This article is a translation and resume of an article written by an old acquaintance of mine, Ismael Nzouetom, founder & CEO of I-Dispo a defunct company that offered a personal assistant solution. The narrative voice is thus Ismael’s not mine, i am just trying to reproduce the original article as faithfully as possible.
10 years ago, I left Microsoft with 5 years of experience, to launch my startup I-DISPO with 4 partners. The photo above marks this point when the startup was launched. That day, my startup idea was selected from among more than 250 candidates, to pitch in front of an audience of nearly 300 people and an exceptional jury.
France have not yet seen a similar high level startup pitch event at that time. Among the jury, you will find Steve Ballmer (Former boss of Microsoft), Xavier Niel (Founder of Free), Jacques-Antoine Granjon (founder of Veepee ex Vente-privée.com), Marc Simoncini (founder of Meetic), Jean-Marie Culpin (Orange Marketing Department), Pierre Olivier Carles (Investor) and the late Bruno Vanryb (Avanquest), peace to his soul.
Can you imagine? Me, the child of Nlongkak (popular district of Yaoundé-Cameroon)… Here I am, in front of this exceptional jury and this crowd pitching our startup that aims to become the future of online appointment booking …
After my presentation, when I saw the public’s standing ovation, and heard the opinions of the jury including Steve Ballmer, Xavier Niel, Jacques Antoine Granjon… I was so moved… that I said to myself “nothing is impossible ”.
I never imagined that after a launch with such great fanfare, after having raised more than $ 1 million from renowned investors such as Xavier Niel, Jacques Antoine Granjon, Fabrice Grinda. After having deployed our services in 3 continents, covering more than 10 countries. Experienced growth from 0 to 20 employees and from 0 to 1.5 million euros in turnover in less than 2 years. Attracted customers of the size of Renault Motors, April, Orange Telecommunications , MTN, Airtel, Microsoft. Received numerous prizes and distinctions in France and abroad … I was far from imagining myself, 10 years later, having to end this adventure with a liquidation, losing the money and the trust of some of my friends who had invested in the company, not to mention the impact on my personal life … I will try to tell our story in a transparent way …
The Startup idea clearly explained in this French explainer video:
For my startup I-DISPO, I have identified 5 key phases that can be summarized as:
1- The Startup Launch Phase: During this phase, the whole team is highly motivated and there is a lot of excitement… We told ourselves “can’t wait to present our genius idea to the general public, and see thousands of users throw themselves on it” .
2- Post-launch Phase: At this phase, we realize that the phenomenal results we were expecting are not there. The excitement of the beginning subsides. We are starting to see the cash gradually disappear and approach the risk of running out of cash.
3- The Pivot Phase: In the tech startups world, the term pivot is generally used to designate the process when a start-up changes its business model and / or its main product or service. In our case, we were 3 months away from bankruptcy, and we had to make a big change from the initial solution.
4- Growth Phase: The pivot was a success, we got our first paying customers, big increase in revenue, increase in the number of employees, second fundraising … The excitement was at its peak.
5- The Downfall Phase: After experiencing rapid growth, and for various external and internal reasons, we started a gradual descent into bankruptcy …
1- The Startup Launch Phase.
I-DISPO was born out of a personal need in early 2010. I wanted to make an appointment with a dentist (at the time Doctolib did not exist…). I had to make 14 calls to finally find a dentist who was available at a time that suited me.
I said to myself: “But wouldn’t it be great if it could have a platform where we could aggregate all the availability of local professionals: doctors, mechanics, beauty institutes, restaurants … and that in a few clicks we can book an appointment with them without having to make the slightest phone call ”. Idea was born, It was the start.
To bring this idea to fruition, I joined in March 2010 the first class of the Founder Institute in France (the Founder Institute – with headquarters in the Silicon Valley- is the most active incubator of ideas in the world). The incubator allows startup founders to mature their ideas while keeping their jobs. Made possible, thanks to classes and evening presentations, on the different areas and life of a digital startup, presented by successful French and American entrepreneurs.
I remember at the time, having been able to listen and interact with personalities such as Phil Libin the founder of Evernote, Christophe Cremer the founder of Meilleurstaux or Jonathan Benassaya the co-founder of Deezer. However, to be a “Graduate” of the incubator, you had to legally create your company before the end of the 6-month training. These 6 months have been so exciting that I decided to give the idea a go.
