3 Ways To Start Hustling based on The Lean Startup Methodology

Getting started is one of the biggest roadblocks for aspiring entrepreneurs. The Lean Startup Methodology has been hailed to help startups achieve maximum acceleration at a minimal cost.
We engaged in a lecture and hands-on session about running a startup, the lean way. Conducted by Bryan Long, Co-Founder of Stack and Founder of The Testing Ground, we knew we were in good hands.
We have combined our key takeaways from the session with our own experiences to share 3 ways you can get hustling!

1. Embrace Failure

Singapore is no Silicon Valley. We avoid failure like the plague!
However, failure is a mental hurdle that founders must cross and eventually, embrace. Want to reach the finish line faster? Fail early and learn early.
Failure has been lauded as the mother of success, and for good reason. Startups that ultimately succeed emerged from failure after failure while iterating on their ideas.
At TreeDots, we’ve been shoved out of offices and spat in the face. Our early ideas were far from perfect. The F&B industry was also a brutal one. We were uncertain, tired and discouraged.
But we pushed on.

2. Test Your Idea

Startups don’t usually start with deep pockets. When we’re strapped for resources, developing a perfect prototype can often be out of the question.
The solution: Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP-yes, you read that right!) An MVP is the fastest way to effectively test if your idea and return with the most valuable insights.
Traditionally, corporations can take up to a year to develop their business models, prototypes and final products before finally testing them.
As a startup, you can run your tests monthly or even weekly with an MVP. That’s 52 times more opportunities for validated learning!
Our MVP was a photo of a blemished head of cabbage. We went door-to-door, showed this photo on our phones to potential customers and asked, “Would you buy this, if it was cheaper than the market price?”
Our MVP cost us nothing to produce, and taught us that:
  • Food distributors and importers are our potential customers, not wholesalers.
  • There was a market for ugly but perfectly edible food.
  • Yes, we can continue building on our idea.

3. Make Continuous Improvements

After rounds of testing with your MVP, you are sure to end up with lots of data. Use the insights and feedback you received to decide whether to pivot or iterate.
Were your initial assumptions correct? Can you proceed with several tweaks in your business model? If yes, go ahead and make iterations to further refine and develop your idea.
If no, your idea may require a pivot– A change in your business model while maintaining the essence of your initial vision. Remember, the changes you are making should be guided by the data you have collected from your tests.
Here at TreeDots, our ultimate goal is to reduce food waste.
We started by thinking that food caterers would be our perfect early-adopters. We assumed that they had flexibility over their menus and were accruing low-profit margins from their sales.
Over time, we realised that these food caterers value their relationships with their food suppliers. They were also already well-versed in the art of negotiating for the best prices to survive in the low margin environment.
It turned out that our service wasn’t that valuable towards that sector at the beginning.
This called for a change in our entry strategy. We shifted our focus to organisations that wanted to procure their raw ingredients at less competitive prices. These organisations included small restaurants, cafes and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs),
A pivot in our target audience then became key to kickstart our sales.

Start Hustling Now

Get creative with designing your MVP. Go out and talk to your customers, users and partners. Consolidate feedback and make iteration after iteration. Prepare to fail but also be sure to emerge wiser after every stumble.

4 Things We learned as a Startup at the VCIC Asia Regional Finals

When we were invited to the Venture Capitalist Investment Competition (VCIC) Asia Regional Finals on 3/3/18 to participate as a startup, we couldn’t say no. An opportunity to practice our pitches, learn how to negotiate terms and rub shoulders with actual venture capitalists(VCs)? We’re definitely in!

Tyler pitching at VCIC. Image credit: nbs gradstudies

This was definitely a most rewarding experience for us. And today, we want to share four of our biggest takeaways!

The Appeal of Social Enterprises

Prior to the competition, we had the impression that compared to deep tech companies, a social enterprise like ours wouldn’t stand a chance.

Hence, it was surprising when we found that our social impact was the most appealing factor to the VCs. Not only were they heartened by what we were doing, they also felt that social causes like ours were worthwhile investments!

This came from many of the students who would go on to become VCs. And our value proposition turned out to be our social impact.

We realised that times have changed and that we definitely had a distinct edge over purely profit-driven companies.

Always Seek Out Like-Minded Investors

VCs will be the ones helping you scale up and grow. They will connect you with the right networks that are key to the success of your startup. What happens if there’s a mismatch between your interests or worst still, your end-goals?

We learned that an ideal VC would:

  • See value in what you are creating
  • Want to achieve your goals with you
  • Have the capabilities to help you achieve the very same goals

So, always be on the lookout for investors with the capacity and interests to help your startup achieve your long-term goals.

Know Your Term Sheet Clauses

Knowing how to negotiate the terms in a term sheet is essential to secure a good investment. The negotiation session at VCIC was certainly helpful in preparing us for such occasions in the future.

How do we differentiate between an agreement that is favourable or not? How can we protect the interests of both the investor and the founder? These are questions that we as founders, need to know how to answer.

If you are planning to raise funds through seeking out potential investors, we highly encourage you to know this skill like the back of your hand! Doing so will not only help protect the shares of the investors and founders, but also ensure that your startup is going in the right direction.

The Team Matters Most

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it once more.

After a networking session with the VCs, we’ve ascertained this fact yet again. While our profit margin, market size and company traction are key to securing investments, these factors are secondary. Our primary objective should always be building a strong team first.

Your team matters most because you will be the ones bringing the ideas to life. Business ideas can change and your company’s performance can improve. But your team is forever!

How We Won the Grand Prize at the Social Startup Challenge 2018

Recently, we won the Grand Prize at the Institution of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Social Startup Challenge 2018! Hurrah!

