  • Scrappy ideas like stickers
  • You should also be able to execute better than the big companies
  • Probably looking at acqui-hring – example Groupon

  • Investors look for low level of risk and barrier of entry
  • Investors look for fast growth. Aiming for 20x growth, realistically 5x

  • Cohort analysis is very important
  • Example: out of 12 startups in Korea, only 1 of them have cohort analysis. Gamified alarm clock. The table shows the retention.

This article was originally published at Han Xue’s personal blog.