Adii Pienaar – A message of Hope

This is a summary of Adii Pienaar‘s Business of Software 2012 presentation.

The Beginning 

When Adii started WooThemes he didn’t have a whole lot of experience starting a business. And to complicate things even more, he did so from Cape Town, South Africa – not exactly a startup hub. So how did Adii get to where he is today? Adii shares his lessons learned with us.

2007: First product initial revenue.

2008: Adii quit his job. Met his co-founders online. Formalized the company in July.

2009: Met his co-founders in person for the first time. Hired first employees.

2012: WooThemes is four years old today, with 25 employees. $0 funding, 100% bootstrapped.

Cape Town is not exactly a tech hub. They don’t really have:

  • Networking
  • Mentors
  • Advisors
  • Investors

In Cape Town there is no startup culture, and there is a shortage of skills. When you attend an event, it’s hard to feel like you are the smallest person in the room. So, against all odds, Adii started WooThemes.

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: Buck trends

Social network, web 2.0, etc. you’ve heard it before. There are so many great people working on crappy ideas. Why do people feel the need to follow the crowd?

What, you need a competitive advantage? Ignorance is bliss.

Also, tech bubbles haven’t reached Africa yet. One of the advantages of being based in South Africa is that trends and hype don’t play a major role in your business decision making.

Avoid groupthink, because it’s dangerous to copy trends. For example, bootstrapping vs. getting funding. When Adii started he didn’t think VC money was an option. He just had to get revenue as quickly as possible. That meant getting paying customers!

Image credit: @JimYoungPG

Lesson #2: Not based in Silicon Valley? New York? Berlin? Breathe. You’ll be fine.

It’s actually refreshing if you come from outside those startup hubs. It makes it easier to find new solutions to old problems (remember avoid groupthink).

You’ll be compelled to build something of international quality. And the Internet allows you to compete on a global scale. Invest in branding, because it’s free.

Customer service is cheap marketing. It’s about the way you react to a screw up that matters, not the screw up itself. The screw up is an opportunity for you. Every time you get an angry email it is a license  for you to market to them. But you can’t provide customer support to users that haven’t paid. Free users don’t get customer support, because it’s not financially feasible. However, give them options to upgrade to a paid plan that offers support. 

And in the end, nobody cares where you are from.

Image credit: @JimYoungPG

Lesson #3: Trust in People 

Put the right structure, processes and culture in place for your team to flourish, and trust that they will get the job done. Trust in the people you work with is of utmost importance.

The WooThemes team is spread out through out the world. Some team members have never even met each other in person. You should hire the best regardless of location. 

Image credit: @mdclement

Lesson #4: DIY Everything

Diving into the deep end is the best way to learn. Doing something and feeling a little pain is good, because you will be compelled to put on a Band-Aid. 

Work harder than anybody else. Imagine that someone else is executing a similar idea and is working harder than you. Thereafter, work smarter than anybody else.

Lesson #5: Enable others to make money, because it’s recession-proof

Adii prefers B2B over B2C, because businesses are always looking to make more money. It’s always safer to stick to a model that enables businesses to make money.

Lesson #6: Travel

It’s important to get out of your normal environment and meet new people. You can make new friends and meet mentors. One of the main enablers to running a business from South Africa is traveling. Having friends and mentors really helps, and if you are from a location where you don’t have access to these people travel is the way to do it. Having conversations with likeminded people is a great motivator.

Lesson #7: Design Everything

Instead of being put into a box, create your own box. Entrepreneurs have the ability to make their own reality.

When designers see a problem, they have the ability to see how A to B should look like and then executing on that. Constraints breed creativity. Take the creative approach. Go out and make your own box.

Image credit: @JimYoungPG

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