The first step was to constitute the founding team:
Abdou Diop, for the technical part, who was a long time friend and colleague at Microsoft;
Laurent Lecoeur, for the commercial part, who had an entrepreneurial and commercial background in large accounts that I met while prospecting;
Sylviane Kamga, a friend who at the time wanted to start a business not too different from I-DISPO, and who decided to join us.
We will be joined a little later by Michel Rotteleur, an IT architect with more than 20 years of development, former colleague of Microsoft.
After a first “Love Money” fundraising of 45,000 € from friends, family and colleagues, we were able to start.
Our first target release, was the development of a solution capable of being able to chat with any type of calendar or reservation system, and display availability on any medium. A sort of Doctolib but capable of interconnecting with any type of reservation system available from various local professionals, doctors but also beauty institutes, garages …
Identified Mistake: “Even if you think big, start small”, live by the famous “Think big, start small” quote.
My recommendation: Start with a niche (usually the one with the greatest customer pain) and tell yourself I will be the leader of that niche faster, learn and potentially expand to other niches. If we had applied this method starting with health, perhaps we would be now the current Doctolib.
A little anecdote: in 2012 as part of my fundraising effort, I had the opportunity to meet Stanilas Niox-Chateau, the founder of Doctolib. At the time, he worked for the SmartBox Ventures fund, which was the origin of the Lafourchette.com site. He had not wished to participate in our funding round for the reason that they did not believe in the capacity of a single company to achieve “the Lafourchette of everything”. From their experience with Lafourchette and the amount of effort needed, he thought there should be leaders by profession: a Lafourchette for beauty or a Lafourchette for health … In 2013, he created Doctolib that everyone knows, and one of the 13 French unicorns (a company valued at more than 1 billion euros). Well done Stanilas.
We started to develop the solution in light mode (all the partners had kept their jobs, and we were therefore working on I-DISPO in the evening and on weekends, or a few afternoons for prospecting meetings 😊).
The first highlight of this launch phase is October 07, 2010 when Windows Phone 7 is launched in France. The famous competition I mentioned at the beginning of this article when I-DISPO was one of 7 winners out of 250 applicants to be able to present their application. “Microsoft behaves like the new star of mobile applications”, headlined the newspaper Le Monde at the time (see image below).
That day, we came in fourth place in the competition. A few months later, we had our first real fundraising of 200K € which included: Xavier Niel via Kima Ventures, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Fabrice Grinda and the Nestadio Capital investment fund. It was magical ! We had big names in French entrepreneurship in our company. The kind of investors that we really call “Smart Money”, beyond money they helped us a lot, you will see later.
With these € 200K and various 0 interest loans and grants worth around € 100K, we were able to launch the development of the first consumer version of our solution and start prospecting for partners.
Then some associates resigned from their jobs to join the company full time, and we recruited a team of more than 4 developers to develop this first version which took almost 7 months and a total budget close to 400K €.
Identified Mistake: We had very high expenses compared to the stage the startup was. Very high Cash Burn rate.
My recommendation: Apply the lean startup principles, Lean Startup assumes that a startup is a business with the goal of creating new products or services under conditions that are uncertain. Lean Startup therefore consists of building your startup through iterations: launching a minimum offer, testing the market, adjusting your product, and starting over until you find the best idea to sell. And at each step, minimal resources should be used until you are sure that the product has truly met its market. In our case, with hindsight with less than 100K € we could have launched a first minimum version, analyze the results and adjust things. Today with less than 20K € we can launch and test an idea. I would even say in some markets with less than 5K €.
Short of cash, we had to organize an additional fundraising of around 250K € from business angels and a pool of more than 30 friends, former colleagues, family … that we put in a holding dubbed “I-DISPO Love Money” . Thanks to this fundraising, we were able to continue development, and in June 2011, we were ready to launch the first consumer version of our application, in France.
Imagine our satisfaction, our superb platform with an innovative system for comparing calendar availability in a fraction of a second was launched! In addition, we had found a clever way to have a large audience of potential users quickly, because instead of developing a portal specific to us, we had entered into partnerships with portals / directories (Microsoft Bing, 118218, justeacote.com, …) Or existing professional fleets (Axilog leader in solutions). Thus the partners had only to install a script on their page which automatically added a “click-to-book” button in front of each telephone number, allowing the user to submit a reservation request. In the back office, a team of telemarketers based in Paris and Cameroon called the service providers and took advantage of the reservation request to register them on the platform.
