We are very excited to have accomplished entrepreneur Mark Zawacki as a mentor for the upcoming SmartCamp in Istanbul on October 2nd-3rd. Mark is the Founder and Managing Partner of Milestone Group. Since 2001, he has led/supervised engagement teams on more than 200+ tech, media and telco (TMT) clients globally, working a myriad of growth and revenue-related initiatives including strategy, innovation, business and corporate development, alliances/partnering and international expansion. We asked him about his experience and insight into entrepreneurship, and here’s what he had to say.
1. What are your personal entrepreneur experiences?
I’ve had the pleasure and privilege in my career of working with 300+ companies in 40+ countries globally. The size of companies I work with ranges from a single person with some vague idea for a potential business to giving strategic advice to very large companies like Microsoft, Cisco, SAP and IBM. In addition to working alongside entrepreneurs globally, I’m an entrepreneur myself. I launched my strategic advisory and investment business in 2001 and am still here doing what I love – helping businesses of all sizes, in many industries, and in many countries do one thing – grow!
2. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing new tech startups today?
Well first I’ll assume they have a great product/service that addresses some defined market, hopefully a very large and swiftly growing market. If those two things are in place, then the biggest battle startups face is ‘awareness’ – getting enough potential customers to even become aware of the entrepreneur’s product/service so potential customers can even consider purchasing it. If they don’t even know of your product/service, then they simply can’t even have it on the consideration list to potentially purchase it. Ask 100 people randomly along the Champs Elysees, on Oxford Street or in Taksim Square if they’ve heard of Bouygues, GKN or Koç Group respectively and nearly 100 (or all) will say they have. Ask the same question about some startup and any entrepreneur would be thrilled if 2 or 3 people randomly had heard of their startup. Startups need to first carefully/thoughtfully segment who they are trying to sell to, then be very focused and very precise on how to engage them into purchasing. If a tech startup is working on a good idea, the market is big and growing rapidly, there is money to be made, and there are low barriers to entry, you can bet many competitors will soon follow. This only underscores the need to segment carefully in order to properly scale.
3. What attributes or qualities do you find most promising in young startup companies?
Passion for the product and passion for the customer! The product market fit is the most interesting aspect of any startup. This is where startups have an advantage over large incumbents; they can typically innovate faster than larger competitors, and if they do it right can become very successful and grow. Startups need to build products and services that meet three distinct criteria – something the marketplace (1) WANTS, (2) NEEDS and (3) EXPECTS. All three conditions are different and all three must be satisfied. I NEED to fly from London to Milan tomorrow. I WANT to pay EUR 10 for my flight, but I EXPECT to pay EUR 1,000 by booking the flight on such short notice. What a customer WANTS, NEEDS and EXPECTS are three very different attributes that all must be fulfilled. You don’t go to the home improvement store to purchase a 10mm drill bit, you are actually going there because you need a 10mm hole – the drill is just a means to and end. Focus on the customer problem (pull), not what you are selling them (push).
4. What do you look forward to most as a mentor at the upcoming SmartCamp? What do you hope to get out of the experience?
I always look forward to engaging with smart and passionate entrepreneurs, seeing the excitement and passion they have for what they are doing. I like to hear how entrepreneurs are overcoming obstacles by working together and I’m excited to see so many tech clusters globally flourish.
Looking forward to having Mark’s expertise with us in Istanbul; the SmartCamp finalists will surely benefit from his knowledge and guidance!