Sunday, January 15, 2017

These Cheeky Malmö Entrepreneurs Aced The World’s Best Accelerator In Silicon Valley – This New TV-Series Showcases Their Explosive Growth

Via Business Insider:

The GetAccept team: Jonas Blanck, Carl Carell, Mathias Thulin, and CEO Samir Smajic.

Y Combinator in Silicon Valley is the Ferrari of startup accelerators.

Since its inception in 2005, it has hosted, mentored and honed many global success stories, including household decacorns like Airbnb and Dropbox.

Merely five Swedish companies have ever been accepted to this “spawning ground for emerging tech giants” as Forbes called it. Remarkably, three of them are from Malmö, and the most recent one is GetAccept, founded in 2015. Samir Smajic, CEO, shared the feeling of being one of the 100 startups chosen from more than 8000 applicants:

“It was a fantastic to get the phone call – the very same day that we had delivered our pitch in front of the YC jury. We prepared a full week before flying to California for the interview”.

What made their feat even more remarkable was that their product was launched just two months before the intense YC-program started in the winter of 2016:

“We are a team that is extremely passionate about sales and closing deals. Our goal is to change how salespeople manage sales documents worldwide, by making it a more engaging process. We do it by using e-signatures, automation and analytics” Smajic explains in a Skype interview from Silicon Valley.

Y Combinator: No cakewalk

Smajic described the first weeks as chaotic, setting up base in the US and getting to grips with the YC program:

“We didn't get that much from the YC program in order to perform better. You had to take care of things yourself – starting from finding accommodation and office space. That was not easy, coming in as expats without any social security numbers. But it was up to us just execute and find our own way. So YC was definitely no cakewalk [dir.tr. räckmacka]”.

Despite nice perks like rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and co-founders of Airbnb and Fitbit, the key for GetAccept was to close out a lot of the noise that comes with a program like YC, by putting a single-minded focus on validating their product – in two markets simultaneously:

“The fact that we are four co-founders enabled us to launch our product in both Sweden and the US simultaneously, running double shifts. Getting our prouduct out there fast was key. We worked US markets during days, Sweden during nights. We sold extremely efficiently – at one point we almost ran out of sales leads in Sweden” Smajic says.

The GetAccept team would get great feedback for their progress in weekly meetings with the YC mentors:

“We were encouraged to just keep selling. And sales is what we do best – we don't talk or analyze too much. This has been the secret of our success, and enabled us to grow 23% week-on-week during YC”.

The program culminated in a “demo day” pitch by co-founder Mathias Thulin, in front of almost a thousand Silicon Valley investors.

GetAccept makes it easier to communicate and engage with sales prospects

As Thulin mentioned in his pitch, up to 60% of sales proposals end up “in a black hole” where the lead never gets back, and gets lost. GetAccept’s USP is really about taking out all the stress in between first contact and contract signature:

“To call and follow up with your leads; drafting sales offers and bothering them with phone calls actually makes it more likely that they will raise their guard and say: enough already. We are trying to enable perfect timing by automating the way you communicate and engage with the lead” says Smajic.

In short, the company’s platform gives sales people more control throughout the sales process, and more information about the prospects’ needs, by using a set of technologies. Smajic says:

“We help sales people close more deals with automation. We offer a cloud platform, where the key is engagement and easy e-signatures. We also offer a negotiation bot to start up conversations; and live tracking of when someone is looking at a proposal – so that sales people know when to call up the customer. This way, we make it really easy to engage with the lead“.

The interaction is also enhanced by the platform’s video feature, which makes sales presentations more lively:

"We are first movers with a video function. It makes the sales proposal a lot more engaging, and increases chances that customers will take an interest".

As a result, GetAccept’s customers can close more deals each month. One of their case studies has increased sales with 100%.

Born in Malmö, Raised in the Valley

Today, one year after the start of YC, Smajic is permanently based in the Valley to expand the company.

Owing to aggressive execution coupled with a single-minded focus on sales, the team has managed to establish the US as their second home market.

They have gone from zero to more than 1000 paying customers in Sweden and the US, within a year.

The big help from YC has surfaced after the program; being associated with the brand has helped in marketing and attracting investment. Moreover, YC has given a contact network to boost their US growth, and provided assistance in investment advice and valuation matters.

And who knows, will this startup one day become another Y Combinator unicorn? Judging by this trailer from “Inside Silicon Valley”, the company's own video blog series, the founders would be the last ones to hesitate on that.

Additional insights from Samir Smajic:

What stage are you currently in, and what are the plans for 2017?

"We started out with the US and Sweden, but we are already expanding into Europe. Moreover, our product is being used in more than 40 countries already. We are growing the team in both Malmö and California. We’re definitely past validation stage, with the speed that we're growing and hiring, and with low churn numbers, it's looking good. People like the products, and we are experimenting with new features to imporve the service“.

What advice do you have for other startups joining accelerators?

“Don’t cozy up with your product for several weeks or years. Get it out there. When you release, you will anyhow not know what the outcome will be”.

Smajic says the team managed to keep their focus on the long-game, and let the accelerator be a supportive element in the background: “We had to focus on our thing, and that's what made us succeed”.

Do you recommend other Swedish startups to “grow up” in the United States?

"Yes and no. When you start out here you’re really just a school kid. You start from scratch here, and that's difficult, especially since there's so much more competition in the US. We were lucky with Y Combinator, as it enabled us to get started in good way, and gave us some street cred".

Here are the 5 Swedish companies that have been accepted to Y Combinator:

Heysan (Malmö) – mobile messaging service – 2007

Verbling – e-learning platform – 2011

Wheelys – coffee stands – 2015

Get Accept (Malmö) – e-signature and sales automation platform – 2016

Castle (Malmö) – cyber security – 2016

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