020 – Top 3 Startup Mistakes to Avoid, Paying it Forward at Google Campus, & Using Similar Web to engage Your Audience, with Lior Degani
Lior Degani is the Co-founder of Swayy (Acquired by Similar Web). He mentors at Google Campus in Tel Aviv to startups with Growth and Go to Market strategy as part of the Google Launchpad program. He specializes in system engineering, growth hacking and data analysis, with over 10 years experience working in Telecom and Startup companies, as well as serving in the prestigious IDF unit 8200 – an elite intelligence unit which has spawned many successful Hi-Tech entrepreneurs over the years. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Fun question for you…Would you rather be a giant rodent or a tiny elephant?
I would go with a giant rodent. I would rather be big among the people around me.
What is it like in Israel?
Israel is a tiny country in the middle east. The weather is amazing, very hot these days. Tel Aviv is a very vibrant city.
Tell us about the genesis of Swayy and what you do?
Around 5 years ago we had several ideas for startups. We’ve tried to build a start up around business networking (like a mobile App). We basically make every mistake that any start up can. There is no single mistake that you shouldn’t do in the start-up play book that we didn’t make.
It took us a long time to understand all the mistake that we made. We spent about 1 year doing nothing at all – spent a lot of money and our time. Luckily, we got to join a startup accelerator in Tel Aviv. A lot of people think our idea was stupid, so did we.
We started off our journey with no idea, just us, three entrepreneurs. Because we had no idea and we were part of an accelerator, we wanted to take advantage of it. Every day we had a different idea. Throughout those ideas, we tested them every few weeks. We tried different things, some of them were pretty useful and successful on a small scale. We believed in marketing back then until now. We took the challenge to build a tool for ourselves that would help us understand what our community of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are engaging with and how can we serve them.
It was kind of a discovery of concept for business purposes for social media marketing. While building it we figured out it was actually a very good idea. We got great feedback for it, we decided to ditch every other idea that we have and launch Swayy.
This was to analyze your social profile, looking at interaction and engagement that your followers are doing on your post and provide more relevant content for you to engage with them accordingly. We launched it in September 2013.
Give us an example of how to use the app that you have created?
It crawls through all your posts and engagement on a semantic level. For example, if you are fashion business and you share lots of content on social media, we are able to share specific articles about shoes or Paris or Jewelry, more relevant to your specific audience and generate more engagement.
What were some of the mistakes that you made in the startup phase?
I’ll give you three:
1. We didn’t share our idea with anyone – maybe we were afraid anyone would steal our idea. We did this for a year. You should never be afraid of sharing your idea. An idea in and of itself means nothing. It’s about the execution, it’s about the people behind the idea. Even if someone thinks your idea is great and are going to do it themselves, if you believe in yourself you will do it better.
2. We were looking to raise money from VCs and Angels but we decided to spend on our own and quit our jobs. Although it seems like a great thing to do because it means that you believe in your start up, that’s wrong because you shouldn’t spend money on your start up because it really gives you no other option to live. It makes you more stressful and dependent. It makes your lifespan shorter. You cannot always spend time on your startup because you’re always worried about money. From a financial perspective, when you’re spending money from your own pocket, there is no end to it. There is no budget.
3. We wanted to build the best and most comprehensive product that the world has ever seen which is completely against any idea of lean start up. When we started, it wasn’t there yet where everyone knows about Minimum Viable Product (MVP). We just thought that if a product is not good enough, no-one would use it so we would rather build the best product we can, which is against any common sense. When you try out something simple, the basic, the core of your product, you collect feedback from your users, you see if you can even get users. Why would you spend so much time building the best future if no one would use it? We built a super complicated and probably useless product which took us more time and more money.
Similar Web acquired Swayy, tell us about that?
After starting Swayy in 2013, we got some great reaction from the media, from users and investors. Initially it was amazing for us. After many years of our work without any results, we were able to get some interest. Obviously, they were challenges and we didn’t grow to be the biggest company in the world but made small steps of improvements every couple of months, which is important.
We played in a content discovery world and within the social media analytics world. This raised interest from several companies. We had the honour to talk with huge companies around the world about collaboration or maybe finding other ways to work together. Around a year or so, we had the opportunity to learn from another company and to grow personally. It wasn’t easy to decide to stop what you’re building every day and join a different company with a different cause from what you were doing specifically.
We found an amazing partner with Similar Web. The opportunity was amazing for us. We were looking at several directions, but sometimes come an opportunity when you feel it’s a perfect fit and we really did find an amazing home to help us improve in every aspect. It has already been two years since and it has been super successful for us how we have merged into the organization the way we did.
Similar Web does market intelligence so we measure everything that is happening in the digital world – whatever visitor goes to any traffic and where the traffic is coming from and how people are reacting on a certain website and provide you with all the knowledge you need to improve your marketing strategy or generally how to increase your market share. This huge vision that the company has was appealing to us in the beginning and it is appealing to us today. We really found an interesting home to be at.
Paying it forward, mentoring at Google Campus – what is the role of campus and your involvement?
There are several campuses around the world that hosts different initiatives, different events – mostly free for the startup community as Google is super supportive (of startups). One of these initiatives is the Google Launch Pad programme where they bring in for an intensive week of training and mentorship, startups from different programmes in Tel Aviv and every day is about specific topics such as pitching, fund-raising, etc., like a speed-dating scenario.
I specifically participate in the marketing day and my co-founder from Swayy is participating in the product day. You meet amazing startups at different stages. There is nothing better than starting your company and living your dream. I’m lucky enough to participate in several start up programmes and other accelerators.
When I just joined the start-up accelerator in Tel Aviv, we had no idea what to do but we had mentors. Some of them that we met there are good friends to this day. It is impossible to succeed without learning from other people who had made those mistakes before to help you prevent those mistakes. I’m trying to pay to forward. When you are growing in the startup community, you’re interested, it’s fun, it’s exciting and you always meet startups. I had the opportunity to mentor startups for longer period along their journey like 3 or 4 months.
What is the startup landscape in Tel Aviv?
The majority of startups I meet won’t even reach any initial stage of investment where they can get to next step of building and marketing their product. The ones that pass this stage keep their startup for 2 or 3 years maximum before they fail – it sounds harsh but this is start up life, you go for a journey, only few succeed.
Luckily, we were acquired by Similar Web. We wanted to build a big company on our own which we couldn’t do. Every startup has their own journey. The numbers are not in your favour. Most entrepreneurs I know that are successful today have failed before. I’m not familiar with anyone that did it on their first try. Maybe there is but I haven’t met anyone. Failing in a start in a startup is part of the process.
What is the number one reason for failure?
Losing focus. We lost focus several times because there are different things that you hear when you meet people. That is why you need to be able to able to make the distinction between feedback and noise. Never lose focus.
Never be afraid of sharing your idea, it’s the execution that makes the difference.
We need others in order to succeed at starting a business.
As a startup, you must be able to make the distinction between feedback and noise.