1-Year Anniversary, Still Day 1

Nope, I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee the future either…Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

It is now 1 year ago since I founded my first company in February 2019. So much has happened since then, and I am grateful to everybody who has been part of this journey.

After relaunching https://thesalesplaybook.io just last week, I want to take the time to reflect on the last year, but also to provide you an outlook on 2020. It is “Still Day 1” as Amazon uses to say, and I am committed to keep this Day 1 mindset up at all times. As a founder, I am constantly reflecting and tinkering on how to improve in the following areas.

Entrepreneurs can change our world for the better by solving real-world problems with the launch, growth, and scaling of new business models, technologies, products and services. This is not only true because they are so hungry to do so but also because they (unlike incumbents) go bankrupt if change is not happening, fast.

My mission is therefore still to contribute to a better, more sustainable world by helping entrepreneurs become successful through flexible, affordable, entrepreneurial sales support.

Calling this company Hartmann Ventures was a stupid idea. As in most ventures (as in startups, not in VC), I was not very clear in January 2019 on how things will play out. So I thought combining my name with a “neutral” entrepreneurial term (Ventures) provided me with the degrees of freedom to shape my market offering. Unless it did not, because >90% of startups based on the name think I am a VC and want money from me. But since I want money from them so they can get more money from customers, that’s confusing for everybody involved. Therefore, the brand “Hartmann Ventures” needs to die on its 1st birthday. Sad but true, RIP and thanks for everything @hartmannventures…

Entrepreneurs want to build successful, robust and scalable companies. But both senior and junior sales reps need proven, structured and consistent sales assets to accelerate revenue generation. Building up a SalesPlaybook therefore seems mission-critical, which is why I call my company that.

2019, the main challenge was to validate problem-solution and then product-market fit as a service business by answering these 3 questions:
1) Problem: What is the biggest challenge Swiss startups face? 90% of startups fail because they don’t grow and scale their business before running out of money. Investor funding and not paying themselves aside, sales is a differentiator between success and failure.
2) Solution: Am I able, credible and successful at providing a solution to this problem? 12 months and 35+ happy customers later I guess so… still day 1!
3) Market: Is there a market for this as in are startups able to pay me enough to make a living within 2 years? Revenues are doing OK, but can always be better by improving the market offering.

2020, I see these 3 key challenges:
Scalability: A service business can increase prices or chargeability but apart from that scales only with its available capacity.
Founder Relief: A founder that is a “Jack of all trades” is great for the launch & early growth phase. But the founder should be able to focus more & more on high-leverage activities.
Robustness: Operating as a single founder holds a significant “bus-risk”. If I as the founder and only employee die by getting hit by a bus, the business dies with me.

Now I can a) increase service capacity by hiring people or b) increase scalability and robustness with productisation.

My aim for 2020 is NOT to resolve the above by increasing fixed headcount for reasons of reduced agility, increased need for coordination, and financial risk of increasing fixed costs.

My biggest challenge is therefore to reduce founder-dependency by moving from a service-led to a product-led business. I strive to achieve this by further transforming the SalesPlaybook core market offering. In addition, I am currently establishing high-value partnerships to help customers also in complementary areas such as sales operations, digital marketing and sales recruiting.

Market Offering
I see a market offering only as a mechanism to solve real-world problems. My priorities are therefore never on technology, design, and branding as sole means to an end. If building a Machine Learning-powered SaaS offering enables me to provide founders with better value for money, I will build that, but only then. Also see “further reading” at the end for more insights.

“You have 2 years to build a company that can feed our future family — or you might need to get back to Accenture to earn money”. This is what my wife AKA “investor” and I agreed to over a bottle of Chianti while discussing financials and runway. 1 year later, I can pay myself a CHF 5’000 monthly salary — and could also do so for 03–12/2019, which feels great.

However, “I build cause I’m hungry” and will therefore not set for a lifestyle business. In numbers, this means that my (stretch) goal is CHF 350’000 revenue in 2020 and CHF 1’000’000 in 2021.

Mental Health: Entrepreneurship and life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I just turned 31. So yes, I could build this company faster. But staying healthy, happy, married and reasonably social is just as important for me.

“Final” Words: Although I learnt, built and worked on myself in 2019 more than ever before, it is still Day 1. There is so much more for me to explore, curate, productize, scale and adapt in 2020 and onwards, and I am looking forward to the journey. Thank you for reading this and being part of my journey, I truly appreciate it! If you have questions, reach out anytime via manuel@thesalesplaybook.io (live since today) or on LinkedIn.

P.S. Some further reading for you on the above:
- On Mission: Why I Founded Hartmann Ventures, No Bullshit Entrepreneurship
- On Market Offering: 4 Lessons Learnt By Changing My Market Offering 4x In 4 Quarters, 5 Reasons Startups Should Start with Services. Or try out the SaaS app I already built for free: https://app.thesalesplaybook.io/
- On Mental Health: Dear Startup Founder — A Letter for You