3 Key Principles for Growing Your Early Stage Startup

Tim and Christoph, co-founders of akirolabs, share three guiding principles that they apply throughout their ongoing company building and product development journey.

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1. From Zero to One

At akirolabs, we are all first-time founders, have left well-paid and secure jobs and jumped into the cold water of entrepreneurship – why did we do it? Because we have the vision of revolutionizing the way strategic procurement is done and by that make a true impact on the global procurement community.

According to several serial entrepreneurs and venture capital managers we recently talked to, this is a rather uncommon approach. Most startups have their roots in founders’ identification of a specific problem on the job. Usually, they spend some spare time to experiment with several solutions until they believe they have found a viable option. Once they see positive response from colleagues or potential customers, they launch their company with a lean solution for that specific problem and try to “land and expand” their business at customers.

In contrast, our approach is to fly in top-down with a vision to revolutionize how strategic procurement is done BEYOND category management and savings, digitalizing a 20+ process in its entirety with a SaaS collaboration platform and augmented by AI/ML technology. Pursuing that approach needs to fit to the framework conditions in which a company is founded, especially to the team.

As our founding team combines extensive procurement experience of roughly 70 years, flying in high with a vision is more authentic and credible than it would be for a junior or IT-rooted team. However, the load of procurement expertise and network effects come at a cost, which is lack of entrepreneurial experience. We address that Achilles’ heel by avid and daily self-education about building and growing a startup.

Moreover, we talk to serial entrepreneurs and tech experts every week. Along the way of self-learning, we discovered retrospectively that our startup approach fits to the “Zero to One” concept popularized by Peter Thiel. He argues convincingly that the most impactful solution are the ones that open a new market or solution space with technology (0 to 1) and change completely how things are done. That is opposed to the more common approach of startups that try to go from “1 to n”, i.e. being a newer or better version of an existing product or process in an already addressed market.       

2. Co-development to ensure immediate product/market fit

When we started our journey into the uncertainty of digitalizing and future-proofing procurement a quote by David Ben-Gurion gave us confidence and optimism: “All experts are experts in what was. There are no experts in what will be.” We concluded that vision, leadership and collaboration replace experience in times of digitalization and change – because it is unprecedented and no one has ever done it. Enlighted by this statement we decided that the best approach to develop a product that truly meets the needs of our customers (product/market fit) is to co-develop it with them.

Continuously involving people from various backgrounds to look at the problem at hand from multiple angles and spark creativity and vision for a Zero to One solution. For instance, when we wanted to learn more about state-of-the-art analytics, we conducted a workshop with analytics engineers of the McLaren Formula 1 team who showcased us how real-time data is used to adjust the racing car configuration mid-race.

When we brainstorm a new feature idea, we only spent 2-4 hours internally preparing a high-level requirements description. Immediately afterwards, we schedule a workshop to iterate the idea with our customers, adapt and refine it to take it to the next level fast while increasing the likelihood of product/market fit at release.

In order to institutionalize continuous customer feedback and co-development we established a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) with eight companies from different industries. Besides monthly CAB meetings with the procurement executive level for idea assessment and creation, we started a guiding testing phase of our minimum delightable product with 2-5 category managers per company – wait, minimum delightable product?

3. Building a minimum DELIGHTABLE product

It has become common practice to develop SaaS solutions applying an agile product development approach. An important element of that approach is to conduct short repetitive development sprints with the goal of developing a minimum viable product (MVP) as early as possible. That is a prototype to test product/market fit with customers. The term originates from the idea that as soon as a prototype is “viable” it should be tested to avoid wasting precious development time and money to craft an unwanted or mis-specified feature. However, during previous projects in which we developed predecessor products, we realized that this approach has its flaws.

Although the MVP approach helps you as a business to extract valuable information on your product to improve it, we realized that customers were still most interested in “fancy” features and could become disappointed if the product only delivered viable, basic features. In response to that experience, we changed our approach to developing and testing a minimum DELIGHTABLE product (MDP) – so, how do we do that?

We distinguish between three layers of capabilities from:

  1. Foundational, e.g. user management and nice visuals
  2. Core, strategic procurement frameworks like supplier preferencing and value levers 
  3. Advanced, such as AI/ML capabilities.

Our MDP already includes a cross-cut of features from all three layers. Delivering some of the basics and core features builds trust and confidence that we will deliver the remaining basic and core features available – delivering first advanced features provide evidence and trust that we can deliver our vision. 

Rounding up or article on the three principles of our journey, we would like to share (similar like previous guest authors) insightful startup lessons for self-education with the community:

Recommended books: 

  • From Zero to One, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
  • Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
  • The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn If Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You, by Rob Fitzpatrick

Recommended blogs:

Recommended Podcasts:

About the authors

Tim Ergenzinger

Tim is responsible for finance & operations and looks back on a decade of procurement consulting experience.

Dr. Christoph Flöthmann

Dr. Christoph Flöthmann is Co-founder of akirolabs and responsible for Product & Technology. Previously, he worked along the other co-founders on large scale procurement transformation projects.

About akirolabs

akirolabs is an AI enabled strategic procurement platform that facilitates collaborative procurement strategy development BEYOND category management and savings. Learn more about akirolabs at akirolabs.com 


DPW is the global innovation and mission-based ecosystem for digital procurement. We are driven by our purpose: To unlock the true power of procurement through excellence in digital.
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