The Summer School of Entrepreneurship visits simpleshow
“Learn from successful startups”: it was right on the syllabus of the Summer School of Entrepreneurship. With the summer school, the University of Hohenheim offers international students modules in the fields of innovation management, business and how to start a company.
A total of 21 students from around the world (including the US, South Africa, China, and Italy) are currently participating in this three-week program, which in part involves visits to several Stuttgart-based start-ups. We were delighted that the organizers chose to include simpleshow on the roster.
As a co-founder myself, I was happy to take some time to retell the highs and lows of my own start-up story. In 2008 we launched the company with three people in a basement. We never imagined that, a few short years later, simpleshow would have 140 employes at ten locations on three continents. I certainly had plenty of anecdotes from along the way. The students asked many questions and soaked up every piece of advice like sponges.
Here are the five most important messages that I conveyed to my visitors:
1.) Talk to your customers!
Do you think you’ve come up with an amazing business idea? First validate it by discussing it with potential customers and testing it extensively. Often customers have ideas that you would never have thought of. Instead of developing finished products alone in a quiet room, companies benefit much more from really listening to their customers and identifying unsolved problems. (That’s how simpleshow started, by the way.) Some good reading on this: The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steven Blank and Bob Dorf or The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
2.) Get focused!
Don’t do a hundred things halfheartedly, do one thing really well. At first simpleshow started as a marketing agency with a record label, then developed into a video production company, and then became explanation specialists. We built up our competency in a niche and got really got at it. That’s because, when the time came, we took the risk of setting aside business areas and turning down assignments that no longer fit into our core business. That strengthened our profile. It is important to follow a long-term vision, but also to periodically reassess how to get there and adjust as necessary.
3.) Find your company’s identity!
Always ask yourselves why your company exists and what contribution it makes for your customers. Your products and services should be based on the answer to this question – and not vice versa. Here’s a related TED talk by Simon Sinek.
4.) Stay enthusiastic!
Even after seven years, I bring excitement to every day at simpleshow. If you aren’t enthusiastic about your product anymore, than you should either change jobs or improve your product. Develop new things or make the old ones even better, no matter how. There are thousands of possibilities out there for making an existing product or service even more beneficial for your customers and your compnay. A company is never finished. It needs to be constantly reinvented. And you should do that passionately.
5.) Don’t forget: we’re at the mercy of chance!
Long-term success has many causes, never only one. Besides a good product, you usually need a strong team, the right moment in time, the right market, and many other things. One factor is often left out because it is nearly impossible to influence: chance. In its success story, besides having all the other factors, simpleshow had the bit of luck that a startup needs. So if you take the best possible care of all the things you can influence as founders, you’ll give your luck a boost. But keep in mind that a start-up can fail even if you have essentially done everything right. Then you just have to tick it off, learn from the experience, and get back on your feet.
That evening we all went together to the event Gründergrillen Stuttgart (Stuttgart Founders’ Barbecue), where the students got to talk to many other startup founders. The summer school’s visit to simpleshow was another high point in our collaboration with the University of Hohenheim. Several times since 2011, the simpleshow academy team has assisted with the “Keep it simple!” seminar in the Communications and Journalism department. We get a kick out of sharing real hands-on knowledge with young people in this way.