Startup Diaries: Pivoting all the Way to Success!

Our team started almost 9 years ago as an outsourcing company. It’s not unusual for small, profitable East European companies to invest in projects of their own, and we were no exception.

After a few years of developing projects for clients from both Europe and US,  we had gathered a lot of technical knowledge, more than enough to build a “baby” website of our own. In a few months, we ended up with an e-learning website, which was both nice looking and useful.

After we launched it, users started to register, setting the grounds of what looked like a small local community. The main problem was that we had no idea on how to monetize it or transform it into something scalable at an international level. We were not gaining enough from advertisement, and our main effort was wasted on developing features instead of coming up with a marketing strategy.

We felt that something was not working well and we didn’t know how to fix it, so we blamed the local market and moved on to the next project. This time the idea was green websites – meaning websites that neutralize their Carbon Dioxide footprint by buying green certificates. By embedding a widget, the overall electric energy for each website was calculated using traffic related data and statistics. We felt that we needed to promote it better than the first project, so we started using social media and writing articles. The effort paid off after a few months, although it wasn’t what we had expected – in 2010, we were selected into the first batch of teams of the Startupbootcamp business accelerator.

You would think that luck struck us then, and you may be partially correct – but the reality was our green project died within the first week into the accelerator. Startupbootcamp was our wake up call, and we all know wake up calls are rarely nice. The flood of mentors, pitching rounds and feedback was overwhelming in the first weeks, so much that it made us question our idea. The harsh reality is that a project aiming to change the world by calling on the good side of people doesn’t belong in the hands of an inexperienced team. Yes, we did have a lot of technical skills, but our selling skills were virtually non-existent. We were like baby ducklings learning how to paddle and stay afloat.

During those confusing times, Webcrumbz was born – mostly from our desire to try out something that was both scalable and technical at the same time. It was a much better fit because it didn’t involve only selling, we could also tap into our technical knowledge. Webcrumbz started out as a platform offering mobile friendly websites, then moved on to mobile web apps and HTML5. Back then, Financial Times had yet to make a statement with their own mobile web app and millions of users, so HTML5 was not taken very seriously. We also gradually narrowed our market, starting with multiple industries like restaurants, conferences, hotels, e-commerce websites, etc. and ended up focusing on small and medium publishers.

Having a startup thought us a lot and we quickly learned that we couldn’t apply the same rules that we very well knew from outsourcing.

In the beginning, people didn’t care about what we did, because we did it wrong. We quickly figured out that people are sensible mostly when it comes to their money or their problems . We learned that negative feedback hits you a hundred times harder when it’s related to something you believe in.

We realized that strength is in numbers, and that beta customers are important even though they don’t earn us anything. We found out that our communication strategy is essential and that we can’t get everyone to like us. We learned how to present on stage, how to write articles and how to promote each member of the team. We focused on developing marketing strategies and implemented a scalable platform that can grow and expand quickly.

It was a long and difficult process. Pivoting is natural in a startup and it helped us find the right path, but that doesn’t change the fact it was born out of necessity and the difficulties we faced. Today, Webcrumbz is the company behind Appticles.com, a platform with a clear value proposition, paying customers and lots of positive feedback. We settled on building HTML5 apps with a superior interface, distribution and monetization components for small and medium publishers. Our effort paid off when our apps started winning awards, like being one of the finalists for the Mobile Premiere Awards in Barcelona, winning the Mobile Web App of the Day Award from TheFWA.com and the Silver prize for Best MobiSite at Mobilio Awards 2013.

It was nice to see our work being rewarded. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe outsourcing is bad. After all, it provided us with the means to bootstrap and finance our startup, and without it there would be no team or Appticles today. If I had to compare the experiences, I think the word “different” says most of it, although I can find some common positive ground between the two, like building trust by delivering on promises and responding quickly.

Of course, the startup lessons are by no means over. There are still many things to be learned and mistakes to be made. The path of our startup is not laid with flowers and fluffy clouds, but we will follow it anyway and see where it takes us. I believe that’s what makes us entrepreneurs.