Every week, we interview founders in our community who pushed past the initial hurdles and challenges of starting a startup venture or side hustle and are on their way to turn their passions into future success stories.
This week, we speak with Francesco Marcatto, the co-founder of Mindiply.
1. Francesco, tell us a little bit about yourself, background and current startup venture.
I’m a cognitive/occupational psychologist, with an extensive background in academic research and teaching.
At the end of 2015, I joined forces with Paolo Bongiovanni, a long-time friend of mine with a great experience in developing saas applications. Our idea was to create business applications based on the latest findings from the scientific literature, mostly from cognitive psychology and organizational science. We call them ‘power tools for the mind’.
And so Mindiply was born. We’ve changed direction a couple of times so far, and I believe now we’re now on the right path: we have recently developed I Am Why, a strategic planning tool developed especially for startups and small teams, and we are currently in the product/market fit stage.
2. What have been the biggest hurdles that you’ve strived hard to overcome so far?
Finding a problem worth solving, and testing if our solution is perceived as a good solution by potential users. In other words, the problem/solution stage of the Lean Startup framework.
You must go outside and collect information: talk with people, make the right questions, watch them during their job, and so on. And it’s very hard to give a meaning to all this mass of fuzzy information you collect. Even when you have some quantitative data, sometimes you have to make a leap of faith: for example, having people who sign up for updates on your landing page is a clear sign of interest for your product, but it doesn’t mean that they will buy it on a later stage!
3. What do you typically do when you don’t find answers to your challenges?
Research. I read a lot, books, scientific literature, blogs, online journals, and there is almost always some great answer out there. This is the ‘magic’ of the information age. There’s, however, a ‘dark side’, information overload: there is too much information, and most of it is too shallow or just bad.
I think that being able to recognise good information from the rest is one of the most important skills, especially for the future generations. And if I don’t find a reasonable answer this way, my next step is to ask an expert. There is always someone with more expertise than us, we don’t have to be afraid of asking for help.
4. What have been the biggest milestones you’ve passed with your startup so far? What mistakes did you make in the meanwhile?
I’ll start with the big mistake: Spending 6 months developing a product we liked a lot, but that had no market. We started our journey from a scientific literature finding: there is a vast body of research showing that traditional ‘face-to-face’ brainstorming is seriously flawed, and there are better ways to solve problems creatively in a group. So we developed Neonce, a tool that works way better than standard brainstorming. Problem is, people are happy with traditional brainstorming and won’t change their way to do things just because academic research says the opposite. In other words, it was a ‘push’ product: a great solution nobody asked, because they were already happy with the current one.
At least, we have learned from this mistake, so before heading into the next project, we interviewed and observed a lot of people, mainly startup founders and entrepreneurs, trying to understand what they wanted and needed. The result is I Am Why.
Our biggest milestones so far, are the release of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and having people signing up and using it constantly. It’s so exciting seeing that other people are using the tool we’ve created! ‘They are working better thanks to our tool’, this thought is one of the biggest sources of motivation for me.
The next milestone will be the release of an updated version: following the feedback we have collected so far from our users, we are making some changes in order to make I Am Why more useful and to provide an overall better user experience. It should be ready in a couple of weeks (fingers crossed!).
5. Where do you see your startup and yourself as an entrepreneur in 5 years?
Hopefully, we’ll be a somewhat bigger company, but I see myself still working on I Am Why, improving and refining it one little step at a time, like a bonsai tree gardener. Since we aren’t a one-product-startup and we aim at developing more ‘power tools for the mind’, I think that at the same time we’ll be working on something else. Maybe an expanded version of Decido, a dot-voting app we’ve developed some time ago in two weeks as a sprint exercise, or maybe an improved version of the old brainstorming tool, or one of the other ideas that are still waiting to be developed.
6. What would be an extraordinary goal to achieve this year?
Having a working business model. In other words, having a more or less steady flow of paying customers. At the moment there is just the free version of I Am Why, but we are working to make it a more mature, usable and useful tool, and sooner or later we will release a ‘pro’ version. So yes, seeing paying customers coming will be a great goal for this year.
7. Any other tips you want to share with aspiring and starting entrepreneurs?
They say that if you really want something, sooner or later you will get it. Well, I don’t think so. I say work hard, learn from your failures, and be open to challenge your ideas. And learn to prioritize: in a startup every day there are many things to do, but you should focus mostly on the things that will move the needle and bring your business forward. Even if this means doing the things that scare you, such as contacting strangers or interviewing people. We’ve found that being organized, that is defining a strategy and creating a strategic plan for the next couple of months, is incredibly useful for prioritizing our tasks and avoiding wasting time.
Download the bootstrapping guide to find some of the strategies Francesco used to bootstrap Mindiply.