As part of growing TalentStore into a national and regional learning and development (L&D) platform, we want to put the platform through the stress test of any investor scrutiny. Therefore, in April, after a networking dinner and drinks session, we decided to embark on a 13-week programme called Founder’s Institute Accelerator Programme. Hosted in Malaysia, The Founder Institute is the world’s most proven network to turn ideas into fundable startups, and startups into global businesses.
Since being founded in 2009, its structured accelerator programs have helped over 6,800 entrepreneurs raise over $1.75BN in funding. Based in Silicon Valley and with chapters across 100 countries, their mission is to empower communities of talented and motivated people to build impactful technology companies worldwide.
The appeal was there to be part of a global accelerator programme, but more importantly, we wanted to check if the platform and marketplace could stand the rigor of an investor’s point of view.
Kickstart the Process
The process kicked off pretty seamlessly in April when we submitted our application to be part of their 2023 cohort with other emerging startups across multiple industries. We formally got the email that we were accepted in April and the cohort kicked off on May 3rd 2023 with orientation.
It was great to be part of an interesting cohort where everyone was in a similar boat of growing their individual businesses but pretty soon, we realised there was going to be a ton of work to do prior to each weekly session. Approximately 20 hours per week of work would be required to hit our weekly milestones.
The pathway is quite clear in terms of the programme where it was divided into the initial phases of any startup:
- Vision and Mission
- Customer Development Sprint
- Revenue and Business Models
- Pitch Mastery (1 minute and 3-minute pitches)
The initial phase was quite intensive as the programme seeks to separate the weak from the strong and the message was that the programme was going to be tough but very effective if you survive. Given that 60% of startups drop out, there was that added stress tacked on of surviving phase 1.
The obvious benefit is that the startup really gets a lot of exposure to well-known mentors in each space of expertise and there is a lot of support that we can leverage on throughout the programme. More interestingly is that post programme, given that you succeed and graduate, you have access to the Founder’s Institute’s platform for life. Not bad given that it is a global startup programme with a footprint that matches its geography.
What’s the Key Takeaway in Phase 1
Mission and Vision:
The key takeaway was the following:
- Having a mission is fine, but ultimately what is more important is solving a real customer problem. Some have done it without formally acknowledging a mission statement but they had a clear customer problem they were trying to solve.
- Pitching your idea in 1 minute is a lot harder than expected – you need to zero into the main key takeaway. The goal is to get called for a 2nd 1 minute pitches are all about driving interest.
- Understanding your competitors is key to understanding your market position – how do others do it vs. you? What is your key unique selling proposition? How are you different?
- Communicate the mission as frequently as you can – build the culture around the core mission statement.
The key takeaways were the following:
- Don’t make the mistake of developing a product – work on understanding the customer challenge or gap first. This is a mistake most of us make; force fitting a solution and finding a problem it can address.
- Roger Do (CEO of Qsearch) had a great sharing session where he showed the iterative process of getting to a clear customer problem and once there exists a market, to then develop a product that could potentially solve it. Pretotype It – Make Sure You’re Building the Right It Before You Build It Right.
- Don’t forget to keep the cold calling process going – whether it is emails, phone calls or video conferencing, keep reaching out to potential customers to understand their needs. This was tough to do given all the current operational needs of the business but it was great to get out of our comfort zone to get it done.
Revenue and Business Models:
- Working on revenue and business models to check if the market and pricing is right for the platform. Given our supplier-based SAAS model, we wanted to check if it stood up to the model.
- Given the gaps in the market and a very heavily driven HRDC market in Malaysia, the volume exists to make it scalable but it would need to scale fast to grow. Moving outside Malaysia gives us more opportunity to scale revenue and to solidify the business model.
- Speaking to industry experts was the next step in the process where we had sessions with folks in the corporate L&D space. One notable mention was Pete Yoong, CEO of Pulsifi where we went back and forth on the business model. This was definitely an eye-opening session where he shared some of his prior experiences and the challenges of the business model.
- As a platform, we made a decision to continue on our SAAS model and to branch into international markets are an option for scale. The goal is to drive traction into TalentStore and to push us into the mainstream L&D market in ASEAN.
- Simple really but hard to execute well. It’s all about telling a great story. The structure is very similar to what you find online and essentially it boils down to 1 image as shown below.
- The difficulty is creating a compelling storyline that attracts investors, illustrates your unique proposition and to showcase that you’re worth investing in. For a 3 minutes pitch, that can be a stretch as we found out.
As of today, we made it through these 4 segments to what I would call phase 2. The cohort has dropped in size as some startups where let go but overall it has been quite an eventful process to date. Looking forward to Phase 2.
Our mission in TalentStore: Simplify Training Access!
Customer problem: Access to Training Solutions Simply within Seconds
Supplier problem: Driving more revenue stability to trainers / training providers.
How we solve it:
- By having a fully integrated marketplace that allows customers to find solutions in seconds and allows them to directly reach out to suppliers.
- Integrating social proof and testimonials into the platform so that customers can understand supplier quality without having to leave the platform.
- Creating a lead generation feature within TalentStore so that supplier get direct leads from customers. We cut out the middle men!
Slides: If you’re interested to see the main slide deck we have for investors, check it out here: Slides View
One more last note: if you’re a Malaysian L&D provider or freelancer, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss about having you onboarded as a partner on TalentStore! Training success starts with access!