Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m Lasse and I founded VIPERdev in 2017 as a CTO-as-a-service kind of thing.
By now we’re basically an accelerator program, where founders come in with an idea and exit with a product and with their first customers paying for it. At our current rate, we release about 2-5 Products per month.
We are providing founders with flawless product development for their digital business ideas - while shaping the business model with the founders the experience of working with way over 50 startups by now. We help to set up a viable business plan and make their first sales. This way we bring our customers to the market within 8-12 weeks, meaning the product is online and first customers are closed in.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as an agency - because we don’t want to bill hours. We reach goals and bring founders to market: that usually means we are guiding founders to be rather more minimal than they want (i.e. spend less money on us!) and be faster on the market and getting their customer feedback.
By now we meet a founder every second week who has gone a similar path with a traditional agency, spending oftentimes six-digit amounts on building a product that is not on the market yet. This is what we solve reliably. We’re a startup factory.
This is an example of an Airbnb style platform where farmers can sell their veggies to end customers which we have built together with the founder and without needing further investments (yes, sometimes we make equity deals too):
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
This idea wasn’t just there. The core of our philosophy is, build what your customers need - build solutions to problems, not just features.
If a project cannot be a success story for us, we don’t want to work with that customer. We really want to make sure that our customers make it to market and survive.
Our own business was built the same way: I was actually doing stuff as a freelancer, founding my first company (which, as the first company of most founders, failed as it should - can recommend that experience! :)) and eventually on one of my freelance jobs we got the customer feedback that we were incredibly fast and they would like to try doing more innovative projects with us.
Over time we tried working with different customer groups and decided that corporates, though rich, are not as fun to work with and focused our sales purely on startups. With each startup, we get faster and acquire more knowledge, not only in building products for startups but also in all the other things that founders need.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
This was very iterative: we built our first apps with several companies and founders, made sure to collect their feedback, and always, always, looked out at how we can get more value to them and become faster and better.
This particularly meant and still means embracing every mistake that happens because on those we grow.
It is safe to say that any first-time CTO will fall into several traps along the way of building their first product, as we did when we started. But after all those startups, we’ve learned to navigate this space and all those “failures” that we once had are yet another reason why we are delivering products so much better AND faster than any hired full-time CTO with “only” 2-3 previous startups experience could.
Describe the process of launching the business.
VIPERdev has been entirely bootstrapped and has come as far as today without a single cent of external funding. This is also our approach with our customers and we are always happy to show them how much they can actually do themselves to stay in control of their venture because they don’t even need investors many times.
I think the biggest and most important insight of the path with VIPERdev has been that first of all things have to work and solve actual problems. Fancy Frontends, lots of marketing effort, and many “Nice-to-have features” come second or third.
Too many startups think they need a ton of money to build a complete product before they do anything else. This is in my opinion the biggest mistake. If the product does not sell then the startup goes broke and people end up in debt. That's why we try to solve problems first and start selling the product oftentimes before we even kick off development.
E.g. on one of our ventures, Augmented Science, we were able to fund the MVP development costs via actual commitments from actual clients who signed that they would pay once the product arrives.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Here’s a priority list top to bottom:
1. Make sure that every project is a success story.
This is really the main thing. Our long-term customer success is sacred.
If a project cannot be a success story for us, we don’t want to work with that customer.
We really want to make sure that our customers make it to market and survive.
This leads to:
- Getting new customers via word of mouth oftentimes (founders know other founders)
- Getting new customers via founder centers in Germany (founder consultants know from their startups that we simply deliver what internal teams often don’t)
- Customers stay for maintenance and further development
- Customers book other side projects with us
We network a lot via LinkedIn. In our experience, any 15-minute call with anyone on LinkedIn that calls themselves ‘Founder’ on their LinkedIn profile yields at least one of three results:
- They become a customer
- We can help them on the call with some other problem they are facing (which leads to them saving months of work and recommending us new customers)
- We can learn something from them too
Even one of those results is sufficient to make it worth our AND the founder’s while.
3. Content and Ads
We currently invest in the monthly 3 digit area each in ads (Google, LinkedIn) as well as the content.
When we write content, we are making sure that we give actually actionable tips that founders can follow and become more successful.
As with every interaction our strategy is to be so good, that potential customers want to work with us to get even better rather than withholding anything that could help them.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Short term goal
Reliably sign one customer every week without fail.
