I spoke today with my former student, Jose Luis Roqueñi. He is CEO of Genio, a startup software platform for service companies (cleaning crews, etc). He founded the company with his brother, Juan Pablo, and two friends Babak and Behrooz last year.
Genio automates and optimizes scheduling, dispatching, attendance, and overall operations for service companies. Their platform incorporates AI, deep-learning, IoT, and even a facial-recognition feature.
They originally launched Genio as a marketplace for connecting service companies with people looking for services. “We found out that marketplaces are just hard”, said Jose Luis. “You need a critical mass of buyers and sellers, and getting there by adding them one-at-a-time is a long, slow slog”. So they pivoted their startup, changing the model into an enterprise (b2b) software platform.
Suddenly they got the traction they were looking for. “After our pivot, we realized our first six enterprise customers had over 200,000 employees”, Jose Luis said, “so we instantly had access to user scale that would have been very difficult to get to with our original model”.
I often tell my students that getting customers is hard, and getting them one-at-a-time is really hard. So always look for opportunities to get a bunch of customers at once. Sometimes this might mean making a deal with a trade association (if you’re selling a product for doctors, for example, then a deal with the American Medical Association might suddenly give you access to thousands of doctors).
I asked Jose Luis what else he’s learned so far in his entrepreneurial journey. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that opportunities are always found by talking to customers. Every crucial insight I’ve learned as a CEO has been from talking to customers”. This is such a key point.
He continued, “The second thing I’ve learned is that communication within your team is really imperative. Running a startup means that you are improvising every day — there is no playbook to follow. So if I learn a valuable insight from a customer in the morning I need to make sure that’s communicated to the engineering team by the afternoon”.
In listening to him I realized what a key point this is. Everyone talks about startups needing to be “agile”, But if the CEO is being agile in his way, and the engineering team is being agile in their way, and the product management team is being agile in their own way, then they damn well better be communicating closely all day long, or they’ll be doing three different agile dances. Agile is good, but disconnected agile is not.
I have no doubt that Jose Luis and his brother will continue to succeed. Look for ways to get customers in bunches, find opportunities by talking to customers every day, and work hard to keep internal communication rapid and clear. Three excellent points, Jose Luis.