What does a startup journey look like and what are key learnings and takeaways? We asked 5 questions to Mohammad Meraj Alam, co-founder, and CEO of Flexthor. We talked about the basics of entrepreneurship, handling criticism, and ‘Golden Rules’. Enjoy!
How did your entrepreneurial journey get started?
In my case, I got interested in entrepreneurship when I was a PhD student, after a friend of mine had suggested I could potentially be a good startup founder. Until then, I had never really considered elaborating on a business idea or becoming an entrepreneur, but I found the idea intriguing. Additionally, I had always this zeal to do something different for society.
I actually started to explore two possibilities at the same time. On the one hand, I was figuring out which commercialization opportunities I had, based on my PhD topic about high voltage systems. At the same time, I participated in a start-up competition with a different idea, related to solar energy. We ended 5th, so I noticed that the idea had potential, but also realized it required a lot of work still.
What does your entrepreneurial journey look like?
It has been a bumpy ride – obviously. As an entrepreneur, you often get pushbacks. We joined multiple initiatives and entered numerous competitions with our idea on solar energy, and we often got rejected. But each rejection has been the basis for improvement. It’s only by identifying reoccurring criticism and adapting your work to that, that your idea can grow. I would say that adaptability and patience are two key components in this learning process. And take it from me, the learning never stops! It’s the feedback we’ve received, and also the support of EnergyVille and VITO, that brought us to where we are today.
Flexthor currently has an innovative solution to make solar and battery storage systems an attractive investment by increasing clean and green energy production. We developed and improved our MVP and market access strategy through several iterations. In doing so, I find it very helpful to first and foremost identify the added value we can bring to both our customers and to investors.
As a founder, you have to believe in your idea like a religion. That also means you have to actively collect feedback and have the ability to accept criticism. It is important to incorporate feedback and pivot whenever needed, but also to stand strong. As long as you believe in your idea, you need to persevere and improve it, no matter how harsh the feedback.
Of course, the more feedback you receive, the more you grow in assessing the validity of this input. In my opinion, the combination of perseverance and incorporating the right feedback is crucial if you want to make a start-up successful and bring it to the top.
How do you define success?
Success starts with one question: why? Why am I doing this? Why am I developing this venture?
The idea of success is very subjective and can be different for each co-founder. For me personally, success is defined by the difference you make. My advice would be not to start just for the sake of money, but for the difference you want to make. You can only build a strong and sustainable story if you’re able to help your customers like no one else can.
Speaking of co-founders, what do you consider important in building and managing a team?
First of all, working together requires different roles than friendship does. It’s important to have open conversations on this topic: sit together, talk about how you will work together, and who will be in charge of which domain. Look to each other’s strengths. It is crucial to have these different roles clarified from the start.
My story also started with three friends, each with their own background in respectively electrical engineering, design, and AI. We all know our responsibilities and we trust each other to make tough but correct decisions.
Another key aspect is democracy. Every opinion counts and is valued, discussions are transparent and every co-founder has a leadership role. That’s the only way to create trust within your team, which is absolutely vital. And yes, sometimes a CEO will have to make a final call. But I always keep in mind: “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Do you have any final advice for our entrepreneurs?
Throughout the years, I developed five golden rules I hold onto:
1. Your view on why you are starting your venture should be crystal clear.
2. Make sure you have a clear plan to develop your product and strategy.
3. Work together in an empowering and inclusive way, always with your strategy in mind.
4. Avoid exploring too many options. Limit your options, choose wisely, and focus.
5. Create an open space to exchange ideas and criticism.