Grega Potokar, CEO of ABC Accelerator has seen it all when it comes to start-ups. But even for him, the situation with the coronavirus came as a surprise. Nevertheless, he says “Please, do not waste a good crisis.” He says that innovative and disruptive solutions are often born out of crisis and challenges, rather than prosperity. When there are major shifts of power happening, it is easier to find your own piece of the market, especially if you are a start-up and can react fast. It is important for startups to really focus on their product – market fit, now more than ever. In order to survive this challenge, it is crucial to “make two steps backwards”, and “return to the Business Model Canvas and closely monitor the messages coming from the market.” “A good startup is a reflection of the market”, he insists. If you do not listen to the market you will fail sooner rather than later. The situation with the COVID-19 will only speed it up, but not cause it.
Even in the industries most affected by the quarantine and other restrictions, adaptation is possible. He mentions Flexkeeping, a successful ABC alumnus, who was in the hotel industry before the crisis. Their major clients were hotel chains which were forced to shut down because of the quarantine and travel restrictions. Their revenue went almost to zero in a matter of days. However, they adapted fast and offered cleaning and disinfection services instead, which prevented them from bankrupt. When the touristic sector recovers, they will be able to pivot again, something they would not be able to do if the crisis destroyed them. Another example is Beeping, startup that offers home and office cleaning. They too responded to the new needs on the market and offered disinfection rather than regular cleaning services.
Perhaps this lesson in the form of coronavirus is a good thing as it points out to the mistakes that so many companies make at their beginning. Startups should always test their assumptions, not rely on them.
AB Accelerator also pivoted quite significantly during these times. “In a matter of days, we switched from personal meetings to webinars. We’ve made some mistakes along the way.” But as he stressed several times during the conversation, it is important to react to the changes and worry about the mistakes as you go. There is always time to learn from your mistakes, but if you wait too long, others will grab their share of the market and your chance will be lost. In other words, “survival rate of startups will be high among those who can adapt to changes in the market, whether this is caused by COVID-19 or something else.”
Jana Hrženjak and Tim Breznik are the brains behind Helicopter Food®, brand of Timini d.o.o. Despite the fact that they are social scientists by education – Jana studied at the Faculty of Public Administration, and Tim is a communication specialist – they bravely started on their own path of entrepreneurship: »Because I studied marketing communication, I am aware of the importance of designing a brand identity, both on a visual and communication level. That is why I designed the visual and communication identity myself and thus gained the unity of all its parts.« They recognized the problem of eating healthy and quick already during their student years. In response, Jana prepared a pesto from pumpkin seeds and other healthy seeds in pumpkin oil for her boyfriend Tim. Tim liked the pesto so much that it eventually became their first product.
Today, Helicopter Food® presents a creative nut diet – everything from spreads to snacks. The products that are the result of their own production line are genuine, versatile and trustworthy. Their main customers are people who want to live healthy. Helicopter Food® “flying snacks for flying people” are nuts dressed in fruit – a healthy snack and dessert at the same time. The products are BIO certified, with no traces of gluten and completely plant-based.
Why did they decide to start their own company at a time when a good job was relatively easy to get? Tim said that already when he returned to Štajerska region, he knew that he would start his own business. Their families also supported the decision, despite the fact that neither of them comes from an environment where they would deal with food for business. You see this as a problem at the very beginning: when you want to reach a large customer, say a grocery store chain, when knowing the right people is crucial. “They’re hiding the purchasers,” Tim says. Nevertheless, they managed to penetrate not only into various health food stores, but their products will soon appear on the shelves of Mercator. Along the way, they also received support from the municipality, which provided them with a subsidy to purchase equipment.
In their entrepreneurial journey, they emphasize the goal the most – when you know what you want, you can learn what is needed along the way. “If we could change something, we would be less concerned with the details today,” they added. At the beginning of the journey, they were convinced that just a great idea is enough to succeed with it. Today, they know that a lot of hard work and perseverance is needed to succeed.
When asked what are they worried about, Jana explains that they were a little worried about the recent situation with the coronavirus: “People have moved from almost luxury goods to basic ones, such as flour. When this happens, of course, you start wondering whether the company will survive. ” But there are far fewer worries today: “We are moving back to normal, including in the company.”
It’s no secret that Jana and Tim are also a couple in their private lives. They say that this is an advantage for them: “In the beginning, we went for walks and Jana wrote down every idea. If you don’t write down ideas, they are forgotten. We talk a lot. “
Today, they are more than happy with their decision. The main recognition comes from the professionals: “When you hear that one chef gives your product to another as a birthday present, you know that you make good products.” When this Las Vegas chef then calls you and personally compliments your product, you no longer worry about failure. Nevertheless, they find that failure is also part of the job and that there is something to be learned from it. However, it is not necessary to take into account the opinion of the environment, which is sometimes not in favor of success.
If you’re interested in learning more about Helicopter Food®, you can view the products and story at www.helicopterfood.com, FB @helicopterfood and Instagram @helicopterfood.