Putting the lean approach to practice and paying attention to your customers is often preached but not always practiced. SaaSEAD had the opportunity to speak with Irish-native turned Amsterdam-entrepreneur John Staunton, CEO of Countr https://countrhq.com/, a software-based point of sale system that allows retailers, restaurants, and other enterprises turn a tablet into a powerful Point of Sale (PoS) system in just a few clicks.
Going from Prototype to Product
Originally the brainchild of an INSEAD intensive startup bootcamp weekend, John was able to take Countr from concept to sellable prototype by quickly hacking together the hardware and software necessary to get a PoS system off the ground. For the Countr team, this meant heading to the local equivalent of RadioShack, buying an Android tablet and an NFC reader, and getting their product in the hands of customers as fast as possible – which in their case meant less than 7 days.
John mentioned that Reid Hoffman’s classic line, “if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” rang particularly true in this case. Ugly as it might have been, they had their first customer – a local gelateria – up and running within a week.
If you’re solving a real problem for the customer, even a WIP solution will make sense.
In the beginning the core functionality of the platform was centered around customer loyalty. The founders asked themselves why instead of paper stamps (or fancy apps) customers couldn’t just swipe the cards they carried around all day for public transport instead. Technically, as John’s team found quickly, this was possible, but from a regulatory perspective things weren’t necessarily that easy.
Authorities weren’t happy about using the public ID on any NFC chip outside of the tram – a displeasure on their part that eventually found its way to court. John, who understandably has an NFC reader attached to the back of his phone, demonstrated to us just how available this ID was. “If someone posts a number on a billboard that everyone can read, how can you claim it’s not public” was the argument the team put forward – and they won. It’s a good reminder the little guy can stand up for himself if unafraid.
Value Drivers and Scaling Globally
Within 2 months, it was clear that a minor feature was providing the most value to users was not so much the loyalty system (now being launched again as digital stamp Buzzoek), but rather the inventory management capabilities of the platform. By being less attached to the solution than the user, the Countr team was able to make the decision to switch their focus quickly and begin growing fast.
A huge regulatory hurdle is payments. When asked how they tackled the problem while scaling quickly, John answered, “we didn’t”. By instead making integrations easy with payments providers, they were able to focus on their core strengths while avoiding the roadblocks other PoS companies have run into in the past.
It was in scaling globally that John also realized the inherent difficulties of dealing with hardware, which can quickly become a nightmare when providing support far from home. Knowing where your strengths lie and strategically planning around potential weaknesses is a valuable skill when trying to scale.
Merging with Competitors
One particularly interesting facet of the growth story for Countr is their merger with one of their main competitors – specifically how two companies going head to head in product (and in public) can come together. Noticing they were selling to the same establishments and competing for business, John had the guts to pick up the phone and call his counterpart. The mutual respect built from competition actually made it easier to come to an agreement.
Although the companies themselves were quick to make a deal and successfully navigated the integration, customers were harder to convince. Resistance to change in the product and retraining can be an unexpected hurdle. Adapt. Survive.
Current Media Diet!
- Take Negotiations (Horatio Falcao)
- Learn “Where does this number come from”
- Do The summer internship in investment banking. Quit when you see it isn’t for you.