Seafair is a tech startup connecting shipping companies with seafarers, a $50B market annually. We offer manning services and crewing software in one integrated platform, with a mission to find the best opportunities at sea for seafarers, and to deliver excellent quality of crewing services for shipping companies. Our vision is to become the global leader in the maritime crew market, with a strong technology and data edge. After almost a year operating in the industry, we have gathered a lot of learnings and we are excited to share our experiences from our Zero to One journey.
In the beginning was chaos
As in many areas, size matters, and the startup world is no exception. Being a part of an early stage startup, there are simply not enough resources to have experts for all positions. Everyone is expected to contribute more or less to different aspects of the product. As a member of a small team, you get your hands dirty with all kinds of tasks, which often require a steep learning curve. Even in areas where you are considered to have a good level of expertise you opt in for an MVP solution for the benefit of speed. This situation sometimes gets chaotic and can easily get you out of your comfort zone.
Small is fast
The disadvantage of being small can become a unique advantage. This advantage derives from the fact that:
The customer base is still small
There are no legacy systems to get rid of
There are no politics to fight
The streams of communication within the team are short
So, small size becomes an advantage for an early stage startup striving for product market fit. Agility and speed become your perfect weapons in this journey to penetrate the market and attract early adopters. But, although speed is important, the real goal, that helps the team to drive short-term strategy and hit targets, is to get validated learnings.
Build, measure, learn
Being at an early stage, there is an ocean of problems that we have to solve, and for each one there are a number of different solutions that we can apply. But how do we decide which problem is most important and worth solving, and which solution is the best in the given context and time? The answer is Validated learning. Learnings come in the form of user feedback, data and metrics, all of them being the products of a loop mechanism called Build-Measure-Learn. The fundamental activity of a product-led startup is turning ideas into features and processes, through an iterative loop. When we need to solve a specific problem, we come up with ideas and make hypotheses of how each idea would solve the problem. Then, our goal is to validate these hypotheses as quickly as possible. So, we build an MVP solution, measure the outcome (feedback and metrics) and use these learnings to decide if we invest more effort on this problem, deprioritize it for later or completely kill it. It’s essential to go through each step of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop and accelerate the process to be as fast as possible. How fast? The whole loop from ideation to its first release and evaluation, can be completed in just a few days. Then, based on the learnings, another more refined iteration begins, and this goes on and on.
The Build phase is the most demanding step in the process of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. In order to shorten the loop and get the feedback as soon as possible, building MVPs is a great approach. As already said, the development of an idea or a feature might be deprioritized or terminated if the feedback is negative. So, in order to avoid wasting time and resources in a project that might go south, you have to release the first version as early as possible. Even for projects that are dropped, we always try to get learnings through our post mortem sessions. On the other hand, if the feedback is positive, the building phase essentially never stops. We break the final solution in shorter iterations, release frequently and use the learnings of each release to define what we can do better in the next iteration. The solution is being developed incrementally, following an agile mindset, and eventually becomes fully functional and robust. We all knew, or had some level of experience of agile development and its principles. But during our journey we learned and continue to learn many more things after applying these principles in practice.
From Zero to One
Our incremental development and agile philosophy led us to build processes and systems that took us from zero to one. We have overcome that chaos of the beginning and passed the MVP phase. Our leanings have been materialized to our first paying customers, seafarer placements and long-term partnerships with forward-thinking shipping companies that are aligned with Seafair’s goal to help the industry move from legacy systems to the next generation of crewing software. We are excited about what the future holds and what we are going to learn and accomplish. The journey of creating a team and a business out of thin air is truly amazing. Being part of a startup team means that you go from zero to one many times. It means that you get to create stuff that did not exist, solve problems for the first time, develop processes, build infrastructure, grasp new knowledge, acquire customers, cultivate culture, achieve product market fit, and much more. And all these happen at a fast pace where you always push yourself to adapt to new norms. There aren't many working environments that can put you in that kind of situation and this is exactly where an early stage startup puts you in.
This post is written by Panos Theocharis, Software Engineer and one of the first joiners at Seafair.