Departure for the USA, Silicon Valley for the international launch
2 months later, we took off to Silicon Valley, the land of startups, to join “The Founder Showcase”, a prestigious startup competition organized by the Founder Institute. Imagine: 9 months after launching our product in France. I find myself in Silicon Valley, the temple of new technologies, in an auditorium of the prestigious “Mission Bay Convention Center” in San Francisco, in front of more than 500 people and an impressive jury … I was living a childhood dream.
We finished among the top finalist, and voted best presentation by the public.
The press praised us, prizes and distinctions were raining down on us:
I-DISPO Selected by Microsoft as one of the 15 most promising start-ups in Europe
I-DISPO ranked “Most successful European company in Europe” by the Founder Institute
I-DISPO voted “Best innovative service” by French Internet users at the 2011 Grands Prix for Innovation of the City of Paris
Ismaël Nzouetom in the top 13 of the 50 that will make the France of tomorrow by Optimum Magazine
Special mention to Roxanne Varza, Director of Station F, for this article she wrote about us in 2011
But back to the basics, beyond the awards, distinctions, media coverage, what were the real results?
Did we have hundreds of bookings per day, like we hoped? Did professionals signup by the thousands to the platform?
Read the second part: the “Post launch / Birth” phase.
2- The Post-launch Phase.
As indicated previously, we were operating in in 5 countries. And after the vast media coverage, we were expecting to get hundreds if not thousands of bookings daily. The reality was quite different… as it happens very often. We had barely 10 bookings/reservations per day, and a very low conversion rate for service providers, who also wanted to pay only for successful leads /bookings.
The euphoria and excitement of the launch started to disappear, we realized that we have spent 7 months and more than 400K € to build a solution that didn’t really meet the users expectations.
“One of the top 5 causes of failure for many start-ups. The self-imposed rush when they are convinced that their idea is genius. “
Identified Mistake: Don’t waste money, time and energy to create a solution no one wants, and can not generate enough revenue to cover operations costs.
My recommendation: Lean, Lean, Lean! In Lean Startup jargon this product / market fit is called “Product Market fit”. Most of the time, it’s the product that has problem: No one needs or want it. Sometimes, less frequently, the problem lies in understanding the market: The product is a necessity for a certain audience, but the startup fails to identify or fails to target enough this audience.
Either the audience targeting is broad from the start rather than focusing on a narrow niche first, or targeting the wrong audience. For i-Dispo, we were in both cases.
There are two very different times in the life of a young business. Everything that precedes the product-market fit and everything that follows it. Before product-market fit, the goal is to determine to whom and why your product is valuable, in other words to determine your product-market fit. To do this, it will be necessary to iterate on the information collected on a small number of early adopters. After that, the goal is unique: to grow.
But at that time, none of us knew about the lean startup methodology … So we tested different business models, none of which worked.
We had a high cash burn rate, with the partners being dedicated full time and thus employed, in addition to 3 developers, the cash was leaking fast. We were fortunate that we were hosted for free on Microsoft’s premises. In April 2012, we had barely 3 months of cash left.
Thanks to one of our investors, we were able to finance my trip to the USA for the Black Box Connect, an immersion program in Silicon Valley, where for 2 weeks, 20 international founders will hone their entrepreneurial arts with American experts and successful entrepreneurs. During the say, I learned about the famous “Lean startup” and had the chance to meet Steve Blank, who is recognized for coming up with the customer-oriented development method (customer development) which launched the lean startup movement.
3- The Pivot Phase.
Upon my return to France, I got my team together and I said “listen, we’re going to throw away almost everything we’ve developed so far and we’re going to” pivot “to another solution: a virtual personal assistant. I sent a pdf version of the Lean Startup to the entire team, telling them that it will now be on these principles that we will develop the startup. We had to let go the partners and developers and we suspended the partnerships with the portals and directories.
As for the pivot, the virtual personal assistant will now be able to respond to any type of customer request, beyond making appointments. For example: It should be able to help in looking for gifts, organizing trips… basically a personal concierge for the average joe ”. The business model would be inspired from luxury concierge services. The offer, targeted to end user via a monthly subscription, to companies via integration, or an inclusion of the assistant in products offered by companies. Thus, “Sara” the virtual assistant was born.
