Workplace culture crucial for startup success
When the owners of data wrangling startup Segna contacted Kea Connect they weren’t looking to speak to experts in the tech or data fields. Instead they were after help to create a strong workplace culture. CTO and Co-founder Aryan Lobie explains why he thinks a positive office vibe is a must to ensure success for any startup.
Aryan was grappling with a problem, working as data scientists he found they spent more time preparing the data rather than analysing it. After looking around her realised there was no easy solution available on the current market and that he wasn’t the only person with the same problem.
“I started talking to people and found that this was a problem for the whole market, and it was especially tough on small to medium sized companies. I was discussing it with a colleague of mine, Will, and that’s when we decided to launch Segna. The product uses machine learning to take multiple dirty data sources and output them to a single clean data source.
We essentially automate data cleaning through machine learning to make it much quicker and more efficient.”
Aryan and Will created what Aryan describes as a ‘questionable pitch deck’ and went out and hit up investors. They were lucky enough to gain some money out of a venture fund in Australia which ended up being more than just capital.
“When this fund originally backed us we thought they were just nice guys who believed in what we were trying to do but it turned out they were quite big investors who have helped us a lot along the way with advice and problem solving.”
After securing capital Aryan says they spent around a year building their platform and working out how to best tackle the problem and optimise their time. After deciding to focus on a better data wrangling tool that would be driven by AI, they applied to Silicon Valley based company Y Combinator (YC), which has helped companies like Air BnB, Dropbox and Stripe. After two unsuccessful attempts they were accepted into the programme.
“YC gives you a little bit of money to start, mainly to just pay your costs and then you undertake a three month training program to prepare for ‘demo day’ where you essentially raise money for your seed round. Most of the YC partners are people who have exited billion dollar startups so they are really incredible in terms of advice and help.”
Aryan realised that the investment from Silicon Valley meant their company was going to grow fast and they would need more staff, and that made him think about workplace culture and what sort of environment they wanted Segna to have.
“We knew we needed to be prepared in case there was any ground work to do before we expanded our team. It’s obviously very hard to change things when you have 15 people compared to when you have two, so we wanted to be mindful of that. I was also interested in understanding what makes a great culture. Both of us have worked in startups where there were points of friction and that definitely affected us. Realistically a startup is just the sum of its people and a good culture means you can hire the best people and give them an environment that they enjoy and thrive in. We may be a tech company but it’s our people who build the tech so if we want good tech we have to attract good people.”
Aryan contacted Kea Connect who put him in touch with one of our solvers who had experience in tech startup culture. As a result he says he now has a better understanding of the difference between values and culture and was able to take some practical steps such as changing the way he runs his one to ones.
“It was a good opportunity to figure out what we were doing right as well as what we could improve on. When you begin something like this you are walking in the dark, getting an idea of how others have done this and how they have done it well is really important. I think more than anything it’s about learning from the right people. It’s worse to get bad advice than to get no advice at all and that’s where Kea Connect really helped us, by connecting us to the right people.”
Segna’s team has grown from two people to seven people and is on track to double in size by next year. The company currently has 1000 people on its waitlist but Aryan says the focus remains on quality not quantity.
“We want to mature the product and get to a place where our current customers really love us and we are solving their problems quickly and efficiently. Once we are confident with these customers then we will scale up. Our next goal is to address those businesses on our waitlist and expand our product to fit their needs and address their problems, then in the long term we will look to new markets.”
His advice to other entrepreneurs thinking about launching a startup is to be very clear about the problem you are trying to solve.
“Always make sure you are trying to solve a burning problem, and once you are sure of that then make sure you persevere when necessary but also be able to change if needed. The greatest strength of startups is the ability to pivot, that ability to pivot sets you apart from those big corporations, they can’t do that, they need six months to plan for a small change, that’s why disruption is most prevalent in startups and that’s where we have the advantage.”
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