From the very beginning one of the goals of the High-Tech SeedLab was to establish the foundations of peer learning and support. For this reason, the blog-series “Lessons Learned of Startup Founders” features interviews with experienced founders from this year’s batch. They share their ups and downs, tricks and tips to motivate and inspire new founders out there. Next one up in this series is Mitul Jain, Founder and CEO of Leaf.
Before joining the High-Tech SeedLab with Christopher “Chris” Kane, Founder and COO of Leaf, Mitul had already worked in a bunch of areas: Ranging from founding his own company in the past to working in management consulting and for SaaS companies in the high-tech sector. During his studies Mitul started his first startup “CheckItOut”, a platform that allowed people on campus universities to buy and sell furniture, old books and electronics. After graduation and a year of work he started Presstler, a press & social media analytics platform. Their technology helped brands find out what was said about them on the internet and react quickly to it and also use that information to think of how to target their next press activities.
Now with Leaf, Mitul and Chris want to make it easy for customers and merchants to get the most value out of receipt data. By enabling digital receipts, Leaf offers several benefits to customers, merchants and also the planet through saving paper. The Leaf app is able to analyse buying habits & enable merchants to engage with customers post purchase. Customers on the other hand can for instance track returns and guarantees or send data to their banking, expense management or tax apps. In the following interview Mitul shares the lessons he has learned during his founding experiences. He also explains the benefits of being part of an accelerator:
Mitul, what are your three biggest learnings from your first founding experience?
- “Sell it before you build it. What we did wrong with Presstler is we spent too much time building the software before actually selling it and talking to customers about their needs.
- Always talk to the customer at every step of the way.
- Really understand your audience. One of the other mistakes we made was to focus very strongly on small and medium enterprises who don’t yet have these needs instead of bigger companies who do. So, be very clear on understanding your customer target profile.”
What will you do differently this time?
“Follow exactly those rules. I think one of the things we are doing differently this time is talking to customers and users at every step along the way. And really trying to understand what their pain points are.
Also, before actually building a new feature, we go outside and sell it. Not actually selling it of course but sort of offering it to the merchants and asking if they would need this feature and if it solves a problem for them. This time we have a very clear focus on our target market. We are trying to cater to them and validate regularly.”
Your first startup grew out of a seed accelerator in Chile, is that correct? To what extent did the accelerator program fulfil your expectations?
“It was great because it gave us access to a very international network of entrepreneurs and investors. And it was a luxury because it provided us with a pretty safe environment. They gave us equity free money, so for 8 to 9 months we didn’t have to worry about income or accommodation. We also had cool mentors to learn from. The community effect was also very strong. We found support and learned from each other.”
Why did you decide to join an accelerator with Leaf as well?
“Partly because of my experience from the first time. I think there are a couple of very clear benefits of being part of such a program. One is the community aspect which also applies to the High-Tech SeedLab. We are a small batch but people are ready to provide feedback and are easy to access.
The second thing is accountability. If you are part of an accelerator and working with other startups you kind of also have- with the weekly stand-ups and bi-weekly check-ins – some notion of being on a certain timeline. Especially at the beginning when everything seems really urgent it’s good to have a moment to check in with others outside of your own little bubble.”
Being a founder can sometimes be overwhelming. What was a rather dark time for you as a founder?
“The first time around I was attaching my personal well-being and happiness to the success of the startup. It’s one important learning from the past to remember that these are two different things.”
What would your ultimate motivation quote be for future entrepreneurs?
“There is an infinite amount of opportunities out there and you have much less to lose than you think you do. You will only regret not trying. That’s basically my life philoshopy: Try and if it doesn’t work at least I tried & learnt something new.”
What are your favorite entrepreneurial resources that you would recommend to early entrepreneurs?
I” think all of the essays by Paul Graham. In terms of fundraising and investment there is a lot of good content by Steve Blank. The most meaningful resources are the ones that give you smart insights on taking a very lean approach. Also anything that helps you understand human behavior like psychology or UX books. Those are really helpful because at the end of the day if you are building something you need to be solving someone’s problem.”
Thanks for your time Mitul, it was quite an inspiring interview. You gave some smart tips that young entrepreneurs will find quite useful.
Are you also an experienced entrepreneur who wants to share her/his experience? Then contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The High-Tech SeedLab team and the batch 2020 is always looking for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and learn from.