Fiskl’s CEO and founder Alina C. Lapusneanu used to be a top-level executive at Vodafone, but saw the opportunity to build her own business and can now boast some impressive KPI. We asked Alina how she achieved almost 12k organic customers and 56% conversion rate, what are the biggest challenges she faces as a startup CEO and how she came up with an idea that now brings her $40,000 MRR.
Hi, Alina! Your project Fiskl aims to help people track their business finances right from their mobile device. For those who are not familiar with your service yet how would you describe your project and what you do?
Alina C. Lapusneanu: We are a light accounting application built for small business owners, not for accountants. Blue-collar or white-collar, whether you are a plumber, an architect, or a business management consultant, you can use the application on-the-go to manage your business from anywhere.
How old is your project?
AL: Three years old.
I know you’re based in London, right?
AL: Yeah, our headquarters are in London at the moment, but we have partners in other countries in the world, in the US, Africa, and the Middle East.
Can you share some insider data on just how your project is doing right now?
AL: We support 110 countries. At the moment, we have 11,600 customers, all organic. Our primary road to market is through partnerships, so we partner with banks, mobile operators, payment providers, accounting firms, anybody who sells to small businesses. We’ve just signed a big agreement with Vodacom group. We have launched in South Africa with a partner, and we’re launching in 8 more counties next year. We have a long pipeline that we’ve built up.
If you don’t believe in your product, nobody will believe in your product.
And you’re cash-positive right now? What’s your MRR?
AL: Yes, we are. We have over $40,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
How many people are on your marketing and sales teams?
AL: 10 people. I’m very tight on the budget. We need to be efficient. So we have 4 developers, and the rest are sales, marketing, and product.
But you’re not all organized within the same office?
AL: We have a distributed team actually, and it works really really well. The development team is in Russia, we found very good developers, our designer is in Ukraine, and another part of the team is in London. We like the distributed environment, we work very well on Slack, we highly recommend it. We use daily stand-ups, and the team is super engaged, we love working as an international team.
What are the biggest challenges and problems you’ve faced so far?
AL: Our biggest challenge is scaling, because we have so many partnership offers that I need to grow the team rapidly. I need to go to 30 people by Q1 2019. So, my biggest challenge is growing the team by another 18 to 20 people over the next two months.
I used to be a top-level executive. I had 1200 people on my team. And I still don’t fire fast enough. The biggest tip I can give is if somebody is not working as a team member, make the decision faster.
As a woman in tech, what was the biggest challenge for you? Did you have any trouble with organizing a team? Have all team members always believed in you or have you faced any obstacles when it came to convincing other people in your idea?
AL: Our team really liked our idea. We had a sales person that I had to fire, because he wasn’t hungry and excited about the product, he didn’t really believe in our product. If you don’t believe in your product, nobody will believe in your product.
We like people who understand and want to work on our product. If you are interested in something else, then you need to go there. We believe in democratizing software for small businesses worldwide, which is a huge endeavor. Those who believe [in the idea] stay, the people who don’t believe need to go, because they drag the team down.
And how do you fire someone? Is that more difficult for you now that your team is successful?
AL: I used to run quite a big division in the Vodafone group. I used to be a top-level executive. I had 1200 people on my team. And I still don’t fire fast enough. The biggest tip I can give is if somebody is not working as a team member, make the decision faster. It took me maybe an extra two months to make the decision. So my tip is if the person just isn’t working for the company, fire them as quickly as possible. And don’t be afraid.
And what made you leave the position as a top-level executive at Vodafone and start your own company?
AL: Two things. There’s so much innovative stuff happening around. I spotted an opportunity for mobile, I wanted to test it out. As a woman executive, if you’re looking ahead in the company, you have to move around the world, and you have to fight constantly in an industry that may be not so exciting. I was very good at what I was doing, but this is way more exciting. At some point, you have to break out on your own, and that’s it.
When you already have a relationship with a partner that you’re targeting, [they convert easier]. Even you have a very strong sales team but they don’t have the relationships in the market you’re targeting, you will not be very successful.
Is your sales team more important to you than your marketing team?
AL: Sales for us is key. They are the ones who work on partnerships so they are the core. The way we work on sales is we take people with relationships in the industry because when you already have a relationship with a partner that you’re targeting, [they convert easier]. If you’re a startup, it’s also a good idea to get board advisers with relationships within the industry that you’ll be targeting.
Even you have a very strong sales team but they don’t have the relationships in the market you’re targeting, you will not be very successful. So marketing for us is secondary after sales.
What is your #1 secret to success for young entrepreneurs, for young women in tech, for young startups?
AL: Persistence. Get up the next day and try again, because somewhere there’s an opportunity for you that’s made for your company. Don’t give up. We hear “No” a lot, we hear a lot of uninterested partners, that’s fine, we move on to the next. Persistence is key. If you wanna make it, be persistent.
And just to give people a realistic idea of how easy or difficult it is to succeed, how many times have you heard “No” before you heard a “Yes”?
AL: 80% of what I hear is “No”.
Persistence is key. If you wanna make it, be persistent. 80% of what I hear is “No”.
What’s your conversion rate?
AL: 56% from free to paid.
That’s an impressive number! How did you achieve that?
AL: We made the product really simple, we’ve worked really hard on the design because that’s the key – if people like the product, they’ll stay. We’ve poured our soul into the platform, we work all-around-the-clock, it’s an ultra-marathon, nothing happens overnight. But if you stay at it, stay persistent, design the product that your customers love, then you’ll succeed.
How many hours a week do you work?
AL: Too many! [Laughs]
And how do you relax?
AL: I garden and I cook. Very domestic, but I love it!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.