Insightful takes on scaling your business

Here’s why ‘if you build it, they will come’ is shitty advice

Tech Will Save Us co-founder Bethany Koby on the best (and worst) advice she's ever received

bethany-tech-will-save-us-gq-advice
Yessi Bello Perez
Story by
Yessi Bello Perez

Senior Writer, Growth QuartersYessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters. Yessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters.

yessibelloperez

Bethany Koby and her husband Daniel Hirschmann founded Tech Will Save Us in 2012 after toy shopping for their young son left them feeling frustrated.

The company, which makes DIY electronic kits for children aged from four up to 11+, started small: around the founders’ kitchen table — it now operates in 97 countries.

Over the years, Koby says she’s received plenty of advice — some good and other less so.

“The best piece of advice I was given was that being an entrepreneur is a journey and not a destination. Also, no matter how big your business gets, you should know and care about everyone on your team — personally and professionally,” she says.

[Read: Vestiaire Collective’s CEO: Self-disrupt to keep up with customers’ evolving needs and wants]

Conversely, the worst piece of advice she ever received was someone telling her that if you build it, they will come — it’s simply not true. “You need to help them find it,” Koby says knowingly.

Launching a product — what you need to know

Launching a new product is always hard. Businesses need to ensure there’s hunger for such a product, and if there isn’t, they must create it — and when you’re producing something for children, you need to create buy-in from their parents.

“All products need to solve a need, so find out what need you are solving for parents and keep discovering all the nuances in this need,” Koby says.

Communication is also key. “Be sure to communicate in a way that parents understand and that resonates with them — don’t assume they know what your product does and how. Explain, explain, and explain again,” she notes.

Founded in 2012, Tech Will Save Us produces a wide range of DIY kits for kids aged 4-11+.

Content, although often underestimated, also plays a vital role:

“Parents are often looking for information or guidance and this is a key driver of purchasing. We have built a large and passionate community by engaging with parents in an accessible, informative, and playful way.”

Running a business isn’t easy — the learning curves

As is the case with every single business, both new and old, a founder’s entrepreneurial journey is filled with learning curves — some more steep than others.

Koby says she’s made huge mistakes in hiring and firing. In hindsight, she would have hired people with more senior and with more transferable, similar experience much sooner.

Getting the culture right hasn’t been easy either. “Culture is a mirror of its founders and values evolve over time — they are not static,” she adds.

Her biggest piece of advice in this sense is for founders to keep “iterating, revising, and keeping culture alive and representative of the behaviors and values the business needs.”

Culture, she adds, is the thing that will be there in the darkest days and in the biggest wins.

It’d be foolish to think that every business CEO should behave in the same way.

“Being a CEO is different for every business and every founder,” Koby highlights.

“There is no single job description but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a job description and clear responsibilities,” she says, adding “It was important for me to write out my job and responsibilities as well as what I didn’t want to do or wasn’t good at to build the right team around me.”

Being a small fish in a big pond — and working with sharks

Over the years, Tech Will Save Us has collaborated with several industry heavyweights, namely Google, Disney, and the BBC.

Reaching out to such huge corporations can be intimidating to say the least but Koby says it’s important to know what your business is great at and lean into this area in a partnership.

“When we worked with the BBC, we represented the young person (a child). We are great at user centered product development and this was the key skill and experience we brought to this partnership,” she explains.

“I would advise people not to work for free or sacrifice your business in the hope of the partnership ‘working’ and be upfront in quantifying what you need in order to reach a partnership,” Koby adds.

Try to find strategic alignment quickly. Ask yourself what you and this partner can do that you couldn’t do separately and why you can do it better together — only then, can you expect to form a meaningful and viable business partnership.

Published May 18, 2020 — 10:23 UTC