Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Miguel Quintas, 50 years old and I like to consider myself as an enthusiastic challenge chaser. Parcela Já is my eighth company, out of which 4 went bankrupt. Do I feel sorry for that? No! Absolutely not. In total, those failures are some of my most precious assets.
Recently, I decided to start a new business - Parcela Já - and we are now able to offer end consumers the chance to pay for their products and services up to 12 installments without any interest or any other cost whatsoever. In the financial market it is called “Buy now. Pay later”.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I decided to jump into my first owned business at the age of 27. It was a complete failure. In fact, when I look back, apart from being too naive and stubborn (which eventually didn’t help to succeed), the project was far advanced in time back then. I made a promise to myself that I would never start something ahead of time. Anyway, I just couldn’t keep my promise and here I am again. This time a bit more refrained but still, when we started Parcela Já, there was nothing alike in Europe.
If you’re an entrepreneur make sure you draw the end line before you start, or you might end up losing much more than you could expect.
It all started on a personal journey to Israel. I saw people paying for groceries with 2 and 3 pre-dated checks. Those checks were supposed to be discounted within the following months. Discussing the subject with a local, brought the idea of automatizing the whole system, but this time with payment cards. It took me almost 12 years to take that idea again from the shelf and put it to work. One has to say most of my expertise comes from the travel industry, and therefore this new project would be a complete challenge to me. And that is exactly what I love about it. I had to learn about the industry. Get to know the players. Understand who the competition is. Where to find the right technology. And, most important, where to get the right team. In 2018 we were live and making transactions, but to reach that point we had to go through end consumers interviews, testing, iterate, testing again, select the right market to start with, and finally develop the right product and go to market.
We had small financial support from the Portuguese government which helped us in the beginning.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first concept is: you will only have a business if you have a paying customer. That is exactly the focus one has to have when starting a new venture, from my perspective. Any idea has to start from the customer’s point of view. How can we offer the product they want. Even if they have never seen it before. And how can we have the consumer use it and pay for it?
Any creative process has to have the end consumer at sight at all times. Therefore, the first operational step from a startup point of view should be: what’s my target market? How can I segment it? What’s the real value - the Total Addressable Market? Is there enough profitability? Who is my customer? Can I operate in that market?
Most of the first questions to be answered should be related to the consumer wishes and the potential market. And that is precisely where I’ve seen many startups fail: they start from a product idea. And they lose focus on consumers and the market. Only after hundreds of potential customers' interviews, we were ready to go to market. But we needed to go back and forward until we had the product conceptually designed to start to work on a prototype.
After we launched the first MVP, we automatically saw we’ve made some mistakes in evaluating consumers' behavior.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, we decided to identify 9 segments where we could sell our idea - yes, it was just an idea in the beginning! - and from there we started to eliminate each one of the segments until a shortlist of 3. The decision was taken according to the size of the total addressable market, easiness to enter the market, potential market control from our company and product and finally, if we were comfortable in the segment we wanted to step in. From that point, we defined our persona after a lot of research and started to develop the product for that “potential customer”.
All well done and very precise, although there was a single issue: we failed on the segment and the persona. So we pivoted to a new market and adapted the product. This second time we were more successful and after a difficult 1,5 years, we started to make money. The biggest lesson learned was: research and iterate as many times as possible to make sure that you don’t lose money in the wrong market and the wrong customer. Particularly if your company is fully bootstrapped, as is our case.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our strategy was very clear from day one: Word-of-mouth, referencing, and focusing our small financial resources available in deploying the product in our beachhead market. At the same time, we managed to get the first customers, we invited them to promote our product and benefit from special marketing and sales promotions (such as sharing in-store sales promotions to advocate for our product, cooperative advertising based on sales on and offline, etc.).
The fact is that end consumers started to use our product and themselves also started to become our ambassadors and promoted Parcela Ja within their own family and friends.
Also, we got a very interesting upside: as soon as competitors saw our product working in other stores, they approached us to get the product themselves. What initially was a small group of customers in one particular segment (our beachhead) soon began to grow. Either from the retailers’ side, as from end consumers, up to a point we’ve experienced a 19% purchase rebound from regular customers.
Step by step we tried to increase market penetration, either through making important opinion leaders advocate for us, or increasing marketing activities while money was finally pumping in.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We currently have 400 retail shops in Portugal working with our system and 1000’s of transactions. Nevertheless, and although we have hundreds of customers in the pipeline, we are still struggling with dimensions to scale up. We are trying to identify a partner who can help us to scale up. And this is something we were foreseeing, but pandemics during last year froze most of our negotiations, unfortunately.
Anyway, we’re confident we’re going to tackle it because we have a selling product and customers want it. But we should have been more provident.
Another piece of advice I would suggest if you’re starting a business: Estimate your COCA and LTV once you have the product concept ready. Just for your reference, in the beginning, our LTV was 43,74€ and COCA was 8,20€. Not that good for a start-up, which typically should be closer to 7 to 10 times the difference, but we believed there were efficiencies we would gain and proved to be true.
Finally, yes we do have internationalization plans and until the end of this year, we expect to start in a new market if we close a partnership agreement we’re chasing.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Absolutely. This is my eighth startup. And honestly, I’ve learned a lot from each one of them. But the ones I’ve learned the most are the 4 of them that went down the drain. Particularly my first startup, it was a true reality check as I got personally bankrupt.
As sole advice, I would suggest if you’re an entrepreneur make sure you draw the end line before you start, or you might end up losing much more than you could expect. And make sure your business will succeed fast or, die fast.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Internally we’re fully Microsoft. I believe that is not too trendy for the startup ecosystem as currently, people tend to use Slack, Google Meet, Gmail and Zoom, and even Telegram for short messages. But my other company's legacy forced me to take Microsoft tools.
My advice is to make sure you use the cheapest you can get but making sure that if you are going to scale, those same tools will be there for you in the future. There is nothing more painful than a deep change of productivity tools inside a big organization. And that will take your focus from your core. Don’t let it happen from the beginning. On the infrastructure side, we only use Google tools.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
That is a very difficult question. I don’t believe there is a click in an entrepreneur's brain. Entrepreneurs don’t start a business overnight because they’ve read a book or watched a movie. Most probably it is something that they’ve been thinking about for a long while.
In fact, people are a centralized information database from all life experiences. That’s what makes you different from anyone else and that DNA is what you bring into your startup. But if I was to suggest a book for an entrepreneur, I would say to start with the basics - Who moved my cheese. That’s what an entrepreneur's life is all about.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
That’s a lot of responsibility for me to say, but probably I would suggest three priorities:
- Work. Work hard. Work really hard.
- Find a team. Find a good and fully aligned team. You’ll fail if you go alone.
- If you’re going through hell, keep walking
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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