In the first episode of Antler Canada's Founder Files, Elif Hiz interviews the co-founders of NetNow, a company that aims to simplify business-to-business transactions. In this article, we'll take a closer look at Nauman Hafeez, Eli Costea, and Soroush Arghavan's experiences building NetNow, the role Antler played in their entrepreneurial journeys and their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Meet the co-founders of NetNow
Nauman Hafeez: From Management Consulting to Tech Entrepreneurship
After working in management consulting, Nauman joined a tech company to get closer to the industry. When he was affected by the mass layoffs, he saw it as a blessing in disguise and an opportunity to start something new at Antler.
Eli Costea: Following His Passion for Startups
Eli had always known that he wanted to start his own company, but he wasn't sure when the right time would be. After working for a startup in Vancouver, he decided to leave his job and join Antler, a decision he hasn't regretted.
Soroush Arghavan: Finding Opportunities in the Face of Adversity
Soroush joined a startup as one of the founding engineers in 2020. Unfortunately, he was forced to lay off most of his team in the summer of 2022, which led him to lose his ambition to work at that company. He always had an idea for a company, and he saw Antler as an opportunity to work on it. While the company he had in mind wasn't NetNow, he’s excited to have partnered up with Nauman and Eli.
The Reactions of Family and Friends to Entrepreneurship
Starting a company isn't just a big decision for the entrepreneur; it can also impact their loved ones. Eli comes from a family where entrepreneurship is encouraged, so his decision to start a company was well-received. On the other hand, Nauman, found it scary to tell his parents that he had been laid off and didn't know what he would do next. However, he was able to frame it in a positive light, and his mom and partner became big supporters of his journey. While Soroush comes from a risk-averse family culture, he was influenced and encouraged by the entrepreneurs around him:
“This is the best decision you're going to make. The highs are going to be high and the lows are going to be low, but you are going to work on something that excites you and you should do it!”
He took a calculated risk and decided to go for it after ensuring he had a financial runway for 6-12 months.
A Financial Cushion To Support Your Earliest Days
Having a solid financial foundation before starting a business minimizes risk and helps to focus on growing the business. Nauman, Eli, and Soroush emphasize the significance of a financial cushion before leaping into entrepreneurship.
Soroush thinks having a financial runway serves as a motivator toward achieving the desired outcome and Eli concurs. He adds that it helps to avoid compounding the stress of starting a business with the stress of making ends meet.
According to Nauman, founders need to focus entirely on growing their businesses, and the last thing they want is to have their finances get in the way of progress.
Navigating the Journey to Antler: Settling on the Right Idea and Co-founders
Being open-minded and flexible is essential, especially in the earliest days. Eli came into Antler with an idea for a startup in the climate tech space but shifted his focus. Nauman knew he wanted to explore the payments and financial services space, but kept an open mind, especially during the first few weeks of the residency. Soroush went through several iterations of co-founders and business plans until he found the right fit with Eli and Nauman.
The journey to finding the right idea and co-founders may not be linear, but staying curious and exploring different options will lead you to find the right fit.
The Power of Customer Interviews in Shaping Business Plans
“Eli walked in one day with a handful of papers and he looked pretty stressed out. And essentially he was helping his parents who own a company run a credit application to work with a new supplier. This was all just so he could get his parents to purchase with this supplier.”
This was a lightbulb moment for Nauman and Eli and inspired them to dive deeper into this problem. It was a cumbersome and paper-intensive process that they knew they could simplify, but they wanted to ensure that it was a common problem across different industries and customer segments.
They reached out to as many customers as possible, both large and small, to inquire about their current payment processes. They found that while businesses offered credit accounts or allowed customers to pay for extended periods, the process to obtain such terms was overly complicated. After speaking with dozens of customers, they realized the potential for digitizing and streamlining the entire process.
Soroush shared how talking to customers allowed him to recognize the limitations of his initial idea and shift his focus toward a more promising opportunity.
Learning from Founders: Reflections on Antler's Program
“Looking back, things worked out the way they should have for me, so I wouldn't have changed anything.”
No regrets, lots of learning and growth.
Eli shared that working with co-founders that didn't work out, in the beginning, was actually a valuable lesson. It helped him realize the type of co-founders he wanted on his team. While Nauman agrees, he also wished he had trusted the process more in the first few weeks of Antler’s program. He believes that leaning into the process and focusing on customer discovery would have helped him better understand the problems he was trying to solve.
Soroush emphasized the importance of detaching oneself from an idea as much as possible. He believed that ideas can get invalidated quickly, and it's crucial to think of them as hypotheses that need testing. Soroush also shared that he wasn’t prepared for how low things can get at some points. When an idea gets invalidated, it can be challenging to detach oneself from it, and it's essential to be mentally prepared for such situations.
Nauman added an important point:
“It's good to go through these experiences in a safe environment like Antler. Being able to fail at Antler is almost a good thing because it helps entrepreneurs learn and grow.”
What’s Next for NetNow?
Since completing Antler’s residency, NetNow launched its MVP (minimum viable product) and is about to onboard its first SMB (small-medium business) customer. They have also secured another pre-seed round with a new investor. Moving forward, their goal is to double down on customer discovery, ensuring their solution resonates with their target audience. Follow NetNow as they power B2B trade and payments through flexible checkout & financing solutions.
You can watch the full interview on YouTube.
If you want to become a startup founder, find the perfect co-founder and create impactful companies to shape the future, apply now and begin your Antler journey.
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