Lessons founders learned in 2023 that will put them ahead in 2024
From business model sustainability to the importance to owning your distribution channels, hear what the founders of some of our portfolio companies had to say.
Sarah is responsible for scaling Antler’s presence in Australia by delivering operational efficiencies and frameworks across the firm. Sarah is also responsible for Antler Australia’s marketing and brand presence, partnerships and business development, and people and culture. Before joining Antler, Sarah was the General Manager at Business Insider Australia and Gizmodo Media Group, leading four globally renowned digital media brands in Australia.
January 17, 2024
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January, the month of New Year resolutions, goal setting and reflection. And if you’re running a startup, a time to conduct a retrospective of what worked and what didn’t the previous year to learn and improve in the year to follow.
With this in mind, and knowing that 2023 was somewhat a rocky landscape (with layoffs across the tech sector, balance sheet struggles, a drop-off in later-stage funding, and uncertainty following the shutdown of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) just to name a few), we thought we’d ask some founders from our portfolio companies, specific lesson’s they learned and how they will use the insights gained to benefit their business in 2024.
Here’s what they had to say –
Lean into opportunity and be adaptable
Aliaa Remtilla, co-founder and Chief Scientist at StoryTiling
“Reflecting on 2023, it was a year of significant learning and adaptation for us at StoryTiling. The most challenging yet enlightening lesson was navigating our pivot to HR tech, focusing on warmly welcoming new hires, during a period of notably reduced hiring. This shift occurred in a landscape where the employment rate was fluctuating, and companies were becoming increasingly cautious about expanding their teams.
“Our pivot, though timely, presented us with a unique set of challenges. We were introducing a product designed to enhance the onboarding experience in a market where hiring was not a priority for many businesses. This situation pushed us to refine our value proposition. Our product, designed to enhance the pre/onboarding experience, has evolved into a vital solution for reducing renege rates and boosting the productivity of new hires, especially crucial in a hiring environment where every recruitment decision is critical.
“The experience of 2023 has been instrumental in preparing us for the future. We learned to thrive in a difficult market, focusing on delivering substantial value even when external conditions were not favorable. As we move into 2024, with expectations of a more dynamic hiring environment, we feel well-prepared and optimistic. The resilience and adaptability we developed in the past year have set us up for success in potentially more prosperous times ahead.
“Despite our best efforts, we often found ourselves caught in a cycle of paperwork and administrative hurdles. This not only slowed our journey to the market but also hindered our ability to scale up efficiently to meet growing demand.
Overcoming these challenges has equipped us with valuable insights into streamlining processes and cutting through red tape, which will be instrumental in enhancing our efficiency and market responsiveness in 2024.”
“2023 was all about upgrading our infrastructure to handle the significant amounts of data we're handling daily. The lessons we have learned in architecting exceptional technology during this transition has set the standard for all future development initiatives. These changes also allow Sahha to focus on handling the requirements for larger enterprises serving many millions of people."
Optimise for locality and efficiency
Giorgio Baracchi, CEO and Co-Founder at RecycleSmart
“In 2023, navigating the fallout from RedCycle's collapse forced us to rethink our approach to recycling. Establishing solid partnerships with vetted recyclers significantly bolstered our operations, offering a newfound competitive edge for 2024, in an industry undergoing drastic change.
“Our geographic expansion into Melbourne and Brisbane also proved to be a complex logistical puzzle, especially with limited resources. However, these challenges taught us invaluable lessons in optimising locality and efficiency on a tight budget. As we gear up for 2024, these experiences are positioning us to expand further, increase revenue streams, and attract key partnerships with major brands.”
“Reflecting on 2023, the toughest lesson for us was the reality check on our capacity. As a small team, optimism led us to overcommit, attempting to tackle multiple objectives simultaneously. This approach spread our efforts too thin, diluting our impact.
“Recognising this, we realigned our focus to a single metric that reflects our core objectives. This singular focus has streamlined our activities and decision-making process, setting a solid foundation for success in 2024.”
"Our biggest lesson was how to adapt quickly to different economic landscapes. The COVID-19 period saw an unprecedented demand for dogs - owners had more time at home, and were seeking companionship. With the market normalising, and cost of living pressure, we have had to adapt our business model from a high-demand market to a low-demand market. This required quick pivots to becoming a demand-generator for breeders. We've since grown puppy owner applications consistently for the last six months, and this pivot will set us up for 2024."
“Licode was started and incorporated in mid 2023. Everything happened fast and messy as a startup running by solo founder. So many lessons learnt throughout Antler program, and a lot of lows and highs in the journey so far.
“One biggest lesson is that realising how important the community and networks are. All of that made us stronger and be prepared for what's coming in 2024. As 2023 is coming to an end, we are super pumped to see the beginning of 2024. I feel nothing but excited to take Licode to the next level, build the team and keep shipping for our customers. We're prepared for all new lessons to be learnt in 2024 that will make us even stronger in 2025!”
Ruthlessly prioritise on what matters most to your customers
“In 2023, we faced challenges and learned vital lessons that will shape our strategy in the upcoming year. One key takeaway was the importance of effective prioritisation. We aimed to address the clunkiness of online shopping based on our own experiences. However, once we gained a loyal customer base of 15k users, we realised that the problem was even bigger than our vision catered to, pushing us to strive towards a greater and more ambitious vision.
“We had to refine our focus on features that mattered most to our customers. To better understand their needs, we transitioned from instinct-based decisions to data-driven insights. Regular customer interviews and automated surveys became integral to gathering meaningful feedback, influencing our product roadmap. The success of which is evident in our 80% average growth month-on-month since shifting to this approach.
“Looking ahead to 2024, we're enhancing our customer engagement strategies. We'll experiment with fake-door tests to gauge interest in new features before development, ensuring a more customer-centric approach. Post-launch, A/B testing will optimise language and designs swiftly, aligning with our commitment to informed decision-making.
“These lessons and strategic shifts position us for the challenges of the upcoming year, emphasising customer-centric innovation and informed decision-making as we strive towards our new vision of becoming the most powerful wishlist engine in the world.”
“As we look back on 2023, it's impossible to ignore the whirlwind of experiences that defined our journey at Yesterday. We found ourselves navigating a series of challenges that pushed us to grow, learn, and bond as a founding team in ways we never anticipated.
“As we transitioned from the spark of an idea to the exciting realm of product development, we encountered our fair share of hurdles. The path to turning our vision into a reality was not easy. Navigating the intricate regulatory landscape of AI and recruitment posed its own unique set of challenges. The unpredictability of the market and the ethical considerations inherent in AI-driven recruitment further put us to the test.
“However, what emerged from these challenges was a valuable lesson: resilience is our secret weapon. We didn't shy away from setbacks; instead, we welcomed them as opportunities. And, most importantly, we discovered the power of our team bond, a support system that carried us through every twist and turn.
“Takeaway for 2024: we carry with us the wisdom gained from the trials of 2023, and a mindset that thrives on change and adversity as catalysts for growth and innovation. Challenges haven't just made us stronger; they've also cemented our partnership. Here's to 2024, where the birth of Yesterday continues to shape our journey, hand in hand with innovation and the enduring strength of our partnership.”
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