IMAGE 2018-03-07 11:29:03.jpg

Woohoo! TreeDots at the Social Startup Challenge 2018

This would not have been possible without the help of our interns Jia Le and Yu Sheng, who also represented us at the competition.

Creating Real Impact

The award was a sign of validation that here at TreeDots, we are doing real work. At the competition, we shared about two of our social impacts: one, reducing food waste; and two, providing affordable food prices to lower-income groups.

At TreeDots, we don’t simply sell to businesses. We also reach out to lower-income groups and ensure that for them, each meal only costs $0.48. Because of that, they are able to meet their required 2 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of meat per day. This was not achievable with the prices at supermarkets.

To top it off, our judges at the competition were active players in the social entrepreneurship scene. It was heartening to know that all our hard work had been recognised.

Tough Times Don’t Last…

As of February 2018, we saved a whopping 1.5 tonnes of food– our biggest achievement to date. We started out with lots of hurdles because we were new to the industry and had to learn everything from scratch. During our first 2 months of operations, we only made $200 in revenue.

However, we pulled through. We continued making refinements and spoke to our advisors. Ultimately, we managed to save so much food in just 6 months.  Seeing the impact we made is a huge validation. Previously, we constantly questioned ourselves if we were doing the right thing. Now, we want to make that number grow, and grow exponentially!

…Tough Teams Do

The three of us have varied skill sets and experiences. Hence, we all come in from different angles and that really value-adds to the team. You want different skills and styles of thinking so that you have different ways of approaching a problem.

Cai (also known as Jia Cai) puts on the table the tech skills and expertise that Tylor and I lack. Tylor’s experience in investment banking helps increase our sales and attract potential investors. I go micro, and it helps because I’m handling the operations.

That’s how we value-add each other.

Eliminate all Fear

The startup scene can be very intimidating. Our advice to budding entrepreneurs is:  START DOING. If you have an idea, you’d have some things you wanna test- go ahead and test it. Test it and talk to somebody! When you start doing and getting your hands dirty, you’ll eliminate that initial fear.

You WILL face rejection, and that’s okay. If lots of people reject your idea, that’s good too because then you’ll realise that you might be doing certain things the wrong way.

And that’s a wrap! Today, we learned: 

  1. When you’re faced with setbacks, keep refining your idea until it works.
  2. Work with others with different strengths and skills to bring out the best in your team!
  3. Have an idea? Start doing now! You’ll overcome your fear once you try!

 

How did TreeDots celebrate Chinese New Year?

It all started with a quick discussion at SMUAA B3 Cafe, an idea to give back to the unsung heroes who have been keeping our alma mater as conducive and beautiful as what we had always known it for. Everything was fuzzy, nothing was solidified, but all of us only had one goal in mind – to express our heartfelt thanks to these quiet heroes in SMU this lunar new year.

TreeDots, SMU Grow, and SMUAA B3 decided to come together, each pooling our expertise, to whip up something amazing for our school’s 100 cleaners, technicians, security guards, and contract staff on the 7th day of lunar new year. Why the 7th? According to Chinese tradition, this day is everybody’s birthday! So what better day to show our gratitude!

After much planning and consideration, we decided to do a few things for these lovely people:

  1. Lo-Hei! A tradition where the Chinese set up a raw fish salad while uttering auspicious phrases and toss it as high as possible to usher in a year of prosperity;
  2. Buffet – how can a party not have a feast;
  3. Goodies bag for them to take home something after;

A campaign was thus set up to start raising funds and we were so touched by the generosity of the SMU circle – within a short span of two days, we had hit our initial target of S$1,500! At the end of the fundraising campaign, we raised a whopping S$1,900!

After all the hard work (and donations), the results were truly satisfying when we see the buzz of excitement and happy faces at the end of the day –

Albeit a simple event, it really felt like an extended family reunion for everybody. The funds collected went a long way since we managed to maximise food supplies and reduce food wastage. All of this couldn’t have been done without the help of all the donors, volunteers, organisers, SMU Grow, and B3!

Receipts –

lo-hei appreciation receipts

TreeDots at EarthFest Singapore 2018 – Our first ever event!

Some time in December, TreeDots was invited to set up a booth at EarthFest Singapore 2018. We were having a bunch of mixed feelings then, it was between excitement and fear because of the same reason, the entire TreeDots team had never set up a booth before!

Fast forward till now, we were glad we went took the leap of faith and went along with joining EarthFest Singapore 2018. Plenty of sleepless night, and thankful for some of our friends who decided to help us out – special thanks to Flora Artisan for helping us with the styling of the entire booth! The weather was great that day as well, despite having rained for the past few days.

TreeDots Founder Team at Earthfest Singapore 2018

TreeDots Founder Team at Earthfest Singapore 2018 with our booth beautifully set up by Flora Artisan

Made plenty of new friends along the way, started a new product specially for that which is awesome for our fresh produce sellers onboard – Adopting a Veggie box. Nobody knows what will be under-demanded by the market, and being able to put them into a box and sell it to customers whom are cool with surprises? PERFECT PLAN. Check them out here, and probably order some to take a break off grocery shopping for a week (or more) and prevent all these perfectly fine vegetables from being thrown away!

Many exciting collaborations are also in place, we met organic farmers who are keen on being listed on our platform, content generators willing to help us publicise our ideals, professional executives who are volunteering to improve our business operations for free, and we even got ourselves a short paragraph in a Straits Times article!

We thank everyone whom have supported us thus far, and for those whom have missed EarthFest, worry not for we have taken a short montage of us working hard that day for you!

Click here to view if the video isn’t working!

With this, the event is over and we thank all of you for your continuous support. Do check out our page more often for more upcoming events!