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This article was published on March 27, 2020

How I grew my third startup faster than ever before

Third time's the charm, but here's some tips on how to get it right the first time.

How I grew my third startup faster than ever before
Goncalo de Vasconcelos
Story by

Goncalo de Vasconcelos

Founder & CEO, Rnwl

Gonçalo is a serial entrepreneur who founded Rnwl, his third company. Goncalo is also a guest lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Fintech at th Gonçalo is a serial entrepreneur who founded Rnwl, his third company. Goncalo is also a guest lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Fintech at the University of Cambridge and a regular speaker around the world at major conferences and for media including BBC, Forbes, Financial Times and The Sunday Times amongst others.

It was six times quicker to launch Rnwl, my current startup, than my previous one. The level of complexity, product novelty, and financial requirements are particularly similar between the two. Yet this time it took me just four months to build the product, the team and the funding to a satisfactory level whereas it took nearly 24 months to get to a similar position with my previous startup, SyndicateRoom (SR).

What was it that allowed me to deliver so much faster? And why is it that serial entrepreneurs seem to execute far faster than they did their first-time around? Sure, experience is key. But what is it that serial entrepreneurs do differently when building a new company? More importantly, how can it be replicated by first time entrepreneurs?

Below are the top five things I am doing differently this time around as I build my latest InsurTech startup Rnwl, which focus on insurance renewals. The good news is that they can mostly be replicated by first-time entrepreneurs. The bad news is that I have no idea whether it increases the chance of success — but I think it’s worth a shot.

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1) Read. A lot.

I stepped down from the role of CEO of SR last Summer. As it happens, it was a great summer weather wise and I made the best out of it by reading out in the garden. And I read a lot. And I mean a lot. I read on the matters I felt I needed the most. I now find myself using the knowledge gained on a daily basis and revisiting some of the books every now and then, particularly the marketing ones.

Spending time reading may sound like a frivolous waste of time when you are itching to build a company, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the important details behind Rnwl came to my mind as I was reading. The time spend reading before starting to work on building Rnwl gave me time to learn and think. To plan. To prepare to execute quickly. These are trying times, but try to make the most of it and lay to foundation to realizing your vision.

2) Hire an experienced founding team

Never underestimate the difference it makes to have an experienced founding team. You should hire the very best founding team you can afford. Attitude and personality will only take you so far. Having an experienced team with the right attitude and personality will help delivering better quality results much quicker and both are crucial if you want to survive the early stages of a company.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done and it’s probably one of the toughest challenges for entrepreneurs. Hiring without capital is tough. Raising capital without a team is even tougher.

This challenge becomes slightly less hard for serial entrepreneurs with a good track record for two reasons.

Firstly it’s easier to raise pre-seed rounds without having a team in place. In Rnwl’s case, investors bet on my ability to execute and hoped for the best.

Secondly, potential hires also take a bet on the entrepreneur’s track record and vision. This meant potential hires were open to joining an unproven startup by balancing the risk of never getting anywhere versus the opportunity of being involved with a great company from the very beginning. The highly experienced team behind Rnwl is making a huge difference in terms of speed and quality of execution. 

So my advice to you is to hire the very best you can afford. Think outside of pure salary: option schemes, the excitement of being involved in a startup, the ability to define the roadmap of the company and the working culture are all points in favor of a good startup when compared to large corporates. Use them to your advantage.

3) Obsess about customers, product and the value proposition, not the fund raising

Raising capital is a worthwhile exercise as entrepreneurs are able to capture valuable feedback from potential investors, even if they don’t invest. However, spending too much time fund raising is going to divert the entrepreneur’s energy and focus from what really matters: the customers.

When I founded SR I had to spend far too much time trying to raise capital. This meant that I didn’t have enough time to focus on the customers, the product and the value proposition. Raising capital is always time consuming, but with Rnwl I was able to strike a much better balance. I was able to focus far more in understanding what customers valued in the product. As a result we were able to nail the value proposition behind Rnwl, even if we are not disclosing it quite yet.

The reality is that if you’ve nailed your value proposition you will have a much easier time with potential investors. Get the value proposition right. Talk to potential customers and find out what they really think and keep your mind open to tweaks and changes to your product and idea.

4) Do everything faster

You can save a lot of time by using online tools that make your life much easier. Xero or similar (plenty of options around) for accounting, SeedLegals or similar for capital raising, Vestd or SeedLegals for options’ plans, Expensify for employee expenses, ReceiptBank for receipts, one of the challenger banks for company cards and so on.

Anything that allows you to get on with things and focus on your customers, your product and your value proposition is worth the usually small monthly fee. Use these time saving tools and move on. Focus on what adds value to the company: the customers.

5) Focus

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to be attracted by the unknown and the shiny new opportunity for the business to expand. I’m very guilty of this. However, this is rather counterproductive when building a startup. Serial entrepreneurs are far better at focusing on the core vision and product. They define what the value proposition is and then stick to it. They make sure they deliver and leave satellite opportunities alone. It’s powerful to say ‘No’.

It took me far too long to learn this last one and, I hate to admit, I still struggle with it. I mean, how am I supposed to resist the latest shiny new opportunity? Except this time I did and the team behind Rnwl is laser focused on one common goal. The difference is noticeable. After all, there are good reasons why it was so much quicker to get to where we are this time around.

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