We tried to organize another fundraiser but in mid-pivot, things were complicated. We created with our lawyers an open fundraising system, as well as a loan option with high interest to be repaid within 24 months. We were thus able to collect around 150K €.
Despite difficulties, we found the excitement of the beginnings, because we were enthusiastic about this new product.
So we started the development of “Sara” by trying to apply the principles of lean startup. I remember the first version of Sara that we launched after less than 2 months, was just a page that allows the customer to fill in an email and leave a voicemail with their request. In the back office, requests were sent to our telemarketing partner in Cameroon, who processed them manually and communicated with the customer via email. This allowed us, to gradually iterate with beta users, to validate the need for the product.
September 27, 2012, we launched the first version open to the public: the first hybrid virtual personal assistant accessible via an iphone application, facebook messenger and email. Capable of performing all kinds of daily tasks: making reservations, confirming a delivery, organizing a trip , find a plumber, compare the prices of a product on the internet… In the background, a first version of a CRM had been developed, and all requests were being processed by the telemarketers. Effectively NO artificial intelligence involved. We said: lean, lean lean!
My recommendation: The first phase of development of a new innovative product is the research of the product / market fit by developing minimalist iterative versions of the product (“MVP” in the lean startup jargon , the minimum viable product).
“The MVP is the version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated lessons from early adopters customers, and with minimum effort.”
In other words, it is about experimenting with a product idea by offering the smallest possible version (created with the fewest resources and costs possible), with end users to collect rapid feedback and measure success.
In the lean startup book, there are multiple ways to develop an MVP:
· Email: for example, present your product in a presentation sent by email and measure the interest rate
· MVP demo video: a video explaining the new features available on the product (even if the product does not yet exist). The example in the book is Dropbox which started out like this.
· The Wizard of Oz MVP: Simulate a feeling of automated process. The user feels like they are dealing with a fully automated service, but in reality all functionalities are done manually. The most famous example is Zappos.com. In its early days, the online shoe sales platform was a simple site where the founder photographed the shoes in stores in San Francisco and took care of buying and sending the items by himself to the customer.
It was this last technique that we applied. It follows the principle of “Fake it until you can make it” dear to the startups of Silicon Valley. Be careful, do not confuse this with “lying to customers” but “You have to know how to sell a product, an idea before it is even developed. The strength of this strategy is to validate the existence of a market through a Proof of Concept (POC), the famous MVP.
With this first version we tested the two economic models:
- A B2C offer in freemium model: for limited use in the areas of shopping, well-being, catering, etc. and € 9.90 / month for unlimited use.
- A B2B2C offer where customers are charged a license to include the assistant service in their products, much like luxury concierge services already did on premium products.
The B2C offering was quickly phased out because the customer acquisition costs were very high compared to the profitability. On the other hand, the B2B2C offer was successful. We had thus reached our product / market fit: the commercial pipe was growing, the first customers were signed, the turnover started to take off. As a result, we were able to close our largest funding round, which include renowned African personalities such as Albert Kouinche, founder of Express Union, the pioneer of electronic money transfer in Central Africa, and Georges Wega formerly Director of UBA Bank and currently Regional Director for West Africa of Société Générale.
4- Growth Phase.
This phase remains the most exciting of our adventure, even though it was like a roller coaster.
As previously stated, the B2B2C model has been a good market fit. We therefore had to prospect companies selling solutions to individuals in highly competitive markets with little product differentiation, offering them to add to their solutions a high value-added service like “Sara” which could allow them to differentiate themselves from competitors and increase customer loyalty. Thus we targeted specific sectors like insurance, banking, telecommunications, auto industry, etc.
From launch, the commercial pipe starts growing and we start signing deals:
A partnership with Renault:
A deal with Renault was reached to distribute a voice version of “Sara” in their future connected cars, with the promise of being included in the digital car pack. So with the potential fleet of 200,000 and the inclusion license at 12 € / year, the potential of this contract was 2.4 million euros / year for I-DISPO from the start.
A deal with April Insurance Broker :
A contract with April Marine, a subsidiary of April insurance broker, one of the largest wholesaler / broker in the world. The broker will include Sara in several formulas of its insurance offers a substantial contract around a hundred thousand euros. But in addition to knowing that the entire April group has a fleet of nearly 1 million policyholders, at the time we saw a potential of 12 million euros / year for the group.
