At the moment when Kristel, Co-Founder at Testlio, took Ragnar Sass as her company’s first advisor, she didn’t even suspect that this cooperation would save her company shortly after it. Early on, Ragnar prevented Kristel from signing a doomed deal that would lead the company to failure. Now, Testlio is working with the companies like Microsoft, CBS, NBA and is a leader in networked testing. It has a global network of testers who help improve apps used by 2 billion people every day.
Years later, Kristel started to advise startups by herself. In this interview, she explains how founders can prevent mistakes while working with advisors, how to build cooperation with them efficiently, and many other insights she learned from both founders’ and experts’ sides.
You’ve been advising startups on Salto for a while. Do you use any specific framework for cooperation, or is it rather an individual approach every time?
Yeah, it is very individual for me because, similarly to people, all companies are different, and there's no one way to succeed. Therefore, whenever I meet founders or entrepreneurs, firstly, I try to understand who they are as people: their aspirations, vision, and what they want to achieve. After that, I dive into their challenges and try to draw parallels with my experience to understand the best solution. There's no unique framework like “here’s a list of what you have to do”, but instead, approaches to each company differ depending on their stage, goal, and pain they’re trying to solve.
Nowadays, so many educational tools, startup communities, and resources are freely available online. Kristel, from your perspective, how the importance of having an advisor has changed over the last years?
When we engaged with Ragnar back in 2013, there were not many Slack communities or big Facebook groups like now. In that sense, everything was very, very different back then. Despite many resources are now available, having an individual supporter in your journey who pours in experience and advice for your company is essential. No community can give you a similar experience. Having an advisor is much more valuable and time-efficient than searching for practices online and finding things that work for you. It's better because an advisor can provide you with knowledge and often share the emotions you get along the way, support you, inspire or even motivate you to go further.
Yes, without motivation, you can’t cope with challenges. And challenges become the founder’s best friend from the day when they decide to build a company. When do you think is the “A-ha” moment when founders should start searching for advisor’s help?
It's always better to prevent some bad things that could happen to your company. The best way to do it is to find an advisor as early as possible and just ping-pong the ideas with them. Don’t wait until you're in trouble. It's way easier to have that constant support of an entrepreneur that has been through it all and draw from their experiences in good and bad times. Over the years, Testlio has had many advisors, and one of them even became the company’s CEO. His contribution to Testlio in the early years was also enormous. When he became an advisor and the investor at Testlio, he helped us find our first sales leader and pushed us out of our comfort zone. And I think that was crucial for us at that time.
“Don’t wait until you’re in trouble. It’s way easier to have that constant support of an entrepreneur that has been through it all and draw from their experiences in good and bad times. ” – Kristel Kruustük
Kristel, based on your experience advising startups on Salto, what are the most common mistakes you see founders make when working with experts, and how to prevent them?
I think the main problem is that founders tend to give up too early when they get tired of experimenting and failing. At that point, they often give up. On the other hand, strong entrepreneurs try to change their mindset and learn as much as possible in such situations. The second thing is a fear of asking for help and sharing a story the way it is. Some founders are trying to hide their real challenges, but there’s no point in that. Advisors can only help when founders are honest and speak about things honestly. Then, there are more chances to help and come up with relevant ideas in that way.
What one piece of advice you can share with founders to help them get the most out of cooperation with experts?
My advice is that you need to set up regular communication with your advisor from the very beginning of your relations. When I was starting my company, I was not consistent in asking for feedback and providing updates about my company to advisors. It was a mistake to think if everything seems to go smoothly, we can skip meetings. Only later on, I understood that you should always be in touch and keep them posted with what’s going on with your startup. During such meetings, experts can often make you think about some activities from a different angle or point out potential risks that would save your time and efforts in the future.
What is the last thing you would like to share with founders?
Trust your gut and intuition. When you meet those very successful entrepreneurs and don't connect with them on a mindset level, or you just don't feel they are “your” people, don't push it. Instead, keep looking for a person who meets all of your expectations. Right decisions are the ones guided not only by the brain but the heart as well.