4 years after starting Fitbots OKRs, I am proud to share that yes — we did survive. We have 40000+ OKRs on our product, have 3800+ users & teams using us, 250 certified OKRs specialists part of our network, and awesome customers. I feel the climb has just started and we need to do so much more!
My co-founder Kashi and I were co -workers in our previous company. We had fairly long enterprise careers, and moved away from the warmth of the herd to set up a SaaS startup.
I get asked a question often — as a Founder who is a woman, do you find it hard to run your own company? The answer is, yes , starting a startup is one of the hardest climb of my life for sure. This is true for men or women.
The complexity for women entrepreneurs may be more with the demands of childcare, juggling chores, the personal desire of many, to be a great mom or daughter or sibling or spouse, along with building a business.
I have known of women (including myself) cringe when someone says ‘Female Founder’ or ‘Woman Leader’. Why the prefix? Shouldn’t these words be agnostic of gender? Well, statistics unfortunately tell a very bleak story. According to Statistica, only 20% of Startups globally, have at least 1 woman founder. A dismal 2% raised venture funding in 2021.
This article is really not about whether women founders are successful or not, but more about what it would take to build a SaaS start up amidst juggling home, work, family demands, raising kids and more.
If anyone told you start ups = money, and you could get rich over time. Think again. Start ups have the highest failure rates and 90% may never make it out of the tunnel. The stress test of any start up is , is there a real problem and is there a big enough market for it and do you have a go-to-market eventually.
The first version of Fitbots was a ‘career fitness’ product. We went on to solve the problem of how individuals / professionals can manage their careers. We were a 2 member engineering team that built the first version, and my job was to get the 1st customer.
Our MVP had a sign up page, a career assessment , which threw up a bunch of career options. We got our first POC, a 30 member project team to use Fitbots. As Founders you would want people eating off your hand after a product launch, and there we were looking helplessly at no damn repeat user. Clearly we were way off!
So, we got to speak to users, and realized quickly that while careers were important, the need to feel successful in their jobs and add value was more. Another interesting trend was the conversation around outcomes, with John Doerr’s bestseller ‘Measure What Matters’ making the rounds across the globe, gobbled by CEOs worldwide. CEO’s being the best sponsors of OKRs started seeking OKRs solutions.
We spotted this as a macro trend, and pivoted to OKRs.
Unlike CRM software , Email automation tools or Employee Engagement software which are highly commoditized (check the G2 grid below), OKRs was definitely in a non commoditized category.
Patience is key, as you would get a lot of brickbats, and very little bouquets.
Stay strong… Mentally
As shared earlier, building a startup is one of the hardest things I have attempted. While I get a lot of encouragement from friends and family , the pain and troughs one goes through is immense.
Withering through the many lows could make you question yourself, and I found it very hard to come over the imposter syndrome. ‘Hey, can I really do this? Am I doing enough?’
As Founders, we also have this hard time not transferring the lows to our family. For instance, my kid would come over to me for help with homework, while having a difficult conversation on funnel metrics, conversions or churn. Switching context is essential, as they both are so precious indeed!
Remember, COVID had a parallel processing of school, homework, strategizing , product building, customer calls, dog walking all happening together.
Being strong mentally is important — if a Founder gives up, it is visible to all, especially your team.
Measure, Measure… Value Metrics
Being bootstrapped for 2 years teaches you survival. We raised money from Business angels, towards the end of 2020 . Our Customers would be the best to fund us, was the theory that my co founder and I had.
So, here were the metrics we measured early
We focussed heavily on discoverability, before measuring the number of demos.
Building new networks is key to growth. Being a Founder requires building networks, and amplifying them. One quick exercise which I did when I started was a demographics and diversity of my current network.
Communities are a great way to get started, and building one’s network. Even if I suck at giving time away from work hours, COVID 19 made networking virtual, which saves immense commute time, but still gives the 1:1 opportunity.
While many of what I mention is agnostic of a Founder’s gender, I have learnt that being better planned has improved execution over the years.
Vidya Santhanam is the Co-Founder of Fitbots OKRs. Having coached 600+ teams, and conducted 1000+ check-in meetings, Vidya likes writing about Metrics, high performance, and leadership.
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