Startup GoMaterials Celebrates its Third Year in Business
April 30th, 2020 marks our third year in business, and we couldn’t be more excited. Building a startup isn’t easy, especially when the odds are against you. If 30% of startups fail within two years and even more so when the founders are under the age of 30, we think we’ve got some celebrating to do!
To highlight the milestone, we thought we’d ask the founders a few questions to learn about their experience so far. First, let’s meet the founders!
Here’s what they had to say about their journey and starting GoMaterials.
1. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced over the past 3 years?
Marc: Getting the business off the ground. In those early days there was so much to learn, and did we ever learn a lot! Originally, we over-invested time and money building a complex online store that our customers didn’t use. We had no choice but to pivot and build a real MVP (minimum viable product) with constant testing and altering based on feedback. From this experience we were able to successfully change the customer experience and start building early traction.
Shireen: Overcoming the seasonality of our business in Canada. We knew early on that we would need to quickly enter into a market that was operational year-round. In 2019, we expanded to Florida and the entire year was one huge learning experience. Everything was new to us, from the legal setup, logistics and operations, payment processing and customer habits. I’d say we are finally in a position where we’ve overcome most of those challenges and are going to be much better prepared for the next markets we enter.
Michael: Hiring and growing our all-star team. GoMaterials started a bit differently than an ordinary startup because we had our founders before we had the idea. I think that says a lot in itself, as you can have an extraordinary idea but if you don’t have the right people in place you won’t get very far. Your first hires are some of your most important because they will build, not only your business, but your culture with you.
2. What important learning have you taken away?
Marc: Trust is essential in the workplace. Knowing that the team will support you no matter what will motivate people to take risks and try new things. For example, a trusting relationship between sales and operations is important because it impacts customer conversion. An operations team that can be relied on to get the job done well, develops a confident sales team, and that confidence will allow them to work harder to make a sale.
Shireen: I learned pretty quickly that the word “perfect” doesn’t exist in a startup. I’ve had to learn to embrace the chaos that comes with entrepreneurship and the need for imperfection to get things off the ground. Another learning is the importance of advisors and mentorship. Always welcome feedback, even if you don’t like what you are hearing. Chances are you will think differently afterwards. However, at the end of the day, always trust your gut, as you know your business better than anyone.
Michael: Being resourceful! It’s actually one of our company’s core values. You don’t need a huge budget or the most sophisticated software to make things happen! You can be extremely creative with what you have and in return, deliver BIG results!
3. Marc, how do you keep up with customer needs?
I can relate with our customers on a deep level, because I was in their shoes for over 10 years. I owned a landscaping company and have therefore lived a lot of the headaches they face. Also, my current role allows me to talk to customers on a daily basis, and I never pass up on the opportunity to understand how GoMaterials can serve them better.
4. Shireen, how have you been focusing your marketing efforts for growth?
Our biggest objectives for marketing have been to generate qualified leads for sales and build trust and credibility. Everything we do marketing-wise has those objectives in mind. What has worked best with our audience is personalized communication. Email campaigns and tradeshows have been our most successful tactics so far, but we are always testing new ways to drive awareness and engagement.
5. Michael, how do you constantly adapt the business?
Listening is one of the most important aspects of adapting your business and discovering new opportunities. You need to ask questions and listen to your customers and your team. It may not always be what you want to hear but it is crucial when making business decisions ,especially with a startup.
6. What do you wish you knew when you started the company?
Marc: I really wish I knew a developer or knew how to code. Finding a CTO was a daunting and time-consuming task and filling this role with a highly skilled person was especially important to us, as a company investing in tech. I also wish I knew the level of experience someone needs to build a tech stack from database to front end, as this would have helped in the hiring process.
Shireen: Based on our own mistakes, I wish I had known to develop the most basic, inexpensive MVP and started testing it immediately. There is no good in investing a ton of time and money into a product that you really have no idea if your customers will use. We should have asked ourselves, “what is the need we are filling?” and then, “what can we do next week to test if this is a real need?” This is a great exercise to get a sense of how simple your MVP should be.
Michael: I wish I knew to stop wasting time trying to perfect things. An entrepreneur’s motto should be, “get comfortable with uncomfortable!” I know now that in a startup, you will never make decisions based 100% on facts, as there will always be a level of ambiguity. I call it “fact-based gut decisions.” If your gut is telling you to move forward with something and there are some facts behind it, then do it.
7. Do you have any advice for a young startup looking to grow?
Marc: Set realistic expectations, work hard and be patient. Too many entrepreneurs hear about these “overnight successes” and believe that they can come out with a cool new product or service that everyone will instantly be dying to get their hands on. The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work and trial and error to start seeing traction. You need to build a small base of potential customers, get an MVP out to them, gather feedback and work on building a product so good that they keep coming back. Then, and only then, will you start building growth traction.
Shireen: Depends on the phase of your startup, but if you are at the beginning of your journey, I think the saying “fail fast” is great advice. I would make one small addition; “fail fast and cheap.” You will need to adapt your product/service/positioning many times in the beginning until you find your true value proposition. With that in mind, do everything you can to shorten the time and money it takes you to get there.
Michael: Show, don’t tell. It’s easy to talk about all the things you want to do as an entrepreneur, but it’s a whole other ball game when it comes to getting it done. You should clearly define what you are trying to do and how you will measure if it was a success, then get it done. It’s not about getting it right all the time. It’s about getting it done and determining if it’s something that’s worth pursuing further. You should only spend so much time on your strategy before moving on to execution.
Thank you to everyone who supported GoMaterials so far. We’re just getting started!
To hear more recent updates on our journey, you can listen to our more recent podcast interview with founder Marc Elliot.
Read on some landscaping trends predicted by GoMaterials’ CEO this 2022.