A deal with the mobile phone operator MTN:
A first big surprise and completely unexpected: we signed a very important contract of around half a million euros with the mobile telephone operator MTN Cameroon, a subsidiary of the MTN group (among the top 3 if not the biggest mobile telephone operators in Africa – present in 22 African countries). In fact, during one of my visits to our call center partner in Cameroon, Roger Wandji, the call center manager and an ex employee of MTN Cameroon, identified that our solution might interest MTN Cameroon and organized a meeting for us. Three months later we signed a contract for half a million euros. You can imagine our joy, a 15 months old startup, that was on the edge of shutting down, signing a first big contract of half a million euros with a large company, subsidiary of a huge group .
I still remember an email exchange with a big French investors, who invested in my startup, when I told him about this opportunity and the deal size. He replied, “Ismaël, a large company will never sign a deal for such an amount suddenly with a young company like you, at best they will run a pilot”. Well… they did sign a one-year renewable contract!
There is a lot of opportunities in Africa, and with the huge population growth, it is expected that in 2050, 25% of world population will be in Africa. It is true as well that if you don’t master the market well enough, you can leave your feathers there … as it happened to us. We will see that later. But as my economics professor says: “The greater the risk, the greater the gain”.
So here we are, signing the first big contract, but even if at the time this contract seemed a huge success for our startup, it will turn out to be the first cause of crisis during this phase of growth and I would even say it was decisive in the path taken by startup. I will come back to this point later.
It was our moment of glory. I was invited to several TV shows. Below is an extract from the Canal 2 (second news channel in Cameroon)
And it didn’t stop there. In parallel to France and Africa, we embarked in prospecting for the USA. We were lucky to be selected by Ubifrance to participate in the French Tech Tour USA in 2012, which offered us the possibility of going to San Francisco and being assisted by the US office of Ubi France in the organization of qualified meetings with American prospects. We were thus fortunate to have meetings at AT&T, Panasonic, Tesla, Vodafone …
From our prospecting in the US, even if we saw some strong interest, we realized that without a local branch in San Francisco, it would have been very complicated to conclude partnerships.
Identified Mistake: Don’t pursue several markets very early on, especially when you are in B2B.
My recommendation: My subjective opinion is that it is better to focus on your initial market on which you have validated your product / market fit, gradually grow, learn, perfect the operational and sales processes, before expanding to other markets. Our expansion in Africa was certainly opportunistic, especially in view of the expectations in turnover, but in retrospect it was a mistake, because the product was not initially designed for this market, and we did not know how to make the difference like many others entrepreneurs between opportunism and focus. I talk more about this below.
We were growing: turnover increased, all the associates were reinstated in the teams, the telemarketers base was growing. The press praised us.
The MTN Cameroon experience with i-Dispo, goes up positively to the MTN group headquarters based in South Africa, which therefore wished to generalize this service to all of its subsidiaries. Just imagine, 22 countries, 250 million potential subscribers, we started dreaming. We were short listed with two other companies and invited to a presentation in South Africa. The group finally selected a South African company.
The crisis will begin in January 2013 with the non-renewal of the contract with MTN Cameroon. Suddenly we find ourselves overnight with over 70% of our turnover gone.
1st BIG Mistake: We had not anticipated this non-renewal, until the last minute the customer reassured us that he was OK for the renewal, the amendments to the initial contract had even been discussed and written for a renewal over a period 2 years.
My recommendation: Even if it is with basics, when you are doing B2B insist on having the longest possible contract duration, ideally 3 years, and integrate a sufficiently long notice to allow you to anticipate if for some reason the client does not wish to renew. Also keep in mind that “as long as it is not signed, it is not on” despite all the sympathy that your interlocutors may show you .
2nd BIG Mistake: Loss of focus. This first contract MTN Cameroon was a great opportunity, but made us lose focus. Because the solution of “Sara” that we had developed corresponded to a market and to a precise positioning, a digital concierge for all, therefore in contrast to the luxury concierge services like the John Paul type (acquired by the Accor group) with a mature business model. The need of clients in Africa were different, and they were looking instead for a luxury concierge for their Premium clients. So we had to distort our initial solution a bit to meet their needs and integrate non-digital services, which created operating overheads. Consuming a big part of the company’s resources to meet the requirements of this large contract, thus penalizing other activities such as prospecting / contracting contracts in France..
