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Three Start-up Lessons From The Founders of Chalkboard

It is nice surroundings at Chalkboard’s office. A great place to work in peace and take a walk when pressure becomes a little overwhelming. Through my chat with the founders, I understand that the product is strong (and growing fast), the culture is right, and the founders are leaders in their field of expertise. I’m pretty impressed.

Founded in February 2010, CEO Saumil Nanavati and CTO Bernard Leong partnered to spearhead the next frontier of advertising: location-based advertising. The video below is the perfect start to understand more about Chalkboard.

Both founders also took time to share with me their start-up story. Through a casual sharing session, I learn a great deal and thought it would be great to put them into writings. Here are three quick points:

1. Keep it lean: Use your resources carefully.

Chalkboard is lean and its lean concept is deeply ingrained into its culture. If an idea doesn’t work within 2 weeks, the founders would scrap it, rethink and rebuild it. At Chalkboard, the team practices a fast pivoting cycle. The team is also consistently in touch with their clients to gather feedback and improve the Chalkboard user interface. “We asked business owners what are the three key features they would want to see. End up, they are directions, share and call,” said Nanavati.

There is also a learning point behind Chalkboard’s map. Initially, the map only shows where the business is located. However through feedback from clients, they found that the map showing the business location doesn’t help much. Instead business owners want the map to help direct users to their stores. “If we didn’t ask, we would simply assumed that the map showing the business location works fine,” explained Leong.

2. Faster than a speeding bullet.

“Before you make a decision, ask yourself why you’re doing it,” said Nanavti. Because resources are limited, start-up founders have to understand what their goals are before taking action. It is all about using resources efficiently. Nanavati and Leong always discuss their strategy and goals before the action phase.

Once the strategy is implemented, they give themselves two weeks to work the plan. The short pivoting cycle, as explained above, also ensures that the team doesn’t waste resources building on something that doesn’t work. It’s tough, but start-up founders need to have the discipline to kill their own ideas, if necessary.

“Even for me, it’s not easy to kill an idea that I believe so strongly in. But if an idea doesn’t work, you need to change your plan. You can’t expect to do the same thing and achieve a different result,” explained Leong.

3. Build relationships: its all about trust.

Most start-up founders don’t socialize. I understand it is tough. But the business nature of Penn Olson has somehow “forced” me to meet new people and connect. It requires you to get out of your comfort zone, share ideas and receive feedback or even criticism. At Chalkboard, Nanavati and Leong explained that their personal relationships with influencers have helped them gain several advantages and helping hands, especially in times of trouble.

“It takes time to build these relationship. Have no motive and just socialize. Be yourself,” explained Leong. He gave an example: When he first heard about the Japan earthquake, he immediately contacted his friends in Japan to ensure their safety. Some of his Japanese friends were surprised to receive a note of concern from Leong. “It’s these small act of kindness that turn acquaintances into friendships,” said Leong.

(Editor: You can read here for an earlier interview with Chalkboard – previously known as Chlkboard.)


This article was first published on Penn-Olson, a tech, business and marketing blog focusing on US and Asia. Penn-Olson is a Young Upstarts content partner.

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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