On May 18th, we sat down with Koh Kim, Head of Growth at Sui Foundation, to discuss going beyond ideas to build successful, sustainable businesses.
Your focus at the Sui Foundation is helping builders transition from the very early stages of product development into leaders of strong and growing businesses. Can you share a little about the programs you are creating to accomplish this goal?
Every startup founder can recall their first “big break,” whether it’s their first major customer, their first big partnership, or their first check from a reputable investor. The Growth team at the Sui Foundation wants to facilitate opportunities for founders in search of those moments.
We’re working on a comprehensive Builder Success program to help founders make meaningful connections that deliver outsized impact. The resources and support we plan to provide focus on three core pillars - community, coaching, and content.
We will provide opportunities for founders to connect with other founders, industry professionals, and potential investors. We will also match founders with experienced subject matter experts who can provide advice or guidance.
We’re building a content library accessible to all builders to cover various aspects of starting and running a business. In collaboration with our ecosystem mentor network, this might include workshops or seminars on topics like business strategy, product development, marketing, sales, fundraising, and legal issues.
We’re also offering founders building on Sui various perks and benefits for commonly used tools and services.
What attracts builders to web3?
Builders are attracted to creating applications that operate on decentralized infrastructure, removing the need for intermediaries and giving users more control over their data and digital assets. This paradigm disrupts traditional models where middlemen control and facilitate transactions. This shift allows for peer-to-peer interactions, reducing costs, increasing transparency, and enhancing trust between participants.
By giving users more ownership and control over their digital identities, data, and assets, web3 attracts builders with the opportunity to create user-centered applications that prioritize privacy, security, and personal agency. They can contribute to an internet where individuals have more sovereignty over their online experiences. Builders can explore novel use cases, create applications, and develop smart contracts that can automate various processes and interactions. This flexibility and programmability allows builders to push beyond current boundaries in product development.
Because web3 communities foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and open source development, builders can tap into a vibrant ecosystem of developers, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts. They can contribute to existing projects, collaborate on new initiatives, and leverage shared resources and expertise to accelerate their own development efforts. This disintermediation reduces costs, enhances accessibility, and empowers individuals who were excluded from traditional centralized systems.
How does building a web3 company differ from a traditional start-up?
One key difference between web3 and traditional startups is the definition and scope of their “target customer.” In addition to the product’s direct customers, web3 startups must also consider how their product brings value to their immediate ecosystem.
What does it take for a project builder to become a company builder?
It involves a shift in mindset. Having a clear long-term vision, a viable business model, and growth mindset are critical.
Also, one should never underestimate the value of building your network, especially in web3.
Are there any commonalities you’ve seen among projects that have successfully been able to progress from idea to business?
While every project’s journey is unique, the following factors tend to contribute to their success:
Strong team and execution: It’s easy to come up with ideas. Successful teams are action-oriented, resourceful, and willing to iterate quickly. They adapt to market feedback, pivot when necessary, and continually refine their product or service based on customer insights.
Customer focus: Projects that succeed have a clear and compelling value proposition that differentiates them from competitors. They offer a unique solution or provide an improved alternative to existing offerings, effectively communicating the benefits and value they bring to customers.
Scalable and sustainable business model: Successful startups have a well-defined and scalable business model that demonstrates how they will generate revenue and grow over time. They consider factors such as pricing, distribution channels, customer acquisition, and retention strategies to ensure long-term sustainability and profitability. This is what attracts prospective investors and business partners, as they can see the path towards getting a financial return.
Adequate funding and resources: Everything takes longer than you think, especially when searching for a scalable and sustainable business model with limited human capital and resources. Understanding your runway and managing your resources (e.g. time and money) are important factors for success.
Emotional resilience: Startups are hard. Teams that exhibit resilience, persistence, and the ability to learn from failures are more likely to overcome obstacles and achieve long-term success. They view setbacks as learning opportunities and stay committed to their vision.
For new founders, what are the first business topics they should address?
Before jumping into business topics, determine whether you want to be a startup founder to begin with. I would recommend watching Should you start a startup? from YC Startup School.
After deciding to make the jump, there are two business topics that matter: audience and team. I recommend watching Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen on Milkshake Marketing to learn more about finding your target customer and why they should care about your product. Then read Aaron Patzer on the First Round blog to learn about hiring, firing, and managing a successful team.
What are the biggest challenges founders currently face? What resources and support system are you putting in place to help them tackle these issues?
History never repeats but rhymes. Many of the challenges have remained fairly consistent over my last decade working with founders.
Securing funding: While there’s more capital than ever before, the competition to secure the funding is also more intense. It can be challenging to stand out from other startups especially when pitching over a video call.
Hiring the right talent: The rise of remote work and the global competition for talent has made recruiting and retaining talent a significant challenge for technical and non-technical roles. Even with the layoffs, top talent is always in demand.
Regulation and compliance: As new technologies continue to evolve rapidly, governments and regulatory bodies often struggle to keep up. This can be challenging for running a web3 business where laws and regulation may not exist yet for certain applications of these technologies, or existing laws may be applied in new and unanticipated ways. If a founder is operating in multiple countries or has customers around the world, it will need to comply with regulations in all of those jurisdictions which can vary greatly from one country to another.
Mental health: The pressure of launching a startup can take a toll on a founder’s mental health. While juggling so many priorities, mental health can often be overlooked or deprioritized. The constant pressure to perform and deliver can lead to chronic stress and, ultimately, burnout. The responsibility of making critical decisions often falls on the founder, and this can lead to feelings of isolation. Ensuring founders have the right support and balance in their lives is crucial.
Diversity and inclusion: Studies have shown that diverse teams perform better. It can be challenging to build a diverse team, particularly in sectors where certain groups are underrepresented. For instance, tech and venture capital have traditionally been male-dominated industries, and it can be difficult to attract and retain diverse talent. Founders also need to ensure their products or services are accessible to all potential users, including those with disabilities. This can involve considering factors like website accessibility, as well as language and cultural barriers.
Any final advice for builders with a great idea but not a lot of experience building a company?
ABC - Always Be Connecting. The journey of a startup is a long and challenging one, and it helps to be surrounded by a community that can provide emotional and professional support. Connections can open doors for potential partnerships, prospective team members, funding opportunities, and customer acquisition. Attend industry events, join startup communities, and actively network both online and offline.