Startup Growth Advices From our Best Mentors
30 November 2018 - belgrade

Back in 2013, a co-founder of Y Combinator, Paul Graham, wrote an amazing article about scaling and when should you focus on scalable activities as a business owner. Five years later, his points are still highly relevant and insanely useful for start-ups in Serbia as well! This is why we decided to translate the entire article to Serbian language. Throughout our own mentoring programs and Venture Growth Accelerator here in Impact Hub Belgrade, we’ve explored the question of scalability with more than 100 start-ups. We loved this article because Paul Graham emphasized when is the right moment to scale (hint: it’s not the starting phase of a business) and why. This approach to growth is exactly what pushed forward our small businesses and start-ups in Venture Growth.

Here are basic principles you’ll learn:

  1. “Focus on Developing a Product or Service that People Want”
  2. “Learn, Unlearn and Relearn master the art of asking questions”
  3. “The Diamond of Success in Value-Stream Discovery is Intrigued, Satisfied and Passionate Customers”


Paul Bell, Impact Angel for Venture Growth Accelerator; Mentor and Senior Advisor

Key message: “Focus on Developing a Product or Service that People Want”

The ground-breaking article by Paul Graham is focused on the idea “Why you need to do things that do not scale to scale eventually”. As a co-founder of Y Combinator, he speaks to where many Hubbers are currently at. Graham provides some really useful and authoritative opinion on what early-stage start-ups should focus on and what they need to achieve before even thinking about fundraising and scaling. His sound advice is: focus on developing a product or service that people want.

Why is this crucial?

You see, the top problem for all start-ups is achieving best market fit. A key to understanding the solution is in-depth understanding of your customers. This means:

  • getting out the door and going hand-to-hand to develop an initial customer base
  • listening to your target customers’ opinions
  • understanding their pain points
  • pivoting towards making happy customers.

Still, be careful not to fall into the trap of making perfect the enemy of better! You may not have the perfect product or service, but your connection to real humans you’re serving, combined with an understanding of your customers will, at the very least, ensure a great customer experience.

Even if you only have 50 users, chances are that if you can overcome the obstacles to make them happy, then you can make another 50 users happy, and another, then another… Because making customers happy will now be in your businesses’ DNA. And there’s nothing investors like to hear more about than happy customers. Because that’s how they know there’s some serious best market fit thing going on…

Armed with eye-opening wisdom by Paul Graham, read on and hear our mentors solving the puzzle of business growth.

Gaia Montelatici, Impact Hub Belgrade Co-founder, CEO @Venture Growth Accelerator, impact angel

Key-message “Learn, Unlearn and Relearn: the art of asking questions” to get to what is scalable 

One of the most important elements that every start-up team has to embed in the lean philosophy and processes is the learning cycle:

  1. learn (practice and test);
  2. unlearn (make mistakes and analyze what works and what does not);
  3. re-learn (adapt new hypothesis and options).

This is constant truth and the better we are at it, the best we develop our solutions and business.

Learning and mainstreaming the learning cycle takes time at the beginning, and it is not by saving time on learning that we gain speed and scale… On the contrary!

Learning means – we know how to ask questions to best understand the needs we are set to fulfill; why they have not so far been addressed and if they have, why the other solutions are not as successful for certain target groups.

Next, what are the segments of the market willing to do to solve these needs and of course, how much are they willing to pay?

This sort of in-depth understanding comes with constant research and constant interaction with people we think can benefit from our offer. It looks a lot like deep-consulting at the beginning, which digs deeper and deeper into the causes and effects, into how people behave and why. It’s not that much about desk-research, but rather “participant-observation” (a la Malinowski).

Direct inquiries of this kind, depart from open-ended and contextual issues to get to more specific questions. Once we can pin down some hypothesis on why people behave the way they do and how we want to change that, then we can promote different (positive) experiences.

Only when these practices become well embedded in the functioning of the team and of the start-up, that is the breaking point of acceleration. At the beginning, trust is through direct interactions that tell us who the people we target are and there is little we can do to speed up this step. And we should not either…

Definitely, online and offline behaviors are very different, and only if we understand both can we then make more valid assumptions and build what people truly want!

Brant Cooper, Founder, Key-note speaker, bestselling author of Lean Entrepreneurs

Key Message “The Diamond of Success in Value-Stream Discovery: Intrigued, Satisfied and Passionate Customers”

Brant was the amazing guest of Lean Startup Night that Alex Covic is representing in Serbia. At the Impact Hub Belgrade on Nov 24th 2018 he was talking about the importance of establishing metrics that are able to indicate and measure how well are you doing with your business.

However, there are no ready-made metrics, because these are best designed and adapted according to qualitative data on our ideal customers, buyers and users. The best we can do is to measure the behaviour and deliver the killer experience.

How can we do that?

Few entrepreneurs in the audience asked him: how to best reach more customers through targeting campaigns which drive traffic, even when we do not know a lot about targeted customers themselves? This is something we would all want to do. But, as Brant said: “You cannot optimize what you do not know”. And at the beginning there is no other way than to talk with people and get to know them.

Once again, building relationships, getting to know the customers, catering to their needs at the beginning is everything but scalable… And it should not be. Because at the end of the day, what should be scalable is the way you solve the problem you have well identified, not the way you understand the problem. Even if your solution is not scalable – this does not mean it cannot be a good business!!!!

Which part of these ideas resonated with you the most?

Did you encounter similar challenges in your own business and how did you solve them?

Send us your answer to 

Sometimes merely rethinking the fundamentals of customer satisfaction actually moves the needle.