In June last year, Kwame Nyanning and Silvio Paganini (two co-founders of blkbx.co) approached us with a neat idea for a simple mobile checkout platform. They’d just decided to pursue the opportunity, so they needed a strong technical partner to establish a solid foundation for the app, saving them the time and money needed to recruit an in-house team.
Typically, we would approach the project as a standard one – creating a ballpark and a project estimation. But from time to time, we invest in interesting projects as our code of conduct and strategy are aligned with becoming a fully operational Venture Builder in the near future - so this was a good opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.
Although we do not have a standard procedure for evaluating such projects (still something that we are working on), we wanted to share the key ingredients that convinced us to invest. At the moment, we’ve invested around 25k EUR in blkbx, and happily, it all pays off. They are also being actively pitched to investors for the next funding rounds. So, we’re pretty excited about what’s coming next.
What are the key ingredients when evaluating if the project is a fit for us? How much do we typically invest? What projects are interesting for us? You can read about all that in the next sections of this article.
The first impression
The first meeting was a no-brainer for us as xwe’ve known Silvio for a long time and the reputation of both founders was very strong. They’re both experienced leaders with great networks.
The meeting lasted for 1h and we discussed pains of the solution, some growth related questions and the roadmap. The Founders came to the meeting (a virtual one) where they presented the pitch deck, already prepared mockups and a revenue and forecast table. This was for us a good starting point to evaluate if both problem and solution are clear and vital for the market they’re targeting.
We placed lots of emphasis on making the first PoC – which was aligned with what the founders wanted to build. A very simple concept was needed to test the solution and get the traction needed to secure further investments, so this was our first milestone. At this point, the founders were in contact with potential investors and customers – this was a great sign.
Besides the standard materials, we received good documentation and a feature list. This allowed us to validate if our team, with designated effort and budget, could build what founders had been planning.
Great project = Happy team
Instead of just looking at the team and the industry, we’ve also wanted to know if our team would be interested in participating in such a project. We really care about the type of gigs we pick, to make sure our teammates are challenged and passionate about what they’ll be working on. Our senior team validated the roadmap, technical feasibility and cooperation terms in order to make sure the team will have all the tools and the right mindset to execute.
We are huge believers in making technology more accessible and seamless when it comes to the building process. For blkbx we spotted the opportunity to use our SaaS Boilerplate – a tool we’ve been working on for the last year – in order to achieve better time-to-market momentum.
Through the whole project (that still continues!) the team was delighted with the cooperation and pace vs. result – from both sides :) We are making the most of predefined components available in our SaaS Boilerplate, but we’re also extending the feature set in order to meet new requirements. This allowed us to deliver a fully-working MVP (or MVPPlus) to first customers in less than 90 days.
Founders that can lead above and beyond
Funding companies is the real deal. Do not trust stories when someone says that everything went smoothly and they cashed out a big check at the end. For most of the time it’s just sweat, tears, long nights and lots of ups and downs – for founders mostly. And then, after all this hard work, maybe (9 out of 10 startups fail) there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of automatically converting customers coming through the funnel. But until you get there, you need to handle most of the things on your own, learn it and introduce it, be like a swiss-army knife.
All of the above require lots of passion, a strong work ethic, emotional intelligence, stress resistance and managerial skills (and many more). The founders of blkbx showed their attitude straight away. They are very determined to build and launch the product, and on every occasion (in standups, reviews and planning sessions) they’ve shown how devoted they are to achieving success. Their attitude was also noticed by our team, which boosted motivation on both sides.
The market opportunity
The expansion of E-commerce is inevitable. You could even say that half of traditional businesses have died because of it, and the other half have turned into stable and fruitful e-commerce companies. As the market is growing, there are more mature players who are trying to build a seamless experience for their customers.
E-commerce is all about the experience and serving specific niches now – so blkbx was for us an easy choice. We see a big market opportunity being created by blkbx’s superior user experience and elegant design – an approach that is loved at Apptension.
Apptension has a long list of e-commerce platforms – based on our solutions, Shopify, Woocommmerce and others – which made us think that a product company from this field would be a good addition and help diversify our portfolio. It’s still SaaS that is our bread & butter.
On this project we wanted to be the “behind the scenes” partner who is pulling the right resources to deliver a perfectly working product, while also delivering whatever is needed. We wanted to feel we had some level of control, but not lead the project, or influence the strategy.
Our goal was to remain flexible for every request they might have – whether doing a quick demo for a pitch deck, extending the production team, or validating technical assumptions. We were also eager to split payments or delay payments for future change requests. Startups struggle to survive because of cash flow, so we decided to stay very flexible to give blkbx some room for expansion while they try to secure the next round of funding.
Sharing the risk builds trust. This flexibility was also noticed by the founders who gave us an incredible review already, but who also want to continue working together in order to release the next features in their roadmap.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Throughout this project we have successfully combined the effort of our dev’s, our SaaS Boilerplate, and direction from the blkbx team. As a result we’ve created a frictionless mobile checkout app. When industry-changing ideas meet innovation – success is inevitable and we have had a chance to share it once again.
Do you also need a friendly tech assistant for your idea? Feel free to pitch us with your plan any time.