Mastermind a winning start-up strategy

Building a successful business is like mastering a game of chess. As an entrepreneur, you not only need a strategy to win, your moves need to be timed perfectly to make the most of opportunities. Like chess, you need vision, persistence and the skill to coordinate all the players in your team to work together towards your goal.

That’s what serial entrepreneur Nick Cloete has done all his life. Apart from a one-year stint training to be a chef when he was 18, Cloete has always run his own businesses.

Masterminding a winning strategyCloete, now 30, is currently founder and CEO of Kounta, a point-of-sale software platform for the retail industry. The cloud-based platform is aimed at small to medium sized businesses and costs $50 per month per “cash register”. It is designed so that it can work with any device (such as iPhones or tablets) or be integrated with existing point-of-sale hardware.

It is being used with businesses such as Sonoma Baking Company, George Gregan Espresso and Gelato Messina.

It’s been a long road for Cloete who, after his short-lived career as a chef, became a co-owner of a printing company for four years.

“I was then asked to invest in a company that distributed an international legacy point of sale software product and quickly realised that even though this software had been developed over the past 20 years it couldn’t cater to the requirements of today’s online, mobile and connected world,” says Cloete, who was involved with the company for three years. “So I assembled a mastermind group of people to research and develop the best way to better connect merchants and their customers in store at point of sale.”

Making the right movesThe result is Kounta, which launched 18 months ago with four staff. Cloete and his team spent six months developing the software, and a year working in beta with a group of about 50 businesses. Together, they trialled the software to find improvements that could be made and iron out the bugs.

On 1 January 2013 Kounta became available throughout Australia and is currently used by 500 businesses. Cloete hopes to reach 5000 by the end of the year.

Now with 10 staff, Cloete uses in-house developers to create his software. He admits that he does not have a technical background. “I don’t have much technical skill,” he says. “I suppose my skill is in recognising real life problems and putting together products that are going to solve those real life problems. I enjoy putting the team together.”

It’s a bold strategy in a start-up environment where many founders are expected to understand at least the basics of coding. However, Cloete is nonplussed. He says he’s a natural problem solver. “The first thing is to get the right guys on board who share the vision and can carry through that vision and make it a reality,” he says.

Keeping your pieces in the gameWhen it comes to figuring out whether you have the right people on board, Cloete says: “You just know.”

Beyond this intuitive approach, Cloete puts faith in the recruitment company who finds his developers. “I believe we have the best recruiters who work with us. And then there are also the developers who show interest in joining us and contact us themselves. That’s a great start. Usually, they’ve already been involved in projects of this scale. They’ve had to build something from scratch. We started with zero lines of code and they’ve been part of the founding team. They can then educate any newcomers with the idea and the reasons behind the way they’ve constructed their code.”

In order to retain this talent, Cloete, says: “We like to pay them what they want to get paid. And then obviously there’s various incentives for different types of roles.” This include bonus payments for reaching certain milestones on time.

Playing a bigger gameTo achieve his overall vision Cloete not only has to motivate and empower his staff, he is strategic about finding the right investors and customers.

At the start of the year, he decided he wanted to play a bigger game. “We want to launch internationally now,” says Cloete, who is now taking Kounta into its first round of funding. It is also working with beta customers in the US and UK.

“We have one investor so far: Greg Wilkinson, founder and chairman of Reckon,” says Cloete. Reckon is the accounting software previously known as Quickbooks and Quicken. “We’re looking for investors who are not only able to help us financially but also strategically through next stage of growth and development. The reason we don’t have any other investors yet is we’ve been selective about who we want to get on board.”

A single-minded visionWork-life balance is a foreign concept to Cloete who says that the life of a start-up founder is all-consuming. “The only time I’m not working is when I’m sleeping – and I don’t sleep that much,” says Cloete, who routinely wakes at 5.30am and goes to bed around midnight. “I’m always thinking of ways that we can improve Kounta.”

When it comes to the best business advice he’s been given, Cloete says:

1. Andrew Cannole, owner of Sonoma Baking Company once said to me: “Don’t knock on the door, kick it down.”

2. Albert Einstein said: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex … It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” In technology, it’s very easy to make things complicated. I think it’s important to pay attention to ease of use.

3. Napoleon Hill said: “The Master Mind is as a mind that is developed through the harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.” I would say this piece is the best advice I’ve got so far and most important to me.

Cloete says that in three years’ time he wants “as many merchants around the world as possible” to be using Kounta. With strategic partnerships already in place with Paypal and Beat The Q, and more rolling out with online shopping platforms and social networks, Cloete is confident he has the right pieces in play. Only time will tell whether he ultimately wins the game.

Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter @valeriekhoo

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