My recommendation: Focus, focus, focus! It is absolutely important when developing a startup to stay focused on your plan. Staying focused does not mean lack of adaptation or seizing opportunities, but it is absolutely necessary to be able to understand the limits of the opportunities, anticipate the impacts that this may have on the development of the initial plan and know how to say no. In the principles of Lean startup as described above, even when we have reached the product / market fit and we must move to the growth phase “scale”, it is important to keep this culture of: “build -measure-learn ”. Perhaps in our case, one of the options to seize these market opportunities in Africa, would have been to create an autonomous entity which would have captured this demand without polluting the France entity. This is an open debate and I do not have the answer.
3rd BIG Mistake: Simplify the duration cycle of signing new contracts with key account customers.
My recommendation: Here again, this is basics, but you have to anticipate the life cycles and unforeseen contracts, when signing contracts with large accounts, hence good management of your commercial pipeline and its realization is important.
So with 70% of our turnover gone, and without sure visibility for new contracts in our pipe, we had to resist at least 10 months without salaries for the partners, to break the partnership with the call center because we were no longer able to pay. We were handling by ourselves the requests from customers of April and LeasePlan… What gave us hope and kept us going, were the advanced stage of discussions we had with Airtel DRC and Orange Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon subsidiaries after a recommendation by Orange EMEA.
It’s mid-2014, things accelerated, we signed in turn Orange Côte d’Ivoire, Airtel RDC, Orange Senegal, a B2C version with Renault via their connected cars, Orange Cameroon, SCB Cameroon. The peak is at the end of 2015 when we ended the year with a turnover of 1.5M € and nearly 20 employees.
We were at the top of our game. but gradually growth started to decline without us ever being able to redress it, until we went bankrupt.
5- The Downfall.
In retrospect, I will say that we have not been able to stay the course for two types of reasons:
I- The external reasons which mainly had a financial impact:
- Non-renewal of deals & contracts: In my opinion, this is linked to the nature of the business model of inclusive concierge services. It creates friction between the customer and the service provider, because the first maximizes the usage rate where the second wants to optimize it to control its margin. This is a global problem, but whereas in developed countries, the maturity of this model means that the customer measures other impacts other than the rate of use (impact on customer acquisition, impact on retention, etc. ), in Africa we have not succeeded in finding points of agreement and the contracts thus were never renewed in Africa.
- Non-respect of financial agreements: There is nothing worse than signing a project with firm financial conditions, and then investing in recruiting based on these conditions, to be later faced with a request from the client to change the terms – until sometimes up to 70% without counterpart. With that we had to make the decision to either sue the client or come to an agreement. We have erroneously accepted an out-of-court settlement each time that did not suit us, thus creating a debt liability which subsequently accelerated our downfall.
II- The Internal reasons: execution:
Execution is a key element in the success of a startup. There is an expression : “a startup idea is worthless without a good execution”. According to the study The Startup Genome (Marmer & Al., 2011) two factors play an essential role in a successful execution:
– The startup’s ability to correctly follow key stages of progress.
– The startup’s ability to carry out a continuous learning process.
For many startups like us, who are experiencing their first success and strong growth, the question of changing the structure of the start-up arises. Adaptability, the ability to invent and innovate, dynamism, are the usual assets/ strengths of the start-up, these are what we required to pivot and launch the “Sara” product.
The challenge was to retain these assets while ensuring the right development to successfully scale-up. (companies that have succeeded in transforming their innovative product into profitable and sustainable business) .
I did not know how to lead this transition, and we mismanaged this rapid growth, we lost in agility, we lost in focus as stated above, we were also not able to recruit key people to help us during this step.
And a very big mistake I made: when it comes to governance and transparency with respect to its shareholders. Due to a flaw in my personality, as I do not like to break bad news, and that was detrimental. I didn’t make enough use of the wealth of experience that we had, we had many exceptional people as shareholders, who could have helped us beyond the financial aspect, through their experience and advice when we were in trouble.
Recommendation: Set up an “Advisory Board” made up of experienced people, even if they are not your shareholders, with regular meetings at least every 3 months. This will help you in difficult situations, complex choices, decision making, to take a step back or just for the need of a listening ear. This will also force you to quickly put in place elements of good governance (KPI, reporting, etc.)