Improve efficiency. Be able to get an idea to a concept within one week for all founders instead of 2 or sometimes even 3 with more complicated projects. Shave another 2 weeks off our cycle to get startups to market.
Long term goal
Become a startup factory that does more than just business model, design, and development.
We are already helping our customers with other areas like Sales, Marketing and Growth and they appreciate it highly - however, those things are not standardized yet, which means that different customers get a different quality in those areas and we don’t have clear products here.
We started, e.g. putting our B2B Sales Strategy into reusable blueprints which actually work (since we tried many agencies and they all failed us we had to build this ourselves). The result is VIPERdev Sales. Over time we want to do the same to marketing, HR (hiring AND internal team development) and other departments so that we can aid our startups on all steps along the way.
Much is already there, we just need to make an efficient process out of it.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
1. Each Failure is an opportunity to become better.
I’ve said this before. Each problem that we had, each stone that laid in the way is not only an obstacle that needs to be circumvented but it’s something where we can become better than our competitors.
2. Think “times 1.2”, not “plus 1”
Even if “times 1.2” is a smaller growth in the short term - by automating processes and making sure that we improve who we are every single day we can really become unique and world-class. So yes - growth is more than just signing that one next customer. It’s about increasing the influx of customers by 10% continuously.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We recently migrated to Zoho One which is now our allrounder kind of for everything that is done internally at least. It is our CRM, Finance Tool, Marketing Tool, it is where our documents are stored and where internal communication takes place.
With Zoho, we actually automate a bunch of processes, which makes onboarding new people much easier and raises our service quality because we simply can’t forget about certain things in the process.
On the development side, we are running with a self-hosted GitLab and the accompanying GitLab CI, where we have a base project for all new customers that has a seriously great CI setup and solves a lot of problems that other startups only see much later in the process before they even start.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m not able to point my finger at one specific one. I mainly educate myself through YouTube videos (e.g. from YCombinator or other entrepreneurs) but my primary source is the community of startups that we already have with lots of founders in lots of different areas which have very unique experiences and the stories that help us to not only get the lesson myself but also communicate it to new first time founders.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
We get it, you have a big vision. And that’s great. But if you want to start quick, the first steps need to be tiny. Because the smaller the steps are, the faster you can take them.
The last thing you want to do with just a vision is a sign on an investor, hire a team (=build running cost) without any revenue to back it up - a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve seen many founders going this way and the result is usually that the vision that was sold to the first investor couldn’t be delivered with the amount of money because the valuation at the beginning was too low to get enough to actually get there.
So: before building a skyscraper, build a tent. If it takes you longer than a couple of weeks - that’s not it.
Of course, you will have expenses but think about every penny you spend at least twice in the beginning. Make it three times, before generating your first revenue. Make the money come in as soon as possible. It is not a shame to offer a not perfectly finished product to a customer for a fee. With their first feedback, you can build an ever more demanded product for your customers in the end. As long as the first product already solves the core problem, that every product should have as a subject the customers will be fine with that. Especially when they know there is more to come.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
All our jobs are fully remote.
All our jobs will give you much more flexibility than you’re used to in any bigger company - but also than almost all other startups we know.
All our jobs include a company racing bike or running shoes - because being fast is our core value.
All our jobs include as many vacation days as you need - because you should never be afraid to take your birthday off in case you need another vacation day later or just feel stressed out.
All our people are paid the same (with regional adjustments).
All our people can develop into other jobs and should (rather than can!) grow as a person!
Any long-term employee can become part of our council and actually govern the company.
Sales/Business Model Developer
As mentioned above, the way we do sales is by helping startups. If you’ve founded a startup and you have a couple of insights to share, you can help onboard new customers as well as help them decide whether they and we are a fit or not.
If you are looking for small, noncorporate projects, this will be fun for you.
Do you want to effectively be the CTO of our startups? That’s what our project managers do.
Founders trust nobody more than you to build and develop their product. Be ready to work on an eye-to-eye level with the CEOs of the next-generation companies - and maybe consider cofounding one of those together with our customers on your own?
If you like designing apps and high converting flows, this could be right for you. You will be usually confronted with just a business model and your task is to visualize the ideas of the founders as concrete features - but also tell them where they may want to pivot their business model or change something.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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