Founder of the second-hand shoe store AtelierFH encourages slow fashion and sustainability.
Which industries have the greatest potential? Which mistakes in business are the most crucial? Is my idea worth pursuing?
Over the past few years, Tamara has analyzed over 400 startups, helped founders develop business models and prepare investment pitches. She believes that anyone can be an entrepreneur if given the right tools and support. With Creidea, she provides all the necessary tools and practical tips for entrepreneurs in one place, to enable them to make a successful start.
Tamara, before we jump into the business specifics, let’s talk a little bit about you. You have a fascinating international background, right?
That’s true. I grew up in several countries. I was born in Russia, moved to France with my parents when I was five, then back to Russia, and finally, at the age of 14, I moved to Switzerland. For the most part I have stayed here ever since, although I have changed locations several times: Geneva for my Bachelor’s, St. Gallen for my Master’s, Australia for an exchange semester, and Zurich for work.
To what extent has this diverse experience shaped you personally and professionally?
I learned to quickly pick up the curriculum and language skills that I had missed. I also learned how to adapt to changing environments and cultures. And thirdly, I learned to be independent at a young age. When I moved to Switzerland at 14 years old, I came here alone, without my family. I think that’s why I find unfamiliar environments the most stimulating; that’s where I feel challenged. Also, I grew up watching how my father ran his business, so it was only natural that I was drawn to the entrepreneurial environment right after graduation.
With all these experiences and skills, it sounds like you were cut out for entrepreneurship. Does that mean you had no hesitations about starting your own business?
Well, you never feel 100% ready for an entrepreneurial journey. I think the decision to start a business builds gradually in your mind. I thought about entrepreneurship for a long time, but I didn’t feel like I was ready or that it was the right time.
Ever since my studies, I had an idea book where I wrote down my business thoughts.
As I was working, I saw some of the ideas pass by. I also saw how other people made those ideas happen, and at some point, I wanted to give myself a chance to bring an idea to life as well.
Although you felt you missed opportunities with some of your ideas, isn’t it true that you gained valuable knowledge and skills through your work experience?
Absolutely. For the past three years, I’ve been working in the startup ecosystem. In my first position, I scouted for and analyzed startups. I analyzed hundreds of pitch decks, talked to many founders and reviewed their business cases to determine which startups had potential. I then moved into Venture Building and Corporate Innovation Acceleration. In this role, I helped entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs develop their projects to proof of concept before presenting them to investors or corporate boards.
Was it this extensive experience supporting entrepreneurs that gave you the idea for your company?
Yes, while in these positions, I noticed a few things that later led me to start Creidea. Firstly, I realized that becoming an entrepreneur is a difficult decision because it means quitting a steady job, investing time, money and nerves in building a business, whilst living in uncertainty. The decision is accompanied by doubts and questions like: Is my idea worth pursuing? Should I start? What should I start with?
Secondly, even when people start, they make costly mistakes along the way. When I talk to entrepreneurs, they often mention that their mistake was not validating the market need before developing the product.
Finally, I was surprised by the number of startups that wanted to raise money but weren’t ready for investors.
They weren’t prepared to answer questions or didn’t have their documents set up properly, which made it difficult for them to raise funding. These three observations got me thinking about how I could support entrepreneurs.
How did you develop and finalize the concept of Creidea?
I am a fan of the Japanese Ikigai concept. It says that the ikigai, or reason for being, lies at the intersection of what you love to do, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for. I started answering these questions step by step, and that’s how Creidea came to be. It took some time to figure it out. It didn’t happen overnight and some of the questions are still in the process of being answered. However, ultimately, with Creidea, I would like to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and increase the success rate of their startups by providing resources, tools and services to build businesses incrementally.
What services in particular do you offer?
Currently, we offer three types of services: the online platform, bootcamps to get started with a business idea, and services to help startups present convincing cases to investors.
The online platform is like a structured toolbox for entrepreneurs.
Here, users can find explanations, definitions, templates, frameworks and tools in various entrepreneurial areas such as the startup ecosystem, product development, marketing, law and finance. The goal is to provide an entry point to information and different possibilities for building a business. The platform is already accessible to users free of charge.
To help aspiring entrepreneurs make the move, I also host 10-week bootcamps where participants work on their business ideas. The concept of the bootcamp is based on the premise of finding a market first and only then making the decision whether or not to build the business. I believe this approach takes away some of the risk and prepares participants for their entrepreneurial journey.
Finally, we also help founders attractively package their startup for investors. Many founding teams are not experts in business management or finance, and yet these are major topics during financial rounds. Hence, we help them prepare their financials, startup valuations and pitch decks so that they are able to raise the funds they require.
What sets your company apart from competitors?
The startup ecosystem in Switzerland has really developed in recent years. Technology and science-based startups receive a lot of support from the government, cantons, universities and associations. However, there are innovative companies which do not fall into the category of businesses related to new technologies or science-based inventions, and they usually receive less support. However, they are still an important part of the ecosystem. Their innovation does not necessarily come from their products, but from other parts of the business model such as the value proposition, new customer experiences, revenue models, distribution methods, or network creation. These businesses also need support and that’s where Creidea comes in.
In addition, we aim to make our resources and programs structured and actionable. The content acts as a red thread, while entrepreneurs can get additional support at each step if needed.
As an expert in startups and business development, can you share some dos and don’ts when starting up? What are the most common mistakes you advise to avoid?
When I ask entrepreneurs what mistakes they have made in their business, the most common answer is, “I should have checked whether the market needed my idea first.” A lack of market need is the number one reason startups fail. The clients I work with are always surprised by their findings after talking to 5-10 of their potential customers. Testing the market also allows to assess the level of interest in the solution and the potential market size.
Another common mistake is to hide the product until it is ready and perfectly developed.
As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you started too late.” It’s better to fix something at an early stage, rather than later on when you’ve finished your product. The third classic mistake is being afraid to talk about your idea. Yes, someone can steal it, copy it, or implement it themselves, but honestly, there is very little chance that this will happen. By talking about your idea, you’ll gather feedback from experts and potential customers, which will ultimately help you build a better business.
In your professional opinion, what are the key industries that are growing and will continue to thrive in coming years?
COVID-19 accelerates digitization, and I can see some areas that will grow in the next few years in this context:
- FinTech: digitization of services and automation of processes in the back office.
- HealthTech: many startups are already using data to discover health patterns or improve and accelerate the drug development process. With improvements in data availability, the potential is huge.
- Supply Chain & Logistics: COVID-19 has highlighted some weaknesses in supply chain processes and logistics; these are areas that could become more efficient, as well as more sustainable and automated.
- EdTech: many platforms provide space for courses, coaching, training, etc. More and more people in education are using them to create courses.
The digital world also offers opportunities for creating new brands that target specific customers and offer unique customer experiences.
Finally, due to the high level of digitalization and the increase in available data, I see two other trends:
1) solutions to analyze online behavior to gain more insights,
2) evolution of cybersecurity to protect data.
Thank you for these great insights into the opportunities that digitization will bring in the near future. And what are your goals for the future with regard to Creidea?
My goal is to become the go-to place for aspiring entrepreneurs to start, build and manage their business. This means creating a more sophisticated tech platform which entrepreneurs can use to build their development roadmaps and business cases, track their results and KPIs, and get relevant resources, tools, and services for each of the different steps. This would enable entrepreneurs & their teams to keep track of their business’s development, make faster and data-based decisions, save time on research and bring all these elements together to ensure sustainable success.
Thank you very much for this interesting conversation. We wish you every success in pursuing your goals!