When I first joined Next Big Thing AG (NBT) eight months ago as a venture development intern, I never dreamed I’d join a Venture Development team that would bring a new company to life so quickly and gain valuable first-hand experience! Now I’m reflecting back in order to share with the community four tips about kicking off new ventures. I hope these insights are of use to you in bringing your good ideas to fruition.
Here are 4 tips from my Venture Development playbook to help you grow your idea.
Tip 1. Start with an Idea Big Enough to Rock an Industry
The idea for ConcR was sparked out of the venture development team network, with a keen interest in how to improve multiple aspects of the concrete process. The construction industry is old-fashioned in a lot of ways, but there’s a wave of innovation coming, just as manufacturing underwent such a transition five years ago. To give an example, now we see some players in the construction industry adopting the use of drones, sensors, and the digitalization of blueprints.
Developing the sensor at the lab inside NBT's HQ in Berlin
One of these progressive areas we are actively watching is BIM, or Building Information Modelling. You can think of it like the Internet for the construction industry. It’s a method of using software to synchronize via a network, the planning, execution and management of constructed buildings. Because it makes a projected digital model based on real data, it offers amazing advantages in terms of costs estimates and consensus among the various construction industry players.
Tip 2. Test and Involve Experts
Using data to optimize planning in construction appealed to us when we were evaluating the market need for this venture. We looked at the competition to determine how to offer something even more refined and improved.
NBT's Senior Hardware Engineer David Riding gets hands-on mixing concrete to live-test the ConcR sensors
On the technical side, we consulted with our in-house team of highly-specialized IoT engineers. Our hardware lead, David Riding, and his team came up with several options for improvements that we rapidly tested. We developed a number of solutions within just one month. It was incredibly cool to have a team who could enact this high-level of experimentation. When I would wonder aloud: "I want to do something better here, but how?" David would immediately order something, and start testing materials in order to reach a solution which ‘realized’ the idea.
On the business side, our venture department is lean and agile. To maintain our broad focus, we seek out experts in fields where we develop solutions. What was key was finding the right experts in construction. So we spoke to many construction workers to find the pain points and also experts in the field of concrete strength testing. We connected with an expert on our go-to-market strategy as well as on the key USPs of our solution.
Venture Developer Louise Leroy bikes the ConcR sensor around to test its range with the team of engineers
We are seeking experts in key industries such as energy, retail, manufacturing, decentralized finance, and Industry 4.0. Feel free to reach out!
In our analysis of the construction industry, we discovered some heavy processes involved but not a lot of data collected or utilized. We saw that most construction projects run overtime – and that time is money! Our solution and product had to save time and money and bring efficiency. Finally, we also had to convince our management board that we had a reasonable market size and that our project is destined to be the next big thing!
Tip 3. Target a Founder Niche
Once we got the green light from the NBT board, our founder search began in earnest. This was a fascinating process. We needed to find the best way to communicate our expectations as to who we were seeking to be a founder of this new venture, ConcR. At the same time, as we were conducting our founder search, we were gaining so many insights! It surprised me that, despite the high-quality of applicants, it was tough to find someone who fills all the right skills and attitudes to be the founder. In other words, we were looking for a person not only with the skills, but also a vision and the entrepreneurial spark.
To confirm the right match, we hosted a workshop where candidates could respond to the challenges of this role. Through structured interactions with our tech team, marketing team, financial team, venture developers, and management, here’s what we wanted to assess:
Are they a good fit for this venture; do they show the right spirit and the right skillset?
Are they a good fit to NBT? Are they motivated to do this project with us?
Finally we were ready to negotiate. NBT is not “silent money”. We offer a package to founders that involves equity, a salary, and being part of the NBT ecosystem – with us a co-founder. Our model will be the best fit for you if you have that ‘entrepreneurial itch’ but would rather take on the grand adventure while being surrounded and supported by a vast team of competent people.
Tip 4. Combine Diverse Skill Sets
To bring ConcR to life, I tapped into the resources and the full team at NBT. I’ve been inside an early-stage startup before, so I know how sometimes you hit a wall and have to take a step back. But that should trigger you to talk to more people to get more feedback, learning to pivot and iterate. Company building cases bring the right people together to accomplish great things.
In my case, that was our Senior Hardware Engineer, David Riding; Embedded Engineer Niranjan Rao for connecting M2M communication; and Software Engineering Lead, Parag Majumdar. I also relied on Senior Venture Developer, Yoann Berno for valuable feedback on our pitch deck, the business model (because he himself was a founder and has a critical eye) and brainstorming together with Marketing Manager Ezequiel Djeredjian for marketing insights.
Embedded Engineer Niranjan Roa inside the Engineering department at NBT's HQ in Berlin
Because NBT is a company builder, you can talk to people with very different skill sets and that’s a huge plus! Our environment is a growing ecosystem and that’s important for a VC. If you want to learn more about what we are building, check out the portfolio of ventures and reach out!